In December of 2011, Jennifer Wong was headed toward the subway with her boyfriend, Joe Liu, when they decided to veer off course for a bagel. On the way to the deli they passed a pet shop with an African grey parrot in the window, went inside, and eventually bought her. They named her “Bagel.”
And that’s why, last weekend after the near-flightless bird had taken off from a rooftop party and vanished into Brooklyn, you may have seen people on Reddit exchanging the otherwise peculiar expression, “You found Bagel!”
When Bagel first disappeared on Saturday night, Wong and Liu canvassed the area. They knocked on doors, asking landlords for permission to climb up on their rooftops for better views of the woody neighborhood. Meanwhile, local kids wandered around, calling, “Bagel.” One woman put a bird feeder on her lawn. In all, Wong told the Daily Dot, the search party involved about 50 people.
Some of those people got involved when they ran into the couple on the street. Other’s saw fliers the two had put up at four in the morning. But for many, it was a call for help Wong posted on Reddit: “Lost My PARROT in Clinton Hill Brooklyn--Please spread the word!”
This became the top post of the day on the NYC subreddit. Users began responding with tips and sightings. One suggested someone check nearby Fort Greene Park. Another replied: “I saw a pair of these parrots today in a tree in Fort Greene park! They didn't seem to have an obvious human accompanying them.”
Reddit also allowed former residents of the neighborhood to contribute to the search. “Definitely get the street folk in on it,” one user posted:
“I haven't lived there for a couple years, but I hear Kelly is still around and doing well, and I would bet that Daniel (aka "Chair", the guy with no legs) hasn't gone anywhere. They're both really nice people and decent human beings, and that reward speaks volumes. If you somehow don't know Kelly, visit Jerry, the old Puerto Rican guy who will be drinking Bud under a pop-up canopy type thing at 416 Grand Ave., and ask where Kelly at. Or just introduce yourself to the guy with headphones on singing out LOUD.”
The conversation played out as if they were on talking on the street. When Wong told the user she had already talked to Daniel, the user replied: “Great to hear he's still around and kicking! He's a dear man, indeed. That said, he is in the crack game and I've seen him pull a gun a couple times -- though only for self-defense.”
“Reddit had that kind of anonymous feel,” Wong said. “To have people posting about Daniel the wheelchair guy--there really was a sense of community.”
Indeed, the distinction between the Reddit community and the Clinton Hill community is hard to pinpoint in this case. “I live in Clinton Hill and I was keeping an eye out, saw the fliers too,” a user commented. “Damnit I’ve been looking for this bird all day,” wrote another.
It is perhaps the anonymity of Reddit—where users still frequently use pseudonyms—that allows it to function as such a tight community. Unlike Facebook or Google+, where online interactions are often predicated on real-world friendships, ties on Reddit are formed between those who occupy the same digital spaces, those who, for better or worse, have to know each other. In other words, neighbors.
On Sunday, Wong and Liu got a tip that someone had heard an unfamiliar whistling on a nearby block in the neighborhood. Soon after, a phone call came in from a family who had spotted a parrot in their yard. When the two went to check out it, they found Bagel. She had been standing on a tree branch in front of a kitchen window.
Afterwards, Liu told the Daily Dot, “I went around and notified the neighbors that were especially helpful. A couple who allowed us on their roof celebrated so loudly I heard them from five stories below. A doorman to a condo building jumped up in celebration. A grade school birthday party shouted for joy.”
Though ultimately the family who found Bagel didn’t hear about her on Reddit, the community celebrated just the same: “Really glad you found her,” a user commented when Wong notified everyone of her success. “I heard you calling for her last night and it broke my heart. I've spent the day looking up.”
In the end, the Internet isn’t so unlikely a place for Bagel to find help. The bird has almost 900 followers on Instagram. To the question of how Bagel got all those followers, Wong replied, “people find her.”
Photo by Jennifer Wong