I’ve had a complicated relationship with parrots since I was a little boy.
One of my earliest memories is being accosted by one. In a shopping center in my home town, there is a store called Pet & Hobby. It has this unfortunate title because it doubles as both a pet store and a hobby shop. None of the animals looked very excited to be there, and I completely understand this, because it’s hard for any living thing to muster energy when you have to listen to a model train run its course all day.
I don’t recall why I was there, but I remember that, near the entrance to the store, a man had a Blue-And-Yellow Macaw perched on his arm, and he was showing it off to people. I’d been in the shop before, and the macaw had always resided in its large bamboo cage, repeating certain phrases and staring at you, waiting for you to die. I immediately thought This is not right. It’s interesting, but this is not right. Why would he be out of his cage? There is no reason for that.
Four-year-old curiosity took the reins over four-year-old better judgment, and I approached the man with the bird, joining the small crowd of people who had all decided to “Ooh, a bird.” The man was feeding it something and letting people pet its back. I wanted to stroke its back too, so I put a hand out toward the macaw. The macaw, sensing Daniel, turned toward me and brawwwked, which Microsoft Word doesn’t accept as a verb, but that’s because it’s only a computer program. It doesn’t understand the true nature of fear.
Until middle school, whenever something bad happened to me, I would start to cry, and when you’re four, a giant bird being angry at you when you did nothing to provoke it definitely counts as something bad. I was hysterical as my mom led me out of Pet & Hobby, and since then, I never associated myself with parrots. I’d seen a lot of them, because they’re popular birds, but I look at them in the same way that I looked at my redneck friends when they’d play that game where they had to stab their knife quickly between each finger. You keep doing what you’re doing, bird, but you’re not for me.
Twenty years went by.
I was at a hotel in Wrightsville Beach, and someone’s phone is going off. It isn’t someone’s cellphone, because it’s too loud, and it’s not someone’s regular phone because it’s too outdated. It sounds like a phone from a police movie in the 1950’s; this loud, rattling ring that pierces through every corner of the lobby. I ask people what it is, and eventually they tell me that it’s coming from a bird exhibit. I soon figure out that it isn’t really a bird exhibit at all, but two Blue-And-Yellow Macaws, being shown off by what I assume are their trainers. I’m not an expert on wildlife, so I just hypothesize that anyone holding any kind of exotic pet is, in some way, an animal trainer. How else could they keep their family alive in a house full of pythons?
The two Blue-And-Yellow Macaws were about the same size, a size that I’d like to call “perfect to eat my eyes.” They’re fairly large birds, even compared to me now when I look like a Doctor Moreau experiment with sticks. However, they appear very different. One of them is nice and shiny, because it’s molted. The other looks like someone hit it with a car made completely out of dirt. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a parrot that is on the verge of molting, but if that bird couldn’t replicate outdated communication technology so well, I would’ve assumed that it was a bird that had been dead for a long time.
The birds were the ones screaming that ringing sound, and in between screams, they’d shit all over the floor. A guy behind a nearby desk had brought a stack of paper towels, and every minute he’d have to hand one to one of the animal trainers, because the birds would not stop taking dumps all over the tiles. The animal trainers laughed this off, because, ha ha, they’re birds, and that’s what birds do when they hate their present conditions. They just shit everywhere.
There were a lot of kids petting the birds, but I kept my distance. A thousand scenarios went through my head. What would happen if one of the birds noticed me? What if they took flight towards my head? The scenes were various, but the all ended with me running blindly and bloodily through the hotel lobby screaming “MY EYES! THE BIRDS TOOK MY EYEEESSSSSS.”
After a few kids petted the macaws, and the macaws had thoroughly cleared their bowels any place and time that they saw fit, the woman possessing the zombie macaw asked me if I wanted to stroke it. I didn’t want to be a lame dad and not go on this roller coaster ride, so I touched it lightly on the back and then stepped away. Then, the lady propping the corpse asked me if I wanted to hold it.
The macaw was turned away from me all this time, until the words “Would you like to hold it?” entered its atmosphere. At this exact point, it turned around and made that telephone sound, mixed with a loud, agonizing yell. There were no subtitles available, so I had to interpret this as a parrot calling me a coward.
Oh you think you’re so great, bird? This coming-of-age story doesn’t end with you insulting me. It’s time to set things right.
I held my arm out without saying a word, and the bird, instinctively knowing that fate had just been assigned to the both of us, stuck out its clawed foot and met my forearm. It perched there, and seemed content for a few seconds, until it began rapidly bobbing its head up and down.
Now, thanks to searching “why do parrots bob their heads” on Google, I know that this meant that the bird was excited. But when I held the bird, I wasn’t aware of this information, and I thought, somehow, that this meant that the bird was about to either fly off, (obviously toward my eyes), or just kick the bucket somehow. Again, I can’t stress to you enough about how little I know about animals.
After defying my childhood fears for twenty seconds, the lady took the bird back, and it promptly crapped. I’m sure my face was that of shock, as I was still coming to terms with my mastery of parrots, and I believe that’s what gave the female trainer the impetus to say “You seemed a bit scared.”
“Me? Nah,” I replied, and I put on a straight face and walked away, a face that dissolved completely when, to a stranger, I through my arms up in a touchdown symbol and shouted “I held the bird!”