I love dogs. I think they make great pets. They are affectionate, responsive and great company. They are also fun to name and they come when you call them.
So do I have a dog? No I do not.
For some reason my household of one wife and two daughters has steadfastly resisted my importing a gregarious, interactive canine while embracing a variety of animals whose common trait has been that names are useless affectations since they don’t respond to their use. We’ve had two cats, a hamster, a guinea pig and, for a brief time, a rabbit. The latest addition is a parakeet, which I’ve learned is more accurately called a budgie. Each has come to us after being abandoned or as a product of a broken home, yet none have shown any appreciation for being delivered from a roadkill fate or a career in cosmetic testing. In fact, on more than one occasion, the remaining cat has even tried to kill me by running between my legs while I’m carrying 40-pound bags of water softener salt down the stairs.
(Full disclosure: some of these pets are no longer with us. One cat, the hamster and the rabbit have passed on to what Raymond Chandler would call – especially in the case of the cat – “The Big Sleep.”)
There once was a time where whenever I’d get home I’d be greeted by the squawks and squeals of my little girls honoring my return. Now I get squawks from the budgie who seems perpetually offended by my presence and squeals from the guinea pig who has associated the sound of the door opening from the garage with delivery of another load of dandelion greens and stems for his buffet. (For a funny flash file on the eating and dancing habits of guinea pigs, go here.)
I don’t understand what is up with the budgie; I thought we were going to be pals. My sister-in-law found her outside her shop following the big wind storm a couple of weeks ago and brought her home. My youngest then adopted her and we found a large, lovely cage at a garage sale for just $5. My daughter filled the cage with bird toys and feed. While she was on 24-hour probation his first day with us she was friendly as all get-out and liked having her head and neck scratched. Now the mere appearance of a finger near her cage drives her around the bend. She can also be sitting on her perch singing away as happy as a clam (if a clam could sing, that is) and in mid-note suddenly launch into a sputtering, head-bobbing Donald Duck-type diatribe that I assume represents budgie cursing. (A budgie with Tourette’s Syndrome?)
I did some on-line studying about budgies and discovered that they can be excellent mimics. I thought the budgie might find it appropriate to repeat one of my favorite Monty Python lines, so I parked myself beside her cage and started repeating – in my best, feminine, John Cleese voice – “I just spent four hours burying the cat.”
No reaction. I thought perhaps he needed more context, so I recited the opening lines from that Python sketch:
Mrs. Conclusion: Hello, Mrs. Premise.
Mrs. Premise: Hello, Mrs. Conclusion.
Mrs. Conclusion: Busy Day?
Mrs. Premise: Busy? I just spent four hours burying the cat.
Mrs. Conclusion: Four hours to bury a cat?
Mrs. Premise: Yes – it wouldn’t keep still.
Mrs. Conclusion: Oh – it wasn’t dead, then?
Mrs. Premise: No, no – but it’s not at all well, so as we were going away for a fortnight we wanted to be on the safe side.
Mrs. Conclusion: Quite right – you don’t want to come back from Sorrento to a dead cat. It’d be so anticlimactic. Yes, kill it now, that’s what I say.
I didn’t even get so much as a, “You’re a loony” in response. Looking back, even though I was frustrated, it probably wasn’t a good idea to continue with the rest of the sketch:
Mrs. Conclusion: We’re going to have to have our budgie put down.
Mrs. Premise: Really? Is it very old?
Mrs. Conclusion: No. We just don’t like it. We’re going to take it to the vet tomorrow.
Mrs. Premise: Tell me, how do they put budgies down then?
Mrs. Conclusion: Well it’s funny you should ask that, but I’ve just been reading a great big book about how to put your budgie down, and apparently you can either hit it with the book, or, you can shoot them just there above the beak.
Mrs. Premise: Just there!
Mrs. Conclusion: Yes.
Mrs. Premise: Well well well. ‘Course, Mrs. Essence flushed hers down the loo.
Mrs. Conclusion: Ohh! No! You shouldn’t do that — no that’s dangerous. Yes, they breed in the sewers, and eventually you get evil-smelling flocks of huge soiled budgies flying out of people’s lavatories infringing on their personal freedom.”
(Note to self: no flushing Supreme Court justices down the loo.) The bird squinted at me, then sidled to the other side of her perch, turned her head away, stretched out one leg and squirted out some processed bird kibble.
“Oh-ho!” I said. “Well let me just tell you something else I’ve learned. It says here that budgie is the short name for budgerigar and budgerigar is a word used by the Australian Aborigines. Do you want to know what it means? Huh, do you? It means ‘good to eat.'”
Come to think of it, right about then is when the whole Donald Duck business with her began.