A day in the hay with Marilyn Monroe
Biking the boards I came upon a white-stached man feeding a white feathered pigeon.
I pulled alongside.
Mark Taylor feeds pigeons, he loves them, he says he loves all animals.
He was quick to share a small photo album from his walker’s zippered stash. There were almost no photos without an animal, dogs, cats, horses, pigeons. There were few people.
An album carried daily is a heart-tethered album. Worn and weathered, it reflected the journey of its owner. The photos, in distressed plastic, permitted only distressed iPhone shots. When I asked why he keeps the album so ready, Mark said, “Well, a lot of my best friends are animals.”
Mark pointed to the white pigeon on his walker, he called it Freckles. It did have what a creative mind might call freckles.
Two years ago Mark brought Freckles to Long Beach from the Amityville house they shared. Mark now lives in the nearby assisted living, Freckles lives outside with a local flock.
Freckles wasn’t the first pigeon to reside in Marks’s Amityville house. Another had fallen from its nest under a Long Island Railroad overpass. Mark said, “He didn’t even have feathers yet.” The naked creature survived the fall so Mark put it in a paper bag and toted it home. He named it Choo Choo.
Mark nurtured the chick until it grew healthy and featherful. Then, he said, “I couldn’t get rid of him for nothing.” He took Choo Choo to Heckscher Park where “I put him in a tree with other pigeons. And I got halfway back to the car and, swish,” Mark pointed to his shoulder. He was back. Mark surrendered.
As the duo got into the car a Park Ranger demanded, “Hey, what are you doing with that pigeon?” Mark replied, “Ask the pigeon what it’s doing with me.” Mark explained the situation. The ranger shrugged and let the odd pair go.
Choo Choo was very shy of Mark’s girlfriend, Sue, who lived with them. Mark eventually took Choo Choo to a pigeon aviary.
But they did keep the rat.
Sue, twenty years younger than Mark, loved animals too. A pet store was about to feed a brown and white rat to a snake. Sue bought the rat. She kept it in a converted fish tank, but she let it out often to play.
Mark and Sue stayed together for seven years, then separated. Sue went to live with her dad in a trailer. Two years later Sue came home to find her dad dead.
He died of natural causes…Sue didn’t:
That same day…in that same trailer…Sue hung herself.
Mark was devastated, he had never really attended a funeral, at least to the point of going right up to a casket and looking in. He felt funerals were, “weird,” “morbid.”
This was a double funeral with Sue’s dad in a casket right next to Sue’s. Mark said Sue always dressed in jeans and boots, now she had on a dress and was all “primped up.” Mark said, “I felt like, move over, let me get in.”
Mark recalled other deaths: his prep school teacher who, “ran off into the woods and killed himself,” by overdose, “He sat there, leaning against a tree.” Mark’s oldest brother, Mike, sat on his porch railing, “he fell over backward into the garden and broke his neck, killed him.”
Mark moved where life took him, from Greenwich and Roxbury CT, to Brentwood, CA. His life. one gig after another: Bide-A-Wee worker, race pit-crew member, carpenter, movie extra.
His dad, Frank Taylor was Editor in Chief, and General Manager of McGraw Hill, and publisher of Avon Books. Frank Taylor also became a producer, producing The Misfits in 1961.https://tinyurl.com/FrankT-NYT Through his dad, Mark met Marilyn Monroe who was married to Arthur Miller, screenwriter of The Misfits.
Mark said, “My father started in the movie business in Hollywood then became a publisher. He came back to movies as a favor to Marilyn. She told Arthur my father would produce it. She had a lot of clout.”
Long before The Misfits, the Taylors lived in Greenwich CT with their horse, Ebony. The Millers lived in Roxbury. When the Turners moved to a smaller house they gave Ebony to Arthur and Marilyn. They had good pastureland. Mark stayed with them when he visited Ebony.
As gorgeous as Marilyn was, Mark, at the age of fourteen, thought only of her as an Aunt or an older sister. He said, “I knew her not as a movie star but as a person.” Mark said, “People who saw movies or pinups would say, ‘Wow, you and Marilyn Monroe?’, I never thought of her like that.”
Mark thought Marilyn liked being a housewife more than anything else. He remembers her in jeans most of the time, even wearing “a bandana, a do-rag”, atop her head as she worked around the house.
