Tundra # 11

When April and I had first moved into the house on Bacon Street, my best friend and ex-housemate, Allan, stayed in our spare bedroom for a year. Allan brought Sam with him. Sam lived in the corner at the top of the stairs in a big wrought iron cage. Sam was an African Grey Parrot. Sam and I had an ambivalent relationship that extended back to when he, Allan, and I had all shared a house together in Lemon Grove. Lemon Grove, by the way, is the exact opposite of what it sounds like. There are no groves there, lemon or otherwise.

In Lemon Grove, Sam talked, mimicked sounds, and sometimes he even spoke my name—mostly with affection, I thought. When Allan allowed Sam out of his cage and placed him on his portable parrot stand near the front door, Sam was more likely to speak my name then, than at any other time. “Hey, Quill,” he said softly, fetchingly. “Hey, Quill,” he repeated, rubbing the sides of his beak on the stand’s perch, like a knife’s blade on a whetstone. Smiling, I neared Sam with my hand out to stroke his attractive gray feathers. He allowed me to pat him—most of the time. But on rare occasions, just as my hand was about to make contact with him, he’d let me have it. His sharp beak bit down on the side or back of my hand with a force that didn’t seem possible from an animal that couldn’t have weighed much more than a kaiser roll. "Jesus Christ!" I shouted in pain. "Let go of me you little bastard!"

But Sam didn't let go, as a matter of fact he took it up a notch and bit down harder. A sizable fold of my flesh vanished inside his beak as if it were a fleece blanket stuck deep between a mattress and a box spring. Ratcheting tighter and tighter, his beak continued to clamp down, and if I didn't know better I would have sworn he was smiling. After another long moment of my cursing and Sam biting, he finally released me. Surrounded by red pinched skin, the cut Sam left on my hand could easily rival that left by a pair of channel locks.

One day I realized that Sam only bit me when Allan wasn’t in the room. Furnished with this knowledge, I only touched Sam when Allan was present, and I was never bitten again. Even after I’d caught on to him, Sam continued to whisper my name, but it seemed sarcastic.

Sam had an impressive vocabulary, but sounds rather than words seemed to be his true forte. In Lemon Grove we lived across the street from a fire station. When a fire was underway, an alarm sounded, alerting the firemen to prepare themselves for duty. The alarm was three progressive tones sandwiched together in an abrasive cacophony of obnoxiousness. First, a muddled bass tone bellowed out across the neighborhood, this was followed by a jarring midrange howl, and then the entire thing concluded with a shrill fingernails-on-a-chalkboard screech. Sam could imitate the entire alarm to perfection, and he did. Often.

The telephone was another wonderful thing for him to imitate. Personally, I refused to answer the phone when it rang (this practice still continues for me today). I always waited for the machine or Allan to answer it. It’s not that I’m antisocial, it’s just that I don’t want to get into a whole big thing with whoever is on the other end. If people would just keep it short and cut to the chase, then things would be fine. If all my phone conversations went as follows, I’d have no qualms about answering the phone.

Ring, ring!

Me: “Hello?”

Other person: “Hey, it’s me.”

Me: “How’s it going?”

Other person: “Great.”

Me: “Still going to the movies?”

Other person: “Yeah.”

Me: “At five, right?”

Other person: “Yeah.”

Me: “Cool. I’ll see you then, okay?”

Other person: “Sounds good. Later on.”

Me: “Yeah, later on.”

But this isn’t the way phone conversations go. They’re long, drawn out affairs that can last anywhere from ten minutes, if you’re lucky, to an hour or beyond. Even at the hair salon where I used to work, if I answered the phone and it was one of my own clients calling to see if I was in that day, I’d pretend I wasn’t me. “Uh, yes, he’s here today,” I’d say without bothering to disguise my voice. “Would you like to make an appointment with him?” No one ever challenged me on this (although I often heard hesitating confirmations, “Uh … yes, I ‘would’ like to make an appointment with him,” and I knew the question: “Is ‘this’ Quill?” was at the tip of their tongues, and if they “had” asked I would have continued the lie by quickly scanning the shop for the first male hairdresser that was there that day besides me, “No, this is, uh—Michael,” thereby taking me to a bolder and more advanced level of deception), but, obviously, some of my clients who called were suspicious.

