It was at this point that I saw something that I have never seen before in my life: a lean stray cat, black with white feet, pounced upon one of the feeding pigeons, attempting to subdue it. I felt as if I were standing in the middle of a very low-budget episode of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, about to be lectured about the majestic simplicity of the life cycle, which is designed so that fat pigeons are devoured by stray cats and quickly reduced to a bloody smear of feathers. The pigeon escaped, and the cat slunk a short distance away, but I looked at the chick in the cage next to me and felt sick. The farthest it had ever flown was just over three feet straight across.
I put it on the other side of a wire fence, one that the cat could probably have gotten through with little effort, but that would perhaps be something of a deterrent, and watched it for a few minutes. It was confused but did not seem frightened. Of course, it is hard to tell what pigeons, who have no facial expressions, are feeling; but it hopped about a bit and, which reassured me a little, began to preen its feathers. For a chick it had seemed absurdly outsized, but next to the full-grown birds it was suddenly puny. It was three-quarters their size, and its feathers were nowhere near as full or sleek, the iridescent feathers around its throat only patchy where theirs shimmered in solid bands. The other pigeons paid it no special attention, being occupied with the birdseed, and it wandered around in the grass, among them but not of them.
I left it, ditching the cage next to a garbage can as I went. I had not seen it peck at the seed on the ground, or fly when the others flew, but I had to go. There was nothing more I could do for it; that didn't stop me from feeling guilty, though.
Later that day -- about half an hour later, in fact -- I went to Coney Island with Ender and Virgil, as well as Vince and Alexis, the most attractive couple I know. Not only are they both beautiful, witty, and possessed of virtually Christlike personal charisma, but they match. They have matching Italian ancestries, and are both dark-haired, dark-eyed, and slender, with eyelashes a foot long. Vince is in his third and final year of law school and Alexis is taking her LSATs this fall; he is going to be President of the United States and she is going to be a Supreme Court justice. They also plan to find time to have a parcel of children, who will no doubt be beautiful and brilliant, and whom Vince says I am not allowed near until they turn at least nine unless I stop talking about mortuary science so much. But Vince is a squeamish person in general.
Coney Island, which is not an island, is part slum, part carnival, and part beach, in that order. The streets have names like Surf and Mermaid, and most of the buildings on them are abandoned. Everything is filthy. Then you get to the carnival, and everything there is filthy too. There's this half-assed nautical theme that runs through the carnival at Coney Island, and there are badly-drawn pictures of mermaids on everything. Mostly they look like drag queens. The word is squalid, and I know that that's a word I overuse, but damn it, I mean it this time: you walk around among the rides and the rigged games and the photo booths and the arcades where you can play skee-ball for worthless tickets and the parlors where you can get temporary tattoos, and you know that the basketballs are bigger than the hoops, and that the guys at Nathan's probably haven't washed their hands in a week, and that everything you see has broken and been patched together dozens if not hundreds of times, but it's still nice to walk around and be part of the general crush of humanity and buy overpriced cotton candy even though you know you'll only eat a few bites. Everything's so cheap and tacky that the excess doesn't induce guilt. Ride the Cyclone fifteen times if you want: you won't use it up.
Then you get to the beach, which is much like any other beach, only the seagulls are so used to people, and so big from being fed hot dogs and funnel cakes and pizza crusts, that they will physically kill you if you piss them off. Also there's probably more garbage in the water, on average.
After watching the Cyclones, the Mets' Class-A farm team, lose to a team called the Battavia Muckdogs, and after roaming through the amusement park and wimping out on riding the actual Cyclone, we went to the beach. Night had fallen, the moon was full, and as we walked slowly back to the car the silvery waters were to our left and the park was to our right, with the low-income housing rising up behind it. Tiny wavelets, lipped with foam, came hissing up the sand toward us; hissing, they retreated. Little sandpipers ran to and fro so fast that they appeared to be running on little wheels.
"Wouldn't this be a great place to screw?" said Virgil, gazing at the moonlit water. I agreed that it would be, provided you had a really big blanket. A really, really big blanket.
"I keep thinking about the chick," I said after a moment, looking at the sandpipers.
"The chick is fine," said Virgil.
What I keep thinking about, though, is really that cat. My departed cat, Ginger, was a killing machine: though raised in an apartment, she became such a skillful hunter that she graduated from mice and started catching swallows and other low-flying birds, and once she caught, and ate in its entirety, a young rabbit. (This all took place at our summer house in Shelter Island, where we went for several weeks each year.) We saw her drag its carcass behind a bush and we were sort of proud of her. Researchers say that cats learn to hunt from their mothers, but Ginger had been separated from her mother at the age of six weeks; she was entirely self-taught, and I guess that means that she was a kind of genius.
Ginger lived to be sixteen, very old for a cat, and toward the end of her life she became somewhat senile and started attacking me. I think that in her confusion she mistook me for a threat to my mother, whom Ginger loved with a creepy, Norman Bates-style love. She would chase me around the house, screaming as only an enraged cat can scream, until she caught me, and then she would rip my flesh open. I know it sounds funny. At one point she bit me so bad that my ankle swelled up to the size of a softball and I needed to take antibiotics. Nothing deterred her: she was like a kamikaze pilot: I would kick her, drench her with water, and she would keep coming at me, still screaming that unholy banshee scream. I started having nightmares about it, nightmares that didn't desist, even after I had gone back to school, until my parents wrote to tell me that Ginger had died.
And me, I have opposable thumbs, tool use, and the ability to think causally. The chick has none of these things. It can't even peck very well. And I've already mentioned the extent of its flying skills.
And no, I haven't found an apartment yet.