Whenever someone asks me to recount a story from living overseas, the following incident immediately comes to mind. Now, nothing terribly crazy happened and it’s not particularly germane to my experience abroad. It does, however, top the chart on my WTF scale due to its freak occurrence. It’s event like this that stick with us and make life so interesting; where something so alien suddenly plants itself into what should be ordinary situation. The brain just can’t comprehend what’s going on and checks out momentarily. This is prime example.
During my post-grad tenure in Australia, I decided to learn some Mandarin. Thankfully, I was able to strike up a language exchange partnership with a few people. Skip forward to one fine sunny day in St. Lucia, I’m off to meet my Mandarin tutor at one of the cafés on campus. The usual routine would be that we eat, do a little catching up, and then get to work. Simple enough, right? We were seated at a modest round table outside by a makeshift pond designed to look like a waterfall in a rain forest. Again, nothing strange about that right? Now what you need to know is that the University of Queensland is right on the edge of the Brisbane River. So naturally, there’s a modest about of wildlife there that freely roam around. And I’m not talking about your garden variety type of animal like a snail. No, we’re talking large lizards, giant rats, 2-3 foot long snakes, etc. It’s just part of their natural habitat and they want to keep it that way. Today’s guest came in the form of an Australian Pelican! And I use that word guest in the most literal sense.
It started out fairly cute, seeing this bird swimming in the water then waddling along the edge. Then cute quickly became strangely curious when he decided to situate himself right by the edge of our table. Stares at my friend, looks at our food, and turns towards me. Here is when the “WTF” dial starts to kick in. Something was definitely not right. And he was quick to confirm that when he suddenly hopped on the table, puffed out his chest slightly fluttering his wings. We are now officially in WTF territory. And thus begins the tale of how a bird systematically destroyed my manhood.
What played out next was essentially the Jules Winnfield / Brett scene from Pulp Fiction. In fact, I’ve come to call the bird Jules ever since. You know that glazed over, empty look some animals have? That wasn’t happening here. No, Jules (the bird) takes his ballsy-ness a step further and begins to peck away at my food. Here’s where the Pulp Fiction bit comes in. During this whole incident, Jules maintains eye contact with me the whole while he’s eating. You know that glazed over, lifeless empty look some animals have? Naw, that wasn’t happening here. Somehow, this bird embodied the essence of Samuel L. Jackson and bitched me out right there. All of this happened within a span of less than 10 seconds. Ambivalence doesn’t even come close to the jumble of thoughts that were running through my head. Let’s walk through some of the things running through my mind.
- Bewilderment / Impressed : This bird must have king kong sized balls to be bold enough to stand up to another animal that’s not only twice its size, but do so when there are ton of other people present. I’m pretty sure if there were any female pelicans witnessing this heroic feat of dominance, he got laid. Seriously, demonstrating that kind of gall should be rewarded with a pass to sexy town.
- Keen Curiosity: Aside from being publically humiliated. I was just genuinely curious how far Jules would go. I’ve never see a large bird like this up close. It was fascinating to see how it was able to get my half sandwich into his oblong beak and eat it. So there’s was a bit of a cool factor to it all, minus the whole making me look like a bitch aspect.
- Gender / Social / Ethnic complex: Am I really seeing this? What if the damn thing attacks me? If I try to wave it away will it attack me? Will I come off as some ignorant, thug? Will make my friend her more threatened? Is she ashamed of being here right now? Dude, I must look like the biggest pussy right now sitting here. What kind of man sits here and let’s a goddamn animal just walk all over them. Wait, I’m a damn American. I should be going “Don’t Tread on Me!” all over this bird. But I don’t want to perpetuate any false stereotypes racial or culturally as well. Arrrgh, what is the damn proper protocol here. WHAT THE F*CK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?
Fear not, coming to my pathetic rescue was none other than Jeff Foxworthy!!!
Well, not it wasn’t the Jeff Foxworthy, but more like his Australian knock off. Book in hand, he merely waved the bird off sending Jules into a slight frenzy of chest puffing before retreating to the pond. After my sheepish thanks, he just waves it off without even looking at me. Great, so not only was I humiliated by a Toucan Sam, I had to be saved by another man. And on top of that, he was so disgusted with me that he couldn’t look at me. And I’m pretty sure that feeling resonated with everyone else watching. Needles to say, we parted ways and never went there again. Just multiple levels of FAIL! I failed my country, I failed my race, and I failed as a man all at once in a matter of seconds.
This emasculating experience did teach me a very valuable life lesson: It’s better to make a bad / stupid decision then no decision at all. In hindsight, doing anything would’ve been better than nothing at all. Even if Jules did go into Alfred Hitchcock Birds attack mode, I’d at least have some cool battle scars to show off. Taking that further, I could even swing it into a nice, pick-up story with the ladies showing how much of a badass I was. Even if I severely injured or killed Jules, I could always play the ignorant American / foreigner card because I didn’t know any better. In either case, I would be able to explain the rationale behind my actions. Passiveness / indecisiveness is just another way of rolling over and letting life take whatever sh*t sandwich it gives you, even in extreme WTF moments. And men, it’s definitely not a trait women find sexy or desirable in a guy.
I’ll never make that mistake again. Should a similar incident ever happen again, I’m going into kamikaze mode. At least let me go out with some shred of dignity.