On a personal note

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People sometimes ask me why I’m so fascinated — maybe even a bit obsessed — by the wild parrots that live in Brooklyn. I’ve never been able to come up with a satisfactory explanation to this question. I wish I could simply declare “I just dig these birds” and leave it at that, in the same way that people say they like dogs or turtles. But that would be a bit of a cop out.

The truth is that when I was a teenager — and quite a lonely one — a parrot came into my family’s life and for a good five years this animal changed up our family’s standard way of relating to each other. It might seem strange to say that the presence of this bird made the angst of adolescence more tolerable for me and my sister, as well as my parents, but it did. There was something about having an animal in the house who was intelligent, thoughtful, a bit brooding, sometimes short-tempered, but also with a huge capacity for fun, that made brought out the best in us.

When I think back to those days in the 1970s — a rough, fearful time to live in New York City — I don’t see burning cars and wrecked neighborhoods. I see my father, sitting at the dining room table, with the parrot on his shoulder, reading the New York Times. I hear the bird calling out in my mother’s sweet voice, and I see my young sister carefully drawing the bird with her art pencils. This calm scene floats eternal in my memory, and while similar idylls could have had a favorite dog or cat as a focal point, the parrot created the one that’s in my head.

Years later, my mother offered to me that my interest in the parrots was in some way spiritual, and I think she was right. My original family is no longer on the planet. But the parrots remain, and whenever I watch them, I feel closer to the special people I grew up with. And that’s why I’ll continue to go see the birds and share what I know for as long as I can.