Mother Pigeon Wants to Sell You a Rat!
Plus! Eric Adam's Watch!! Staten Island County Fair!!!
Welcome to Issue #41 of CAFÉ ANNE!
I got a lot of feedback on last week’s issue taking a look at what happened to Friendster. Several readers noted that the supposedly random profile I included belonged to none other then Danah Boyd who is very famous—in a very niche way—for her social media research. Of course!
I also heard from reader Claire K. in Grammercy Park about Friendster’s founder, who, as I noted in the story, turned down a $30 million buyout offer from Google back in 2004.
“I was born after the Friendster era,” she wrote, “But I do have a connection to the platform—the founder is my parents' neighbor! I can assure you that he would have been much better off taking the Google money. He lives in a modest one-floor condo in San Francisco now.”
I hope you all had a fun Labor Day Weekend. For me, the highlight was a visit to the Richmond County Fair in NYC’s most bonkers borough, Staten Island.
I asked the ticket taker if there were any farm animals and was referred to the adopt-a-dog tent. The “Culture Crawl" included two real estate brokers, a henna tattoo artist and a roofing company. An Italian sausage sandwich and can of Pepsi cost me $18.
“I’m both delighted by this and this is the worst county fair I’ve ever seen,” said my friend who came along.
Still, we had a great time. The entertainment was a Grateful Dead cover band. A concession proudly offered Mexican arepas featuring mozzarella cheese and a choice of ketchup or mustard. My favorite attraction was the "Nobody Cares Sports” bingo game produced by Nobody Cares Sports, the local sports radio show. “Are we having fun,” said the host, “or is everyone just visibly upset?”
In other news, I’m very excited that this issue contains a double edition of “Eric Adams Watch.” The Mayor’s been busy! I’ve also got a profile of Mother Pigeon, New York City’s biggest pigeon and rat fan.
ERIC ADAMS WATCH
On Sledgehammers, Magic Crystals and Felonious Twins
I continue enjoying the exploits of Eric Adams, whom my friend Aharon refers to as “New York City’s first AI-generated Mayor.” As a profile in Politico put it, “In a city of weird people and weird mayors, Adams is maybe the most idiosyncratic figure to ever hold the office.”
Here, round-up #8 of the mayor’s doings:
August 10: In response to Texas Governor Greg Abbott sending busloads of immigrants to NYC, the Mayor threatens to send busloads of New Yorkers to Texas to campaign against Abbott in the upcoming gubernatorial election: “For the good of America, we have to get him out of office."
August 17: At an event in Upper Manhattan, the Mayor issues a major non sequitur: “We are up here in Washington Heights at this amazing Dominican festival, just acknowledging the rich Dominican community and everybody that knows me knows I love dogs!”
August 18: Donning a yellow safety vest, Mayor Adams launches a crackdown on abandoned outdoor dining sheds by viciously attacking a Midtown example with a sledgehammer. He later clarifies his support of outdoor dining: “The dismantling of this abandoned shed is not a dismantling of what we feel is a successful program.”
August 22: In a weird front-page “expose,” “Eric Adams After Dark,” the New York Times reveals that the mayor dined 14 times in one month—typically after closing time—at a private table at Osteria La Baia, an Italian joint in Midtown run by twin brothers with multiple felony convictions related to a money laundering scheme. His usual order: the $55 Branzino alla pizzaiola with wood-roasted sweet peppers, smoked tomato and capers. Yum! The mayor’s spokesperson issues a statement: “Mayor Adams does not believe in judging people based on the worst mistake they’ve ever made.”
August 22: In a follow-up piece in the NY Post, the Mayor deems the NYT article a “silly, silly story” and declines to reveal with whom he parties after dark: “If I tell you who I go with, y’all going to do full-page stories on them. Nobody’s going to want to hang out with me anymore.”
August 26: In yet another story about the Mayor’s popularity at local clubs, a New York nightlife source tells the Daily Beast, “They are fighting over Eric Adams like he’s a Victoria’s Secret model!”
