Strangle the Parrot!
By Jerry Mullins
Well, it was just about the biggest excitement this little town seen lately, that business about that damned parrot going and insulting people all over the place. Now sit here with me a minute and I’ll tell you about it.
George the barber got this thing, this parrot, from God only knows where, maybe on one of his trips to Charleston or Pittsburgh or one of those big towns he always talks about going to for what he calls a little fun, but ends up half-complaining and half-bragging about getting rolled by some lady of the evening as we will say it and losing all his money and coming back broke. But that is another story for another time and I will try not to get off track here any more than I usually do. So anyway, George brings back this parrot and puts him in the corner of his shop right there next to the window to the street.
And the parrot did talk a little when he first come around here, but George started teaching him to talk just like him, the same words and way he talks. Kind of funny at times, you know, being who he is, George I mean. So he got the parrot, and the parrot was named Charlie, incidentally, up to quite a few words, and all the people around liked to hear him mouth off. It was funny.
But things started to get out of control a little later on. At first it was just “Good morning” from the parrot, in a little sing-songy kind of voice, about the same way George would say it, but sometimes a little more smarty pants. Or, in the middle of the day, “It’s time for lunch”, and George would feed the bird, and sit down for lunch. Then “Back to work” as lunch ended although of course the parrot didn’t work he just sat on that perch and talked when he felt like it, or so we thought, or saw something he wanted to talk about. Like, a pretty girl with big bosoms comes by outside the window on the sidewalk and they would get a “Whoa, look at the bangers on that one!” And you could hear it right out the front door of the barbershop. Or, sometimes when certain fellows around town and you know who they are as well as I do would pass by they got a “Queer as the day is long!” Well, nobody complained too much on any of that because it was just a little fun. .
But after a while we all figured George was telling Charlie what to say and when to say it. Somebody heard George mumble something real low so you couldn’t hardly hear it, and out it would come from Charlie’s mouth or beak I guess you would say. So George kept on coaching the parrot, and it got so the ladies in town did not want to walk down the sidewalk in front of George’s shop, because they might get a “Wonder where she’s sleeping tonight”, and all of us old boys sitting here on the steps at the old bank building could hear the whole thing and we would break out laughing. And that embarrassed the ladies I guess although in some cases they should have took it as a compliment.
And somewhere along in there some of the fellows started to think George had trained the parrot to lip-read, because from where the two of them were in the barbershop they didn’t have a good look at each other, but if George looked straight ahead in that mirror on the wall across from his barber chair and if Charlie looked over to that mirror he could see what George was doing or saying and if he could see George’s lips move he could figure out what the words were supposed to be even if George did not say them out loud. Damnest thing you ever heard of, a lip-reading parrot by way of mirrors but maybe that was going on.
Now George was a regular church going man and somebody figured it might be good to have the preacher from over at the Methodist come talk to him. But George told him he didn’t control the parrot, he was talking on his own. When the preacher got up to leave after his haircut and his little talk with George about the situation and he was halfway out the door, Charlie says “He who casts the first stone, he who casts the first stone” in his squawky parrot voice and the preacher knew what that meant because of that woman problem he had a few years back. So the preacher never talked to George about it any more.
But it went over the line, I guess you could say, when the Sheriff’s girlfriend brought her little boy in for a haircut. Now this was Lou Lou, who has the ladies’ hair salon right down the street from George’s barbershop but she didn’t do children’s haircuts so she took her little boy to George for that. Or did anyway until the trouble started. Now of course you know her shop window used to have a painted sign saying Hair Salon and Tonsorial Parlor from a long time ago when they used fancy words like that, “Tonsorial”, but she had to change that sign after people starting talking about her a little bit on the Sheriff business and these boys from up in the country mainly loggers I think would poke their head in the door and say “Now what does that mean, my tonsils or yours?” and then walk off down the street laughing. So she changed the words. But anyway, she takes her little boy to George for a haircut and he is a fine looking little fellow, and as they finish up Charlie turns his head to the boy and comes out with ‘So who’s your Daddy now?” and clucks like he is laughing and Lou Lou gets mad and stomps out.
Now not ten minutes later the Sheriff barges in the barbershop door shaking his finger in George’s face saying “This has gone too far and I am going to charge you and that damned parrot with disturbing the peace. Disturbing the peace you understand! Now this has got to stop”. And Charlie starts screeching real loud because he got real excited if people started yelling around him. I guess he was sensitive about that.
So the Sheriff puts in the charges and George asked me to go to the Magistrate hearing with him because he didn’t trust what the Sheriff would say and I said “Well what do you expect, he will say anything, just crazy stuff to make his case.” So we are down there at the Magistrate’s office in the old tin building that used to be the chemical plant and with the new rain it smelled like a car battery broke open with that acid smell.
