Johnnersintheraw's Blog

May 26, 2010

ElChapulin

The Mad and Mean Mexican Green Papagayo Machine

His name was El Chapulin Papagayo; at least that’s what he told me it was.  But what was I to know?  After all, I didn’t know who he was; as far as I was aware, I hadn’t even noticed him. And although I never told him so, I’d never given him a thought – much less a second thought.  But then again, it’s hard to think of someone when one hasn’t even heard of him.   I’m not even sure he had ever been where I was – much less in my field of vision – when I was somewhere and in the mood to notice things.  After all, my eyes can only notice those things that happen to be within a noticeable distance.  But if this Chapulin character did happen to be in the same place as my eyes, one possible reason why I hadn’t noticed him was that he had been lying low, sussing me out, and deciding if I might make a suitable pet for him to train.  I can hear him now:  would this human creature be the type who would buy him the sort of cage he wanted – a cage with plenty of roosting possibilities on top, and with plenty of room for his toys inside?  Would he be reliable?   Could he depended upon to be at his beck and call, both in the day and in the night?  And would he buy him an amazing assortment of fruits and nuts (and even a grub or two) and not just the boring old stand-by, sunflower seeds?  Would he buy him a different toy every other day, so as to save him from ennui?  And could he prove – with no room for a doubt – that he wasn’t a cat fancier? 

On this particular point Chapulin would not compromise: NO CATS!  For he was convinced that even the tiniest kitten was sure to eat him.  And being eaten by a cat was not on Señor Papagayo’s thirty year plan.

It goes without saying that this cage envisaged by Chapulin Papagayo should be in close proximity to the place on which my bottom was most likely to perch – in other words, at the end of a sofa where I was accustomed to sit when I was sitting awaiting his pleasure – and such pleasure as he had would always be at his discretion, depending on his frame of mind.  

The particular cage he had in mind for me to buy for him would be large and high – but not too large and not too high.  After all, a parrot in the wild is prey, and even in a domestic environment, security is uppermost in its mind.  It knows to the millimetre exactly how large a cage should be:  too large and it feels unsafe; too small and the parrot feels like a poor relative, or like you have mistaken it for a canary.  

In addition to standing next to my sofa, the ideal location for a cage should be – according to Chapulin – nestled  into a cosy corner and next to a curtain on which he might take his exercise – climbing up and down and up and down and then all the way up to the ceiling. And, it goes without saying, at this particular place under the ceiling, there should be a nice, safe roost on which he could perch and preen and – if possible – shite upon my head.  El Chapulin Papagayo always enjoyed that part of it.  I could tell; for he spent a great deal of time perfecting his technique, hoping to make his aim perfect.  It also goes without saying that the curtain he wanted placed at his disposal should be the kind with tiny holes that required a parrot’s attention.  Such ‘attention’, of course, involved a great deal of rending and shredding.  For on his list of favourite activities, shredding curtains was very nearly Number One.

As I mentioned, I am not altogether certain ol’ Chapulin had been in the shop during the weeks preceding our first close encounter.  And I was by way of being a regular customer.  However, knowing him and his love of intrigue, if he was not there at the beginning, then he was somewhere else plotting and planning to be in the shop when the right moment came.  For even if he wasn’t yet there physically, in his mind’s eye a part of him was already lurking in the shadows: sitting lost and lonely and despised in a dark mouldy cage shoved up under the ceiling and between an iguana and a baby pecorino.  From this miserable and hidden-away spot, his mind’s eye would be spying on me and plotting and scheming and planning to overthrow that particular government which lived inside my head.  For parrots – as anyone who has ever been owned by a parrot knows – are firm exponents of regime change.  And like all regime changes, this particular one had been mapped-out long before the parrot has ever met its quarry face-to-face.  You see, it has “had a dream…”    

In any case, wherever he was, Chapulin was somewhere watching me, checking me out from his parrot-like sleep (the one where they keep one eye pealed and only pretend to be sleeping in case you start doing something interesting that requires their input).  But how is a human to know what the parrot is up to?  For isn’t his sweet little head tucked into the feathers at the scruff of his neck and isn’t he all fruffled up just like he is at night?  Don’t you believe it! For the more innocent he looks the more effective he is as a ‘stealth weapon’.  Totally invisible to a human’s naked eye.  For, in this camouflaged state, even a single parrot in a room can seemingly transform itself into but a single parrot in the middle of a rainforest (complete with sound effects and jaguars) – one amongst hundreds of green parrots, all of which have more or less identical markings. And before you know it, right in front of your blurry eyes, the hundreds will multiply a hundred-fold more, until – right up there roosting with the howler monkeys and the flying squirrels – there are literally thousands of more or less identical green parrots with the same red spectacles and the same white bangs. And with the same What? Me? expression.  But even there – in your hallucination – you can sense that, although they are all superficially alike to the non-parrotized layman, each parrot knows how to make itself felt when it comes to the human of its choice.  What it does is this: it clamps its mind on to the more feeble mind of its prospective human servant, zeroing in on its subconscious until its chosen human is overcome by same feeling of impending dread and unspeakable doom that he otherwise gets only when a pickpocket in a darkened alleyway is closing in on the bulge in his trouser pocket – on the one day of the year when that pocket is actually containing a wad of bank notes. It is the feeling of inevitability. You see, the parrot has the same magnetism as a master criminal, as well as the same allure and the same tendencies. Both have identically devious and suspicious auras of sweetness and innocence, and both are prone to wear them as permanent parts of their arsenal.  And yes, any parrot can pick any lock invented by man.