August 29: Leading a tour of City Hall, the mayor, who has previously mentioned ghosts haunting Gracie Mansion, the city’s official Mayoral residence, reiterates his understanding that NYC has special energy because it is built on a bedrock of magic crystals: “Stones and metal gather energy. That energy is still here.”
Mother Pigeon Wants to Sell You a Rat!
Mother Pigeon is hardly the only New Yorker who feeds the city’s street birds. Plenty of of us like pigeons. But she may be the only one feeding the rats. When she sees them scurrying on the subway tracks, she’ll toss them some peanuts or a piece of fruit from her bag. She finds they are especially fond of avocado.
“It’s not a popular behavior, but they’re hungry too,” she said when I met her the other day in Union Square. “They like a decent meal.”
“I bet people yell at you,” I said.
“Usually they just want to get away from me,” she said. “They’re like, ‘Oh! Crazy person!’”
While we chatted, Mother Pigeon, a 58-year-old Brooklynite also known as Tina Trachtenburg, arranged several dozen stuffed pigeons and rats on the sidewalk. She appears several times a month, dressed in Mexican party garb, to sell her hand-sewn creations on the street. She advertises her appearances on her Instagram page, which has more than 24,000 followers.
That’s a big following, I noted, considering what she does for a living.
“For a damn pigeon lady,” she agreed. “What the hell, right?”
Her animal sculptures, fashioned from felt and wire, are so life-like that real pigeons get confused and mingle with her creations. One bird, whom Mother Pigeon calls “Mr. Squishy Face,” is a regular. He spent the entire morning hanging with her stuffed flock.
Mother Pigeon makes the birds and rats at her home in Bushwick, which she shares with her husband, a playwright and musician. Each bird takes about an hour of work (she pays assistants to make the feet), and I think they are a pretty good deal at $45. The rats, however, cost a steep $117. She keeps hiking the price, “Because they’re so f—ing hard to make,” she said.
Just about every kind of New Yorker buys her creatures. “Hipsters, all classes, all races,” she said. “They’re all New Yorkers though, I’ll say that. They get it. I don’t sell to many tourists. Tourists just want to buy crap.”
Mother Pigeon clearly loves New York and her fellow city dwellers. When I asked why, she cited a recent stay with a friend in the suburbs.
“You know, you got your house, you got your car, the big outing is to the grocery store,” she said. “Then I’d walk around the neighborhood and everybody would be like, ‘Who the f— is that walking around the neighborhood? Why are you walking around? My friend called me one time and was like, ‘Are you walking around the neighborhood? Why? People are talking about it on Facebook neighborhood watch!’”
“Here we have this freedom to be outside, doing your thing, doing my thing,” she continued, “And no one is going to be like, ‘What the f— are you doing? Who the f— are you?”
Mother Pigeon is not a native New Yorker. The daughter of immigrants from Mexico, she grew up in Texas. “I couldn’t wait to get out. I moved here in the 80s and started my art career,” she said. “I would buy like really cheap tights and painted them and sold them on Christopher Street. Crazy, right? It was really fun.”
She first lived in Chelsea, now one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods. “It was little wild, no one would visit me because it was too scary,” she said. “You saw chalk outlines of bodies everywhere. It was rough. It was wonderful.”
She met her husband in the West Village and they had a daughter. In 2000, they started a band that many still fondly remember: The Trachtenburg Slideshow Family Players.
“We collected slides of people who died and then we wrote songs about them,” she said. “We traveled the world. We were on Conan O’Brian.”
She sang and played the slide projector, her daughter played the drums and her husband did everything else.
“It was just grueling. We had it all—the management, the label, the big tour van. It was a big deal,” she said. “We were treated like royalty. It was an amazing time. But I don’t like performing. Whenever I see a band now, I say you must be exhausted. Or really high on drugs. That’s the only way you can survive.”
Mother Pigeon started making her stuffed birds and rats soon after the Players retired, inspired by by her fondness for the animals.
“I adore pigeons—I think they are beautiful,” she said. “They bring life to the city. Rats, I feel the same way.”
She liked the idea of creating an identify to sell her creations and was trying to coin the perfect name. A friend suggested “Mother Goose.”
