The Parakeet Trapper 1960
The summer he was five years old, my younger brother, Michael, decided to trap a parakeet.
He would later go on in life to play Lady MacBeth dressed as the Virgin Mary, start a Flying Saucer Investigation consortium, and open a strip joint/night club for ten year olds in an old chicken coop; but that was all in the future.
For now, he was standing in the front yard of the rental home my family shared with two foreign graduate students on the edge of Raleigh, N.C. Intently, Michael stared at an antique canary cage placed under a dogwood tree. Cornmeal was scattered on the cage floor. Carefully balanced, a short wooden stick propped the cage door open.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I'm going to trap a parakeet for a pet,” Michael answered.
Instantly, my role in Michael's endeavor was clarified. As his older brother, it was my bounden duty to “laugh him to scorn,” in the words of King James Bible.
“You dummy!” I snorted. “Parakeets don't live in North Carolina!”
This deterred Michael not a whit. He put a little more cornmeal in the cage and went off to play. He had watched as my father had taught me to build a rabbit trap out of boards, bait the trap with carrots and lettuce and set the door open with a stick. Dad insisted the trap be checked every day, but we couldn't hover about the area or the animals would be too shy to ever come near the trap. Applying the same logic, Michael went off to play in the back yard and I left to run about the neighborhood with a more mature and urbane crowd---those of us recently graduated from third grade.
After an afternoon of sophisticated activities such as riding our bikes down steep hills, turning over rocks in the creek looking for salamanders, and smashing quince apples in Pem Browne's back yard with a baseball bat, I returned home for supper looking forward to another satisfying round of “taunt little brother.”
Quite a crowd was gathered in our front yard on my return. Michael stood under the dogwood surrounded by my parents, my youngest brother, John, a neighbor or two, and the two foreign graduate students who rented the apartment above our house. Everyone was focused on the antique bird cage.
Drawing nearer, I saw the impossible had happened.
Michael had caught a parakeet.
There was lots of oohing and aahing and “isn't he cute!” as everybody looked at the little bird in the antique cage. It was hard to know who was more stunned--the bird or Michael. Michael named the bird “Keet.” (Several years later, company was procured for Keet through more traditional means when another parakeet, improbably named “Geronimo,” was purchased.) Keet had not shown the slightest interest in the cornmeal so a trip to hobby shop/pet store was in order to buy a watering tube, cuttle bone and seeds holder. They sold bird cages, too.
At the pet store, I turned to AK, the wealthy East Indian foreign student who seemed to be very generous with buying Michael parakeet supplies and proposed the first of many disastrous business models I would try over my life. If AK would put up the money to buy a dozen bird cages, I would set parakeet traps all over the neighborhood. We could sell parakeets to the pet stores and split the profits.
AK wisely declined. I don't know if he lost money later in life on bad investments, but I am here to tell you he never lost a dime on parakeet trapping.
Because, as I learned years later, it was AK who had seen Michael's parakeet trap; had seen the child logic and hope; and, with a God-like power, granted a miracle on a whim.
AK went to the pet store and bought a parakeet.
A year later, AK granted one more wish when he saw long odds, but a certain logic and hope. He gave my parents the down payment to buy a house (having wisely not invested in a parakeet trapping scheme.)
This came to mind one late October morning last year when I went out to get the newspaper. I live only two blocks from that rental house of my childhood.
I was astonished to see a small parrot on the suburban pavement in front of me. An escaped pet. The bird waddled clumsily on the flat roadway and its strong, hooked beak was nearly useless as it tried to gnaw a bit of flat road kill squirrel. Crows soon arrived and chased it away.
Winter would be here soon.
I wished for a mango or a peach to offer it.
And Michael's old bird cage.