Tag Archives: fire-belly newt

A brief history of my bird obsession

I woke up thinking about something sad today, so I immediately thought of parrots, as my therapist has instructed me to do. I imagined I’d been admitted to the MIT Media Lab to study African Grey parrots in Irene Pepperberg’s lab where she trained Alex and the others. Then I started to think about what in the world I would ever do to get to such a place, ie: how I would translate my good parrot handling abilities into something academic that could benefit the world?

My friends joke that I am “the parrot whisperer,” but what is whispering to an animal? I think it’s simply understanding the animal, and most people don’t bother with parrots. Most people look at parrots and go into color shock. They see the colors, and they say “how beautiful,” and they feel jealousy that they can’t have colors like that—endogenous fashion. Then someone says “do you want to hold him?” and they look at the beak, which crushes down on things like walnuts or fingers with up to 700 psi of force, and they say fuck that I’m fine over here. This is because people are afraid of things they don’t understand , including other people.

When I was 5, I wanted to have a zoo full of all kinds of magnificent animals including an orca whale, which I guess was influenced by Free Willie, although I clearly missed the point. At the time I lived in an apartment building in downtown Ann Arbor, so I established that the zoo would have to go in the back parking lot. It didn’t occur to me that this might perturb the other neighbors, or that the Orca would freeze in the Michigan winter. As an only child, I was only concerned about how much fun I would have playing with all these creatures, as the stuffed animals weren’t cutting it. I drew massive architectural plans for this zoo in crayon, and pitched the idea to my mom. In her life, she’d at one time or another possessed: two siamese cats (Sasha and Tisa), two Lhasa Apso dogs (Miel and Sasuk), a large unidentifiable parrot (Caca) that she hated and purposely left outside in some South American country hoping a burglar would steal it, and a spider monkey (name unknown) that flung its feces at her and her guests. It’s anyone’s guess as to what happened to that poor creature.

So, she wasn’t having my zoo, and got me the most low-maintenance animal she could think of: a fire-belly newt.

I was ecstatic!!!! I named this small amphibian Scooter after my favorite Muppet Baby (which according to Wikipedia was “a brainy, computer-knowledgeable child”) and would play with him for hours at a time, as long as I could until his skin dried out and needed to go back in his habitat, which was a fish bowl inside a cardboard diorama I created to mimic the natural habitat of my neon wondered dreams.

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