People (including me whenever I vacuum) often ask why I keep a parrot. Okay, they don’t actually ask why, they mostly say something like, "Gee, I never thought owning a bird took so much work," or "Gosh,* who knew a bird could have so much personality." But I know from the way they say these things, with a tell-tale little inflection at the end, that what they really mean is, "How is it that an otherwise intelligent and reasonably sane woman has completely relinquished her freedom and much of her disposable income to 3 oz. of feathers and hollow bones and ARGGG the God damned bastard bit me! take him! take him! I’m bleeding!"**
Why indeed? The fact is that any parrot, from the smallest to the largest, combines in one feathery package the neurotic arrogance of a cat, the pathetic neediness of a dog, and the inventive troublemaking capacity of a toddler — really. If a parrot could attempt to flush an action figure down the toilet, it would. Repeatedly, and all the while laughing in your exact tone of voice.
So what’s up with me and Zeke the Quaker Parrot? Why, when I exist mainly on protein smoothies and frozen dinners and Peanut Butter M&Ms, do I feed him a hot breakfast of veggies and seeds, a hot dinner of specially-mixed birdie couscous, his fill of most of the food I eat, and pricey birdie kibble? Why does he live in a $250 cage draped with $7-and-up birdie toys and perch on his choice of two bird perches and one bird playgym strategically positioned throughout my apartment? Why do I have a wardrobe of at-home-only t-shirts that are chewed to ribbons and dotted with poop stains?
Well, it could be that Zeke is my one eccentric indulgence. I tell folks that I’m a single, middle-aged English teacher and therefore it’s either the bird or a dozen cats. But that’s a lie — I’m perfectly capable of owning the bird, a dozen cats, a dog or two, and some hermit crabs.*** Or it could be that Zeke’s a bit of bad boy, and we all know about that attraction. Quaker parrots are illegal in 11 states and if caught, they are made to wear tiny orange jumpsuits and pick up trash by the side of road.
But the real reason is the absolute magic of holding this strange creature, completely alien in his non-mammalness, his scaly little feet betraying his dinosaur ancestry. I bury my nose in the feathers on his back and he smells warm and powdery and like nothing else and when I rub his head, he tilts his chin up and closes his eyes and hums. He says "Hey you!" when I come home from work and "Gotta pee!" when I go to the bathroom and he yells "Get down!" when the cat jumps on the counter. And really, who could resist this:
*In my imaginary world, I’m the only person who actually swears.
**Ever been bit by a parrot? Anyone would swear then.
***Or sea monkeys! Remember sea monkeys?