Smell the Coffee: A messy math formula


Karin’s deck, with its unexpected splatter job.

I’m not terribly gifted at math, but believe I’ve discovered a formula.

It calculates the likelihood that a mess will happen that’s proportional to the amount of time spent scrubbing, while factoring in both the foulness of what’s been spilled and its splatter-factor.

Such was the case for Don recently, though I’ve experienced the same many times.

I’d been having an especially stressful week at work, with several projects coming due right as our office was being visited by the firm’s global CEO — and I was simultaneously battling a vicious bronchitis-type bug.

The week before, I’d been talking about scrubbing our deck, which had turned green from heavy pollen. Wanting to surprise me, Don spent most of the day Friday scrubbing down the deck and washing the furniture. It looked absolutely amazing.

Over the weekend, he and I were a few hours from home, bumming around, when we got a text from my daughter.

“I’m not sure how to tell you this,” Celeste wrote, “but I think something might have been violently slaughtered on the deck.”

She followed this by not answering her phone for an hour. Then, all we got from her was, “It’s not blood.”

She should consider a career writing teasers.

“Picture, please,” I said. She obliged.

It appeared as if a passing cargo jet lost its load of grape jelly from 30,000 feet up.

“What IS that?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” she said. “I think it must’ve come from the trees. Some sort of sap?”

While a few branches do hang over our deck, they’re pine and holly, neither of which drop anything like what we saw in the pictures.

“I’ve lived there 21 years,” Don said when I showed him the shot. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“Did it maybe rain really hard?” I asked Celeste, wondering if a sudden rush of water might’ve splattered gutter gunk onto the porch.

“Not a drop,” she said.

When we arrived home, we went straight to the deck. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In real life, I managed just two.

“Holy crap,” I said. Not realizing how accurate that assessment would turn out to be.

“This can’t be bird poop, can it?” I asked.

“I don’t see how it could,” Don said as he touched one of the long purple smears.

We both looked up. There weren’t enough branches overhead to accommodate that many birds.

“It would’ve been like a scene straight from Hitchcock,” he said.

The saturation of smears was so excessive it would’ve taken hundreds of birds, if not thousands, many hours to make such a mess. Celeste said she’d seen none.

Like Don, I touched one of the smears with my bare hands, flicked at the tiny seeds.

“This doesn’t look like any bird poo I’ve ever seen,” I said.

Odd as it may sound, I’m familiar with what birds excrete and how, having coexisted with an occasionally vindictive blue jay for a dozen years, along with many other wild birds we raised or rehabilitated. If offended, that jay could — and would — take aim. He was wickedly accurate. But nothing he ever aimed my way looked anything even close to this.

We went online, to NextDoor, and surveyed our neighbors to see if any had been visited by the same sort of thing. We learned the privet hedges that flank both sides of our house produce berries that, when eaten by birds, causes them to become intestinally distressed.

It had apparently happened en masse.

This new knowledge was immediately followed by some vigorous handwashing. We then spent the next few hours scrubbing the deck.

And then, as the formula demands, the birds returned for round two.

It happens.

And then, as luck would have it, it happens again.

Karin Fuller can be reached via email at

Funerals for Friday, November 15, 2019

Flint Jr., William - 1 p.m., Graceland Memorial Par, South Charleston.

Geiger Jr., Berley - Noon, Metropolitan Baptist Church, Charleston.

Hines, Kathy - 1 p.m., Weirwood Community Church, Weirwood.

Jeffers, Neal - 2 p.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Jeffrey, Harold - 11 a.m., Evans Funeral Home, Chapmanville.

Kearns, Pamela - 1 p.m., Foglesong-Casto Funeral Home, Mason.

Loftis, Anthony - Noon, Richmond Cemetery, Spurlockville.

McFarland, William - 1 p.m., Preston Funeral Home, Charleston.

Neal, Betty - 1 p.m., Smathers Funeral Chapel, Rainelle.

Pennington, Jack - 1 p.m., Rock Branch Independent Church.

Richards, Jimmy - 11 a.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Grantsville.

Terry Sr., Watson - 1 p.m., Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Carbondale.

Welch, Brenda - 11 a.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Wise, Barry - 6 p.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.