One day I walked into Washington Square Park and saw a man, bent over, with a pigeon on his back. I thought: Holy Shit, that guy has a pigeon on his back, and walked faster so that I could get a good photograph. But I soon saw that there was no need to hurry, because as I got closer, more and more pigeons were landing on this guy. Holy Shit, I thought. A real life pigeon man.
This was Nandi. I don’t talk to Nandi much anymore. But I used to talk with him everyday. I will teach you the way of the animals, he told me. This got me dreaming big. Holy Shit, I thought, I’m going to be a real life pigeon man. He continued to inflate my expectations. You will see things that nobody else can see. I imagined myself walking through the park, leaves rustling around me as animals stampeded to be by my side, tourists clicking away with their cameras. I will teach you the way of the animals, I would tell them.
When Nandi wasn’t talking to pigeons, he was playing chess. So my conversations with Nandi began at the chess tables, situated on the outskirts of the park. I will teach you the way of the animals. He insinuated that we were beginning a long student-teacher relationship. He used two chess pieces to illustrate our journey. He walked them together across the chess board, side by side. We must stay together, he said. He then increased the pace of one of the pieces, so it pulled far ahead of the other: If I lose you, you must tell me. Because it will take a long time to go back. He pulled the pieces back together. Oh man, I thought. I’m going to be a real life pigeon man.
I came back to the park several days in a row. Nandi treated me like shit. I wasn’t allowed to ask questions. I wasn’t allowed to disagree. Every time I opened my mouth I got yelled at. He was the Greenwich Village version of Mr. Miagi, except that he smoked weed and talked to squirrels. When your mind is not thinking that is when your senses are doing all the work. The animal world is a world of senses, not of thought. Look at the animals. They do not think about you. They react to you. Your first thought is your sense, that is the only thought animals have. I imagined Daniel LaRusso clearing his mind, harnessing his animal spirit, and crane-kicking that blonde guy in the face.
Over a period of four or five days, I spent several hours with Nandi, hoping to flesh out his philosophy and become a real life pigeon man. Again, he kept intimating that we were beginning a very large journey. He would say things like: You are not ready for this yet. I must make sure you are in the boat before we leave the harbor. But then he would keep going off on these wild tangents. He talked for thirty minutes about how blood moved through the body. I tried to focus him with questions. But what were you saying earlier about using your senses to talk to animals? He would get angry.
These questions show that you are not listening to me.
But you do all the talking. What if you have something to learn from me?
I have nothing to learn from you.
How do you know, if you never let me talk?
Can you tell a man is fat without talking to him?
I shut up, and resumed listening. When he finally finished talking about the body’s circulatory system, he moved straight into a discussion about pleasing a woman. Never tell a woman that you are going to be the best she’s ever had, he said. Only tell her that it will be different with you. With each subsequent tangent, I lost a little more hope, and a little more desire, of becoming a pigeon man. One day I came back and found Nandi engrossed in a game of chess: Not today, he said, I am in a black mood. I came back a couple more times, but didn’t even bother trying to start a conversation. He did not seem interested. Your first thought, that is your sense.
After one of my final attempts to approach Nandi, I noticed a Chinese tourist feeding an obese squirrel from her hand. I didn’t even bother to snap a picture.