I have a lovebird. Yes, just one. They don't have to come in pairs, because they happily bond with the person willing to feed them, entertain them and put up with their crap. And that would be me. I feed him, let him sit on my shoulder, and I rock him and sing to him every night before putting him on his sleeping perch. It's sick.
Blueie's got me wrapped around his talons and he knows it. He recognizes words: EAT, SLEEP, BEEP, UP, DOWN and KISS DADDY. He humps his favorite toy in full view of whoever happens to be near his cage, and he regurgitates half-digested seed from his craw when he wants to feed my fingers. Charming. He screams when he doesn't want to do something and kisses sweetly when he wants his way. And when I pull into the driveway after work, I hear him shrieking a welcome from inside the house.
He's the first pet I ever bonded with, and I tell you – it's a whole new sensation. A few ounces of feathers and beak have managed to worm their way into my heart, and I finally understand how people can grow so attached to their pets. I haven't always felt this way; people going on and on and ON about their cats and dogs elicited tolerant smiles from me, nothing more, but now I know differently.
Asthmatic kids (like I was) don't get to have pets like normal kids. A battery of tests determined exactly what was causing me to frequently suffocate and turn blue, resulting in the sad fact that Bow Wow, my grandmother's dog who lived upstairs, was causing my paroxysms. He and I had had an uneasy relationship anyway. Between my bouts of gasping for breath, he would entice my small, romping body into darkened hallways and dim basements. "Bow Wowww!" I would croon, wondering where he'd gotten to. "Bow Wowwww!" And then he'd appear, suddenly rushing in front of me, broadsiding me facedown onto waxed linoleum or cement floors.
I came home from school one day to discover that he'd been sent "to a farm." I naively interpreted this as a vista of green grass, red barns and whitewashed fences. What my family really meant was that Bow Wow had "bought the farm," but were loath to lay the guilt on me. (That would come later, in other, more circus-like ways.)
By the time there came to be four of us children, the visceral need for a pet had lodged itself deep within our pastina-clogged brains. It was understood, however, that nothing allergenic would cross the threshold of the Crescitelli home; our pets would have to be green, wet and able to subsist on smelly pellets of food purchased at the five-and-ten.
My sister Gina challenged this. "When Jimmy dies, can we get a dog?" she asked one day. There was hesitation before the parental response: "Well ... you'll have to take care of it."
Aside from the choking allergic reaction, I became afraid of dogs by the time I was working my way through grammar school. None of the dogs on the block liked me: Max, a German shepherd, howled and foamed and clawed at his flimsy fence whenever I walked by; Tiny, no bigger than a hamster, backed me into corners while the rest of the neighborhood children laughed; and Prince, the dog next door, snarled and slobbered and insisted on rubbing his gamy backside against my little dungarees during the height of summer. No, no dogs for me.
Instead, I was allowed to nourish creatures that wouldn't make me wheeze, like salamanders, fish, turtles and frogs. Encouraged, I named the four salamanders after characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, and grew accustomed to Jem, Scout, Dill and Calpurnia crawling on me. I kept them in a giant brandy snifter full of water, but they eventually drowned, exhausted because – I learned much later – I should have provided them with a rest area.
The angelfish lived happily in a fish tank placed on the radiator in my bedroom; happily, that is, until the night the temperature plummeted and my grandmother adjusted the thermostat in the house to a toastier temperature: toasty for humans, lethal for angelfish.
The frog? He was tiny, an inch long, and I would rush to his terrarium every day after school so that I could indulge my feral need for something that I loved that would love me back unequivocally. And one day I picked up my squatting frog and his legs dangled in the air like two limp shreds of post-party crepe paper. "Mommmmm!!!!!!!!!" My three siblings were brought in for questioning, the hot lights trained on them until, sweating, Gina confessed. She admitted to picking up my frog and locking his small legs between two of her fingers so that she could study him closely, but then the frog tried to escape from this pre-pubescent Joan Embery's hand. SNAP. Gina folded his legs underneath his body and placed him back into his terrarium.
The turtles were acquired from Woolworth's, in that section of the store just past the Con-Tact paper rack and the display of plastic brooms festooned with feathery neon bristles. You'd pick out a turtle and then be inveigled by the smoking saleslady with the reddish eyebrows painted WAY up high on her forehead into purchasing a plastic environment for him to live in, enhanced with a little island and a rubbery palm tree that kept falling over. "What do I feed him?" you'd ask, and she'd reply, "Oh, you know ... table food, hamburger, that kinda stuff."
That turned out to be nothing he liked; those turtles turned up their little green noses at everything. They'd eventually expire, but I think the turtle farmers knew what they were doing: Our attention spans were perfectly matched to their expected life spans.
Before I was given Blueie the lovebird I played host to four parakeets. Let me just tell you that parakeets are in no way as involved with their owners as lovebirds are. Parakeets sit in their cages and plot ways to escape. They fix their beady eyes on you, blaming you for their 2-by-4 lives, and dare you to engage them. They want OUT, period. They don't care if you've named them, and they don't answer when you call.
Blueie and I can sit and watch The Birds on Netflix, happily BEEPing at one another until it's time to go to bed. I can communicate with him; we've bonded. And that's called love.
Jim Crescitelli is a freelance writer and besotted owner of a lovebird named Blueie. He's been writing for various publications locally since Methuselah was a boy.
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