Parrots imitate what they hear. Since I never answered the phone, this is what Sam heard and was soon able to mimic flawlessly, phone included:

Ring! Ring!

Allan: “Hello? Yeah, just a second. Hey, Quill!” Then I’d come into the room and talk to whoever happened to be on the line.

This always amused our visiting friends. Three or four of us would be sitting around the living room, drinking beer, when Sam, who had remained silent for the past hour, would then, with no provocation, say: “Ring! Ring! Hello? Yeah, just a second. Hey, Quill!”

When Sam imitated Allan and the phone, I didn’t really believe that he associated what he was saying with my actually coming into the room. But this wasn’t true, and it was proven to me. One morning, not long after Sam had begun imitating Allan answering the phone, Sam and I were alone in the house. I was watching The Price Is Right on TV in my room, and Sam was in his cage by the large window in the living room. Suddenly Sam began to scream and flap his wings excitedly. “Hey, Quill!” he cried. “Hey, Quill!” Wondering what was the matter I went into the living room. One of the gardeners was near the large window trimming the nearby shrubs with a loud gas-powered edger. When I entered the room Sam stopped calling my name. The fact that Sam hadn’t included the ringing of the telephone or the, “Hello? Yeah, just a second,” part proved to me that Sam understood, at least vaguely, what he was saying. Sam looked at me, pleadingly, to save him. I felt bad, and I approached his cage to let him out and put him on his portable parrot stand away from the gardener’s loud machine. My fingers touched the latch on his cage, but then, at the last minute, I pulled away … that glint in his eye, was it fear or cunning? I made my decision. Nice try, Sam, I thought, but you’re not biting me today. Then I walked out of the room to finish watching Bob Barker demonstrate his putting skills on The Price Is Right stage.



More like this:


Oooooh Quilly, you are too too funny!!!! :)

Right there with ya on the whole phone thing, Quilly.

"But this isn’t the way phone conversations go. They’re long, drawn out affairs that can last anywhere from ten minutes, if you’re lucky, to an hour or beyond."

You're lucky you're not a woman. It's apparently the way a lot of women "bond" -- calling to commiserate about a.)their mother b.)men in general, or their man in particular c.)their job. An hour? That's getting off light. Two minimum, entire evening if they can get away with it.

If they were honest, they'd start the conversation with, "Congratulations! I've selected YOU to be my evening's entertainment! The challenge? To try to make you want to kill yourself, or at least chew off your own arm to get away from this phone call!"

They don't take hints about how late it is, yawning while saying how early you have to get up the next day, that you were in the middle of dinner or cooking it, how you were just about to get into a bath, etc., etc., etc. You could literally say, "Both my house and I are on fire right now. Could I call you back?" and the female on the other end of the line wouldn't stop talking or have any reaction whatsoever.

I'd rather get bitten by Sam. At least the torture's over quicker.

Thank you, AG (very funny stuff, by the way, I laughed out loud). Nothing against you or the rest of the fairer sex, but keep it short for crying out loud!

Oh, I am with you both on that one. I literally passed out on a marathon phone caller friend once. They won't stop until they have exhausted themselves and you as well. Then it takes another 10 minutes just to wind down the goodbye portion while you look around for the nearest sharp instrument upon which to impale yourself. Glad to know there are other phone-phobics out there besides me.

Great story, Quill!

Re #5: Did you start snoring? That's one I haven't tried.

The older I get, the less patience I have for bulls* like this, and I didn't have much to begin with. Basically, I'm getting ruder with age, and not giving much of a rat's a.

Maxine is becoming my idol. :)


Y'all peeps gotta stop talking about me!!! :)

Seriously, I love talking on the phone, and my friends are the type that love to talk, too. We spend hours and hours talking. Guys and girls, all over the world.

