Friday, July 09, 2004

Birdie

Yesterday morning I saw a man walking across the street with a green parrot sitting on his shoulder, and my first thought was, “Boy, that man is starved for attention.” Well, actually, that was my second thought. My first one was, “Arrrrrr, matey! After me treasure, are ya?”

But immediately after that, I did think that he must really be hoping people would look at him. This brief encounter just helped reinforce a long-held belief I’ve had, which will probably offend a few people: I think there’s something strange about people who have birds for pets. Not in the same way I think it’s strange when little old ladies sit on park benches and let squirrels pluck peanuts from their lips. That’s just plain crazy. No, I just find the average bird lover to be, well… a little odd.

This might stem from a friend I had in junior high – Heather – who was a bird-lover. Heather had five parakeets, and for most of the day, they were allowed to fly all over the house. Sometimes she would invite me over to hang out after school, but I always tried to convince her to come over to my house instead. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Heather – I just wasn’t comfortable with the constant bobbing and weaving required to avoid the aerial attacks from her parakeets.

At school, instead of the more common teen query of, “Do I have food in my braces?” Heather would always ask us if she had parakeet shit on her back. More often than not, the answer was a resounding yes. Yes, Heather, you do have parakeet shit on your back. And it’s making me nauseous, so please change out of that sweater before French class.

When I was a kid, there was a hardware store in my neighborhood that had a pet section toward the back. The owners had a big myna bird named Heckle that could say about fifteen different phrases. Whenever I would go back to admire the new stock of gerbils and chameleons, Heckle would wolf whistle at me and say, “Helloooooo, baaaaby!” just like a squawky Big Bopper. He always knew how to make a girl feel special.

Eventually, the store closed their pet section, but they kept Heckle out for entertainment purposes. Unfortunately, without a steady stream of eight-year olds chatting him up every day, Heckle started to get bored and lonely. I remember going into the store a year or so later and seeing Heckle in the cage, just quietly rocking back and forth and pulling at his feathers. That was when I concluded that birds are just too sensitive to have as pets – they understand loneliness and abandonment in ways that cats and dogs just can’t.

As a bird-owner, I imagine you have to do a lot of ego boosting and validation of feelings to keep your pets from falling into a deep depression. I, myself, am a cat owner, so I cannot relate to such emotionally delicate animals. Cats are really more vindictive than self-destructive, and I think I much prefer that. After being away over this past 4th of July weekend, I didn’t come home to find a crudely written suicide note, along with three empty bags of catnip. I simply discovered a strategically placed pile of cat puke on my pillow, and the shoelaces chewed off of two pairs of shoes. And that, I can deal with.