So here we are, about five or six of us, the Magistrate, George, Charlie the Parrott, me, the fat little Sheriff, and sitting in there was Luther, one of the town wags who never worked a day in his life but liked to go to all the Magistrate hearings because he said “The law says I can”, and maybe because he saw a lot of Perry Mason shows on that television set over at the appliance store and he would jam his finger up in the air all the time and yell “I object” at all the wrong times and the magistrate would tell him to shut up but he couldn’t get rid of him. “I’m a citizen and I have a right to see court business”, Luther would say, so the magistrate couldn’t do too much.
So we are going into first words with the Sheriff’s complaint going on about this parrot insulting people but he didn’t say any names but we knew it was mainly Lou Lou the hair salon lady who as I said also happens to be the Sheriff’s girlfriend on slow police call days, and we get to a part where George says “But there is a Constitutional right to speak your mind in this country “, and the Sheriff says “That’s crazy”, and Luther yells out “Yep, this is a absolutely a Constitutional case” and the Magistrate is yelling for order and pounding that gavel hard just like a real judge and saying “There is nothing in the Constitution about no damn parrot” and Charlie starts screeching because of the yelling and George is saying “But if he is saying my words that settles that” and then the Sheriff starts in calling George all kinds of a sonofabitch and saying he needs to be sued for slandering people’s good name and we all started laughing right to the Sheriff’s face on that one. Because you know as well as I do there is almost nobody in this little town with clean underwear.
And just then busts thru the door these two fellows from a hearing earlier that day and one was yelling at the Magistrate “You said he was supposed to pay me $100 today, not tomorrow or next week, today!” and the other saying “I can’t help it if the bank has a tax freeze on my money”, and the other fellow, both big tough looking boys says “Well you didn’t you say that this morning” and grabbed him in a choke hold like he was going to kill him right there in the middle of the concrete floor and our little Sheriff didn’t make a move to get involved because he knew these people would kill a Sheriff and walk off smiling and Charlie the parrot was screeching “Kill him, kill him” because I think George was figuring he needed to distract the big hearing at that point since it was not going his way too much and you could tell George was feeding the words to Charlie and the Sheriff was saying to the Magistrate “See what I mean, you see what he is doing!” and the Magistrate is yelling and pounding his gavel and George yells “Now see Sheriff what you got us all into here” like it was the Sheriff’s fault and Luther says “This is a real important Constitutional case” and the Magistrate tells him again to shut up and then with all this commotion in walks Lou Lou and some of us just start laughing and somebody says “Well she’s here” and Charlie the parrot sees her and whistles and says “Wonder where she’s sleeping tonight” and she looks like she doesn’t know what is going on because she can’t possibly and walks over to the Sheriff and slaps him right in the face and he slaps her right back like he has done that before and the two fellows from up in the country are still locked up trying to kill each other and it looks like the Magistrate is just about ready to give up on all this and then to beat all the Sheriff’s wife pulls up in that old Packard she inherited from her Dad and comes in the door because she saw the police car out front and she comes in the door all huffy and she sees all the commotion and says “What’s going on?” because she needed money for shopping which is her main job in life now and she gives both the Sheriff and Lou Lou an evil eye look because she knows for a long time what is going on and she and Lou Lou just look at each other real hateful for a split second and each knows perfectly what is going on and then looks away but the Sheriff can’t say much on bringing a case on defending his girlfriend’s name and Charlie is still screeching and then the Sheriff lunges at Charlie “I am going to strangle the bastard” and Charlie starts screeching “Strangle the bastard, strangle the bastard” and then flopping all over the room and up in the ceiling with George trying to catch him and the two $100 guys are still trying to kill each other with one it looks like trying to chew the other one’s ear off and the Magistrate is sitting there like he is in a daze and then Charlie flops over to the door not really flying because you know parrots can’t fly much although I am no expert on parrots and George runs to the door trying to catch him just in time to see Charlie flap his way out the door over to the Applachian Elecric power substation right next to the building and settles down into some wires and connections and then a loud “Flomp” sound and feathers flew up ever which way and you could smell the burnt feathers and bird flesh and George started yelling “What about my $150 parrot, who pays for him?” and Luther yells “Hallelujah, my first trial with an execution. Hallelujah!”
Now no matter what you say there are some smart people in these little towns. Or you might say it was a smart parrot.
Jerry Mullins grew up in central West Virginia, and has lived in the Washington, DC suburbs in recent years. His work has recently been published in or is forthcoming from Columbia University Journal-Catch and Release, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Broadkill Review, Tower Review, and New Plains Review.