Getting down off a duck

Following is an announcement from the offices of Bill Cope regarding this week's column: With a level-three Supreme Court confirmation converging on the East Coast, to say nothing of the continuing unraveling of Karl Rove, the deteriorating situation in Iraq, the epidemic of mass employee lay-offs and the banning of beer on the Boise River, Mr. Cope has decided to take a short mid-summer vacation from contention, controversy and quarrelsomeness, and for this week only, has retreated to the cool, comforting subject of cute creatures and their relationship with his kid. Be assured, by next week, he will return to his usual form.

If your memory stretches back two weeks-as mine does on the good days-you'll recall at that time, I was getting ready to attend my 40th class reunion. I don't think I should get into how it went. There are reputations to protect. Suffice it to say, things got pur-tee darn crazy. Whooee, momma! About nine o'clock in the evening, it was clear to everyone that this bash wasn't going to break up for at least another half-hour. And you oughta heard what we were saying about the people who didn't show up! Funny?! Gawd, I thought I'd die. I wish I could tell you everything that happened, but I just can't. I mean, some of these folks won't retire for another couple of years, and if this stuff got out ... phew!

But even with all the wild hilarity going on, one thing I couldn't help but notice was that nearly everyone there was mildly interested in what their old classmates have been up to for the past 40 years. I exaggerate not. Everybody I could catch up with just had to know: "So, Cope ... what've you been up to the last 40 years?"

And it wasn't just about me. I heard it all evening long. "So, Lumpy ... what've you been up to the last 40 years?" Or, "So, Betty ... what've you been up to the last 40 years?" That's the kind of curiosity you simply don't find in today's young people, isn't it?

Anyway, I'm sure you know how hard it is to describe your entire adult history to someone in a few minutes. It's tough. Especially when that person is trying to back out a side door while you're talking. After about the first dozen or so attempts, the next time someone asked, "So, Cope ... what've you been up to the last 40 years?" I answered, "Well lately, I've been raising a baby duck."

Now listen, I don't mean to imply that tactic made me the life of the party. But they definitely seemed willing to stick around a bit longer.

But about the duck, I have my daughter to thank for that. See, once again I'd made the mistake of taking her into a store with me. And to show you how stupid I can be, it was the very same store I once walked out of with 10 ravenous baby chickens in a box because she was with me then, too.

That was several years back. She was a little girl at the time and hardly knew the difference between a newly hatched chick and a Beanie Baby. As I've learned, though, she may have matured in all the other ways (physically, intellectually, educationally, computer-savvily, hair-obsessedly, clothes-consciously, drivers-license-covetingly, horrid-taste-in-musically, talk-back-to-Daddyly, yak-on-the-phonely, etc.) but when it comes to adorable, soft, cuddly, big-brown-eyed, helpless creatures that can fit in the palm of a teenager's hand, she might as well be 6 years old again.

So she's with me in this store (which even after the 10 baby chickens episode, I won't tell you the name of, though I should, as a public service announcement, so you'll be warned never to take your own kid there unless you own a farm) and I was going through the checkout counter with her waiting impatiently for me to pay so she could get back to her horrid music station on the car radio, when this baby duck pops its adorable, soft head out of the breast pocket of the young lady taking my money.

Actually, I didn't see it at first. I just thought my daughter was experiencing some sort of intense pain or maybe a religious epiphany, right there in the checkout line. "Mmmoooooohhhhhhhhh-uuuhhhhhhhmmm!" she said, or something to that effect.

I was still trying to decide what was wrong with her when the young lady at the cash register said, "You want it? You could take it home and raise it."

"Raise what?" I could feel the panic level rising in my craw like the aftermath of a canned-chili dinner.

"Daaaa-deee? Can we? I'll take care of it."

"Take care of what?"

Heck, by the time I figured out they were talking about a darned baby duck, it was pretty much a done deal. My daughter was looking at me like she does the week before Christmas, and the folks in line behind me seemed equally curious as to what my answer would be. It was obviously neither the time nor the place to be questioning my child's judgment, i.e: "Hon, what the hell are we gonna do with a baby duck?"

Instead, I asked the young cashier, "So why is it in your pocket? Shouldn't it be on a shelf back in your duck department?" She explained that it was a wild baby duck, likely just a day or two old. Someone had found it that very morning, wandering about alone and in apparent need of rescue. I'm guessing the rescuer figured that if it was in an opportune location, such as this store, sooner or later a teenage girl would see it and convince her spineless father that she would do everything necessary to turn a fragile baby duckling into a strapping, mature mallard in time to fly south for the winter.

"Dad, I'll feed it and clean up its poop and everything."

This all happened about four weeks ago and you already know how it turned out. As I write, there is a ravenous, wild, preteen duck splashing about in an improvised duck pond not six feet away. And I am in my basement.

So far, my daughter is doing as she promised. The duck is well fed and the basement is relatively poop-free. We'll just have to wait and see how diligently she continues to tend to "Daffy" (or "Daphne," depending on what gender it turns out to be) when the little quacker's teeth come in and it starts to go after her feet. As I learned with the chickens several years back, she is particularly skittish around fully grown fowl with a taste for toes.

(By the way, for anyone who read this whole thing in hopes I would eventually disclose some secrets about what happened at the class reunion, you're out of luck. My lips are sealed. Consider it classified information. Who do you take me for anyway? Karl Rove?)

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