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Humor September 2015

The Grumpy Old Man

Bird Watching vs. Football Watching

By Donald Rizzo

From 5 year olds decked out in so much protective armor they can hardly move, to 45 year olds on the disabled list while still making 30 million dollars a year, there's enough football in this country to send the American Orthopedic Association into a state of permanent ecstasy.

As another football season approached a few years ago, I happily prepared to settle in front of the TV. I was relishing countless hours watching superhuman behemoths violently collide amidst the exquisite ballet of a perfect spiral sailing 40 yards and coming gently to rest precisely on the fingertips of a speed demon sprinting flat out. But, unfortunately, in the middle of all this ecstasy, a depressing thought seeped into my head. I tried to block it but it was too late I got blindsided.

So here's the thought: if you do the same things over and over year after year, no longer learning and growing, you might as well be dead. Was I really prepared to spend the next several months in a state of semi-consciousness as one game blended into the next?

Don't get me wrong. I love football. It's a harmless way to channel destructive testosterone surges into an outlet slightly less controversial than punching people who disagree with you. But enough is enough. From 5 year olds decked out in so much protective armor they can hardly move, to 45 year olds on the disabled list while still making 30 million dollars a year, there's enough football in this country to send the American Orthopedic Association into a state of permanent ecstasy.

So once that nasty thought was implanted, I knew there'd be no football for me this season without a depressing cloud of guilt hanging over the stadium. I needed to grow! Find something intellectually stimulating! I pondered my dilemma and kept coming up empty. Take a course – too old. Run a marathon – too lazy. Play an instrument – too talentless. Then I happened to glance out the window. There, sitting on an unpruned shrub, was a bird. I had no idea what kind of bird it was. But it was obviously a messenger. I could see the contemptuous look in its eyes. "You pathetic couch potato," it said. "I fly, I explore, I travel thousands of miles on my own gas. What do you do?"

An idea struck like a linebacker in an all-out blitz. I'd find out about the life of that bird. In fact, I'd become a BIRDWATCHER! This seemed like a relatively simple, safe, and inexpensive hobby that would get me out of the house and focused on something more intellectually challenging than Alabama's defense. Off I went, Googling merrily away for the few minutes of research it would take to get me rolling.

How complicated could this be? Grab a handy pair of binoculars, a bird book, and hit the backyard, right? Wrong. Let's start with simplicity. Technology has rained down a torrent of incomprehensible jargon into the trees. Here's the introduction to a research paper on state-of-the art birding:

"In this paper we develop a mobile scaffolding-aid-based bird-watching system, which aims to construct an outdoor mobility-learning activity using up-to-date wireless technology. The proposed Bird-Watching Learning (BWL) System is designed on the wireless mobile ad-hoc network. In the BWL system, each learner's device has a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) with Wi-Fi (IEEE 802,1lb) card, with a WLAN environment."

Ah, communing with nature – it's so basic.

Okay, so I have to keep up with 21st century progress. At least it's safer than auto racing or rock climbing, right? Wrong. Here are some random catastrophes that have befallen birdwatchers. Phoebe Snetsinger turned bird-watching into her passion after being told she had an incurable cancer. She traveled the world and held the record for most bird sightings (8,400!) before dying in a road accident in Madagascar. In March of 2008, three bird researchers and their pilot died in a plane crash in Florida as they flew low over the Everglades to study wading birds. Noted birdwatcher Ted Parker, known for his unique ability to identify thousands of species of birds by sound alone, died in a plane crash in Ecuador.

Madagascar? Ecuador? I had the Greenway behind Northpoint Mall in mind as the farthest reaches of my bird-watching quest. Or perhaps the 13th fairway along the Chattahoochee. That way I could kill two birds with one errant hook – rhetorically speaking, of course.

So, it ain't simple and it ain't safe. I thought it would at least be cheap. But not if you have to travel all over the world! More Googling. Here's a trip – 14 days in Quito into the wet forests of northwest Ecuador. $2490 per person.

Per person? I have a wife! Hmmm, over 5000 bucks not including incidentals such as mass quantities of alcohol to quell the boredom in the rain forest waiting for a bird sighting. Well, at least it should be a nice, relaxing vacation, right? Breakfast every morning at 6 a.m. Hmmmm. Temperature can be 50 degrees in the morning and 100 in the afternoon. It all sounds totally soothing to me.

Oh, here's another one: 9 days in San Carlos, Mexico, only $3,600 per person. And I'll need a few incidentals – too many to list here! And, speaking of incidentals, top of the line Zeiss binoculars will run me about $1,950. And if I get serious and want a "scope" (not sure what that is or does), it will be another $1,000 or so. But at this point, who's counting?

Well, there I was, about to embark on an exciting, inexpensive, simple, safe hobby. Why then, was I so depressed? I started looking at the fall football schedule to see what I'd be missing.

Turns out there's quite a few "must-see's."

Florida State vs. Oklahoma, September 11 (Sooners rolled big time).

Notre Dame vs. Stanford, September 25 (West coast brainiacs defeated Midwest brainiacs).

Alabama vs. Auburn, November 26 (too good to miss; may be game of the year).

Georgia Tech vs. Georgia, November 27 (our intrastate rivalry game; I may even stay awake.)

Ohio State vs. Michigan, November 27 (traditional northern rivals; hope it snows!).

UCLA vs. USC, December 4 (maybe the Bruins can finally beat Southern Cal).

As I delved farther into the schedule, fewer dates were open for birdwatching. Think of the money I'd be saving. Those 6 a.m. breakfast fests with strangers? No wonder I was getting depressed. Oh well, maybe next year.   


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