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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Fur Balls & Airports

By Eric A. Carlson

"You don't hear them coming."

--Sharon Lee, describing great horned owls

I suspect I am not alone in noting the uncanny similarity between owls regurgitating fur balls and San Joseans struggling with yet another proclamation from City Hall politicos. Fur balls in the form of letters to the Mercury News indicate that not everyone is happy about changing the name of San Jose's airport--from San Jose to Norman Y. Mineta. What? No carte blanche for San Jose mayors?

At the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Lee Lovelady reminisced about the day he observed the cutting open of a pellet (regurgitated fur and bone) from a great horned owl: "We found 14 shrew skulls in one pellet." No wonder farmers love owls. In fact, the winged predators are often called "flying mousetraps." It's not exactly fair to mice, as the design of an owl makes stealth aviation technology look brutish by comparison. The taper and construction of an owl's feathers render them as silent as a painting of a sleeping woman on a moonlit night.

Harry Farrell, former Mercury News reporter and Olympian San Jose historian, occasionally gags on the undigested fur and bone of stubby San Jose politics, and writes letters to the editor that read as if they were chiseled on stone tablets--brooking no argument. Harry's first sentence this week was a rabbit punch to the soft fleshy parts of a politician's neck: "Mayor Ron Gonzales betrays a sad ignorance of San Jose International Airport's history. . . ." Harry goes on to explain that former San Jose Mayor Ernest H. Renzel Jr. single-handedly conjured up the airport--and if anyone deserves an airport for purposes of self-glorification, it's Ernie. And Ernie doesn't want it. The bronze bust of Ernie at Terminal C will probably be decapitated and replaced with the latest darling's head.

I took safari to the San Jose International Airport to ask airport employees what they though of the Mineta caper, and to pay homage to the bust of Ernest Renzel Jr., Father of the Airport. My first stop was the Martini Monkey cocktail lounge, whose unabashed motto is "Know when to say . . . 'more.'" I asked Scott, the capable mixologist, what he thought of the idea of Norman Y. Mineta Airport. "I would have to say nay," he naysayed. I lingered at Martini Monkey to photograph the preposterous but lovely jungle mural of a Sheena woman wearing skull earrings--in a tropical setting of gushing volcanoes, glass fishing bulbs, and Tiki giddy-gappers. This mural is as impressive as the Bowling Dwarves painting at the Cambrian Bowl lounge. Martini Monkey is a classy and comfy airport oasis featuring green plastic monkeys in the drinks--nice touch. And there is even a guest book; Scott showed me where I had last signed it on April 8. Amazing.

Back at the Wildlife Refuge in Alviso, Sharon Lee, an interpretive specialist, explained that birds are incapable of digesting bones or fur. This material is compressed in the bird's innards and regurgitated as pellets (resembling hair balls). Sharon uncovered a quart bottle filled with owl pellets. They look like baby Tribbles. We also examined a great horned owl wing and compared it to a hawk's wing. As I petted the owl wing, I mentioned to Sharon that I live with a parrot named William. Sharon told me of a recent study that found parrots capable of understanding the concept of zero. William? William only understands the concept of peanuts. But maybe he's holding out on me. He is a good bird who has discharged his duties faithfully for 35 years or so. Oh what the heck, let's name the San Jose airport after him: William the Parrot International Airport. That has a nice ring to it, and the bird motif is in accord with the airplanes.

Final Note: The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Environmental Education Center is a mouthful. It is also a pretty darned interesting place to visit, and is located within the city limits of San Jose (Alviso). It's free, but one has to ask to see the owl pellets. 408.262.5513, ext. 3.

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From the September 13-19, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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