Winging It A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me By Jenny Gardiner
I'm happy to share an excerpt of Jenny Gardiner's new book, a memoir about life with a crazy African Gray parrot, kids, husband and the usual array of insanity we all face. You can purchase a copy at Amazon HERE. Jenny is a good friend, one of the first "real writers" I met through a writer's list. She is screamingly funny with a finely honed sense of snark. What's not to love?
Winging It: One of my favorite children's books we read with our kids until tattered is Five Minutes' Peace, which is about an elephant mom who can't find solitude to save her soul. As a mother, I could relate. As a pet owner, even more so. And as a writer, I began to recognize solitude as an underrated commodity that tends to remain just past the horizon.
In the midst of puppies and teens and crazy parrots, I had been working under a self-imposed deadline, with the plans to submit my novel to agents to try to then sell it to a New York publishing house. But with my kids home all summer, I had put off most everything writing-related for as long as I could without feeling like an irresponsible slacker. There was, however, a light at the end of the tunnel: back-to-school time. I decided the first day back for my kids would be the day I would finally reclaim my schedule and behave like the disciplined writer I aspired to be.
The day after Labor Day arrived. I drove my kids to school, then returned home without stopping for cappuccino or pastries or groceries or even gas (I’m a very industrious procrastinator). I shunned the chest-high stockpile of dirty laundry awaiting me in the basement, and instead settled my butt down at my desk, intent on knocking out at least an entire book by noon.
My first distraction came from Bridget, who barks at the mere suggestion of movement within a hundred yard radius. This can include a leaf blowing outside the window. You can imagine how many leaves blow outside the window of a house that backs up to the woods. Bridget’s shrill bark set my teeth on edge and immediately my ears pinned back like a collie hearing one of those canine whistles. I tried hard to ignore it.
After about fifteen minutes of intermittent barking, I got up, put her out (with Sassy following obligingly), and again sat down, fingers to the keyboard, ready for my imminent brainstorm. Soon Bridget barked to be let back in. Up again, let them in, back down, ready to get to work. Ah, but everyone wanted a piece of me, so next, the bird got into the act.
Of course Graycie loves to be the center of attention, which is handy since she resides at that unavoidable juncture between our living and dining room, overlooking the kitchen. I was not inclined to open the perch up on the cage, because she'd been getting into a lot of mischief, which would only require yet more of my attention. However Graycie had gotten wise to my disinclination, and had figured out a way to let me know in no uncertain terms that SHE WANTS OUT!, by plinking on the metal bars with her beak, PLING! PLING! PLING! The bird’s got staying power, and can plink without cessation for a half an hour easily. You've heard of road rage? Maybe even 'roid rage? Well Graycie, it seems, had developed a bad case of cage rage.
My intent was not to imprison Graycie, but once her bad-tempered behavior begins, I cannot reward it by caving to her demands. When I can keep an eye on her, I will open the cage, but because she’d recently become so devious (including sneaking off the couch to make mincemeat of my furniture), I knew I couldn’t deal with the consequences at that particular time. But after twenty solid minutes of plink, plank, plink, plank, bing, bang, bong, I couldn't take it any longer and relented, hating myself all the more for engaging in head games with a parrot.
I approached the bird and stooped to remove the top layer of newspaper from the bottom of the cage--the one littered with wasted parrot chow and dropped food and dropped, um, droppings. As I leaned over, Graycie scurried down the inside of the cage, ever on the prowl for an attack strategy (something she of course does with relish). Reaching through the cage, she was able to grab a chunk of my hair and pull. I looked up to see a shred of blonde highlights clamped in her beak.
Helpless, I warned her to behave, and then raced back to the top of the cage to open the perch before she again rushed after me, hoping to maul me before I could safely move away. It was like a game of dodge ball, only I was avoiding a blade instead of a hard leather ball. My parrot has such a charming disposition. Safely out of harm’s way, I returned to my computer, ready to get to work.
Immediately Graycie scooted along the bars, beak to claw, beak to claw, to the bottom of the cage, this time on the outside. She'd decided it was time to pull the newspaper sheets out from the bottom of the tray and shred them all over my clean floor. Within ten minutes, enough paper was strewn about to accommodate a nest of large rodents. She’d done this after depositing an enormous splat of bird poo below, which helped to adhere the paper to the hardwood floor. This is why I’d preempted an even larger mess by removing that top sheet beforehand--it’s bad enough to have shredded yet somewhat clean newspaper decorating one's living space, but add to it strewn old bits of sticky fruit, decomposing vegetables, and dried bird excrement…Martha Stewart would not be impressed.
Rather than allowing myself to be diverted yet again, I decided to ignore the mess, and return to my computer. Twenty plus minutes into my new work regimen, a noticeable silence settled in. I glanced toward the cage, only to realize no bird was either in it or on it. A look under the dining room table revealed Graycie click-clacking her pigeon-toed black talons across the expanse of my dining room, a trail of droppings in her wake and her defiant red tail feathers dragging behind her as if to say “up yours!” There's something somewhat shameful about being flipped off by a household pet.
I heaved a sigh, and headed over toward the bird. First I suggested to Graycie that she get back onto the cage before the dogs ate her. She looked at me with two words in her eyes: “Yeah, right.” She continued wandering astray, with no intention of following my gentle hints.
I’ve often found that so much in life is based on certain social contracts working as planned. You take it for granted, for example, that, generally speaking, your kids will obey you. When they become old enough and defiant enough, the jig’s up. They’ve figured out that ultimately, you hold very little sway over them. By then you hope they’re conditioned to behave within acceptable social parameters. And so it goes with Graycie, who clearly has realized that she holds the upper hand over me. Only she hasn’t picked up on that whole social contract thing yet. And she’s got a tool in her arsenal that I am lacking: her menacing, hooked, and ever-so-sharp black keratin beak, a lethal tool for which I have enormous respect. And fear. And loathing. With it she can readily crush the rock-hard shell of a brazil nut. Deforest a home's worth of decorative houseplants. Shred my living room furniture. Or choose to bite my finger off. Maim me. De-eyeball me if she really wanted to. She’s not afraid to wield it against me (I have the scars, both physical and mental, to prove it).
So instead of forcing the issue, I retrieved a broom, hoping to scare her back up onto the cage. As I began to sweep, she aggressively chased both me and the broom, biting the bristles and pecking at my ankles, while repeating over and over again, "Hello, gray chicken. Hello, gray chicken" in my voice (it’s a term of endearment I often call her).
By this time I was entertaining visions of parrot-on-a-spit and was threatening her with parroticide (if that's not a word, it should be). The stubborn bird would simply not comply. To the rescue came Bridget, who had gotten wind of the psitticine escapee on the loose. She careened into the room, nearly toppling the bird. Graycie began flapping her wings, scattering hundreds of bits of newspaper throughout the living room, dining room and kitchen (curse that open floor plan!), the remnants of a ticker tape parade celebrating her escape. As the dog skidded into the cage, Graycie yelled, "Bridget! NOOOO! You're a BAD, BAD GIRL! Stop it NOW!"
Lucky for her my murderous notions of throttling and stuffing her into my electric smoker were replaced by my laughter. But just barely.
At that point, I gave up on bothering with both Graycie and her chaos, and instead took my laptop onto the front porch where the mess and the pets would remain out of sight, out of mind, and blessedly out of earshot.