We called him “the Pigeon Whisperer.” It wasn’t the most original nickname, but for a guy who would spend hours sitting in a chair in the middle of an empty lot surrounded by, and often covered with, pigeons, it fit. He was by far the most friendly and most sane resident of the neighborhood flophouse the locals had been trying to shut down for years. Many of the its residents were mentally ill, but because NOLA still lacks adequate 1st world mental health facilities, they’d find shelter in places like this house at the corner of Magazine and Thalia. The owners of the house, the family of a retired judge, would collect the residents’ social security checks in exchange for room and board. Nothing shady at all about that!
I later came to learn that the Pigeon Whisperer’s actual name was Jim. After the flophouse was finally shut down — I guess it was a little over a year ago — he rented a room from someone in the Irish Channel, so I’d still often see him around the ‘hood, usually at my neighborhood coffee shop. He’d sometimes rant about the Vietnamese restaurants that have popped up nearby in the past couple of years, which led me to believe that he was a Vietnam War vet with some lingering issues/resentments. But he would almost always greet me with a smile and a pleasant demeanor and he always wanted to pet my dog.
I wanted to know his story. I often thought, “One of these days I’m going to sit down with this guy and get to know him.” But I never made the time and a few weeks ago I noticed that I hadn’t seen him around in a while. Not long after I learned that he’d recently had a massive stroke and passed away. I never did make the time to get his story, and that’s probably something I’ll always regret.
RIP Jim, aka the Pigeon Whisperer. The pigeons still come looking for him in the empty lot next door.
(Photo credit: @hunterholder)