Tuesday, September 16, 2014

To Flint and back, with birds

Last Saturday the BF and I drove 6 hours to Flint, Michigan. Hey, anyone can do a weekend in a fun city or a lovely lakeshore; we like to think outside the box. Next week: Elizabeth, New Jersey. I hear the factory plumes are gorgeous this time of year.

Kidding. We were going to Flint to pick up two parrots. The BF is not just any old vet-MD, after all; he’s a bird specialist, a well-regarded one, and he’s always wanted parrots. He built an enormous cage in the basement—I’m telling you, this thing is bigger than my old apartment in Manhattan—and filled it with cool bird toys. He created all sorts of other contraptions for them when they are out of their cage and hanging out with us watching a Cardinals game. (Well, who else they gonna root for?) He had all this stuff done weeks ago and now all we needed were the parrots. Hence, Flint. The American auto industry may be down and out, but there’s always exotic birds.

Before we hit the road, we had to get in our long runs for the week. He was doing 20, as his target marathon is a month sooner than mine; I only did 14 at a relaxed pace. The dog came with us; she’s quite the runner when she feels like it, especially when mud and puddles are involved, which they were. That morning she did fifteen good strong miles. As the BF was starting his fourth and final 5-mile loop, he looked back and noticed the dog wasn’t with him. He ran back to the car and saw her sitting there calmly. He called to her; she gave him a look that said, quite clearly, “Nuh uh, no way. You may continue, foolish human; I am done here.” It isn’t often that the canine has more sense than we do, but when she does, she really makes us look like dufuses.

As we made our way to Flint, I wondered just how much of a dufus I would look like when our two new feathered friends joined us. So far I’d had partial care of the dog, the turtle, a lizard and a tortoise and didn’t manage to kill any of them, though it was close with the lizard. There are times I barely feel like I can get my own sorry self to function adequately; to add responsibility for someone else—be they furry, scaly, shelled or feathered—well, that may send me back over the edge. Add to that the fact that these were very young birds—one still in the process of being weaned—so they would be high maintenance for a while. I joked to the BF, regarding the oblivious dog, that she had no idea what she was in for. Actually I was secretly referring to myself; the dog would probably be affected very little. There’d be strange new creatures occupying attention that formerly was given to her, yes, but what she lost in belly-rub time she’d gain in treats dropped and flung aside by her new roommates.

When we reached the house of the bird lady in Flint, we were greeted at the door by a horrible little yappy dog so small and so loud I nearly stepped on him by accident (if some accidents can be said to be partially intentional). Later on I would recognize one of the sounds our parrots made as an imitation of this yappy beast. Parrots are astonishing mimics; the bird lady had an African grey she’d gotten as a rescue bird from a guy who traveled a lot and left the bird at home alone with nothing but a dead-battery smoke detector. Not surprisingly, the grey’s most common sound was that awful high-pitched chirp. It was uncanny, perfectly reproduced, and every bit as annoying as the real thing. (There was only one other thing that came out of the grey’s beak while we were there, apparently the only other thing he learned from his former owner. Quite out of the blue, in an ugly and deep male voice, the grey said “FUCK.” That word hardly has much shock value any more given its ubiquity, but man, I tell you, I was completely creeped out.)

The BF worried that the birds wouldn’t like him—they had spent the first few crucial months of their lives being cared for and adored by someone else, after all—but he need not have worried. They took to him right away, snuggling up to him like puppies, only without the slimy noses and bad breath. (Apologies to the dog, but man, I tell you, her breath probably killed off the dinosaurs.) They were curious about me, too, and while our initial meeting went well, I’m still apprehensive. The dog basically sees me as she-who-gives-belly-rubs; I suspect the birds so far see me as the-one-with-the-glasses-and-earrings-we-can-pry-off-and-play-with. It’s early days, though. Maybe I’ll work my way up to official belly rubber of all our household creatures, great and small.

Our birds are macaws, a blue-and-gold and a green-wing. The blue-and-gold really is blue and gold, but the green-wing is mostly bright red; his wings are green but also brilliant blue like his buddy. Their names are Boston and Phoenix, Boston because the Boston Marathon’s colors are blue and gold, and Phoenix because, well, the BF wanted to go with another city name and Phoenix is just an all-around good name for a bird. They’re young still, so they don’t do any talking yet, just sounds, though I’m trying to teach them Japanese. I got the idea because, on the drive back from Michigan, the BF had his iPod on shuffle, and every now and then one of his “Learn Japanese” tracks would come on. One minute Ozzy Osbourne encourages us to go off the rails on a crazy train, the next we’re asking “Ima nanji desu ka?” so we don’t miss said train. Because of this, I’m trying to get the birds’ first words to be “Irasshai mase!” That’s the thing the sushi chefs shout at you whenever you enter a Japanese restaurant. Yeah, it’s kind of an odd thing to teach birds to say, but it’s got to be better than the f-bomb.

Despite their names, Boston is the one who I predict will rise. He’s a bit of a runt, slow to develop, and has some troublesome issues digesting his food. His feathers haven’t grown out to true splendor yet, like Phoenix’s have, and he still exhibits young bird tics and mannerisms. But he’ll prevail, I know he will, if only because, well my goodness, what spectacular symbolism that would be! The Boston Marathon is bombed and becomes more popular than ever. The runty high school girl who failed all those Presidential Fitness Tests ends up running a Boston-qualifying marathon. The little blue-and-gold parrot named Boston who started so far behind ends up smart, strong, and utterly magnificent. Or at least he can digest more than baby-bird mush and tell time in Japanese.

Yeah, they’re birds, not symbols, but then again, pets are always going to be more than just mere creatures to the humans who love them. We’ll always see more in them, maybe even see ourselves in them, and hope that we live up to whatever it is they see in us.


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