“I said, ‘That’s dumb. Thank you, though, for being dumb. ‘Mother Pigeon!”’
“Why not Mother Rat?” I asked.
“‘Mother Pigeon embodies the rat and the pigeon,’” she replied, giving me a look.
While she regularly appears in traditional Mexican costume and plays Mexican music, Mother Pigeon can’t actually speak the language: “People walk up and speak Spanish to me and I’m like ‘S—, this is so embarrassing. Hola! No muy bien Espanol!’”
We chatted some more as Mother Pigeon sat on the sidewalk to eat the breakfast she’d brought from home—a vegan spelt burrito. Lots of folks stopped to talk. Most just wanted to compliment Mother Pigeon on her handiwork, or ask the price of the birds. Everything was pretty low key until a young man dressed in sneakers and a backpack came along. He introduced himself as Kenneth.
“That your art?” he asked. “That’s interesting. The pigeons. You know what I’m saying? That’s inspiring. The rats too.”
“I love rats. I love urban nature,” said Mother Pigeon.
“Yo, me too!” said Kenneth.
“People don’t respect it,” she said.
“Yo, this is what I be saying!” Now Kenneth was almost shouting. “That’s what I be saying all the time!”
They exchanged fist bumps and Kenneth sat down to chat.
“I saw you sitting on the floor anyways, so I should have known what time it was,” he said.
“It’s so funny,” said Mother Pigeon. “Most people do the opposite. It’s, ‘Oh, she’s on the ground.’ They dismiss me.’”
“That’s what I’m saying!” said Kenneth. “I wouldn’t dismiss you, because that’s the type of vibe I’m in.”
And then they were off on a long, rambling exchange that included a discussion of Freemasons, alchemy, quantum physics, Kenneth’s third eye, death, the sixth dimension, the oneness of all creation and the power of sunlight.
“I pray to the sun. I talk to the sun every morning,” said Mother Pigeon.
“Oh my god,” said Kenneth. “You the only person be understanding this right now. I be saying this shit all the time. You need the sunlight. You should enjoy it and appreciate it and say thank you. That’s what I do every day. Thank you sunlight!”
They exchanged another fist bump.
I couldn’t help notice that Mother Pigeon was five times more animated talking to Kenneth than she was talking to me. When he left, she looked a little shaken.
“Wow, this is happening more and more in the park right now. This is incredible,” she said. “Oh my god. I met these other two people the other day who were very similar. But not as far out as that guy. That guy was f—ing far out.”
“You seemed to vibe with him, though,” I said.
“Well I’m far out,” she said. “We’re on the same f—ing train.”
“I don’t think you could do what you do without having some very solid basis for deciding that you don’t need to live like everybody else,” I ventured.
“Thank you!” she said. “God. Thank you. Don’t people who know me and see me doing this, don’t they get that I’m so far off—whatever that is—don’t you know? Like you said. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t go there. I’m a witch!”
“My grandmother practiced witchcraft and my mother shunned it,” she continued. “But I believe in the power of my mind. To me, a witch is someone who loves nature, who believes in the power of energy and who believes in the power of healing their own body and the body of others, if they care to have that.”
I asked if her pigeon creations are blessed.
“Well, the thing about the pigeon is they are very peaceful,” she said. “So if you want peace in your life, it’s great to have these around. Also, I craft in the art of Zen. I never rush. So it’s made with love and intention. Not fast. That also will bring good energy into a space.”
While she chatted with some tourists from Nashville, I selected a bird to buy—a fellow with orange eyes, red feet and a sweet, curious expression. I asked Mother Pigeon to name him. “Sure,” she said. “How about Sandy Sun-Feather? In honor of Kenneth, right?”
She also gave me a packet of bird seed and a little manifesto printed on a square of hot pink paper, “Adoration of the Pigeon.”
As soon as I got home, added Mr. Sun-Feather to my coffee table shrine, opposite my doorman’s two rubber band balls. Will this produce peace on earth? I’ll keep you posted.
Mother Pigeon will continue appearing several times a month in Union Square through the holidays. You can send her a direct message through any of the city’s estimated four million pigeons.
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