A sky filled with hot firefighters…

8 Mar

So, a few years ago I publicly confessed my long-standing, deep-seated, highly illogical, but completely valid and totally overwhelming fear of pelicans. Since that time–and entirely as predicted–members of my family and one extra-devoted asshole have teased and tested and pestered me relentlessly about my pelekysphobia. In fact, you may recall that the extra-devoted asshole (i.e., BB/PP) attempted to induce an aneurysm/stroke in my already precarious system with his little let’s go see the pelicans “joke” while we were in Mexico at the end of last year….. (click the link if you need/want a refresher on that situation). 

Honestly, I really don’t know why I keep him around when he does such terrible things to me… In fact, I don’t think more than 2 months have gone by since 2013 without him sending me some sort of pelican-related nonsense. He insists that doing so provides me with a form of desensitization therapy. He’s mainly wrong about that, of course, but I do admit that his current iPhone-identifier photo does manage to make me grin (after my initial shock/cringe) each time I see him call:

My tormentors

In any event, all the way through his little “joke” in December, I hated/feared pelicans with a deep and abiding passion. And then a week later I went to Cuba…

I know I still owe you a LOAD of stories from Cuba, but I am still working to mentally/emotionally unpack that trip so that I can present things to you plainly. It’s all so very complex. In fact, you know is HAS to be complex when I tell you that Cuba somehow became the foundation upon which I may have healed my pelican-based fear.

We were touring the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón (a 6-square-block cemetery in Havana) when I was captivated by a charming little iron bat sculpture on the apex of a wrought iron fence:

The bat that started it all

After I snapped this shot I realized, with horror and dismay, that there also appeared to be a giant marble pelican perched at the feet of a nun sitting above the bat.


As I began to hyperventilate, the 13-year-old boy with whom I was traveling recognized the source of my low-key panic attack. And although he sometimes teases me about pelicans, too, he instead chose to diffuse the situation beautifully: Z! Do you know what this monument is all about?

No. M, I have no idea. I just know that I really did not expect to be confronted by a freaking pelican while in a cemetery in Havana, Cuba!

Well, Z, see here… The ‘monumento a los bomberos muertos en el incendio de la ferreteria Isasi en La Habana Vieja’?

Yeah. The fire fighters that we heard about during our tour. So what?

Well, don’t you see?! It’s a memorial for firefighters, so of course there is a pelican!

<stunned, slack-jawed silence>

You know how in America we think about the Dalmatian dog and firefighters?


Well, in lots of places they think about pelicans and firefighters. Because, you know, pelicans are like the guardian angels or helpers or whatever for firefighters.

What the heck are you talking about, M?!

Pelicans! They have those big beaks, right? The story goes that they will use them to go scoop up water to help put out fires. That’s why they are on this memorial–because they are like the patron saints of firefighters.

<more stunned, slack-jawed silence, then…>

M, I’m pretty sure that’s not anywhere close to the truth, but I love you for sharing that with me. I honestly think I can use that information to help me reframe how I think about those damn beasts: They aren’t satan’s dinosaurs bent on destruction, they are cute little life-saving angels that help hot firemen. That’s a fantastic way to think about them. Thank you!

When I came back to the U.S., I shared the breakthrough with BB/PP, which only made him send me MORE pelican photos, but I started to laugh more than I panicked when I got them. And then on the way up to my great aunt’s funeral, while I was listening to an audiobook, I experienced a MASSIVE BREAKTHROUGH EPIPHANY when I rediscovered the actual source of my pelican (AND emu/ostrich) anxiety: Joust. The 1980s video game.

Fucking evil-assed birds that I could never defeat! Fucking Joust, the unconquerable video game gauntlet that so deeply marred my young psyche! I had completely suppressed and sublimated my shame and had thoroughly forgotten that this STUPID FUCKING GAME ever even existed, let alone how it had scarred and damaged me. I just knew that pterodactyls were evil and pelicans (which I have always called “pterodactyls”) were the living embodiment of that evil. I hate the birds because I hated my young, video-game loser self.

How sad.

How tragic.

How utterly ridiculous…

And hilarious!

EPIPHANY: My stroke-inducing fear of pelicans stems from my 9-year-old self’s failure at a video game that I had completely forgotten existed. Awesome.

I’m pretty sure I’m over this fear now–that’s what I told BB/PP immediately upon attaining my surprising revelation, which of course induced him to up the pelican photo barrage even more. All in good fun. All funny now! I laugh at each one, but I remained unwilling to take him up on the offer to go “pet” the pelicans that toddle about the Redondo Beach Pier.

That is, until yesterday…

As I was riding my bike down to Palos Verdes, I noticed that there were quite a few pelicans hanging out in/around/over the Ballona Creek inlet. And as I made my way further south, they became ever-more profligate along the coast: Like so many hot firemen in the sky, I thought to myself. When I passed the Redondo Beach Pier, I thought: well, if buddy is home after I finish my climb, I’d be willing to give the personal encounter with a pelican project a try…

So I sent him a text asking if we could meet on the Pier at ~1:15 and I was extremely relieved when he did not reply.

Ok. No need to confront that situation today, I’ll just keep riding back north…

But wait.

What’s this?

A random art fair on the Hermosa Beach promenade?

And that corner stall looks like it’s filled with giant metal flamingos, ostriches, and –yup, you guessed it– pelicans.

Ha! Perhaps I should try embracing a stone/metal pelican avatar before I move on to encountering a live bird. Excuse me, sir? Would you mind….

It’s so cute!

The artist/sculptor didn’t mind at all. He gave me this little guy to cuddle and, as you can tell, I was genuinely happy to be hanging with this “bird.” No heart palpitations. No hyperventilating. Just good fun and joy. Yay! Progress! Onward…

So I get back on the bike and about 4 miles north I see a whole stream of ’em up in the sky. I pull over along the bike path to marvel at them. There must be close to 50 of them. It is a veritable pelican storm. Never seen anything like it. It was captivating. It left me breathless–but in a good “nature is awesome” kind of way, not in an “ohmidog I am probably going to be killed imminently” sort of way.

I took a picture, but it sucked:

You can’t really tell, but there are about a dozen pelicans in this shot

Strange. That there should be so many of these birds out here today of all days. The day that I had previously declared the day when the sky was filled with hot firefighters…


Oh my donkey.

What in the WORLD is that massive tornado-like swarm up ahead?

That looks like…. 75. No 100. No, maybe TWO HUNDRED pelicans all surfing and dive-bombing and just hanging out on the beach! I’ve seen approximately that many seagulls hanging out in this area before… but those are no seagulls!

This is so cool!

About a dozen people had stopped jogging/cycling along the bike path to marvel at the giant avian display. 

Dude. This has to be like a World Record Level gathering of pelicans! shouted a guy just up the path from me.

Indeed, that is exactly what it seemed to be. If this had happened to me ~2 months ago, I’m pretty sure my family would be writing to you all to let you know I was in a (hopefully only temporary) catatonic state. Instead, I’m here to tell you that the confluence of pelecanus onocrotalus was stupefyingly glorious and wondrous to behold.

Here’s a video clip of some of them:

And here’s a shot of about 1/3 of them (along with a few seagull friends):

Playa Del Rey hosts the World Record Gathering of Pelicans

I stood there and grinned and laughed for a good 10 minutes. A sky filled with hot firefighters. What a glorious thing!

Thank you, Cuba.

Thank you, M.

Thank you, audiobook.

And, yeah, I guess thank you to you, too, BB/PP. I’m ready to go pet the pelicans whenever you are–but we should probably continue to avoid Joust…


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