There is a slightly scandalous joke my father used to tell about a man and a chicken. The man's wife sends him to the supermarket to buy a live chicken for their supper. The man does as he is told and heads for home. On the way he passes a movie theater just as the afternoon matinee is about to begin. He stuffs the chicken down the front of his pants, buys a ticket and locates his seat. When he settles in comfortably beside two elderly ladies, he unzips his pants and lets the chicken poke its head out for a breath of fresh air. The ladies, Esther and Gert, settle in as well, each with a large box of popcorn and a drink in hand. As the movie credits roll, Gert glances to her right, and gasps. She leans over to Esther, points to the lap of the man beside her and stage whispers, "Look, look at THAT!" Esther, the more worldly of the pair, whispers back, "If you've seen one, you've seen them all." Gert pauses, considers the remark, then turns to her friend and replies, "But Esther, THIS one is eating my popcorn!"
I am alone here and there is no Esther to turn to for help. In fact, at this very moment, I feel as though I am in one of those cartoons where a tiny angel sits on one shoulder and the devil on the other, both whispering words of advice to a woman stuck between a good choice and a bad one. Only in this instance, I think it must be the devil on my shoulder, and THIS one has boozy breath and is cursing like a drunken sailor. I would like to be assertive like Esther and say that I have seen ONE thus have seen them all, but I have NEVER seen something like this and his language is distinctly FOWL.
Perched upon my shoulder, here in the dark, is a distant cousin of the aforementioned chicken. Not a chicken, but a small bouncing and bobbing parakeet, tucking his talons into my shoulder, biting my earlobe with his beak and ordering one for the road. Make that a double. Jack Daniels. Neat.
My first instinct is to scream. I don't have the energy. My second instinct comes more naturally. I shrug my shoulders. To my surprise, so does the bird. The blue budgie, nestled in my neck, shrugs and sighs. A broken little bird from a broken home needing a rescue. Headed for rehab and not a taxicab in sight. It's past bedtime and I need a story to settle my nerves. I could lend an ear, most likely the one he is chewing on with his beak. Dancing with the devil on my shoulder in the dark, I dance while he sings.
Pepper. The escapee. The avian agitator coughs. Clears his throat and begins his own tale of fight and flight. The perfect pet of an imperfect owner. Alone. In a cage. On a perch. Attached to a bright red step ladder.
Down. Step. Step. Step. To his water dish. Dip. Dip. Dip.
Up. Step. Step. Step. To his perch.
Day after day after day.
Waiting, head bobbing, for the light to go on, for the sound of his master's voice. Company. Hello. He said. In his parakeet tweet.
Hello. Hello. Hello.
He practiced that one word over and over night after night, hoping one day to be heard.
Hello. Hello. Hello.
What he heard was the clink of ice in a glass. The rustle of the paper. The click of the remote. The whirr of the microwave. The prattle of plastic on the TV tray in the TV room. The game is on. The cursing begins. Not monosyllabic choice crafty curses, but creatively crafted macrame strings of nouns, and adjectives and adverbs wafting through the air. Pepper tried to put the tips of his wings in his ears, but his wings had been clipped. His owner told him it was for his own personal safety. Pepper knew in his heart it was because he was a flight risk. He lived and loved to fly.
If birdies learn like children, Pepper was the valedictorian of his class. Trapped in captivity, Pepper was a cranky birdie. Without companions, without fellow featherers to flock together, he had no choice, either fight or bite. His attempts at flight landed him on the bottom of his cage. Headfirst into the water dish. He stomped, dragging his damp tail feathers, up the plank to his perch, where he shivered. He longed for a sponge bath, a terry cloth robe, a pedicure for his toes and a cuttle bone to sharpen his beak. As his owner passed the cage, Pepper perked up, poofing his feathers and wagging his tail. Out went the light. The boozy-breathed birdie whisperer threw a damp kitchen towel over the cage, and left Pepper in the dark. Alone. Shivering. Wet. Muttering a perfect echo of his master's voice into the empty kitchen. #%**@^$#^*
Three AM. Cough. Cough. Cough. Bleep.
Four AM. Cough. Cough. Cough. Bleep. Bleep.
Five AM. Cough. Wheeze. Cough. Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. Bleep.
Six AM. Cough. Wheeze. Achoo.
On goes the light. The owner peeks in at Pepper, who is listing to his left on his lofty perch. Pepper, mid-swoon, prays for relief. A trip to the parakeet doctor, the local bird man, a shaman, a yogi, a reflexologist, a numerologist, a persistent effort for a persistent cough. Instead, a "homeopathic" solution for the tickle in this throat. The solution for everyone in THIS home, two tablespoons of whiskey, neat. Pepper stuck his beak in, so to speak. His owner thought to himself, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and threw back a shot. Laughing, he shouted...and one for the road...mixing one more cocktail for the cock-eyed cockatoo...and off he went, covering the cage with the towel and turning out the light.
Pepper the parakeet, the cockatoo impersonator, sneezed. His tiny talons, wrapped around his perch, lost their grip, his rheumy eyes blurred and he did a perfect ten rotation and stuck the landing on the bottom of his cage. The floor of his cage lined with one of those tabloids located near the check out at the supermarket. As he read the headline between his toes, he exploded with a string of expletives, that despite their coarseness, exited as a rather Shakespearean rant. The headline read: Yard Yeti Spotted With Andre the Andean Cock-Of-the-Rock.
Pepper opened his eyes wide. He would find this Andre. This Cock-Of-the Rock. He would have a companion. An avian aviator to teach him how to fly. If only, if only...
...the cage door is ajar. As his watery eyes adjusted to the tiny pinprick of light, coming through the open door, he heard a voice in his head. A voice in his heart. Find a Yard Yeti to find your way Home. There, at his feet, a pair of night vision goggles, and just enough light to point the way.
Yard Yetis are seen in the wild. Yard Yetis are never spotted in the tame. The everydayness of the everyday. Just as one fantasizes about a celebrity, a rock star, a spectacular athlete, a prosaic poet, if we do chance to meet one in person, completely tame, how often are we disappointed as on the face of it, they are so much like us, merely human, slightly flawed, maybe softer or harder, less or more.
To say that Pepper, clad in his night goggles, perched on my shoulder, is disappointed, is an understatement, and Pepper is never understated nor underdressed. He is ready to move move move. He is my guide, at my side as we morph from solitary travelers alone in the dark to mismatched companions walking through the high grass, from point A to point B. No decent Yard Yeti is ever fully dressed without a twittering companion riding shotgun. Clutching a map in my hand with an X marks the spot and a beak in my ear screeching..."TURN LEFT ON MAIN"...we do.
Chapter 2 | Chapter 4