As I sit down to write, there are birds celebrating spring outside my window. I can’t see them, but they sound like robins. Yesterday, I heard the same fanatically singing birds as I walked under a tree down the street. Looking up, I saw a nest halfway up the tree, easily visible because the tree still has no leaves even though we’re more than two weeks into spring.
I used to have a pet bird. He was a green singing finch. I named him Zino. Everybody who heard me call him that thought I named him after Zeno, known for Zeno’s Paradox, based on the fact that I was a mathematician. But actually, I named him Zino after Zino Francescatti, the violinist. I had a 25-cent bargain tape of Mr. Francescatti performing “Sibelius’ Opus 47, Concerto in D Minor for Violin,” and the day I got the bird home from the pet store, I was wearing the tape out playing it over and over again. I considered it the theme song of my life at that time. When the bird heard it, he went nuts. It seemed like he was trying to out-sing Francescatti’s performance. So the name.
About five years later, I found myself (again, for the fourth and last time) homeless. I prevailed upon Real Change Founding Director Tim Harris to let me keep Zino in his cage in the storefront on Second Avenue, where the Real Change offices were at the time. He agreed. But then he found out what green singing finches do.
So while Tim was working to get the paper out, we started hearing him mutter “chirp, chirp, f^*king chirp” regularly. He had second thoughts about his decision.
About a year and a half later, I got out of homelessness and into subsidized housing. The building management forbade me to bring Zino into my apartment on the grounds that the bird’s songs would disturb the other tenants. This struck me as complete nonsense because all the noise in the building came from those other tenants. They would scream and shout all the time when they were in their rooms, unable to understand that the rest of us could hear it all. Zino wouldn’t have caused anywhere near that disturbance. Zino had to stay at Real Change until he died in 1999.
In 2010, Real Change moved from Second Avenue to its current Pioneer Square location. We weren’t allowed to keep our office cat Sid Vicious in the new building, so I inherited him. Fortunately, the subsidized housing I was in was OK with me bringing Sid into our apartment, on the theory that cats don’t sing like birds do. I thought that was just more nonsense (they’d never heard cats howl?), but I kept quiet about it. They had ruled in my favor, so I shut up.
At the end of that year, Anitra and I managed to make our escape from the noisy place into a quieter place in the Chinatown-International District. Sid came with us, and the new management was fine with him so long as we paid a deposit.
At the time, I asked the new management if I could get a bird if I just paid an extra deposit. They said no. Birds are too noisy. But they sing right outside our windows here.
“Doesn’t matter; you can’t have one in your apartment,” was the response.
But the one I’d have would be smaller and not as loud as robins. But even though it was quiet here, we did have neighbors who’d wake us up every morning to what sounded like Zen temple music. Not that I was complaining.
So I’m thinking all this through as I sit here and write, with noisy robins — or whatever they are — outside our window, keeping me from writing anything else. I should be sitting here writing about my glee at Trump’s arraignment, but no: There are birds outside.
Speaking of distractions, Quanta Magazine has an article out titled “How to Tame the Endless Infinities Hiding in the Heart of Particle Physics.” It’s about the embarrassing infinities that arise when physicists make calculations to predict stuff in quantum field theory. It looks like an obscure mathematics paper may have solved the problem as many as 40 years ago.
I hear the robins — or whatever they are — singing “read-it, read-it, read-it” over and over again.
Read more of the April 12-18, 2023 issue.