Night-Night, Doc

Twenty-one years ago I had about a thousand dollars to my name and I wanted a motorcycle. How I ended up with a parrot is anybody's guess, but in hindsight it was probably a better idea. I'm clumsy and I don't always think through my decisions. Come to think of it, buying a parrot might not have been a wise choice for a twenty-one year old kid either, but I like animals better than I do people. Still, it's a long term commitment. Any pet is a commitment, but parrots forever. At least that's what I thought.

I worked in a pet store back then. A single guy with no real aspirations except to get my next paycheck so I could make rent, my main job was taking care of marine fish and birds. When the motorcycle deal fell through, I decided I wanted a bird of my own. I already had a cockatiel and we were chums, so what trouble could one more be? Lots as it turned out. The second bird  turned out to be my oldest friend, and the longest relationship I've had in my life outside of immediate family.

He was five weeks old when I brought him home and looked like an alien with his big head, stubby beak and bare, scrawny body. Just a few pin feathers. I had to feed him through a syringe around the clock, like real parenting. It took me a week before I even decided on a name. At first he was going to be Zoinks after the popular Scooby Doo expletive, but no one seemed to like that. Then, I decided on my favorite Muppet character... Well, Beaker was too obvious so I went with his counterpart, Doctor Bunsen Honeydew or "Doc" for short. Years later, my youngest child said when I explained the bird's name in reference to the Muppet, "He's just so smart he can see with his ears." A truer statement has never been spoken.

Beaker^^^                                            and Doctor Bunsen Honeydew^^^^

Doc fit and we were like Sonny and Cher or Turner and Hooch or some guy and a parrot. I was that guy. He became part of me and my personality. People I haven't seen in a decade or more still ask me about him, sometimes it's the only thing they're interested in and that's fine.

He went everywhere with me. In fact, some of my last happy memories of my mother (before she passed away in 1996) involve laying on the floor of mom and dad's living room with a sheet spread out and playing with her "grand bird".

He talked a lot. Every time I opened my college refrigerator, the bird said, "Want some beer?" I don't know how they come up with this stuff. But that's how we started our long friendship. I knew him before I knew my wife, before I met my kids, before I joined the navy...before I grew up (which is still debatable).

Doc and I moved from an apartment in Wilmington, NC to a house in Boiling Spring Lakes, NC with Stephanie and there, the three of us got married...That is also where I bought him his first big-boy cage. It's still his home today. Back then, I gave the store my credit card, stuffed the cage into the backseat of my Dodge Neon, tying the door shut on the drive home because the cage was so big the car door wouldn't close, and drove the 35.2 miles back to the house. Doc hated that cage at first. He was resistant to change. Come to think of it, that was when his phrase, "Want some beer?" turned into "No beer, Doc!" courtesy of my wife. It's just as good. He also learned a hundred or so other phrases including beeps and clicks that sounded like microwaves and answering machines, the whistled themes to The Andy Griffith Show and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. A friend of mine taught him to sing "Babaloo" like Ricky Ricardo, and he also mimicked same friend's smoker's cough. My favorite thing he learned, and he did it every night from that point without fail, was to say "Night-night, Doc. Night-night buddy." every single evening when he thought it was time for bed. It was my voice I heard, but he was imitating me, the sincerest form of flattery.

There, we also found out that Doc liked to dance. If you snapped your fingers, he would bob his head and even get his wings into it. Feet moving, head bouncing, real-honest-to-bob-dancing. It wasn't long before we found if you snapped your fingers in time, he would dance to that as well...and before long, his dancing also included his own version of finger snapping... of course he made the noise without fingers, but that's okay. My boy had dancing skills I never possessed. He must've gotten those from his adopted mother.

In around 1998, we moved (house and all because trailers are mobile like that) to Bolivia, NC. There, we had our first daughter and Doc became a big brother. We got a dog and he was a big brother twice over but never really got along with the dog. Then there was a cat...bird and cat didn't get along either. Then I joined the Navy and moved with Doc and Wife and daughter to Florida and then California. He even got questioned about his nationality at a border patrol stop--yep, with a straight face, the cop said, "Is your bird a US citizen?"

He was. An African Grey, but born right here in the US of A at the Mississippi Bird Farm. So we went to California, bird and all. There we lived in Chula Vista for a bit and then on to Point Loma for about five years while I sailed around on a tin can.

From there, it was back in the car for a trip across the land to Indiana and here we've lived for the past seven years. Here, he lived happily munching on bananas for breakfast and pizza crust or french fries whenever we had some to share. And every night, he told us "Night-night."

Today at about noon, he died from heart disease and I cried like a three year old at nap time. Birds are tough and due to instinct, they hide their injuries and illnesses so they don't stick out amongst the flock so we didn't even know he was sick until it was too late. I wish he would've let me know. My kids and wife do too. You see, they've never known me without him. My children have never known life without him. I have...and I'll say it was better with the little guy around. I miss him like hell.

The beak of death.
I will always regret putting a regal creature like that in a cage, but if not me, someone else would have, so I'd rather it was me. I will always regret the thirty more years he should've lived but missed out on. I will always regret not knowing he was suffering so I could help him. I will always cherish that weird bond that only people who have had birds will know and understand.

Saying goodbye to a pet is hard... Saying goodbye to one after twenty-one years is awful.

For whatever I might have done wrong, little buddy, I'm sorry. I would like to believe you were as happy as you seemed while you were with us. My only hope now is that you aren't hurting anymore...and that wherever you are--if there is such a place for birds--you are FREE TO FLY, free to dance, and you have an unlimited supply of pizza crust and bananas.

So one last time out loud, but I'll say it in my head for a long time:

Night-night, Doc. Night-night, buddy.

Doctor Bunsen Honeydew  "DOC"  1994-2015

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