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Here is an artistic reconstruction of Philip Roth’s rejected ornithologist satire.

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March 23, 2021, 11:28am

In Laura Marsh’s excellent review of Blake Bailey’s new biography of Philip Roth, she references a few of Roth’s early writing projects, including one that has, for the last 24 hours, consumed my imagination: “He submitted a satire of ‘ornithologists’ to Esquire, which the editor told him was terrible.”

What? I mean… what?

I confess I didn’t reach out to either Marsh or Bailey to confirm whether the document still exists, but, unable to find it via an initial google, I decided to write my own version. (Jonathan Franzen, I await your response.)

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Notes from the Nest

What do ornithologists do all day? We look at tits. Great tits. Elegant tits. Varied tits. Fire-capped tits. Cinnamon-breasted tits—that’s a breast and a tit. We listen to tit calls.—Hey, kid! Hey kid! Like the boys playing ball in the evening, on the streets of Newark, thinking about tits. Tits tits, not tits’ tits.

Being an ornithologist isn’t all tits, of course. There are also boobies. Asking an ornithologist to choose between boobies and tits is like asking a man to choose between his mind and his dick. Most birds don’t have penises. Everyone knows about the coiling duck cock—barbed, ballistic, spring-loaded. But what about the poor bastards with no dicks at all? Don’t talk to us about cloacas. Dickless chickens.

Male birds show off their strength with elaborate dances while the females sit there, bitchily. Or sexily. Or both! The men are more vividly drawn than the women, and no one seems to have a problem with it, so explain that one to me, society.

You might be thinking that all of this has to do with evolution. Evolution is like aging for birds. Steals their dicks. But not their talent. So you can stick your evolution up your cloaca.

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