Talk of the Town - Return to gender August 12 2004

This duck is a woman now

Gender hasn't bent this much since The Crying Game.

In case your movie memories don't predate Shrek 2, permit me to elucidate: The former film featured a comely lass who, two-thirds into the picture, turned out to be a guy. This shocking denouement caused me to drop my tub of popcorn and send a half-liter of Coke gushing down the aisle.

That was a decade ago. Since then, this correspondent's comprehension of sexual characteristics hasn't improved any.

Recently in this space, I paid tribute to Aflac, the brave, bumptious waterfowl — and ringer for the insurance spokesduck — who resides in our neighborhood pond, outwitting sundry large and mean geese.

And I grandly assumed, supported by timeworn prejudice, gender stereotyping and sheer squeamishness — after all, who wants to check under a duck? — that Aflac was male.

Boy, was I wrong.

The first clue arrived via Liveducks.com (no puns, please), which is devoted to the breed. It turns out that duck characteristics, broken down by gender, aren't that different from the humanoid behavior you'd see at the local Dew Drop Inn on a Saturday night.

For instance, the common male mallard (or Anas platyrhynchos — and you thought he was running the Olympic Games in Athens) cruises quietly about, making "soft, muffled sounds," not unlike guys in bars muttering, "Hey, baby," to some piña colada princess. What's more, male ducks under observation were seen to preen 6 percent more than females. Probably busy combing that D.A.

On the other beak, loud quacking — and Aflac can wail — is primarily a female characteristic, aimed at keeping duck families together. But since quacking sounds perilously like "nagging," I hesitated to ascribe such negative stereotyping as female, no matter the species.

The second clue involved the once-united duck flotilla, the Magnificent Seven. Since their arrival at the pond (no one is quite sure how they got there, and don't drag another bird into this by telling me it was the stork), the ducks were inseparable. Lately, however, they seem to be pairing off.

The third and decidedly final inkling occurred the other night, as I fed the ducks. In between volleys of bread pellets, one of the group got hold of Aflac, engaging in an activity that, among humans at least, is often preceded by dinner, a movie and consumption of at least three alcoholic beverages. This shocking denouement caused me to drop my loaf of Sunbeam and send a half-liter of Dasani bottled water (don't worry, it's sold by Coca-Cola) gushing into the pond.

Whole-wheat must be some kind of aphrodisiac.

It's also an early ticket to duck Valhalla. According to Liveducks.com, plying our beaked buddies with an entree of baked goods will short-circuit their natural inclination to bob for healthy greenery, i.e., pond scum.

Distributing bread to waterfowl may make you feel like a cross between Dr. Doolittle and Saint Francis of Assisi, but its effect on John Q. Duck's lifespan has its Homo sapiens equivalent in a two-pack-a-day unfiltered Camel habit.

Plus, it transforms a once-docile gaggle of waddling dweebs into an aggressive societal menace. People in my neighborhood hand out so much free bread that the ducks have turned into a downy version of Marlon Brando's motorcycle gang a la The Wild Ones.

When I drive home at night, it's not unusual to find Aflac and his stoned wheat pals blocking the road, strung out on all the processed food and loitering beneath apartment balconies — feathered junkies in search of another fix.

Duck management specialists — hey, it beats telemarketing for a living — recommend that in such instances, long-term changes should be made by a community, starting with a strategy that disrupts the daily travel path of freeloading ducks.

Around here that would mean routing them onto Ga. 400, where they would sit stalled in traffic reading The Daily Duck, doing their feathers with a curling iron plugged into the dashboard, and flipping other duck drivers the web.

It has been proven that overfeeding by humans causes ducks to lose their natural reticence around man. This makes them gain weight and undergo obnoxious behavior changes that could result in their wearing loud polyester pants, playing golf and/or running for public office.

I'm already sick of political commercials. Imagine seeing a 30-second TV spot that proclaims: "Aflac the Duck: Preserving Our Georgia Conservative Pond Scum Values."

The message here? You can't be sure of anything. I thought the guy in Crying Game was a dame. I thought there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Hey, I even thought getting 539,947 more votes meant Gore won the 2000 election.

And now, I think Aflac is pregnant. It's a crazy world.

You quack, girl.


Glen Slattery has a whole-wheat dependency problem in Alpharetta.