These buzzards are not members of The Florida Bar
By David Arthur Walters
"Senor, are those beautiful birds flying around the courthouse across the street vultures?” I asked a security guard whom I had become acquainted with inside the downtown Miami-Dade Library. “They look great when flying around, but when they land you can see they are bald and have ugly faces."
"Vultures? You mean the lawyers?"
"I mean the birds soaring around the top of the courthouse, the ones with the big wing span. I can't get a look at their heads from the ground, but they look like vultures."
"Oh, them. I don't know. I'll take a look at them when I go to lunch," he promised. "So, what do you think of Miami?"
"Paraiso," I said, using one of the few Spanish words I know. I knew he was Cuban, and a "right-wing" Cuban at that, although a pleasant fellow. We briefly chatted about Fidel Castro. I clued him in on my conspiracy theory linking the Bush family to the Bay of Pigs disaster and the Kennedy assassination. As for Fidel, I said, what we need to do is forgive him because he knew not what he was doing, and to engage in dialogue with the Cuban government.
"Americans are too nice," he said grimly, shaking his head negatively, and abruptly turned his back, signaling the end of our conversation.
I exited the library, strolled across the street, stood in front of the Claude Pepper Building and looked up at the birds soaring high overhead. A security guard protecting the building was eying me suspiciously, so I approached him.
"Are those vultures flying around up there, around the top of the courthouse?" I asked, pointing upwards.
"I don't know," he said, craning his head backwards. "I've never noticed them before."
A homeless couple approaching with a shopping cart full of stuff overheard the conversation.
"Hey, I've seen them eating garbage!" said the homeless man.
"Did they have ugly faces?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah, they were very ugly."
"I think they might be vultures," I said.
"They look like turkeys on the ground," the homeless woman chimed in.
"Gee," I wish I could get a closer look at them," I said. I thanked them, walked across the street to the courthouse, where I approached a shoeshine man who was talking to a security guard near the front entrance.
"Say, excuse me, can you tell me if those are vultures flying around?"
"Lawyers?" one of them said.
"No, look up there, at those birds flying around the top of the courthouse."
"I'll answer your question for a hundred dollars," offered the shoeshine man.
"I'll give you a nickel," I countered.
“Hell, a nickel ain’t nothin’.”
"That's all that the rabbi on Lincoln Road charges to answer each question about Jewry, a nickel a pop, and he’ll put you in his van and make a Jew out of you for nothing."
"I've never paid those birds much mind," said the shoeshine man
"They would be ugly up close."
"Yes, they are ugly!" offered the security guard. "I was up on the seventeenth floor the other day. When the sun is at the right angle, you can see out the window. The birds were sitting there. They were huge, had ugly red heads, and looked like they had a hole through their noses. "
"They've got to be vultures, what they call turkey vultures," I concluded. "I’ve read about them but have never seen any. Can I go up there and look?"
"No, no, people can't go up there."
"Turkey vulture waste is pure, you know," I repeated what I’d read somewhere. "They eat all sorts of polluted things, but you can eat their shit and not get sick. Scientists are studying the process to see if it can be used in our sanitation systems."
The shoeshine man and the security guard were bemused by that piece of scatological information. I bid them farewell, and walked over to the outdoor bus terminal to wait for the bus, where I passed the time asking people if they knew what kind of birds were circling overhead. None of them had noticed the birds before, nor could they say what kind they were.
Gee, I thought, what’s said about people is true : they don’t look up much. You’d think Floridians would know something about their birds. But not city folk – they have to pay attention to what’s on the ground or get run over or robbed blind. Maybe they should learn to look up too. I saw a man hang gliding near the federal building the prior morning. Maybe he was a terrorist. Or maybe they should look up because, as Chicken Little said, the sky is falling. But never mind Chicken Little: we're not talking about a little chicken shit; we’re talking about courthouse vultures.
I returned to the library stacks the next day to continue my investigation. I managed to find some urban lore on the courthouse vultures, referred to in the local literature as "court buzzards." Many turkey vultures fly south to Florida for the winter, but the ones around the courthouse flocked down from a certain city in Ohio. The ziggarat crown on the county courthouse once housed the jail. The prisoners fed the turkey vultures, thus the location was positively reinforced as a favorite Miami destination for the Ohio flock. They are not, by the way, members of The Florida Bar.