And if you do not believe me about the innocent expression, ask any parrot owner to describe their bird at the moment it is preparing to defecate.  You know you are already in trouble when the bird suddenly looks at you with a soft and loving expression.  It will smile, and sometimes even cock its head.  Its eyes will dilate in ecstasy, it will fruffle up its feathers.  And then you will regret putting on that new black Armani suit you were saving up for your internment.  

Now, when I went into this particular pet shop near the Mercado Central, I had originally gone in as part of a local effort to round up captured kestrels and burrowing owls in order to rehabilitate then and – if possible – to return them to the desert.  At least, that’s what I thought I was doing there.  But the moment I started talking to the owner (who had a clutch of burrowing owl chicks and a brace of kestrels in his back room, ready and waiting for me), I became aware of a certain feeling of enchantment.  And I thought, “How very strange!” And then my ears gradually tuned in to a particularly lurid whistling – quite unlike anything I had ever heard before. And this whistling seemed to be coming from one of the cages where the parrots were kept.  In my enchantment – for that is what it was – I instinctively knew that this whistling sound was not one of your ordinary, common or garden whistling sounds.  In fact, it was a singularly irritating, strident and grating ‘Enchanted Whistling Sound’.  And when I pretended to ignore it, the owner of the whistling sound started to rattle its food cup and to sing like a demented soprano – with a wobble that would give an opera-lover nightmares for the next twenty years.  And when even this didn’t seem to penetrate my cabeza, it started to yell like a navvy.

The owner of the pet shop laughed.  “Looks like you’ve got yourself a parrot,” he smirked.

And that is how I met the bane of my life, a certain smallish green monster with red spectacles, a white fringe with blue feathers on his cheeks, and the most disreputable set of red tail feathers ever grown by a bird.  And as I carried him out the door this bird told  me – in no uncertain terms – that its name was Chapulin.  El Chapulin Papagayo.  And that, henceforth, my name was to be ‘Tu’!

Now, anyone who is under the misguided impression that this green Chapulin autocrat even so much as deigned to speak to me in Spanish or in English, has never met an Amazon of his variety (every single reference work I studied on the subject liked to stress that this particular species is ill-tempered, stubborn, arrogant, and that it is not interested in learning a language other than their own – come hell or high water.  They are not cooperative. In short, they make lousy pets).  And if this wasn’t enough, I knew that Chapulin – unlike parrots one buys in the US and most of Western Europe and which are born in captivity – had not been hand-reared, but rather stolen as a nestling from his nest.  In other words, I had ‘adopted an orphan’ (which places me in the same category as Madonna when she goes to Africa to buy a new baby).  And not having been hand-reared, he did not like to be handled, unless it was he who was doing the handling.

Yes, Chapulin did have an enormous vocabulary and could mimic every city sound he had ever heard – and even some of those he hadn’t – but it was all in parrot-speak.  The way he saw it was this:  since his vocabulary was so large and he was so eloquent, why on earth should he sacrifice it in order to learn a few childish phrases such as those used by the majority of human pets, who are – as every parrot knows – extremely thick.   “NO!” screams the much superior Amazon!  Let the lowly humans – who are after all several steps lower on the evolutionary chain than the average papaya – be the ones who are taught a few words of parrot-speak?  Nothing complicated, you know.  Just a few basic words and phrases, so when the parrot wants something it doesn’t have to waste a lot of time explaining to his human that when it asks for a Brazil nut, it is not asking to have his water changed, much less being treated to the dreaded “Polly Wants a Cracker” phrase that makes it want to bite off the human’s nose.  Needless to say, every single parrot is resigned to the fact that – in almost every case – teaching a human being is a fulltime job that requires an entire lifetime.  But so what?  The lifetime in question is the human’s lifetime – which, as every parrot knows, is significantly shorter than the more valuable parrot lifetime, which can last until the end of creation.  So, as long as the human is reasonably well-behave and obedient, what are a few wasted years more or less, for there are usually other fish to fry in the owner’s house.  Such as live-in lovers and new spouses and, last but not least, dogs – which are great for tormenting.  In other words, a parrot can always find more devilment to liven up its life.

