**In honor of this week's release of my memoir, WINGING IT: A MEMOIR OF CARING FOR A VENGEFUL PARROT WHO'S DETERMINED TO KILL ME (Simon & Schuster's Gallery Books), I thought I'd run a little piece that I wrote a few years ago that sort of launched the idea of writing this memoir...Be sure to check out the links at the bottom for some entertaining footage of Graycie in action!
My parrot wants me dead. She hates me. Proof is the triangular chunk of flesh now missing from both the front and back of my thumb, testament to the dangers of a beak that’s as powerful as an industrial metal-stamping die.
It seems where I’ve met with moderate success in parenthood--i.e. maintaining the upper hand in the relationship--I’ve failed miserably in parrot-hood.
Parrot-hood, you ask? Yes, in my case, that would be the state in which one must sustain a parrot.
Graycie, a too-smart-for-our-own-good African Gray parrot, came to our family from the wild, a Christmas gift from a relative living in Zaire 20 years ago. Graycie arrived on our doorstep--with a temporary stop in parrot prison (quarantine)--in good health but bad temperament. The first few years were arduous, as she was ferocious, snapping and growling at us when we got near. Who could blame her? Poor thing was chopped down from a tree and separated from her parents, stuffed into a crate with a hundred other terrified baby birds, and left to survive with little food or water.
Had I anything to say in the matter, I would have nixed owning a contraband bird from the get-go (back then most parrots ended up in the U.S. this way; shortly thereafter such means of parrot acquisition were banned). Nevertheless, I was determined to make the best of the situation, despite the fact that she arrived on the heels of the birth of our first child. I was having enough trouble dealing with the demands of a small human who needed my attention all day and night, so was ill-prepared to welcome a bird into the home who expected that and then some.
To some extent, Graycie's redeemed herself over the years. She’s become quite the talker: she puts my kids in time-outs when they get sassy, yells at the dog when she tries to eat her, and answers the phone in my husband’s voice. Ditto his burps and sneezes. Recently when I used a broom to nudge her back onto the cage from the floor, she pecked at my feet and the broom while repeatedly saying, “Hello gray chicken!”
For a while Graycie got somewhat nice. She let us hold her, sometimes even stroke her feathers. Unfortunately she’d scoot up my arm and perch behind my neck, precariously close to that vital jugular vein and far too inclined to poop on my back, so I didn’t make a habit of such visits. Maybe that angered her.
Lately she’s lapsed into a phase of oppositional defiance that has me vexed (and mysteriously at the vortex of her wrath).
My friend is convinced Graycie needs a boyfriend. She is a teenager, after all. I’m convinced she needs anger management therapy. Perhaps, though, she is really a he and is tired of being called a girl (back when we got her, the only way to determine a bird’s gender was surgically, so we just guessed at it).
Whatever it is, I know this: what she wants most is to wound me. Often. When I clear the paper from beneath the cage, she races down to attack me, and gleefully rips my hair out. When I reach to open the perch on top, she’s there before I complete the job, straining as far as her body can reach in order to take a chomp my way. When she sneaks off the cage on her frequent surreptitious walkabouts, she attacks my ankles and feet as I try to catch her and return her to home base. I'm the first to admit I can’t quite control her.
When I glance at her, she just gazes back with a cold, black stare that says, “You know I could snap your finger in half easier than you could break a Lorna Doone in two, beyatch.” And she means it. The old adage about not biting the hand that feeds you must’ve slipped right on past her.
So much for the parental guilt ploys, the “all that I’ve done for you over the years” nonsense. And in her case, all I’ve done over the years for her is plenty. For example: hydro-therapy and beak-fed antibiotics, three times daily for weeks on end, repeated every couple of months for years, due to the bird’s propensity to fall off the perch and bust open her breast bone (hence the name Graycie). Death-defying claw- and flight feather-trimmings (don’t ask). Bi-weekly cage washings.
Let’s talk about cage washing, which I last did when the temperature hovered well below freezing. This is a chore that under the most pleasant conditions (75 degrees, bluebirds overhead, daffodils in bloom) is not one that I embrace.
In 20-degree weather, water doesn’t come out of a hose readily. Mr. Clean soapsuds tend to cling in bubbly icicles, suspended mockingly from the brass rungs of the cage. Hardened bird excrement, which is supposed to wash away with the hose (and a lot of elbow grease), tends to freeze into little poopsicles on top of its already solidified state. It’s not a pretty sight. On several occasions I performed this task in the Orca-like third trimester of pregnancy in the dead of winter, water barely trickling from the hose yet managing to splash on my face and leaving behind cruel little icicles on my eyelashes.
I try to remind myself that I’m helping a fellow creature in need. But I know that to her, it doesn’t really matter. Because it seems that the only thing that would make Graycie happy is if she finally succeeded in maiming or dismembering me, leaving me to die in a bloodied puddle on the living room floor.
I used to have a sexy Brazilian neighbor named Carolina who made Charo-like catcalls at Graycie while shaking her booty before the bird. Graycie was smitten and allowed Carolina to not just pet, but actually fondle her. She’d scoop her up in her hands, giving kissie-kisses, lip-to-beak, making smoochy noises that churned my stomach. Like some green-eyed parent whose child prefers the babsyitter, I was wistful that Graycie chose Carolina over me, despite all I did for her. If I tried to put my lip to the bird, you’d soon recognize me as the one with no lips.
Now I wonder if Carolina had it right all along: she was simply a hot-blooded female (albeit the wrong species) coming on to a possibly male parrot and appealing to his/her more prurient interests. Maybe Graycie is a boy after all, and simply hates me for reinforcing misinformation…In which case, anyone know a sexy 20-something parrot looking for love in all the wrong places? If so, you know where to find me. Most likely in the ER, getting stitched up, or in the pharmacy, stocking up on Band-aids and antibacterial ointment. And maybe a little arsenic.
Here's a funny Graycie video
Here's some raw, uncut footage of her talking
and here's me talking about Graycie