This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
Gene Weingarten Below the Beltway


Bad parroting skills Gene confronts a beast … and his mortality


something worse. I came to this conclusion when I suddenly


I


realized that Olive, Pickles and Pancho, my three new housemates who, combined, weigh about as much as a cantaloupe, are going to outlive me. Olive and Pickles have leathery, wrinkled skin and move with all the speed and grace of a United States postal clerk going to fetch a package from the back room. But these facts are deceptive. Olive and Pickles are only 5 years old. They are turtles. In size, shape and intellect, they resemble rocks. They will probably waddle through another 35 years; actuarial science confirms that I, most likely, will not. And though he is


already 23, Pancho the parrot is — forgive the mixed metaphor — still a spring chicken. He may outlive my children. Now, there are


two ways a person can process such a slap-to-the-forehead revelation. He can warmly embrace it, taking comfort in being part of the beauty of nature’s infinite cycles of life and love. Or he can be me, and surrender to leprous self-pity. I feel old. I feel older than the pope’s grandpa. I feel


older than someone named “Ebenezer.” I feel older than the president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, whose job description is to be old. I feel older than Abe Vigoda looks. I feel older than Eugénie Blanchard, 114, the oldest person in the world until she dies, at which point I will feel older than Eunice Sanborn, who is five months younger than Blanchard and next in line.


f you love animals, as I do, then you know that the joy of having pets is tempered only by the sad knowledge that you will someday have to grieve for them. That’s bad, but as I recently realized, there’s


I tried to take solace from the wonderful innocence


of the pets themselves. That’s when Pancho bit me. He’s been biting me, or trying to bite me, ever since


he arrived a few days ago. Pancho was given to me by Vincent, a reader who knew I have an affection for parrots, and who informed me that since he got a new job, he could no longer care for his bird as well as he would like. Vincent arrived at my house with the bird and a big


box of toys and a huge, expensive cage, all of which he gave me for free. In retrospect, this fact probably should have raised a red flag; also, the fact that after Vincent set up Pancho in my dining room, he beat it out of the house really fast, like an arsonist who has just lit the fuse. Vincent warned me


that Pancho likes men better than women. While this may be true, it turns out to be like trying to make a meaningful distinction between Hitler’s relative affection for Jews or Gypsies. I don’t want to


suggest that having Pancho around is just about cowering in terror of his razor- sharp beak. It also is about trying to live with his deafening shriek, which sounds


like what you might hear in a delivery room if a woman were giving birth to a rocking chair. Pancho shrieks like this whenever he is angry, which happens with some frequency, such as every time I dare to leave the room. Pancho is here on a tryout basis, and he appears to


be doing his best to get back to Vincent, which would be a shame. Because I now realize there’s a silver lining to Pancho’s longevity. Sure, he’s going to outlive me, but that would give me a certain power over my children, a reason for them to be nice to me in my old age. I write the will; I decide to which kid I flip the bird.


E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com. 32 The WashingTon PosT Magazine | august 15, 2010


ILLUSTRATION BY ERIC SHANSBY


Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100  |  Page 101  |  Page 102  |  Page 103  |  Page 104  |  Page 105  |  Page 106  |  Page 107  |  Page 108  |  Page 109  |  Page 110  |  Page 111  |  Page 112  |  Page 113  |  Page 114  |  Page 115  |  Page 116  |  Page 117  |  Page 118  |  Page 119  |  Page 120  |  Page 121  |  Page 122  |  Page 123  |  Page 124  |  Page 125  |  Page 126  |  Page 127  |  Page 128  |  Page 129  |  Page 130  |  Page 131  |  Page 132  |  Page 133  |  Page 134  |  Page 135  |  Page 136  |  Page 137  |  Page 138  |  Page 139  |  Page 140  |  Page 141  |  Page 142  |  Page 143  |  Page 144  |  Page 145  |  Page 146  |  Page 147  |  Page 148
Produced with Yudu - www.yudu.com