A good friend of mine, who was on the cusp of thirty, had been the owner of an African Grey since her twenty-first birthday.  She had been its only owner and had helped to hand-rear it; in other words, she was the only flock it had ever known.  Now, there came a point when she was thinking about getting married.  And so – being a parrot owner – one of her major concerns had to do with the bird, and about how it would take to sharing its human with an outsider.  For, you see, parrots can be outrageously jealous creatures and have been known to break up marriages and inspire children to move away from home prematurely.

Although this friend of mine loved her parrot dearly, she loved her fiancé more, and was not about to sacrifice her future happiness for the sake of a bird.  In other words, she was being a self-centred cow.  But as she saw it, she knew the parrot liked her mother – and had, in fact, stayed at her mother’s house on several occasions.  And so it was agreed that should the African Grey object to the fiancé, then it would be the one to move.

And so the fiancé moved in.  And everything appeared to be fine.  The parrot took to following the fiancé around the house; it seemed to be studying him.  And when the fiancé was taking a shower before bed the very first night, he looked down between his legs and – behold – the parrot was down there looking up at him.  And smiling.

The next morning the parrot had made a decision.  He loved the fiancé and had developed a seething hatred towards the woman who had cared for him his entire life.  And he was implacable.

The upshot was that the engagement was left in tatters.  The parrot left with the fiancé, and my friend was left both parrot-less and fiancé-less.  Let that be a lesson to you.  For this is not an uncommon scenario.

The fact that my Chapulin was not particularly ‘user-friendly’, meant that I was not subjected to the usual preening routine so familiar to parrot owners – where the bird walks around the back of your neck and rearranges you hair for hours and hours and hours on end. And I never asked him to perch on me; he was easily spooked, and I didn’t particularly want to have one of my ears chomped off if and when something startled him.

One game he adored, however, and one he had invented himself, was ‘fetch’.  Only, unlike the regular game one plays with a dog (in which the human throws an object and the animal retrieves it), in Chapulin’s version, it was Chapulin who tossed the object… and yours truly who ran and fetched it back.  His favourite toy for this activity was a little rubber ball with a bell inside.  And he would throw this for hours and hours and make all sorts of funny noises (and his happy noises consisted of squeaks and burbles and chortles, and almost made you wish you were a parrot).  The only trouble was, he wouldn’t stop until he had decided to stop.  And if I tried to stop prematurely, he would have a fit.  And nothing on earth is quite like a parrot’s fit.

Now, as we all know, a parrot can live quite a long time, say thirty or forty years.  Parrots are extremely monogamous, which means their first love will truly last a lifetime.  In other words, if you buy one you will be stuck with one.  Forever!

The other thing to keep in mind is that a parrot is extremely intelligent.  And not only is it intelligent, but it knows that it is a great deal more intelligent than its owner.  And furthermore, unlike a dog or a cat or any other pet, a parrot is simply not intimidated by a human.  And this means you cannot win an argument with a parrot.

The other thing to consider is that a parrot is in many ways very much like a two or three year old child, only it doesn’t grow out of it…. rather, it grows into it deeper when it itself reaches the ‘terrible twos’.  And while I’m at it, let me remind you that a parrot can crack open a walnut without breaking into a sweat.  That means, of course, that if the parrot is not in a good mood (and they make their signals clear) it is not the best of times to reach and touch its topknot.  Unless, of course, you have an extra unwanted finger to spare.

The only time Chapulin got lovey-dovey with me was when I was in the shower (and I always took cold shows).  Parrots, like all birds, love water.  They absolutely adore bathing.  So very quickly, once Chapulin had settled in and decided I was a pretty good owner after all, he established a bath-time routine. And while he added to it whenever he felt like a change (for parrots, being intelligent, get bored very quickly), it always started off the same.

He would wait until I was in the shower and the water was running, at which point he would burble a few happy noises. And after he had talked for about thirty seconds, he would whistle. And after he had whistled, he would scream.  And then he would fall silent.  That was when I would count to five – because I knew he would be waddling across the floor to the bathroom.  On the count of six I would turn round and,  sure enough, there would be Chapulin peering coyly round the door and looking up at me. I would then call his name, he would whistle once, and then skip across the floor and into the shower.  And when he was standing between my legs and being drenched by the torrent, he would tilt back his head and look up at me (or at some familiar spirit), and then go into a little dance.  It was magic…. needless to say, when he was standing underneath me in the shower, it did cross my mind that at some point in time, just out of devilment (or because he had mistaken it for an exotic fruit – or perhaps a grub)  my sweet little Chapulin Papagayo he would chomp off one of my toes. .

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