It was my first professional job after college and I was eager to make a good impression. Gawky, self-conscious, and shy, I had been hired at a newspaper that I’d always respected. They had 100 people on staff, about half in the offices, so I assumed I was just another face in the crowd, easily forgotten.
Because I started on the swing shift, there was never a spot in the parking lot when I arrived and I had to park a block away and walk down the sloping hill to get to the office. This would have been fine except that I quickly realized that half the office faced the bank of windows which I had to walk past, and so few people used that sidewalk that any movement out there automatically drew the eye of every bored worker.
This was especially bad for me because I was so clumsy I often stumbled when I walked fast. So each morning I began my day by strolling slowly past all the people I hoped to one day impress, trying to watch my posture and not do anything embarrassing.
That aim was short-lived.
I remember it vividly, walking down the hill one clear summer day about two weeks after I took the job. An odd sensation came over me, one of impending doom. I heard a wooshing sound and sensed something coming at my head.
In one of the rare cases in my life of acting on instinct, I dropped to a squat, high heels and all, and brought my hands up in defense.
My attacker missed me and kept aiming right at the building.
It was a redwing blackbird dive-bombing my head. I had no idea that bird attacks were real outside of Hitchcock movies. Apparently the darned thing had hatchlings in a nest just a few yards beyond where I was walking and it took me for a predator.
All of this I learned later. At the time, I crouched on the sidewalk, incredulous, wondering what in the world I’d done to deserve that.
Then I realized I’d done this right in front of the office. And I still had to walk in the main doors and trudge past 3/4 of the staff to get to my desk.
I stood up tall and traipsed along as though nothing odd had just happened. Just outside the door, I took a deep breath and thought, “I hope no one noticed that.”
Two steps in, I realized that everyone in the office was talking about it. Someone had spotted the bird coming at me and called everyone’s attention to it in the split second before I reacted.
The girls at the front desk said something along the lines of, “You poor thing.” Most people grinned or chuckled and got back to work.
But this one guy in the far corner of the office shouted out, “Nice bird dodge!” and started slow-clapping me.
I scurried to the back room, not acknowledging a soul, and got right to work. I thought if I didn’t say anything, it would die. Nope. I was “the bird girl” for my first two months there.
It could have been worse. I’m not known for my reaction time, let alone avoiding disasters, so I’ve always been thankful that I managed to not get head-splatted by a nasty bird that day.
In retrospect, “Nice bird dodge!” is one of the cooler things anyone has ever shouted at me.