Bird Watcher's General Store

“A Cape Cod Destination Icon For 40 Years”

True Stories at Bird Watcher’s General Store

It’s almost April:

In past years at this time, I’ve written not-so-true columns in honor of April Fools’ Day. I didn’t do it in 2020 because we were all worried about the coming virus, and while things are slowly getting better, I still don’t feel it’s appropriate to prank folks right now. Instead, I’m going to write a little about retail and some of the customers I’ve waited on over the past four decades. (Don’t worry I won’t mention any names.)

My first story is a little gory, but it highlights just how dedicated people who feed birds can be. It started when I heard a staff member scream for help. I raced outside and saw that one of our regular customers had tripped while getting out of his car, was lying on the ground and his head was bleeding pretty badly. We grabbed a T-shirt off the rack and held it on his head until the paramedics arrived to take him to Cape Cod Hospital. It was quite a grisly sight. I even had to use a garden hose to wash down the parking lot in order to keep the gulls and vultures from moving in. At the end of the day, we were still talking about the incident when a taxi pulled up to the front door and out stepped the same customer. His head was now heavily bandaged, like the guy in The Spirit of ’76 painting. We thought he might be angry or upset, but instead he calmly walked in and said, “I still have to get my birdseed.” Ha! That’s the kind of customer we like. A trip to the hospital and head-full of stitches wasn’t going to keep him from feeding his birds.

The next account also involves someone falling, but this time there was no blood or potential vultures. I was chatting with an older woman who was shopping with two younger friends. We had finished our conversation and I started to walk away, when I heard a loud crash. The woman had collapsed on the floor, knocking over a display of spotting scopes on her way down. I knelt to help her, while also looking up at her friends, who both appeared totally disinterested. Finally, one of them said, “There she goes again.” With that, the older lady stood up, dusted herself off and looked perfectly fine. Meanwhile, I was shaking like a Chihuahua and wondering what had happened. I was soon informed that the woman had narcolepsy and was just having “one of her spells,” and was okay. Maybe she was okay, but I wasn’t. I was so stressed by the incident I wanted to have a cigarette…and I don’t smoke.

One summer evening, a guy whom I had never seen before walked in holding a cheeseburger with a bite taken out of it. He appeared to be perturbed as he told me that his cheeseburger was “a little dry.” I replied, “So?” He demanded that I give him some ketchup or mayonnaise. I told him that he could have all the condiments he could find. After he looked around for a second, he asked, “Where the heck am I?” I told him that he was in a shop for bird watchers and the only food we sold was birdseed, and that I was pretty sure he had the wrong place. Still puzzled, he nodded and left, but not before posing for a photo, while smiling and continuing to hold the cheeseburger with the bite missing. I still have the photo and it’s one of my favorites.

One Saturday, a guy came into the shop and I could immediately tell he was out of his element. I hate to be accused of profiling, but I can spot a non-birder from across town. He clearly was doing an errand for someone else, and knew less about nature than I knew about ancient Sanskrit. He said he was looking to buy some mealworms. When I asked, “Which kind of mealworms?” his face went blank. The last thing this guy needed was a choice. I gave him his options, saying we sold both live mealworms and dead mealworms, to which he replied, “What’s the difference?” Wow! It seems the guy knew even less about nature than I thought he did.

Not all our visitors are humans. Over the years we’ve had an assortment of birds fly into our shop, including cardinals, hummingbirds, wrens, catbirds and a ridiculous number of sparrows. The mammal list features raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, but strangely, never a single mouse. (Yeah, right.) Then there was the woodchuck that hid under a display case and growled anytime customers got too close. (I still don’t know where it came from.) Another time I got a call from work telling me that a skunk had wandered in and was browsing in the clothing section. I recommended that they evacuate the customers from the shop, which they did with very little effort. It’s funny how quickly people will leave a store when they learn that a skunk is shopping in the next aisle. My all-time favorite animal visitor stopped by one Christmas Eve. It had just gotten dark and nearly time to close, when a red fox walked across the porch and in the open front door. Without ever saying a word, it proceeded to stroll right past me and headed to the bird feeder section, as if it knew where it was going. It then jumped on top of a shelf, looked around for a few minutes before hopping down and heading back out into the night…without buying a single thing. (Foxes are notoriously cheap.) Half the customers that night were mesmerized by the fox show, while the other half ran for their cars. Apparently, they were still traumatized by the browsing skunk the year before.

It’s been a long twelve months for everyone, but I think we are almost back to normal. Hopefully, we’ll soon be able to forget about this awful pandemic and go back to worrying about the usual Cape Cod stuff like, summer traffic, great white sharks and the difference between live and dead mealworms.