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Morning Spew

Someday, Somewhere, Flaco

RIP, our winged king, and other links to start our somber week.

Flaco, a Eurasian eagle-owl, perched on a tree branch in Central Park.

Flaco, a Eurasian eagle-owl, perched on a tree branch in Central Park.(Rhododendrites / Wikimedia Commons)

During the overture of 1961's "West Side Story," soaring overhead shots capture the cage-like grid of mid-century New York City—these ill-fated kids we're about to meet are part of a larger world, if only they could see it. And while they try to break free of the cycle of violence, imprisonment, and retribution, they simply cannot, because there's no place for them in this existence but there. 

The world of Flaco the Eurasian eagle-owl was for so long a literal cage that spanned a little over twice his wing-span, impossibly small. Just over a year ago, somehow, that world became bigger when someone busted him loose. An act of careless "vandalism"? A coordinated animal-rights campaign to set this beautiful owl free? Either way, by stepping out of his cage, Flaco's fate was set—he would be free, but also, he would die. 

Then, a year of Flaco learning that he was the master of his fate. Beginning to hunt, sunning in trees, soaring through Central Park's great expanses. For news-writers whose job it is to wade through the dread of our contemporary era, Flaco was a bright, steady light and we were moths. Would Flaco fuck? Should Flaco run for mayor? The meager efforts of the Central Park Zoo and NYPD to catch him made his freedom all the more captivating. He was just miles from the small enclosure where he had lived his life, but now his life was so much more. 

That he met his end was not a shock—it was written in stone by his freedom. Simply, the city, built without even much care for the humans who inhabit it, is no place for a bird thousands of miles from its natural home, who spent his first twelve years inside a place where he could not fly. 

There are some who believe that Flaco would have been happier in his cage. The World Conservation Society, which runs New York City's zoos and held Flaco captive until last year, released a kind of "I-told-you-so" statement after Flaco's demise. "The vandal who damaged Flaco’s exhibit jeopardized the safety of the bird and is ultimately responsible for his death," WCS said. "We are still hopeful that the NYPD, which is investigating the vandalism, will ultimately make an arrest."

Would it have been easier had Flaco to have just flown off, disappeared into the dusk, a sunset departure to another world? Surely. For us, that is. No witnesses to the end. But Flaco's freedom was also the freedom to die outside of a cage, in whatever way that would play out. 

Flaco soared when other animals, similarly constrained, might have faltered. His final acts were his greatest, perching on water towers, peering imperiously into our own little cages where we confine ourselves, resounding his hoot ever further into the night. Flaco was a slate for our own fantasies of growth, escape, and then weightlessness, but what is love without some projection of our own incompleteness? Our winged prince, handsome beyond words, was so deserving of it. 

There was a place for Flaco, and it was here. 

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