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Tarzana, my Mexican parakeet

Nadine Rivera

Excerpt from a work in progress "Have Pets, Will Travel"

Curiosity can kill a cat, but in my case, it got me a parakeet.

When I first arrived in Mexico, everything fascinated me. In this particular case it was a man walking around with dozens of birds in a stack of wooden cages.

To this day, I don't know what I said or what the non-English-speaking birdman thought I said, but the next thing I knew, I was walking up the hill toward my home carrying a brown paper bag with a light-blue parakeet flapping inside.

The thought of owning my very first bird was so exciting that I was nearly running up the hill. Then reality set in, and I stopped dead in my tracks.

"I don't have a cage!" I continued on my way.

Then I stopped again. "What do parakeets eat?" A little bit farther. "Do you have to bathe a parakeet?"

When I finally got home, I popped the bird in a little wire basket that I customarily take to the store with me when I buy eggs You buy them by the weight, not by the carton, and if you don't have a basket, the eggs end up in a plastic bag -- and broken.

The bird safely deposited -- I hoped -- I hopped in my car and headed for a nearby town where I’d seen a pet shop. The cage (un nido) was a cinch, but when it came to buying bird seed, I had some problems.

The pet store didn't carry the seed ( alpiste). You buy that at the dulcería (candy store). At the mercado, (a collection of stands and shops under one roof), a man told me that parakeets also like lechuga (lettuce) and are particularly fond of corn on the cob. Nobody sold bird toys.

En route home, I decided to name the bird Tarzana, even though he was a male. At that time little did I know how well the name would fit.

Tarzana seemed pleased with all my purchases and made himself right at home in his bright green cage outfitted with a swing and tray for alpiste. "Where do you put the water?" In a cleaned-out cat food can, of course.

Tarzana fit right in with the rest of the family, composed of me, Myra, the cat, and Baby Doll, the Pekinese.

Every morning, Myra, Baby Doll and I would emerge from the bedroom and head for the kitchen. On the way, I would grab the bird cage, which hung on a nail in the dining room, and put it on the kitchen counter. Myra and Baby Doll demanded to be fed first, then I would clean the bird cage and hang it out in the garden. Tarzana would sing along with the other birds in the trees and listen to the music on the radio.

One morning it was very cold, and I decided I'd better put Tarzana back in the dining room. He did not like the idea.

Tarzana didn't make a sound. He hopped to the bottom of the cage, puffed his feathers out around his neck and sulked. Tarzana, who usually hopped around, whooping and hollering, didn't make a move.

By this time I was used to his temper tantrums, so I hung his cage out in the garden. "Freeze, damn you. Freeze." Tarzana immediately came alive.

I didn’t know that I had a very unusual parakeet until friends would watch Tarzana for awhile and then say, "My parakeet never did that!"

Tarzana liked to hang upside down and he also frequently hung from his swing by his beak. He tried so many different tricks that often he would land flat on his face on the bottom of the cage.

In addition to being an acrobat, Tarzana also was a music critic. When the radio played ranchera music, Tarzana sang along. When he didn't like a song, he didn't sing; he yelled. Most amazing of all, when the radio played military music, Tarzana marched back and forth in his cage. Sometimes, in a closed room, he'd sit on my finger and we danced.

Surprisingly enough, Tarzana liked cats.

I nearly fainted one morning when, after putting Tarzana 's cage on the kitchen counter, I turned my back to do something. When I returned to take care of Tarzana, Myra was draped over the top of the cage and the bird and the cat looked like they were talking to each other.

Every morning after that, Tarzana wait sit on his perch near the outside of the cage and wait for Myra to come over to visit. One morning, Myra must have said something Tarzana didn't like. He bit the cat on the nose.

Undoubtedly the biggest crisis came however, when someone finally convinced me Tarzana was lonely and needed a mate.

I had thought he was perfectly happy. He had a mirror and talked to the "other bird" all the time. Sometimes he even cussed himself out.

But unfortunately, I relented and bought a brilliant yellow female parakeet for Tarzana.

All was love and kisses (in fact, it was almost indecent) for about a week. Then a friend who raised parakeets, showed up with a nene, a block of wood that the female carves for a cradle.

None of that for Tarzana! He took one look at the nene and started squawking. The situation became so outrageous that I told my friend Berta "Here," and handed her the yellow bird.

Tarzana settled down immediately and returned to talking to his mirror.

Tarzana’s story, however, does not have a happy ending, but I learned an important lesson: Don't feed canned corn to a parakeet.

One day elote was out of season. I looked everywhere, but I just couldn't buy his favorite treat.

I had some left-over Nibblets in the refrigerator, so I gave him a few kernels. He developed a terrible diarrhea and died a pitiful death.

That didn't put an end to my owning a parakeet, however.

I was telling my hairdresser Tarzana's sad story and said I didn’t think I'd try to raise a bird again.

"Oh, but you have to," she exclaimed. She explained that if you have any enemies who might break into your home to kill you, the bird would die for you and save your life.

I immediately thought of one woman I knew and rushed to find the birdman to get another parakeet.

Published or Updated on: October 1, 1997 by Nadine Rivera © 1997
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