Likes of Cheney should flock to author's book of discreet birds

In between the delicate pages of Adam Blank's Field Guide to the North American Bird (Ten Speed Press, $9.95) are specimens of all shapes and sizes. There are birds for the bold and birds for cowards. Birds for sports fanatics and birds for the office worker. Even birds for musicians!

Perhaps Vice President Dick Cheney should take a look.


It's been more than two weeks since Cheney dropped an F-bomb on Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat with whom he had been spatting. Cheney said he felt better for his outburst, but the utterance still reverberates within the hallowed halls of Congress and beyond. So we got to thinking ... there must be a better way to express one's disdain without delving into verbal danger zones.

Enter Blank, waving his compelling new how-to guide on our truest national bird: the middle finger. This in-depth compilation of phalangic expression attempts to redefine the way we communicate in both hostile and friendly terms, and it's just in time for what's sure to be a testy presidential election.


"The most important aspect of this book is that we are in a hotly contested political season, and everybody hates everybody else because everybody else is stupid," said Blank. "So, what a perfect time to give the gift of insulting your political opponent. Regardless of whether you love Ralph Nader, Kerry or Bush, it doesn't make a difference because there are plenty of people to flip off."

For example, Blank suggests to Cheney that instead of saying "Go [expletive] yourself," he should have used the classic "Adjusting the Glasses" found on page 18, where you use the middle finger to push frames up the bridge of your nose. "I think that would be perfect for him," said Blank. " ... People will recognize it, but he'll get away with it."

Of course, there are much more obvious birds, for those who aren't afraid of reproach. Blank even explains the difference between the two most popular birds of our age: the vulgar (page 9), and the pristine (page 8). The former is a bare fist with the middle finger extended skyward, while the pristine (the sophisticate's choice and Blank's personal favorite) is made by bending your fingers only so far as the first knuckle will allow, thus leaving the middle finger extended, yet comforted by the fingers around it. (If that sounds too confusing, don't worry; clever illustrations by Michael H. Moore - not the filmmaker - provide easy, step-by-step instructions.)

In short, there is simply no reason for verbal vulgarities within the sacred confines of our governmental offices, especially when we, the people, have a world of creative hand signals at our disposal. Blank's method is effective, if for nothing else than stress relief. Still, Blank himself seems a little gun-shy about using the bird in real life. When a loud woman's nearby conversation disturbed our phone interview, Blank scoffed at the suggestion of simply flipping her off.

"I can't," he whispered. "I'm too much of a wuss. That's why I give all the birds that are clandestine."