HERE’S A GOOD one, so don’t bother checking your gizmos for a better time-waste. And this story, well it’s as crazy as plainly true. I’d not believe it myself less it happened just as I’m about to say, to me no less, so quit your eye-roll and park that arse.
That’s right, it’s another one about Pidgin. Sit! Like I already told, he’s called Pidgin due to a love of the birds, and that he kinda looks like one, but there’s even more to it than that. For now, let’s just say he kept some birds on the roof, in the place that was his place. Lots of nights we’d be up with them if it was too hot to be doing much else but sit among dozy warblers in the half-dark, all preening away a hard day’s faffing, and me and Pidgin just watching the blinker of passing jets and wishing we had the money saved to get up and go. Or better yet, wondering loud where we’d wing it as birds, far enough from this dump, so far that even memory got no signal. Somewhere blue and clean and new. In truth that building-top was as high as we’d ever likely get, but it’s good to dream, far away from the grease trap we were working in at the time. And so we’d ramble. Pidgin the most and me just lovin to listen in the cool, and all the smells of the city sinking back down from another hot day gone.
Now Pidgin didn’t say much to nobody, but he was different around his feathered friends, and also with me, coming to overlook my human bits. Plus I never poked fun at him the way others did, about the slowness, the bung eyes or walking like a string was tied from his ankle to the back of his nog – you know, pidgin-like – or being good with nothing else but bird things, which never holds much bargain for others, and they’ll want to tease and knuckle what they don’t get. Truth is I was in love with Pidgin, not that he knew – though it could have been mooch, since he was always calling me up. But we sure didn’t talk bout feelings or stuff like that, not even in our privvy words – hell no! – it was always other noise. But there’s no shortage of tangle for a longing heart, either said or just thought about real loud, pushing on all that other junk whooshing past like freight in your head. Most of this story is bout such traffic, call it the world, but there might be a bit about heart on the tail end, you hang and see.
But anyway: I most loved it when Pidgin talked flossy-fressor bout everything and nothing. Like one time he went on about how all the world is hid. Stones, dogs, apples, everything – we only see the painted outside of it all like skin and clothes and feathers, which is not much at all. The rest is dark. I remember this bit specially cos it made me kind of scared to think about it, the deep dark of everything, and I said so. But Pidgin just laughed and said it’s no bad thing: all the best stuff is hid, like vitamins and brains and words in books what haven’t been opened yet, or even wrote yet! That’s why I loved Pidgin, well one of some reasons. He could take a cold fact and pop it back up, warm as toast with butter on. And smart the way real little kids are before they’re told what dumb is. I guess Pidgin got so used to hearing bout the latter and getting beat for it, he just kept all the kid-smarts safe in that inside pocket, what I guess you’d call a soul. Another hid thing.
But when he talked, boy he talked, and in recalling this one night I’ll have to digress for a set-up, storybook-like, about some island in the Specific Ocean: that is, about as far away from all this roily-cluster as you can get, and so actually quite nice. All sun and sand and white and blue… Now I promise a meaning is coming, so please abide and quit shuffling.
Name of the island is Yap, and on Yap there lived some people, I don’t know who. But I know that a long time ago for money they used stones, all carved up real nice to look different from other stones, first rule of money being it’s got to look special. Second rule is it’s got to feel big, so some of these stones were big. I mean real big, like person-big and even car-big, not that Yaps would know that cos maybe they didn’t have cars and instead were tradin goats and coconuts and canoes. Anyway, that stone money got so heavy you can’t easy lift it no more, you had to just leave it sit somewhere everyone can see, so every Yap walkin’ past think, sheesh that’s a lot of dough, and they sure as hell know which other Yap it belonged to – till he give it to someone else for a certain mount of goats or canoes, cos I guess islands aren’t that long n wide after all. Everyone knows what’s what and all believing in a fancy-looking rock, cool and level. Long as all people have the same brain picture, it’s just like numbers in the ATM. You and the machine and everyone who’s anyone believin in some eye-boggling decorations on bits of paper out of a no-name slot, pinging between several types of nowhere. What the hell is money? Don’t say you haven’t stopped to wonder about it.
