Featured Story

A new Shelter Island Reporter column from Joanne Sherman

At this moment, a bossy rooster is camped right outside my door at the military RV park where we spend the winter in Key West.

This colorful strutter is nothing like our Shelter Island turkeys, who are muted and fairly quiet. Roosters are not quiet. And they don’t merely cock-a-doodle doo at sunrise. Nope, they go at it 24/7, and when one starts, he wakes up the other 10,000 chickens and roosters who call Key West home. That’s the reason there are so many bars here. You can’t sleep, so you may as well go out and drink.

Fortunately, Patch is the only rooster in this RV park. He’s called Patch because he has one eye. Everyone loves Patch. Everyone, except me.

Right off the bat, let me say this: I am okay with birds, so don’t you bird people come after me. I do not hurt them, hunt them, or hate them. I hardly eat chicken that often. It’s not that I don’t like birds — birds do not like me.

I discovered this when I was five and my mom had a parakeet named Nicky. He said “Pretty boy” and gently pecked her cheek. But whenever she held him close to me, Nicky turned vicious.

“Stop screaming,” she said.  “He’s just kissing you!”

No, he was ripping out my eyebrows, one hair at a time.

My mother removed Nicky, but I could see the disappointment on her face and the smug look on his. Score one for the nasty green bird.

Since then, I have kept my distance from anything with feathers. Even butterflies freak me out a little.

Because I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, I never had to interact with flying feathered friends. Just Nicky, the occasional robin, and the birds I’d see at the zoo.

Flash forward 25 years to a sunny morning at Hither Hills Campground in Montauk. I was outside about to cook breakfast, when there was a loud swoosh beside my head and just like that, a pound of bacon was airborne.

I chased that weighted-down bird across the dunes, waving a spatula and screaming,“That blankity-blank pelican stole my bacon.”

The pelican got away. To add insult to injury, as I walked back to our camper a tiny kid said, “Lady, that weren’t no pelican. That were a seagull.”

Well, aren’t you a smart little … boy.

Since then the bird torment has continued. I have been directly hit by a Times Square pigeon with serious stomach issues and seagull splatted in the IGA parking lot. Again, a direct hit by yet another sick bird. A very sick bird who’d recently gorged on raspberries.

So no wonder it’s with trepidation that I watch Patch while he watches me with that one beady eye.

Back in January we did establish boundaries after he forced me to throw a flip-flop at him. Bird lovers please note: I was aiming over his head, and it would have never happened if he hadn’t hidden inside my car.

Fortunately, I saw him before I headed down the road because if feathers had started flapping, it would have been more than a “Jesus Take the Wheel” moment. It would have been “Jesus take the car” moment, because moving or not, I’d have flown out that door.

After our flip-flop incident, Patch kept his distance. He’d hang around but we established an uneasy truce, frenemies in the truest sense.

Then, in mid-February, a notice was posted about not feeding the wildlife. The military never says, “Please don’t”, they say, “You will not,” and you better not because the military doesn’t mess around. If there’s a problem, they remove the problem. That’s what we think happened to several complaining RVers who disappeared. Oh, you got a problem here? Go! There, problem solved. Next!

It’s the military way.

But sign or not, everyone here fed Patch. Even I’d toss him some Ritz crumbs now and then, on the sly, after sunset. The military’s always watching though, and about three days after that sign went up, a pest control truck pulled into the campground. The pest guy wandered between our sites, peeking under RVs, making clucking sounds, hunting down our mascot.

We tried to divert his attention. “Oh, look! It’s 5 o’clock somewhere! Margaritas for everyone.” But we couldn’t bribe him with rum and eventually he found Patch.

Instead of hauling him to rooster brig, the guy reached into his pocket and pulled out corn kernels that Patch ate right out of his hand. He hadn’t come to take Patch, he came to feed him, and he waved off the military’s posted warning (don’t tell!).

My RV neighbor said he was relieved, “We all love Patch.”

Not me. I don’t even like him.

Well, maybe. Just a little.