Gnawing your arm off, [email protected]!!!!

Quilly, you is a trip!!! You don't like talking on the phone but you do go on here in your blog. Hmmmm .... ;)

No snoring, but my husband took the phone away that had fallen on the floor and the guilty party was STILL talking!! I had been gesturing to him for about an hour with the yack, yack, yack sign and all he could do was shrug. He woke me up laughing his ass off and I just told him "please, have mercy on me and end that call!!"

There has to be two camps regarding the phone. I like face-to-face conversation, and my sister is exactly the same. We both screen like crazy and I have actually thrown my cell phone against the wall. At work, I used to have them both going at the same time, so at home the phone rings terror for me. I literally get a sick feeling whenever it rings. Plus, like AG said, it's typically a one-sided conversation with the terrorist bitching about said job, mother, family, husband, boyfriend, teenage kids, etc. Booooring.

what a beautiful African Grey Quillpena!!!

i'm so glad i never got involved with parrots

i would have been a real sucker with them

i had a friend who raised parrots and the babies were so precious they just took my breath away

i had to literally run out of her house the pull to get involved was so strong

i was breeding show dogs at the time and knew i couldn't do both species justice

tell Sam to stop calling Cuddles!!!

her voice needs a rest

He's attractive, but, believe me, he's a jerk. I'll post another picture of him later as he's trying to bite me, but he ends up only damaging my beer can instead, the insensitive clod!

The same thing happened to me once, MsGrant. A girlfriend was talking to me, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. I just said, "Uh huh," or "Really?" once in awhile and that appeased her. Eventually I passed out, and she just kept on talking. I was drunk though, and she had had a super giant coffee from Starbucks. Yin and yang.

I was too. What else could I do? Kills the time (not to mention the pain) faster when being held hostage by the "phone-people"!


I'm giving Sonya y'all's phone number! ;)

Noooooo!! Well, we will just resort to our usual method of coping with this particular breed of time-suck comforted by the fact that we are doing our bodies good - and milk is not a factor!!


I'm pretty sure at least one of us knows this chick:


"Sure I'm all dead, AND my mouth's sewed shut. But I can still TEXT and TWEET! BOO-YAH!! ROTFLMAO."

(I don't believe her about the ROTFLMAO, for a couple of reasons: a.)she just doesn't look like a happy person, b.)as noted, her mouth's sewn shut.)

Other captions? Anyone? Anyone?

"Death becomes tweets."

ROTFLMAO - I am ashamed to admit I have no idea what this means. I know the last part - LMAO.

ROFLMAO - Rolling On Floor Laughing My A__ Off

Sometimes ROFLMFAO, the second F = Fat

AG, did you see that vid has 44K comments????


Back to Sam for a moment:

"Jesus Christ!" I shouted in pain. "Let go of me you little bastard!"

Now just imagine if he started screaming THAT on a regular basis! ;)

"When Sam imitated Allan and the phone, I didn’t really believe that he associated what he was saying with my actually coming into the room."

Thing is, quill, it is no surprise that Sam could make the association--what IS a surprise is that you didn't feel curious enough to google a fact or two about parrots!

Gonna go all Cliff on ya here: For example, that they are as intelligent as a three-year old human child. That's pretty damn smart when you think about it! I've heard that special adoptions have to be made, with the prospective owner signing a heavy contract, because of the great intelligence level, and because the parrot is capable of outliving the owner.

Taking on an entity with the intelligence of a three year-old for life? Yikes. He's immensely cute, though :)

I'd heard it was more like a 5 year old, D. However, I'll bet that just like a lot of other species about which we make huge generalizations, it probably varies from individual to individual. Just like humans.

Just in case anybody's missed Einstein, for example...


Holy cow! I had no idea they were “that” smart. To be honest, I think Allan might have even told me this information about Sam once before, but I was too busy ignoring him.