So anyway, here’s the hammer to drive the point flush. One time them Yap money men were moving one massive mullah, all carved up nice to go to another island, all careful canoovering on a tricky canoe. Well the water got choppy bad, wouldn’t you know, and that stone worth some millions of goats and coconuts ended up right in the ocean’s deepest bung, no way they’d be getting it back, couldn’t even see the plimmy thing. Now you’d think these ferrymen were in dire straits – litterly – but it weren’t like that at all. The Yap-folk all knew there was big bucks down there, and going no place fast. That’s what you call security, blue chip, as in deep ocean blue. They all just went on dealing goats and coconuts and canoes, and everyone knowing whoever got paid or dead-herited that famous big-sea money was sitting sweet. Now, after some long years that stone probby covered in weedy reef and fish crap, or sunk right back into the clinker it come from, so no Yap can even say it exists anymore. But it still goes on being worth heaps. That’s a perfect currency right there, when all that’s left is the thought of it. Black and deep hid.
SO PIDGIN TELLS me all this as I’m telling you. And I says, all good and well, but so what? I know you’re thinking the same too, getting fidgety. What’s some old island guff got to do with us, living way over here in the grids? Pidgin says it’s got everything to do with us, and he’d prove it, cos there’s no point earbashing a blindfold benny. I says, righto, then prove. And Pidgin says, shilly up and let’s be getting in these bird suits already.
Oh yes, them bird suits! That’s the part I forgot to tell, why we was up there talking in the first place this certain night. The whole time he’s yapping about Yap, Pidgin’s sewing final feathers on a couple of old jammies. Ragged, ratty things they were cos his crafty skills weren’t so level, but I’d helped him a bit – well, a lot – and got the calluses to show. Stitch here and tie there, he says, and don’t forget them beaks need time to glue. What’s this all for then? You’ll see, he laffs, and keeps looking up.
Now, the next part’s a bit of a gear shift, I warn. I could tell it fancy roundabout, but it’s so kooky I’m better to get straight to the point, so you all got an option to quit early. Pidgin said we was going to dress up as rock birds and catch ourselves a floating office block, climb in and have a good stickybeak around. I’ll let that sit for a beat and sort it shortly. But for now he opens that big nap he was always carrying and shows me all the ropes and clip-clops and wrenches we needed for adventure. And you’re like me now, boggled, and Pidgin checks my plexy peepers only to say get ready and look over there, and points to a clear patch of night.
Well, nuts, I say, there’s nothing. And Pidgin says, exacto-mungo, too much nothing, so look harder. And squinting and squinting for ages, finally I see it, just like them maddening eye puzzles in books. Black on black, a kind of long rectangle shape, hanging in the sky, just skewin oddly the few stars that aren’t already choked up on the dim glow of the tallow factory. That’s our scraper, says Pidgin, now get ready to chuck these high when it comes over, and he hands me a bunch of steely hooks, ropes all tied on. And sure enough, that rectangle got bigger and bigger till I finally believed his believing: massive walls of black glass just drifting over our browny tenements like...well, like nothing else I ever seen is what it was like.
Now, it’s one thing to oggle such a thing and quite another to want to passenger it. Pidgin was dead keen, and I trusted him as much as I already told, but still, crazy danger was never my thing. Then again, looking at that voidy block nearly above us and yes, reachable if I threw hard enough, I flected on my life up to that point, all the shit that had happened, to put it blunt. Well, I won’t bore you with the details of my troubles, cos it’s the lot of poor peeps like us to be constantly milling the unheard into smaller and smaller pieces, small enough then to get carried off in the wind. Fice to say, it was a bad time, so much so that getting into a stupid bird suit for some roof-hopping caper seemed a perfectly reasonable ternative to any normal living. Just glad to be somewhere else for a bit, even not knowing what that somewhere was, or even if it were a somewhere. Up! yips Pidgin. And so I threw them hooks as hard as hell.
And, clang clang clankety clang, they all looked to bounce useless off the bottom of that tack-hard scraper, but shooonk! One of em stuck, and the knotty rope got scary taunt, like catching a whale, only a million times more. Then that floaty tower was pulling us both along oblivious, our feathers flapping and our taped-up sneakers whapping, leaping over vents and pipes, quickly running out of rooftop. Hang on! yells Pidgin, and better advice you never heard, cos then we were running on street air. A couple of dumb pidgins hanging from an impossible balloon. My heart was doing the bongos and my guts didn’t feel too good neither. Our old neighbourhood glided below, everything looking so small and toy-like from up, and quiet as sleep. I wondered if anyone might spy us dangling and swinging, but it just like Pidgin always said: nobody sees rock birds. And yeah, for a bit we did feel like birds too, and other pidgins, real ones, flew by to clock us quizzical.
