Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Legend of the Polaroid Pirate

Well, I'm going to start out by disappointing you. This story is not a legend. Nor am I really a pirate, although that would be super badass. I'm really just a girl who likes to take pictures. And I have a parrot. And I may occasionally call people scallywags, but who doesn't?

What this story will be is how my parrot and I came upon each other. It is a tale of romance, intrigue, and high adventure. One of passion, danger, and... Ugh, fine. It's really none of those. I just wanted to capture your interest. Just read this story, ok? It's cute, I promise.

Our story begins back in October of the year two-thousand and eight. I had just started college, as well as a part-time job at a local pet store. It was entirely by chance that I was hired. I wasn't really looking for a job (Mom, if you're reading this, I'm kidding, I totally was) and I didn't really want one. I was miserable at school and all I wanted was to come home and sleep all the time. In all honesty, though, I really needed a distraction from the monotony of my freshman year. I didn't know it, but I needed something to take my mind off being depressed more than I realized at the time. When my mom came home from buying dog food one Saturday morning, she told me the pet store was looking for help, so we got back in her Jeep and drove on over.

I was pretty much hired on the spot. I'd like to think it was because I was overwhelmingly adorable and charming, but really I just think they were desperate, and, in many ways, so was I. Plus, this job was perfect. I had owned almost every kind of pet imaginable. Clearly fate was working its magic that day.

It wasn't difficult for me to get into the routine of things at the pet store. My tasks were fairly simple; put dog food on shelves, clean guinea pig cages, give water to birds. That sort of thing. But I didn't feel like I fit in right from the start. I was getting by, but barely. As much as I loved animals, my job was still just that. A job. Nothing more rewarding.

That is, until Elliot came along.

He wasn't Elliot when we met. He was just "The Black-Cap." He's a black-capped conure, a type of Amazonian parrot, but that's a mouthful of a name, so it was shortened some something more palatable. He was king of the bird room. Although small (hardly ten inches from beak to tail and no more than four ounces) he ran the show. Every morning he was let out of his cage, free to run around and pester the other birds as he pleased. He was never mean or antagonistic, even to the parakeets when they'd nip at his feet; he was regal. He asserted his dominion with poise, but maintained it fiercely if need be. I respected him, hoping he'd do the same for me, but mostly because his sharp beak was very intimidating.

I was lucky, though. He liked me. The first day my coworker, Sandra, brought him out to show him to me, he stepped right onto my hand without hesitation. Only after I boldly offered him my finger did Sandra tell me that he likes to bite, nay, attack people he isn't fond of. But, again, I was lucky.

Ever since then I considered myself privileged when he'd allow me to spend time with him. When I ventured into the bird room to get crickets, I'd let him walk over to me, see what I was doing. I'd brightly say hello, and he'd tilt his head and just stare with his obsidian eyes, watching. After a few weeks of this, he'd even hop onto my shoulder from his open cage, but I, always fearful of his wrath, put him back soon after. It took several months of this sort of interaction before he started to really trust me, and I, him.

Soon enough, we were nearly inseperable. When the sun went down and the customers dwindled to just a few per hour, I'd let him climb onto my shoulder while I swept the floors. In those quiet moments right before closing, he'd snuggle up in my hair, nibble my neck and go to sleep, perhaps thankful for the company or the warmth that I could provide. It was always hard for me to put him back at night, especially when he clearly did not want to be locked up again. But he was always grateful in the morning when he was released, sometimes rewarding me with a kiss on my lips, or a nuzzle against my cheek.

Like this we spent several months, the Black Cap and I. It was a comfortable routine, these stolen moments when the store was quiet, but I was ready for the next step. I began to consider buying him.

The first obstacle was convincing my mother. I knew I could never show her exactly how wonderful he was because he didn't know my mom, so he wouldn't give her kisses or preen her hair like he did for me. But after several demonstrations of our intimate interactions, she began to come around.

"For your birthday," she said, "if he's still here."

If he's still here...

It never occurred to me that someone else might buy him. After all, he'd already been part of the store's livestock for three years. What was another few months? But, of course, as soon as those words were spoken, someone took interest in my Black Cap. I needed to act, and fast. Thanks to my remarkable intellgence and charming wit, I convinced my mother to buy the Black Cap for me. As an "early birthday present." I'm joking, I really just begged until I turned blue in the face. It took several weeks, and I felt like a whiny brat, but I knew it had to be done. Otherwise I might never have seen my darling Black Cap again. When it was official that he was to join our family, we (my mother, father and sister) discussed names. I liked Oliver. It was cute, but still spunky, just like him. As adorable was he was, he never hesitated giving me a nip on the finger when I was out of line. But Oliver was vetoed. We discussed a few others, but the one that stuck around throughout the conversation was my idea: Elliot. As we began to reach a consensus, I tried saying the name aloud. Elliot. Elliot. It seemed to fit, and I was satisfied.

Elliot, I thought, you're part of our family now.

He was very quiet the night we brought him home. We had to put in him in a small cardboard box for the car ride, and he made almost no noise. "What? What?" was what he seemed to say from inside the box. "What? What-what?" Once inside my house I opened the flaps and lifted him out into the light. He looked around, quiet and observant, not making a sound. I was nervous. I had read that some birds don't handle transitions well, and a change in environment can make them grouchy and irritable. That first night I mostly left him alone. I gave him some cooked corn (his favorite snack), closed his cage, and went to bed.

"'Night, 'night, Elliot. See you tomorrow."

The next day I approached him carefully, not knowing what to expect. Was he going to be angry? Confused at this sudden and unwelcome change? Would he be depressed? I'd read birds can get depressed, too. But Elliot was none of these things. He squawked eagerly to be let out of his cage, and, once released, seemed... Happy. It was like he knew he was at home.

That was almost two years ago. Elliot and I have been through a lot since that first fateful day, and I am so happy to have him by my side. If you've never had a parrot as a pet, I'm sorry to say, you cannot understand the rewards of having an avian companion. It's different than with a dog, who loves everyone unconditionally. Or a cat, that will demand attention, no matter how much you try to push him away. With a bird, it's really like a friendship, a give-and-take. Birds don't like just anyone. In fact, they can be very choosy about who they will be kind to. So when Elliot lets me tickle under his wings or rub the new feathers coming in below his beak, I know it's because he trusts me. And he knows I trust him when I allow him to take a piece of bread gently from my mouth or place little birdie kisses on my cheek. Out of all the pets I've ever had, he is the dearest to me, and I am very lucky to have him.

We also play with Photobooth together. Yeah, be jealous.

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