Parrot Tales

OUR LIFE WITH A MAGICAL BIRD


DEBBY SMITH and MICHAEL STEVEN SMITH


Foreword by IRENE PEPPERBERG

Illustrated by ERIC HANSON



“So well written, really funny —and about much more than just that kooky bird!”
—Sarah Plant, composer


“This book astounds me. The sum of this small African gray is way off the scale.”
—Dee Dee Halleck, Chair, WBAI


“It's strange to have a friend that is a bird. But Charlie sings my favorite song when I enter the room, throws me kisses constantly and hangs upside down on the bars of his cage so I can tickle his belly. Don't tell my husband, but we are seriously in love.”
—Karen Ranucci, Emmy Award-winning reporter and Democracy Now! Board Chair



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About the Book

Charlie Parker is an African Gray Parrot. He entered the life of Debby Smith and Michael Steven Smith three decades ago when, at the insistence of their young son, Eli, they brought him home from a downtown Manhattan bird shop. He has been an integral, and voluble, member of the family ever since.

Charlie’s vocabulary is astonishingly diverse and colorful. He can be demanding, squawking imperiously “Clean my cage” or “Want some water.” He can be brutally direct, warning an aggressive business associate who had been yelling at Debby “I’m going to kick your ass, you sonofabitch.” He can be mischievous, making meowing noises to a neighbor’s confused dog in the elevator.

Charlie is a survivor. He ended up recovering on an IV after the collapse of the World Trade Center filled the Smiths’ apartment with toxic dust. He is often an entertainer, with a songbook that extends across “Home on the Range” to “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” And most of the time he is affectionate, often hanging upside down against the side of his cage and demanding to be tickled.

In encountering Charlie’s tales in this concise and charming book, we come to realize that parrots are intelligent and loving creatures, to an extent that, as the renowned avian scientist Professor Irene Pepperberg points out in her introduction, they cannot meaningfully be owned by humans but only enjoyed as companions.

128 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-68219-378-5 • E-book ISBN 978-1-68219-379-2

 

About the Authors

michael and debby smith photo

Debby Smith and Michael Steven Smith share a small farm house in the Catskill mountains with their son, Eli, and Charlie the parrot, who runs the household from his perch in the kitchen.

Read an Excerpt

ATTACK OF THE METAL BIRDS

In the 29 years we have lived together with Charlie we have shared many important life events. But while the current pandemic may yet eclipse it, none were more momentous and terrible than 9/11.

On the morning of 9/11 Michael was supposed to meet a friend for breakfast at Windows on the World, the restaurant on the top floor of 1 World Trade Center. They were to meet at eight o’clock. But his friend called to say something came up and he couldn’t make it. It was the narrowest of escapes. We were still at home in our building, just across the West Side Highway from the Towers when the first crash shook our apartment. The reports were that a small plane had hit the World Trade Center. When it shook it again we thought we were being bombed. We actually saw the underbelly of the second plane from our living room window as it banked over the Hudson River and flew north past our building and into the second Tower. We went down to the street before the first Tower came down. If it had fallen over sideways it would have crushed us. But it came down on itself. We scrambled back to our apartment. The air filled with gray smoke, paper and particles, all swirling around our building. It looked like we were inside a tornado. We looked out the window but couldn’t see a thing. It was literally dark as a mine. Then gradually it cleared. Everything was covered in a layer of thick white dust. Soon the second tower came down. A second blackout. We were lucky to be home so we could shut all the windows. It had been a beautiful September morning and many people had left their windows open before going to work. They came back to ruined apartments, inundated with toxic dust.

Charlie and Moe

 

With Charlie and our big sixteen pound cat Moe we weren’t very portable, so we stayed put the first night. We were actually so freaked out we didn’t know what to do or where to go. We tried to get our car but the parking garage door was electric and wouldn’t work since the electrical generator was in Building Two of the World Trade Center. Everyone in our building left except for us, and a blind bass player on the 6th floor.

The FBI rousted us the next morning demanding that we vacate, saying it was dangerous. There was also no electricity or water. We left large Moe for later retrieval, having been told an animal rescue van would be made available, packed up Charlie in his traveling cage, and headed up to the West Village, to the house of some friends who we had managed to reach by cell phone.

Everything was blanketed with a thick layer of toxic dust, the ash from the ruins of the buildings and their contents. We trudged north with Charlie swinging in his cage. “It’s O.K. It’s O.K.” he assured everyone we encountered along the way. But it was not O.K. We almost lost him. Five weeks later Debby and Eli, now nine years older than when first bought Charlie, and home for fall break from Oberlin College where he was a sophomore, noticed that Charlie kept closing his eyes and nodding out. He even fell off his perch. We rushed him to The Animal Medical Center on the upper east side where they have a specialist vet who cares for parrots. She checked out Charlie, put him on an I.V., and said she was keeping him in overnight. This was undoubtedly a serious situation. Parrots are very fragile.

Because of their small size, high metabolism, lack of body fat, and efficient respiratory systems birds can die quickly when exposed to airborne toxins. Hence the canary in the mine shaft. By the next morning however, he was evidently doing much better. When we called to ask how he was the doctor said she guessed he was feeling better because he had just bitten her assistant. She also said that the bill was going to in the region of $900. Michael replied, “But he was a victim of terrorism.” At that the doctor said “Just a second,” and disappeared off the phone. Returning a couple of minutes later she informed us that she had consulted with her superior and that a fund had been set up for animal victims of terrorism and that there would be no charge. She gave Debby some antibiotics to administer and Charlie was nursed back to health. Moe the cat died of cancer three years later. Charlie still asks “Where’s Moe?” and meows. Michael got cancer too. He was diagnosed in 2011, had radiation and two surgeries, and is now fine. We later learned that Christine Todd Whitman, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, along with Rudy Giuliani who fashioned himself as “America’s Mayor” knew that the area was poisonous but misinformed the public, announcing that it was safe to return. Why? Because they wanted to get Wall Street up and running.

Charlie on IV

 

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