He recalls the barn with Marilyn. Hay, “piled way up to the rafters…like a pile of leaves” where “we played.” They slid down the hay pile. At the time, Marilyn was early in pregnancy by Arthur.
Mark recalled hearing Marilyn teasing Arthur. He heard her say, “When the baby’s born I’m going to name him Mark.”
A long time after the hay slide Marilyn had a miscarriage. Though it was much later, Mark said he still felt responsible.
Mark really liked Marilyn. She loved animals too. Mark said, “I mean she loved animals.” One day he took her to the barn and she saw cow horns that had been removed from a cow, not a bull, just little nubs. She worried that the removal was painful. He assured her it was not.
The Taylor family was close to Marilyn:
“I knew Marilyn much, much better than Arthur,” Mark said. He said, “I didn’t like Arthur, she was just a token to him. She was like a feather in his cap.” Most of the time Arthur was off to New York.
Mark said, ” One day I was riding in the pasture. I saw a calf’s afterbirth but not the calf.” Before Arthur went to New York he told their neighbor, a farmer, about it.
Mark said, “I rode up, Marilyn was at the fence, a pickup truck came up. The farmer caught the calf and they just put it into a burlap bag and tossed it into the pickup truck like it was garbage.” He said, “Marilyn yelled, ‘What are you doing with that baby?'” The farmer said, ‘You’ll probably find him as veal on your dinner plate.'”
Mark said, “Marilyn screamed, she went running into the house, she was crying, she went into the sofa cushions, opening drawers, looking for money. She found about $20 in change.” Mark said she asked him, “This is all I have, this is all I can find. “That’s not enough for the calf, is it?”
The farmer drove away with the calf.
Mark recalled another time: Marilyn was sitting on the stairs looking out the window. A robin fed its chicks. A crow came and “gobbled them up.” Mark said, “She saw the crow actually eating one.” Mark said, “She went crazy, she was crying: ‘The crow ate the babies, the crow ate the babies.'”
Mark still has three living brothers in the tri-state area. He has two sons, one who visits when Mark is hospitalized. “He comes all the way from CT to Good Samaritan Hospital,” Mark said. (update: Mark reports his brother is picking him up for Thanksgiving in CT)
When it’s really cold on the boardwalk, Mark unzips his coat and Freckles climbs right in.
Not everyone likes Mark’s pigeon feedings. Some yell at him. Mark said, one bicyclist came off the bike lane, and, “aims at ’em” ringing his bell, “ring, ring, ring, he’ll try to mow ’em down, going straight at the pigeons.” Mark says it’s because the pigeons crap on the boardwalk. He said, “So we have indoor plumbing, what the hell? I tell them, ‘Pick on somebody else.'”
As we chatted, a couple strolled by and the lady, Eva, gave Mark a zip-lock bag of bread bits for the birds. Mark and I noted how the bread seemed to be rolled into tiny balls for the birds. Mark said, “She put a lot of work into it.”
I caught up with the couple, Eva and Bider, and thanked them for their kindness. We spoke of others who are not so kind. We agreed that there were a lot more troubles in the world to worry about than a gentle soul feeding pigeons. ∗
Yes, pigeons splat. But I suspect there is far more shorebird crap Pollock painted across the boards than pigeon poop. So as Mark puts it, “What the hell?”
Merriam Webster, Misfit: a person who is poorly adapted to a situation or environment.
Emmanuel Kant: “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
Is Mark a misfit? Is he poorly adapted to life on the shore…on this planet? Or is he a man of heart?
I know many who find joy in feeding birds: gulls on the beach, sparrows in the backyard, or pigeons in the park, even squirrels. One lady, close to me, was called “asshole” for feeding gulls on our Long Beach shore.
But who is the misfit? The feeder of birds? Those who bring a bird feeder a zip-lock of rolled bits? Those who rescue a rat? Those who try to rescue a newborn calf?
Or the intolerant, the nasty, the spouters of, “Asshole!” or, “You’ll find him as veal on your dinner plate.” Or bicyclists who run down pigeons.
What attitude evinces hope for humankind? I think those who see oneness in all life. Those who can’t help but smile at the connection of hearts on this blue planet, hearts that beat the same…whether under flesh, fur…or feathers. Those like Marilyn…and maybe you.
From The Misfits: Marilyn as Roslyn: “We’re all dying, aren’t we. We’re not teaching each other what we really know, are we?”
Maybe we can…if we see…if we listen…with our hearts.