WELL, WHAT NOW? I trusted that Pidgin had thought a little further on this than me, it being his gig and all. Up! he says from below, pushing at my heels, or we’re gonna get brained by a telly tower. So up we go, up to that big black building bottom. And I don’t think my arms can do it, but there’s something about a fearful lack of choice that really brings out true talent: I shimmied up like a demon monkey. I saw where the hook had struck, somewhere in a fuss of pipes and cables, the sort of stuff you’d expect is underneath any big building I guess. Well we clambered through all that, helping each other from falling, and felt around in the dark for one thing or another, cos Pidgin said there’s got to be a service entrance or manhole or whatnot.
And sure enough he’s right. A little hole with nothing more than flimsy wire mesh, cos I guess you don’t need locks on a place nobody knows exists. Cept maybe to keep out birds. Pidgin had made the jammies with lots of nifty pockets, tin snips in the ones by the knees, so we cut in easy and fanged into the dark.
Well, it was icy cold in there like the sun had never touched, and I knew now why Pidgin had insisted on so much hot feather padding. Also why our hoods had a flashlight taped under the beak, cos otherwise be nothing to see. As it was, I can’t say the bulbs offered much vantage. A big room full of boxy machines, switches and dials and all pooter-like, but nothing doing, just smelling like brack and dust. They looked important though, even when Pidgin jimmied one open to see there was nothing inside it but more dark. Inneresting, he said, but I didn’t see how. He just pointed his thumb to the ceiling: let’s go up. We found the lifts, but they weren’t working, and not for want of electrics. The plastic buttons just fell off from being touched, like some old glue had long since frizzed. No stairs neither. So we just stacked up some machines and popped open a ceiling panel, spring-rolled our way through more cables and stuff and came out through a vent, all those feathers keeping us shush. Well, I’d get pretty good at it by the time this adventure got done, wait and see.
Is this crim? I had to ask, and Pidg thought for a moment before bartering ideas. Do any law apply in a case like this? Maybe better ask for forgiveness than permission, so then if things do go pear-shape, we can easy plead blameless. Ticketty, I said, and on we went.
The next floor was just piles of paper with long numbers written on them, all neatly stacked high for no good reason. Clapper knows what they were meant for. We climbed up those, trying not to mess too much, popped the ceiling and went to the next, which was a big library, hardly no space to even scissor our legs, so full of millions of books with nothing but blank pages, few we checked at least. Given a love of books, that was sure disappointing. Whassit all about Pidg? I whispered in the deaf dark, but he just shrugged and thumbed up, so we monkeyed those shelves too.
The next floor was even harder to get into on account of most vents being blocked. When we did come up we could see why: stacked floor to ceiling with bricks this time, and our beak batteries run so low so we could hardly see a thing in that tight corridor tween it all. But by now some time had passed and the whole building had drifted on some way I guess, downtown probby, cos tall city lights were fanning in dim through the slighty gap between the stacks and ceiling, and Pidgin boosted me to see.
Well, what I spied, that was the kicker, cos those bricks weren’t bricks. A solid sea of gold, I scam you not. Wall to wall, sparkling and dancing by the light from far windows, shining in from all the other scrapers we was cruising past like a night ship, all those lit-up empty offices in the dead hours. I’d call it beautiful if it all weren’t so buggin eerie, and I weren’t suddenly mindful, lately, that we might well be arrested just for being near so much loot. We switched so Pidgin could see, and boy did he whistle and laff. Zip down, I said, already feelin the peril ratchet. And what do you know, just then I gander down the corridor and see a security man staring right back at us. Hell’s bells, we both dropped in a heap, fanging for a smart exit. That chill bastard just watches us though, not a move or reaming beadle, like he knows we’re already done for. We duck into our vent hole and hang tight, listening for steps and strife. But nothing. Then peeping out, clocking the flatfoot still there, plimmy as a post. After a very long while, Pidgin says, something’s crook here. So we come out ginger with our wings up, slinking slow and curious. Man doing naddy-all. I mean, he’s got a gun and talkie and whatnot, but his hands aren’t touching any of them. Just hanging there like big fingery paddles. And when we’re close enough to see his face, well, it just goes on looking right past us, that gormless dope, right on into that long canyon of minty bling.
Pidgin walks straight up and nuggles the guy’s gun, weighs it in his hand and then flips it to me. Don’t! I shriek, but take it all the same, more curious than not. Well, the whole thing’s made of plastic, or not even that, some sort of wax, scratchable soft. And no points for guessing the rent-a-cop made out of the same stuff too and no more likely to clink us than melt, just one big crayon. Pidgin had some laughs tweaking his nose and checking out the yardage, which was all quite tommickly detailed let me tell, but neither of us could deny the creeps. Course, when we had a closer look at a gold brick, thinking maybe we’d do a better job of guarding it ourselves, like at home, there was no joy to be had. Chunk of styro wrapped in goldy foil. Not even chocolate – at least that would have been something. What was the point of the whole dumb spec? Pidgin shrugged, but I could see his mind roomin. Nothing to do, up we went.
