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Ralph and Other Hazardous Materials

Ralph is a parrot. A red-sided eclectus to be exact. As parrots go, Ralph has few bad habits. He is not as noisy as, for instance, a macaw or a cockatoo, he is much prettier than an African gray, and smarter than most of elected officials. He is, however, a very messy eater and he poops every 14 minutes. You can almost set your clock by it. He does have one rather unfortunate habit (besides swearing): he bites people. He doesn’t bite my wife or me because we are the hands that feed him. I told you he was smart.

When he was younger he didn’t bite anybody. He was a very gregarious bird. He loved everybody. When company came he thought they were new toys to be played with. He would sit on their hands or head and would pluck pearls or other shiny objects from their jewelry, but he never bit anybody. He was so good, in fact, that we decided to take a short vacation to Monterrey, Mexico, and rather than try to find a parrot-boarding kennel for Ralph we hired a bird sitter. The bird sitter was a delightful young woman named Belinda. She came to the house to meet Ralph. She loved him and he loved her. A match made in heaven if ever I saw one. We showed Belinda how to handle Ralph, how to get him out of his cage, and how to put him back into his cage.

Since we were going to be gone only three days, we felt confident that our bird was in good hands. Belinda was going to check on Ralph twice a day—provide fresh food and water, and some companionship. What more could concerned birdie parents ask?

We enjoyed our mini Mexican vacation, but looked forward to returning home to see Ralph. We arrived home about two hours earlier than expected and found Ralph out of his cage, without food and water, flying happily but hungrily around the house. He had obviously been out of his cage at least 49 hours. How did you arrive at 49 hours one might ask? A simple mathematical calculation, I would answer. Are you ready for this? Ralph relieves himself 4.28 times per hour, awake or asleep. (See above under “poop.”) There were 210 distinct little piles of bird poop; hence it would take 49 hours for Ralph to make that number of deposits. Ain’t mathematics wonderful? Ralph refused to tell us why he and the house were in their current condition.

Belinda arrived about two hours later and explained. She had gone to visit Ralph the day we left. He was glad to see her and they played together in his room for a few minutes. When it was time for her to leave, she started to put Ralph back in his cage. He smiled and squinted his eyes into little bitty dots as only birds can do, and bit a large beak-sized plug out of her hand. Bleeding and in pain, Belinda reached for Ralph with the other hand. He nailed that one too. Having run out of non-injured hands, Belinda decided that perhaps Ralph would be OK out of his cage. She left and came back the next day. Ralph was glad to see her. He sat on her shoulder very sweetly and bit a chunk out of her ear. (He developed a taste for ears as will be explained shortly.) Belinda was rapidly running out of body parts. She tried again to put Ralph in his cage and he got another finger. “Time to go,” said Belinda. She didn’t come back until help was, so to speak, on hand.

Obviously Belinda would not do as a bird sitter. Since we like to travel, another sitter would have to be found and broken in. We found Tanya and Ralph broke her in. He bit her ear nearly off. Although Tonya was a really devoted Christian, she had some pretty unchristian thoughts about Ralph, including how he might taste barbequed, feathers and all. We concluded that Ralph could tell a bird sitter a mile off and when one showed up he knew that he was going to be left behind (which in French is gauche derriere) and expressed his objection in the strongest possible terms.
The next incident involved my boss, C. Thomas, who is a bird-lover, dog-lover, and general animal-lover. He had been to the house several times and seemed to enjoy playing with Ralph. He would talk to Ralph and sometimes Ralph would talk to him. One time when C. Thomas was at our house he commented that he liked Ralph better than our German Shepherd Dog, Socrates, who had, in fact, bitten him the last time he was at the house. It was not five minutes later that a scream came from Ralph’s room. Really it was two screams. First, C. Thomas screamed when Ralph bit his ear, and then Ralph screamed when C. Thomas hurled him across the room. Then Ralph was exposed to some language that my wife and I conscientiously try to keep from him. My boss, who could swear in several European languages, pretty much exhausted his repertoire that night. He not only had the melody, but the rhythm as well. Fortunately Ralph deleted all the expletives himself and never repeated any thing the boss said that night. (Well he did repeat one thing the boss said that night but he learned it from my wife, not from my boss.)

Ralph nailed two more people before he was completely banished to the far outback when company came. First, we invited a group of very fine musicians. One of the musicians was a soprano, although unrelated to the mob family of the same name that lives in New Jersey and cavorts on HBO on Sunday nights. Ralph was sitting quietly on his cage at peace with the world when the soprano stretched forth her hand toward Ralph, as sopranos are wont to do and he bit it. She exclaimed at about a high “C” as is also the practice of sopranos. She is still a dear friend, but she doesn’t like Ralph.

Finally a very nice lady from Maine, Cathy by name, came to visit and was enchanted by Ralph’s provocative beauty. She wanted to be photographed with Ralph on her shoulder. Ralph was happy to comply. He jumped right up on her shoulder, grabbed her beak in his beak and deviated her septum on the spot. She now had four nose holes to breath through, except two of them were bleeding profusely.

The evening ended with Ralph being permanently banished from the presence of guests, Cathy’s being very gracious, (she didn’t cry or even mention a lawsuit), and a hazardous materials sign being forever affixed to Ralph’s cage.