On a cold night in San Francisco I hosted a party with a simple premise: bring something that you find on the street. The idea was to then do something to the thing you found. And at the end of the night, we would return the altered found thing to the street.
About eight or nine people showed up. It had the feel of a craft night, people talking about this and that over a table while destroying/creating their found object and drinking a variety of alcohols to warm the conversing circle.
Brook brought an elaborate children’s plastic dollhouse. He spent the night making artworks for the living room and bedrooms. Donal worked on an old Encyclopedia Britannica filled with maps, painting out parts of countries with sky blue. Rasha brought a limb from a plum tree that he then added white paper leaves to.
There was one late-comer who didn’t bring anything and so he and I left the party to scavenge the hood for something. Only half a block down 15th street we came upon a black bird laying on the sidewalk. It appeared to have fallen from the sky or perhaps the power lines. We took a close look, reverent in our awe. Its eyes were still open. Then the thought occurred to both of us, “Could this be the object?” It didn’t seem right to bring it back with us to the party. Instead we decided we’d make a small coffin for the bird so as to honor it. Back at the party we found some cardboard and blue masking tape and estimated the size of the bird’s coffin. We then returned to the scene of the death and proceeded to carefully place the dead bird in its new coffin. It fit snugly. Content with our work, we left the bird there and headed home.
Not even 20 feet down the sidewalk we came upon two words written large in a cement square of the pavement- BIRD LIVES. Whoa. We looked at each other and then looked back at our bird. It was obvious that we must immediately retrieve the bird and place it between BIRD and LIVES. We then briskly returned to the party to share our experience.
Everyone dropped their glue sticks and paint brushes and pulled arms through the sleeves of their jackets while walking down the stairs and out onto the street. They followed us along the residential block till we ceremoniously circled around BIRD LIVES. We were all quiet for a moment, our breaths visible, when the unexpected seriousness of the situation suddenly hit. Here we were, somewhat accidentally having a funeral for a bird.
I explained the serendipitous happenstance and awkwardly said a few words in the manner of a eulogy when we were interrupted by a nearby door opening. It was probably around 2am. Again, startled (and somewhat inebriated), we all turned to the door that framed a grey-haired woman rubbing one eye with her fist. “What are you doing?” she asked. “We’re having… a funeral… for a bird?” I tried to further explain the circumstances and I can’t imagine what she understood between her having just awoken and my incoherence. Regardless, she told us that it was she that had written “BIRD LIVES” in the pavement many years ago and that she had written it during a very hard time in her life, a time that Charlie “Bird” Parker’s music helped her through. We were all quiet again. “Well, goodnight” she said and closed the door as I imagined her coming home one day to find the wet cement, heavy at heart, intent with a message, an epigraph to deliver to the future.