WELL NOW. IT’S good we’d gotten acquainted with mister candle or the next floor would have freaked us royal. Not machines or papers or books or gold this time, but peeps, and lots of em. All dressed in fine office gear and busy doing busy, and busy doing a whole lot of nothing. Waxy stiffs sitting at pooters, walkin snap-frozen with paper folders back and forth, filling up glass meeting rooms like some bizzical museum fish tank, even standing around dried-up watercoolers having a good old chinwag. But not a squeak, and all dark dusty as a grave, with just that little bit of light streaming in through the distant windows to ribbon the outlines. The smell of something airless and plastic was heady, and the waxy oils sweated out through shirts and blouses, marking some legion of years. Screens and papers blank as all else, lots of stuff in cubicle drawers but none of it real, staplers and clocks and even vendy sandwiches all like painted-up egg cartons, never touched or eaten, and coffee hard as dried glue. But everything neat as a pin. We snooped to check out every kind of doing. They did look so fine and clever, all those office peeps, not factoring the placky heads.
What’s this all for Pidg? I whispered – maybe for the eleventy-hundredth time, sounding so loud in all that crowded dead space – this place is jitzing me big time. And Pidgin says, remember that story I told you, bout the carved stone lost in the sea? Well, maybe this is the same jahoozy. Say the sky is our sea, and the stone lost in it has to be quite plexy, in a way that us modern peeps want it. Just floating along and looking good without being seen, and safe from crashing down cos it don’t really exist. So, you know, we all need this guff like Yaps need a stone in the sea.
I’m boggling this for a bit, but it’s a nut my nog won’t crack. That’s rubbish, I say. Who built it? And when? And how? I’m banging on bout this as we wrangle a stepladder from a wax janitor, for the ease of future climbing. Pidgin just says he honestly don’t know, that he’s just bridge-talking. He specs that some things are built by nobody, they’re just there cos they need to be. Sort of like an idea, sitting in the dark, no matter what peep sees it or don’t. Like the insides of apples and dogs and so on, he reminds, or money, which has no insides at all. Then he adds, maybe it don’t have to make any sense, like most other things in life, nothing to do but climb. Well that was some relief to hear! And so we went up.
More of the same after that, more of that grim fandango: machines, papers, books, gold, peeps, all of some variety and none, just one floor on top of another. For some reason it made me think of the muddy shores we used to wade through as little kids, fishing for taddies and backswimmers in the factory run-off. In the summer that mud would dry up like a stripy cake, so when you cracked it you could see all those layers laid down over time, the job end of all that industrial trying. The levels of the building were maybe like that, like a fossily sediment collected in the sky over several ages, and boy, I did wonder if we’d ever get to the top of it.
Well but we did, thank gunny. We come out through a little rooftop door, hard to budge cos it was so blocked up with piles and piles of chalky poo. And fully out we could see why. It weren’t so much a rooftop as a square island of rock birds, maybe a thousand or so pidgins parked on every inch. They minded us only slightly, scuffling out the way as we tippytoed into the twilight before dawn, weary from all that creeping and crawling and glad to smell some normal city air. The cooing was near deafening, but you couldn’t want for a warmer embrace of living things, specially after all the moony weirdness we’d sussed that night. And our suits made us feel right at home, just the threads for the occasion.
Tall scrapers cruised past, waiting on their morning workers. I wondered if they’d see us waving as we made our way to the edge, like passengers on a ship. But no, looking at our wobbly flections sliding along those sheer glass walls, we saw nothing much at all, just two small birds flapping silly in the air. That whole building underfoot was just a cube of sky, and maybe not even that. Folk on their way to work below no doubt saw just as little.
Now have a look at that, says Pidgin, and points down the long district, the sun breaking through cloud and flooding all the buildings and cars with a river of gold, and I never thought such a grimy-grey place could look so brass. The feeling of it was so strange and new, and it boldened me to ask Pidgin what I’d been thinking all along – not so much to do with flying offices or stones in the sea, more important than all that. I asked: Why are you showing me this? And Pidgin was a little blushy then, but said what he must have been thinking privvy all along too. I only caught it partly, as all those rock birds got flapping as they readied for the day, but it was part enough. Us two ninnies standing there in our silly suits among a lifting ruckus of birds, all of it carried along on some invisible nonsense: it was suddenly easy to know what was real from what wasn’t. That’s when I first kissed Pidgin and Pidgin kissed me and, well, I don’t even need to tell you the rest of it.