Use the Force

March 3, 2001

We have new birds. After Blueberry’s passing the house was too quiet. So Laurie returned to Parrots of Distinction for new feathered companionship. They were out of the parakeet business; the priest whose hobby was raising parakeets had moved on. But there is an upgrade.

Blueberry was $12.50, which worked out to $1 a year. Our new birds are going to live to be 100. We set out to acquire only one and that turned out to be Pumpkin, a bright yellow cockatiel with orange circles on his cheeks. At the store, they speculated it’s a “she” because the other birds were chasing her around the cage. I think Pumpkin is a “he” because he’s as loopy as a Labrador Retriever. Very much “a guy.”

His/her companion, the Afterthought, is Maggie; not quite an impulse purchase, but a bird who caught Laurie’s eye when she was in to buy supplies for Pumpkin. (Cockatiels have a more varied and complicated diet and require a broad range of foods to ignore on the bottoms of their cages.)

Maggie too was picked on by the other birds. We attributed this to her gentle spirit and her beauty; she is gray with tufts of white, like a mountainside after a light snowfall. But now that we know her, it’s possible she was being persecuted for being a pill. If Pumpkin turned into a human, he’d want a beer. He’d want to hang out. I know this. If Maggie was transformed, she’d turn up her nose at all but the driest sherry and sniff at the size of the glass.

Pumpkin loves to get out and announces his readiness not by whistling but by jamming himself into the near upper corner of his cage and staring at you with his beady red eyes. Cockatiels don’t have much in the way of facial expression, but I read his stare as “fervent hope.” And it usually works. Last night, he rode around on my shoulder while I rinsed out the last tea cup, checked the front door and turned out the lights. Some nights he does the dishes with me.

But his usual outing involves the sofa. While we watch Emeril, Pumpkin strolls down our legs and plays with our shoelaces. He comes back up, pulls at my wedding ring and then changes the time on my watch. Then he climbs up a sleeve to gnaw on the bow of my glasses, much as you or I would work our way back and forth on an ear of corn, or to stick his head in my ear. (I told you he was loopy.) If he ascends Mount Laurie, he opens her barrettes. The white ones he snaps off with a single deft click; the tortoise shell versions he drags out.

On one occasion, he climbed up to my collar, spun around, tickled me with his tail feather and crapped down my neck. It reminded me of the first Star Wars movie where Luke Skywalker drops a photon torpedo down the Death Star’s reactor vent. I wonder if he heard the voice of Alec Guinness say, “Use the Force, Pumpkin” just before he let go.

At any rate, I was glad I was wearing a belt because I only had to change half my clothes. Blueberry’s little love offerings were small, dry, odorless. Pumpkin and Maggie are eating a much more robust diet and Laurie is doing more laundry.

On TV dinner nights, Laurie brings the cages into the living room and we all eat together. The birds like action films the best. Car chases with sirens, tires screeching and hard working string sections really get them rocking. Even in quiet times, they like to freak out, flapping their wings and then running around the cage bottom. Maggie sometimes paces at the front of her cage like an overly caffeinated bag lady waiting for a train.

Pumpkin has bonded with everyone including his favorite Uncle Jeff. The perverse Miss Maggie still hisses when we offer to bring her out and will consent only, after much coaxing, to riding on Laurie’s shoulder. But we have hopes for her.

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