Cecil Andrus, secretary of the interior, is having good success with his peregrine falcons, whose lives have become a continuing saga on the television news programs. They have been showing wonderful colored pictures of those formidable birds perched on the television antenna atop the Interior Building. Seen from afar like that, the broad shouldered black and white predators, with their natty striped convicts' trousers, black "moustaches," yellow talons and yellow beaks, have been beautiful against the chalky pastel backdrop of Washington's summer dusk, and our news anchormen, who are known to have the right values, have been husky voiced, even reverent, in the verbal scrollwork they've put around this scene.
From another angle, perhaps -- say, from straight on, with that cruel hooked beak blackly gaping as the bird pants in the August heat, and the flat yellow dimes of eyes balefully sizing up one's possible calorie content, they may be somewhat less lovely, although with Mr. Andrus out selling them like he is -- and yea, with Robert Redford, Paul Newman and John Denver selling them -- they are likely to be around our city long enough for us to see them in other settings than just those soft nocturnes on TV.
After all, the "babies" -- as the young ones are called by the deep voice of television news -- are growing fast, and it ought not to be long now before the Farragut Square lunch crowd will be treated to more than just jugglers, jigglers, mimes and the nitty-grittiest of all dirt bands. Because when one of those things comes hurtling in at 180 miles an hour to pop a fat pigeon -- most typically while the victim is in flight -- you have what can only be called a public event, even a spectacle, becasue said victim explodes in feathers, blood and entrails over a considerable area, leaving all sorts of surprises in one's picnic lunch. This is what is known as bringing government home to the people.
Some might find this distasteful, even uncivilized, but Mr. Andrus assures us it is all to the good, and so the pigeon-popping and songbird smashing will continue whether we like it or not. If some of the falcons turn up missing, others will be brought, and in the meantime, we Washingtonians, who need so keenly to have our consciousnesses raised, will be able to share with other Americans the privilege of ponying up the salaries of those Interior employees whose sole job is to hover over the welfare of the predators. This, of course, requires expensive television cameras and monitors that we also pay for, and the supplemental grub that we likewise pay for, to say nothing of the sophisticated hand-held electronic surveillance equipment by which these creatures are tracked through our streets to make sure that none of us is giving them a hard time.
In the meanwhile, Mr. Andrus, who is democratic, even humble, in his own dining tastes, will presumably continue having his noon bowl of soup indoors at the regular employees' cafeteria, and will be driven to and from work in the chauffeured Ford LTD (our treat), and this will keep him from having to experience any unpleasantness in Farragut Square and other places where the consciousness-raising will be accompanied by the gouting of blood. And, of course, there is nothing new to all this, since subsidizing and praising predators, foreign and domestic, has been a premiere activity of our federal government for many years now, and we are used to being told that what might seem like rapacity to some is situation-stabilizing to others. So perhaps the falcons aren't worth worrying about, after all; at least, not in my neighborhood, where we don't go in for introspective brooding, and where one of Mr. Andrus' falcons, should his peregrinations bring him plummeting down for a song-bird hors d'ouvre, will exit feet first. After all, we Washingtonians, too, are part of the nature that the secretary professes to admire, and as Baron d'Holbach once remarked, "Those who worship nature should remember that her ultimate purpose is to kill you; and that ultimately, she will succeed."
Anyway, as you can see, I've no use for those lice-ridden intruders, whose very name means "alien," and thought to myself, as Mr. Andrus was giving the speech at their unveiling, just who in the hell does he think he is? So far as I know, he didn't consult any of us who have to live in Washington as to whether we want those things hurtling about the city. For instance, I have been here for 25 years, and he didn't ask me. But Mr. Andrus, who has been here for two, and has possibly seen the place only from the inside of the LTD, is going back out West or wherever he came from, leaving those verminous killers fecundating all over the rooftops of this town, and toting with him, no doubt, a medal from the wildlife people, a congratulatory wire from Robert Redford and the droll satisfaction of having helped convince the rest of the country that it is Washington that imposes things on Idaho. Which isn't to say that things might not be worse, because when one thinks of this administration's eagerness to run this city to suit the "nature-loving" celebrities who are not obliged to live here, it is perhaps a wonder that they have not turned asps, ocelots and grizzly bears loose on us, so that Mr. Andrus could give one of his lyrical speeches while some fanged quadruped gnawed the haunch of a slow-footed commuter.
The truth of the matter, of course, is that the peregrine falcons -- which proliferate up north, as well as in South America, Eurasia, Africa and Australia -- are not nearly so endangered as is our self-respect. Nor is Mr. Andrus, whose feathered thugs feed on our own passivity fully as much as they do on pigeons, any villain, but merely the perpetrator of a minuscule outrage that we did not care to oppose. And maybe that's only the ennui of summer, after all, as 1980 slides in toward us more subtly than any dusk, wherein darker things will be abroad than just black wings.