My husband and I were strolling through the mall after having a lovely fish dinner with a glass of wine.1 We ended up at a Woolworth’s, which back then you could find in a mall.2 And once we were there, we browsed our way to the pet department.3
We stopped in front of the parakeet cage and gazed admiringly at the tiny flock. “Let’s get one,” Dan said.
“You’re forgetting that we have four cats,” I replied. “A parakeet would hardly be a snack for them.”
“We’ll hang its cage from a hook in the ceiling.” There was at that time no hook. Dan loves even the tiniest home improvement projects.
“I want the blue one. I’ve always wanted a blue parakeet. We could name him ‘Blue Boy.'”
“He could be a she. How would we know?”
“If he talks, he’s a boy,” I said confidently. “Mostly the males talk.” (I wasn’t sure about this, but I was betting on the fact that Dan didn’t know either.)
“I’d rather get the green and yellow one.”
“Blue. How are we going to decide?”
Then we made one of our famous deals.
“Let me pick the bird, and you can name him,” said Dan.
“Anything I want?” I asked.
“Anything? Even J. Alfred Prufrock?”
“Yes. Even that.”4
So J. Alfred came home with us and lived safely in his cage near the ceiling.5 We tried to teach him to talk. “Hi. I’m Alfie,” we’d repeat to him. “Alfie-bird.”
We were also talking to the cats. Not that we expected them to repeat what we said, but we had interesting conversations nonetheless.
“Shaker, what’s a kitty do?”
“Yes, that’s right.”6
Eventually, Alfie started talking. But bird of very little brain that he was, he got a little mixed up. First he changed his name.
“Ralphie-bird,” he said. “Hi. I’m Ralphie.”
What could we do at that point? We changed his name to Ralph Waldo Emerson.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Oh, no.
Pretty soon he was saying, “Shaker-bird” and “R-roww.”7
Great. A parakeet with an identity crisis. And a cat that was hearing voices from above. From her natural prey, no less.
I could just imagine the little conversations they could have.
Pointless, boring conversations, but what can you expect from animals that will never master sign language? Sometimes Dan and I don’t do much better. After all, we were the ones who had pointless dialogues with the cat for the parakeet to overhear.
Come to think of it, I don’t really know if their conversations were pointless. They may have been plotting against us. But the cat was cool and never said a mumbling’ word.8
1. Okay, a couple of glasses of wine.
2. Woolworth’s is what was known as a five-and-ten-cent store. Kind of like a Dollar Store that mated with a Target store, only cheaper, though nothing there actually cost five or ten cents. Except maybe candy.
3. Back in the day, department stores had pet departments, usually stocked with only small, sickly pets like fish and turtles and parakeets.
4. Well, really, we were pretty sloshed. I don’t recommend buying a pet while drunk, but this turned out okay.
5. One of the cats, Maggie, made an ambitious climb up the drapes after him, but couldn’t figure out how to get from drape to cage and had to be rescued.
6. We weren’t always drunk. Sometimes we were just silly. Still are.
7. I was going to write that he also said, “Here, kitty, kitty,” but he didn’t. Also, it’s a very old, very bad joke.
8. H/t Hoyt Axton. Bonus points if you know where it’s from. Not you, huskiebear. I know you know.