I wanted to take my daughter to see The Lion King on Broadway, and I wanted to take her to see it that night. So…
Shortly after lunch I left the High Times office on Park Avenue, smoked a quick joint in the doorway on29th Street and took a cab uptown to The Minskoff Theater near Times Square. The Minskoff is a beautifully refurbished playhouse encased beneath a modern thirty-five-story hotel. Its ticket lobby retains some of the traditional trappings of another era: the great gold-gilt lobby, the plush red velvet curtains and a brass-framed ticket window with a marble recess beneath the thick glass. There were six or seven customers waiting to buy tickets that afternoon, and I took my place at the back of the line. Deeply engrossed in reading a folded copy of the New York Times, I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on behind me.
Behind me a pigeon had gotten trapped inside the foyer and couldn’t get out. The poor bird was scared to death and frantically flew from point to point, banging off the walls, trying to find daylight. A pair of Minskoff ushers in shirtsleeves were fecklessly chasing it around, trying to catch the confused bird by casting their wine-colored theater jackets like billowing nets. It wasn’t working.
After ten minutes it was my turn to step up to the window.
“Hi. I’d like to see if I could get tickets for tonight’s performance,” I said. “The best seats possible.”
“You’re in luck!” the ticket agent chirped, an animated, naturally enthusiastic, young gay black man, perfectly thin, with a very high, well-groomed high top. “I just had a cancellation, two seats, fifth row, center orchestra.” He quoted an astronomical price.
“Perfect!” I said.
I counted out the cost in twenties and was slipping the wad of bills through the marble recess recess when suddenly, behind me, I heard a blood-curdling scream!
Turning around to see what was happening, I was smacked in the face me-turn with the palpable weight of wind and wings. Instinctively, my hands went up. My head turned away and I pushed back with a yelp – “Ahhhhh!” – and the pigeon went crashing into the glass ticket window and fell down onto the marble shelf. I recoiled in shock as someone behind me yelled, “Get it! Get it!” and, without really thinking, I grabbed the front panels of my sport coat below the pockets, twisted the jacket over my head and pegged it with the heels of my hands against the brass corners of the ticket window.
Got it! I thought, suddenly finding myself trapped inside a small tent lit only by the ambient light from the ticket office on the other side of the glass with a seriously panicked and petrified pigeon.
My next thought was, Don’t let it peck your eyes out!
So I quickly flattened my face up against the glass, and the pigeon was now caught beneath my chin, wings flapping, feathers fluttering, flailing, tickling, nipping at my throat.
That’s when I noticed the ticket agent on the other side of the glass. He had no idea what just happened; From his perspective all he saw was that the foyer on the other side of the ticket window had suddenly gone black and the horribly contorted face of a bearded man was bizarrely flattened against the top of the glass while below, under the crazy man’s chin, an equally crazed pigeon in the smallest space imaginable fought wildly to escape. No one could blame the ticket agent for what he did next. He pushed back his chair, put up his hands and, with a high shrill voice, screamed over and over like a teenage girl.
“Ahhhh! Ahhhhh! Ahhhhh! Ahhhhhh!”
My next thought was, Now what do I do?
I was considering my options, slim and none, when suddenly – somewhat miraculously, I thought – two small feminine hands appeared on either side from beneath the folds of my makeshift tent. I watched with downcast eyes as the slender fingers folded over the terrified pigeon and quickly cinched its maddened throes. I jumped back and returned to the light and saw a smiling woman gently holding the heaving bird.
“You got it?!” I cried.
“I got it!” she exclaimed as the shirt sleeved usher, as if in coordination, quickly stepped forward and snapped open a nearby fire door. Daylight poured into the foyer. The woman took three quick steps towards the light, raised her arms, opened her hands and released the pigeon. It flew gracefully up into the concrete canyons above the bumper-to-bumper on Broadway and disappeared. The woman and I turned around to face a wide-eyed group of astonished ushers and tourists who all broke into a spontaneous round of applause. We took a bow.
Now, what does that have to do with marijuana?
Not much, except to underscore the fact that after I left my office to go buy the tickets, I first smoked a joint in the doorway on 29th Street. Truthfully, as The Pigeon Incident unfolded, I was stoned to the bone. And I’m certain that if I had not been baked when that bird flew into my face, I would not have had the presence of mind to sufficiently recover, I would not have thought to make a makeshift tent with my sport jacket, and I certainly would not have pressed my face against the glass. In fact, I would go so far as to say that marijuana saved that pigeon’s life. As well as my eyes.
The Circle of Life continues…