I didn’t know until just a few hours ago that he even had a name.
Actually, I had only met him once, but I had heard tell of him even before that.
Fred was what they called him, and I have no reason to believe that wasn’t just all right with him.
While all these people were eating at the Waffle House, sipping on their coffee, scarfing up their smothered, covered, capped or chunked hash browns, they would see him. Some even smiled and waved.
Some might have known that he actually slept – or appeared to sleep – inside a drainpipe that extends from beneath Martin Luther King Boulevard, right to the property of the Waffle House. And maybe there are few who might never have cared, even if they did know.
Nobody ever chased him and he was polite enough, pretty much. And there is little doubt that he was perfectly happy with lolling out on the grass near the restaurant, since a lot of people felt sorry for him and were prone to give him their cast-offs when they were done eating.
When I heard of his untimely demise I wished I had gone more often, maybe even to give him his own order of hash browns. Or a waffle. But I’ll never have that chance again.
And the fact that Fred died so publicly, right in front of everyone, well I guess that makes it worse. I know it does for me, anyhow. Nobody did anything to stop it but what I gathered from talking with folks later on they were just too shocked seeing it all go down the way it did for any kind of a reaction other than to hold their hands in front of their mouths, eyes agape, and just say “oh no.”
There are those, of course, who will say that all of the fuss is not fitting because, after all, who mourns the death of a duck? Even a top-knotted, black and white speckled duck with red fleshy features, which was so fat on hash browns he could barely walk and gave a whole new definition to waddle. But that’s what Fred was and the fact that somebody even bothered to bestow a name on him should tell you that there was something special about him.
It was a quiet day but there were a whole lot of people eating at the Waffle House and a lot of them had a really good view of the lawn, and there was Fred waddling away and doing his thing, figuring somebody would have broke down eventually on their way out and given him some vittles.
And then, from out of the sky, the hawk stooped and struck and from what I am told struck again, and it was a fierce and awful battle because old Fred wasn’t going gentle into the good day, he was going to fight, and the amount of feathers that ended up on that lawn could have probably stuffed a pillow.
When it was all over there were some people who talked about how it was certainly horrible but then again it was nature just doing what nature does. The hawk did what hawks are wont to do, and Fred had eaten high on the hog for a long time and certainly the hawk had to eat to. That’s kind of the way it is.
It was the kind of conversation that makes you wonder, of course, about how Darwinian we have become as a society, how accepting we are of the idea that people in our very midst suffer, but we don’t care to do much about it – not even toss them some hash browns from the Waffle House – because secretly we blame the beggars for being beggars, for making us have to look and making us have to think, and for making us have to question if our society is as equitable as we would like it to be. Or maybe to realize that the bottom line is we don’t really care, that to us the unfortunates among us are so many ducks on the Waffle House lawn and just “oh well.”
Although I hope that’s not the case.
Looking at it in a more benevolent fashion I suppose the idea that this little – well not so little – okay this big old fat duck made people smile for just a little bit, that he actually by his inane appearance forced them to dig into their doggy bags and share, speaks well for a lot of us.
And I might wonder what purpose this ornate web-footed creature served, just living in a drain pipe and living off the kindness of strangers, and of course it is easy to see that he was part of a great divine plan that uses the simplest of creatures to force us to be human.
It is the non-humans, like the little mouse that we find in our house and let out the door peacefully when possible, or the injured bird whose wing we are prone to fix, that give us the feeling of what it really is to be a caring being, over and above being a human being. And I suppose that is good.
So I am glad there was a Fred though I am sorry that he died. I do know there is a pair of ducks – slightly less ornate than Fred – who hang around by the McDonald’s on Barrow Street near Civic Center Drive.
During my visits there I have never bought them a small order of fries or really done anything for them other than just gawk. But I feel compelled to pass by and visit. I would like to have the memory, if they are taken one day by a hawk, a raccoon or a too-drunk hunter that I had taken the time to commune, to appreciate, and for just one moment to know that I was blessed enough to be able to give.