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Flight 1549: Homage to Bad-Luck Geese 

Thursday, Jan 21 2010
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In their nightmares, the passengers of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's U.S. Airways flight 1549 undoubtedly see geese. Captain Sully safely ditched the plane in the Hudson River one year ago following its collision with a migratory flock of geese minutes after takeoff from New York's La Guardia Airport.

The passengers have taken their revenge, of sorts, with the help of Los Angeles artist Tony Dominguez. At his suggestion, they used goose piñatas as centerpieces for a private New York dinner reception held in their honor last Friday, the anniversary of the "Miracle on the Hudson" crash.

A couple of days before the dinner, Dominguez rushed about in his manager's downtown studio loft putting the finishing touches on the wings. The bodies had already been shipped out separately via freight out of concern that they would not pass security inspection on a regular commercial flight.

click to enlarge Duck!
  • Duck!

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"I'm grateful to be chosen," he said as he glued paper feathers onto the wings.

Dominguez makes the piñatas in the traditional way, with chipboard, newsprint, crepe paper and a goopy paste of flour and water. Symbolic of the harvest, piñatas are about casting away old bad luck and ushering in the good. It was sheer luck that a Los Angeles artist became involved in celebrating the outcome of a flight on which there had been no Southern California passengers. The flight was destined for North Carolina.

A member of the party planning committee had seen Dominguez's art as it traveled through Brooklyn — a 20-foot papier-mâché sculpture of a toilet-paper roll, commissioned by the company that makes Scott tissue.

The committee called him and asked him to make something. Dominguez suggested geese. In Mexican culture, Dominguez explains, it is common to make a caricature of something that brought you bad luck. It is actually considered an honor for the person — or waterfowl — being caricatured.

The passengers were smitten with the idea.

Canadian geese are about the size of German shepherds, but fatter around the middle. They have a 6-foot wingspan.

Dominguez's birds are actual size and fairly realistic. They distill the very essence of gooseness with their gray-paper backs, graceful black necks, white bellies, black beaks, and patch of gray on the cheek.

"We wanted to give a sense of what actually caused the plane to go down," he said. But he had taken artistic license with the eyes by incorporating a streak of red.

"They do have something in their eyes," one of his friends observed. "Like they know they're up to no good and they're gonna mess it up somehow."

The party planners, survivors of flight 1549, ultimately decided that bashing the hell out of fake geese with wooden bats, while potentially cathartic, is not exactly in good taste. Human-on-bird brutality, they worried, might anger animal-rights activists.

"The steering committee went over it a few times," Dominguez said. Instead of smashing the piñatas in the traditional way, "they're going to pull on ribbons attached to the bottom of the birds; that releases a hatch that lets the candy out." He traced an imaginary goose in the air, indicating the area where the breast hatch would be. "That way everyone can participate. We also want to be sensitive to different issues, you know, and not beat an animal."

Three goose piñatas hung in the middle of the main dining room at the Providence nightclub in Midtown Manhattan. They were stuffed with candy, confetti and U.S. Airways snacks (pretzels and peanuts). To enhance their lifelike qualities, Dominguez rigged a pulley system that would make the geese bob up and down.

After the dinner, Captain Sully, the crew and the passengers autographed two of the piñata carcasses, which will eventually be auctioned off on eBay, with proceeds benefiting earthquake victims in Haiti.

Revelers tore apart the third piñata. "One person went home with a wing. Another took a beak," Dominguez said.

Cocktails were supplied by Grey Goose vodkas, the "unofficial" drink of flight 1549. The caterers, however, did not serve roast or fricasseed or broiled goose. Guests ate chicken.

Reach the writer at galimurung@laweekly.com

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