THE MAGICAL ANIMAL
We bought Charlie almost fifteen years ago. We hadn’t intended to buy a bird. It was supposed to be a zoo visit. Debby found out about this cool place in Tribeca, The Urban Bird. All the baby birds for sale were just out there, standing on perches, sleeping in little cozy nests. No cages. Just young parrots – all kinds, sizes, and colors. Green ones from South and Central America; white ones from Australia; blue and scarlet ones from Indonesia; and Charlie, a grey one with a red tail from Central Africa. Charlie was featherless at the time and living above the store in the nursery. But I am getting ahead of my story.
All the birds in the store were babies, with one exception. One old bird was living in a cage, hanging high from the ceiling, in the back of the store, commanding a view of all who entered. I opened the door and Eli, our son, age ten, and I walked in. Debby lingered by the cash register reading a New Yorker article about this “only in New York” place.
The old bird spotted us. He was old and bitter. The two guys that had owned him had abandoned him when they split up. He saw us and yelled out “I’ve got a yeast infection.” ”What?”, said Eli, looking up first at the bird and then at me. Before I could answer the bird added a “fuck you.” Instantly Eli responded, “Dad, can we get a bird like that one?” And so we did.
Parrots bond with one mate for life. Since we were part of the flock it would be one of us and with Eli at camp, it would be me or Debby. The issue was settled when Charlie, sitting on my index finger, bent down and bit me. “You son- of- a- bitch,” I exclaimed and reflexively dropped the poor bird. He never forgot it. And he bonded with Debby. He even tries to feed her, so that she will lay a good egg. Even though she rebuffs his attempts, he still loves her. And when he is mad he still says ” you son-of-a-bitch” in my voice.
Along with Charlie we had an outsized grey cat named Moe. Charlie was smarter than Moe and used to mess with him. “Come here Moe,’ he would command, in my tone of voice. Moe would wander over. And Charlie would wait until he got over to his cage and say “You grey son-of-a-bitch.”
When Eli would practice guitar in the living room where Charlie lives in his cage he frequently would meet with Charlie’s free associations. Once a day Charlie unburdens himself with every phrase he knows, going on and on until it could make you crazy or you leave the room. That’s how he learned how to say “I’m gonna kick your ass.” Eli would yell that at him, hoping he would shut up, but to no avail.
On the morning of 9/ll I was supposed to meet my friend John Pellaton for breakfast at Windows on the World, atop of Tower Two at the World Trade Center. We were to meet at 8:00 o’clock. The first plane hit the building at 8:40. But John had a meeting and called just before to cancel. So we were still at home at the time the crash shook our apartment. When it shook it again for the second time we thought we were being bombed. With the big cat and Charlie we weren’t very portable, so we stayed put the first night. Everyone in our building left, except for us, Moe, Charlie, and a blind bass player on the 6th floor. The FBI rousted us the next morning. Read the rest of this entry »