Have you seen the new sign erected at the Best Buy shopping plaza? It features a running ring-neck pheasant and renames the place “Pheasant Run Shopping Center.” I saw the sign last weekend and thought that it would make a good column item. I could say how, like a lot of concrete and brick projects that have come before, this one took its name from what it displaced. Say the store on East Avenue called Orchard Hardware Supply or a housing tract dubbed Valley Oak Estates, where the oaks were cleared to make room for the estates. Fortunately the PR firm behind the shopping center has done my work for me. We got a “news release” faxed to us this week from Julie Hanson that begins, “A beautiful new sign will soon mark the corner of 20th at Forest Ave. The sign will have an image of a pheasant with its beautiful plumage and long tail feathers of bright, iridescent feathers as a reminder to all those who remember when this busy intersection was once out in the country.”
“The story of the pheasant begins when development brought the bulldozer to the corner,” Julie continues. “Each day a pheasant was observed standing on a rock as if to watch and wait for this new visitor and then the pheasant would run away.” No kidding. “Days of surveying, measuring, land clearing and still the pheasant waited and then ran.” I’m trying to read between the lines here, and I think even Julie is a little sad about how the fate of this pheasant and its habitat. She then goes on to hypothesize how maybe this curious (and in my opinion obviously doomed) pheasant was possibly the descendant of a ring-neck carried here by Annie Bidwell herself when she moved west. “As the new sign is completed we will pause to acknowledge the famous pheasant that waited patiently then ran to find a safe place to live out the rest of his life,” she suggests. But I have to ask, where did that bird run? Across the street to Target? The Chico Mall? WinCo? “Perhaps,” Julie sums up wistfully, “one day we will see him standing at the corner to view his own likeness.” I wouldn’t get my hopes up.
Last week I wrote in this column that my work was harshly critiqued by the judges in this year’s California Newspaper Publishers Association’s annual Better Newspapers Contest. I wrote they had advised me, obviously a writer who for whom English was a second or third language, to go home to my native land and look into becoming a cab driver. In the days since that column was published, a number of well-meaning folks have come up to me and told me not to let those insensitive judges and their cutting remarks get me down. “I’m able to understand most of what you write,” one supporter said, giving me an encouraging pat on the back. Here I have to confess that I made the whole thing up. It was meant to be satire. The judges never said any such thing. The lesson here, of course, is that for satire to work it must go clearly beyond the realm of reality, like the Swiftian proposal to grind up children and feed them to the poor.
Fact is I’m not smart enough to speak more than two languages. (True.) In high school I took two years of French from Becky Wallet—students were instructed to call her Madame Wallet, and my buddies and I always made sure we pronounced it so it sounded like “My damn wallet,” which tickled our slow brains to no end. At this point the only French I remember is chien (dog), chat (cat), crayon (pencil), “Quelle heure est-il, s’li vous plait?” (What time is it, please?) and, what turned out to be my most-used answer in that French class, “Je ne cest pas” (I don’t know).