Curry and I had
also entertained ourselves with the construction of a "worst"
composite, which ran as an article in SI (Oct. 11, 1976)—an imaginary player
composed of some of the more woeful features lifted from the league's athletes.
These included such appurtenances as Bubba Smith's feet—ugly, astonishingly
long with yellow toenails; Taz Anderson's knees—10 operations had been
performed on them; Alex Karras' eyesight, which was so poor that he once said
he played by a kind of violent Braille system; and Joe Scibelli's breath, which
Karras described as turning the area of the line of scrimmage into the
"back room of a Limburger factory."
John and Victor
were amused by this, but when I suggested that we might try the same exercise
with birds, putting together not only the "perfect" specimen but also a
grotesque composite made up of birds' more unfortunate aspects, they were a bit
with things that are perfect?" Victor asked. He went on to say that he had
such a bias against anything artificial in a natural state (he would accept
skyscrapers, as he put it, in a city, but not in a jungle) that he felt
uncomfortable removing parts of a bird and shifting them around for a
composite, especially to put together the world's worst bird. That was a
contradiction in terms. There was no such thing.
But he poked at
the fire and said that he would try. He wanted to start with the perfect bird.
He said he was going to have to "work himself into the game before
attempting the grotesque specimen. "Let's see," he said. "I suppose
we ought to start with flight. Certainly, that's one of the main components of
a bird's beauty. So perhaps we'd give our perfect bird the fantastic flight of
the swift, which is the essence of flight. The swift flies all the time; you
almost never see the bird perched. But he doesn't have much of a song, sort of
a chirp, which I like," he added as if not to hurt the swift's feelings,
"so that if we gave him the song of the slate-colored
Yip!" Rowlett exclaimed.
"It would be
very bizarre," Victor went on. "One usually hears the solitaire's song
from the crevice of a canyon, cascading, pure notes that descend the scale in
halftones, but imagine it pealing out of the sky from above?' Victor was
beginning to get excited. "What a combination," he said. "If it
existed, it would be one of the wonders of the world."
his coloration?" I asked. "Swifts are very drab."
"He would be
iridescent, wouldn't he?" Victor asked. "Emerald green with a red or a
sapphire throat. Hummingbird iridescence."
"If the sun
caught him as he flew," John added, "he'd become inflamed."
We stared into
the fire, its coals pulsing as if to offer us inspiration.