Biff America: Ox envy
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s ass.”
Though that line from the Ten Commandments was the one that, as young boys, my friends and I giggled about under our breaths while Sister Mary Margret wasn’t paying attention, the anti-coveting rules extend far beyond asses (donkeys). You’re also forbidden to covet your neighbor’s house, wife, ox and manservant.
For those of you who need an update, the rule against coveting stuff is No. 10 in the Ten Commandments, which, as the story goes, God gave to Moses on stone tablets on top of Mount Sinai.
Before starting to type this column, I did an internet refresher of those commandments of what not to do. I’m happy to report that I’m batting way over 500%.
Of course, some of the commandments are easy to obey. I don’t want to murder anyone (No. 6). I don’t have the energy to commit adultery (No. 7), plus my wife would kill me, thus breaking the murder commandment. If you don’t count jokes, I seldom steal (No. 8), and most of my lies (No. 9) are simply to make myself look better in columns, and few believe them anyway.
But, I will say, I struggle with the “don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff” rule — particularly concerning our neighbors Bill and Elke. To be clear, I’m not jealous of their home, ox or ass. But I am green with envy over their songbirds.
Since my mate and I have no children, cable TV, or pets, a major source of our home entertainment is our bird feeders. Due to us living in a lower rent ‘hood, we seem to get mostly working-class birds — chickadees, sparrows and lots of crows. We were OK with that. Boring birds need to eat too. Granted, they’re not nearly as pretty as some other species but they do seem grateful.
For years, we were happy with the proletariat avian diners we had. Then there was a brief interlude of seeing how the other half lived. For one glorious month, beginning in early December, we began getting a potpourri of peckers (beaks) on our feeders — Clark nuthatches, Steller’s jays, hairy woodpeckers and pine grosbeaks. Those aforementioned colorful birds were made even more special when they were seen eating next to our drab sparrows (Much like if I was standing next to Brad Pitt).
When Elke’s birthday came around, my mate thought a nice and inexpensive gift to give her would be a bird feeder. Keeping my adherence to the not lying commandment, the “inexpensive” concern was mine. Sparing no (or little) expense we filled up the feeder before delivering.
I can’t say for sure that Elke stole our birds, but I do know soon after they hung up their feeder, all the cool birds no longer visited our home. It wasn’t long after that Elke began to text me photos of all the vibrant birds that were eating at their house. We live only a quarter-mile apart, our feeders are identical, and if I am to believe them, they are serving up the same quality food.
Just a few days ago, Elke texted a photo of two pairs of crossbills and a rosy finch all dining in harmony. I looked out to our feeders, and I saw a few chubby grey sparrows and watched as a crow fouled the railing on our back deck. I felt myself beginning to covet.
Then I thought of HG Wells’ assertion that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and I considered our birds through a different lens. Yes, they were bland, plump and common but, again, they seemed loyal and grateful. It was while looking at the sparrow with a newfound appreciation that I had an inspiration. Yes, it is wonderful to be covet-less, but revenge is fun too.
We have a few bird books with amazing color photos of every flying creature you can imagine. If I hold my phone up to the book and take a photo of the page, I can then edit the picture down so it looks like I took the photo in my backyard.
For the last couple of days, I’ve been sending out pictures of amazing exotic birds — owls, sapsuckers, warblers, buntings and bluebirds, many of which aren’t even found in the West. Since then, there has been radio silence from the Elke and Bill side.
I just read the aforementioned Commandments again to see if my subterfuge was breaking any of the big 10. Technically my fake photography fractures No. 9’s lying, but it does prevent me from No. 10’s coveting. So I see that as awash. And both are a lot safer than adultery.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stoplights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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