“Go all Cliff,” on me. My brother Jason (I have three brothers with normal American names, Joe, Jason, and Jake, and I get stuck with the weirdo name—as a kid I used to endlessly wish that my name were John) used to periodically do a dead on Cliff impersonation; it had many variations but it always began the same way: “Now you take your average North Atlantic Ocean sperm whale for example, Normy … “

Sperm whales made me giggle in first grade, and now, these many years later, nothing has changed.

Probably the most interesting African Grey ever studied:


"According to these sources, N'kisi is capable of understanding photographic images, and is able to name objects (within his vocabulary) appearing in a photo. He is also said to be capable of inventing new terms for things he does not know words for. One anecdote recounted by the chimpanzee scientist Jane Goodall[3] says that, upon meeting her in person after seeing a photo of her, N'Kisi asked, "Got a chimp?" It is claimed he demonstrates what appears to be a sense of humor."

Yikearoo. Now we know who's running the Air Force division of the Animal World Domination Project. Don't let me get started on the Naval division (dolphins).


...just as long as underground nuclear testing is not the responsibility of ground hogs ;)

“Now you take your average North Atlantic Ocean sperm whale for example, Normy … “

Cool! I think Cliff might add a redundant term or two, though, like your BASIC average North Atlantic Ocean sperm whale for example...;)

Or average GARDEN VARIETY basic FAR North Atlantic AQUATIC sperm whale ...

Aquatic, as opposed to ....?

Wait. Never mind. Think I've dated some of the other kind, actually.

Well, there was that "one" time I woke up with a La Mesa Manatee.

The manatee has pined away to nothing ...

Awwww. Mary's cute! You should not have let her go, Quilly, despite what they say about fish in the sea, etc. :)

Hey, that "is" her. She must be so embarassed now that our history has been exposed. You know, for a big gal, she is kind of cute, especially her mysterious smile and chin whiskers.

Chin whiskers can definitely be sexy. I have a cousin who actually belongs to a blog page for beards and moustaches. And a Mona Lisa curve to the lip? Suits as well, man or beast.

Let us know when the nuptial bells are to ring, Quilly, and I'll make up a big pot of seaweed salad. ;)

That first post makes me nostalgic for Pike's ire, stoked at the proliferation of Halloween cuties all over the net.

The second makes me wonder where that lovely pool of water might be.

At any rate, you forget to consider the considerable attractions of chin whiskers in the presence of foreflippers. ;)

a La Mesa Manatee!!!

hahahahahahahahahaha...u's a brave swimmer Quill...hope she wasn't out of ur depth

We're registered at Target. Please, no more salad shooters.

The bridal flip-flops are the perfect gift!

A little trip down memory lane......


Everytime it makes me ROFLMFAO!! (thanks, AG, both for being the original contributor of this priceless link and for enlightening me on what ROFL stood for)

That was priceless and every time I see them I crack up, too!!!

Okay, I gotta fess up: If I ever get married, forget the stilettos, I am going to wear those bridal flipflops to my wedding!

re: #40: Didn't ya mean "You too, Daniels-y, nan?" ;)

re: #41: Ok, Target's not a bad place to register. "Club Wedd" has this great gift, to help Mary up to bed:


re: #43: Oh man, bridal flip flops are back! Yet--can a manatee both flip and flop? Sure--like nobody's business. Cuddle--order her at least two pair!

And Grant's brought out the gold lame bridesmaids...

I feel a wedding coming back on!

April's mother, June, has one of those to help her arthritic old cats climb up on her bed and onto the sofa. Mary, however, as she lurched across it, would crush the flimsy thing, as she has almost done to me on on more than one occasion; sometimes she grows too enthusiastic for her own good--or mine.

Yes, a manatee can flip as well as flop, and on her fat flippers too. Mary once even flipflop flippered flirtatiously from the ceiling and chandelier, although her amorous stunt required a dizzying arrangement of buttress supports, levers, and a reinforced harness.

re: #49: Hmmm. Mary's a gregarious gal! Looks like we are going to have to register you two at The Crypt instead of Target. We'll have to inquire if they have manatee-sizes in any of these:


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