Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Flightless Birds of Summer

On the last day of school before summer, the teacher brought her parrot Jonah for a visit.

In case you are wondering, young adults with cognitive impairments say the same types of things to talking birds that plain folks do:

Iva came up to the office doorway and froze when she saw the parrot.

"Oh my god what is that?"

"It's Jonah," I told her, "He's here to visit us."

She looked nervously over her shoulder.

"Is he, like, coming to school here now or what? Like a student? A student in our class?"

"He's a bird."

I wondered if she was confused because several days earlier, a potential new student for our class came for a visit, and he, too, had been standing in the office when she got off the bus.

Jonah let out a shrill whistle. Iva self-consciously tucked a flap of hair behind her ear and thanked him.

"I do look very nice today," she said sheepishly.

I went to the kitchen to get coffee, and when I returned, Iva was telling Jonah about her recent birthday, how delicious her ice cream cake had been, and how much she longed for a new Iphone but had not received one for a present.

"He poops when you say 'shazaam'," I told her. 

Apparently,you teach your pet bird to drop anchor on command, as a way of minimizing unplanned defecations.

Despite the better angels of my nature, I found the idea of this avicultural safewording to be hilarious. 

When the students took turns holding Jonah on their arms, I kept erupting in shazaams and then giggling like a blue-footed booby.

I soon grew bored of my own amazing joke and wandered from the room.

People get all emotional and stuff before summer break. They hug.

There were still several hours left in the school day, but Amy Ting angrily accused me of not saying good-bye to her.

"Ok," I said, and I offered my specialty: the side hug with arched arm, so that only the fingertips and the interior porkchop of the deltoid come into contact with the other person.

I left school wondering what kind of man am I, whose bump is too cold for comfort.

But as I walked into the thrift store several minutes later, all such thoughts just fell away.

The feeling was upon me.

There is a certain kind of electricity at work in a second hand shop.

Some days, it's dormant; I walk inside and the whole place reeks of sandaled feet. There's a tower of Country Karaoke CDs teetering on the showcase, everything is puce and olive, and I might as well go home.

When the electricity rises, however, it pricks the hairs of my arms and upper shoulders as I walk through the door.

There's treasure here today. I know it.

I made a beeline for the toy section, brushing past a large black man holding a waffle maker and shouting into his cellphone.

"No....a WAFFLE MAKER. Yeah, for waffles. WAFFLES. No, it's for making them. FOR MAKING THEM. No, man, WAFFLES."

The toys were strewn around the floor, shoved onto narrow shelving, piled into crates. I did my initial visual scan of the area and then moved in for some deep digging.

The thrift store electricity was roaring in my ears.

Not the Monster High Doll clad only in a thong. Not the Choo-Choo with Cookie Monster waving from the conductor seat. Not the half-empty puzzle in a bag, or the moldy cylinder of Lincoln Logs.

Somewhere beneath all this ordinary, lays-

It was a 1970s Tristar International Klinger action figure from the landmark dramedy series M*A*S*H.

I have no poker face when it comes to these things.

If I find a rare treasure in the wild, I gasp, I proclaim, I give sobbing thanks.
Hisssss.....who calls me by my name, in this, my thrift store refuge??

Who has the audacity to find me familiar-looking and speak out??

I turned around, and there stood a woman I'd not seen in twenty years. 

She'd been my first kiss, a little lesson in passion for which I'd gladly paid a dollar. Our teeth clacked together in painful failure, however, and I'd psychologically vomited.

I went to her house for brunch some months later.

How she had recognized me now, a bloated hobgoblin clutching his M*A*S*H action figure and jiggling with suppressed glee, I'll never know, but knew me she did.

I'm still not clear on how to stand when I run into someone I used to be acquainted with.

There is a certain amount of "catching up" that polite society demands, and this obligates me to assume a posture that does not betray my building need to run off screaming.

I went for one arm resting on a nearby cabinet, feet evenly apart, as she told me about her life in Northern Ireland, the view of the inlet sea from her kitchen window.

This position was no good; the stretch marks along the back of my arm were too prominent.

I kind of lowered my head to one side, to block her potential view of the marks, but I quickly discerned from the puzzled fluttering of her eyes that it may have appeared too casual.

I then brought my head back up and let my arms fall loosely to my sides, but nervously crossed my legs at the knees and teetered a bit from poor balance.

She was starting in on the names of her ten children when I folded my arms too far forward from me, as if resting them on an invisible fence, and then quickly reeled them back in to wordlessly demonstrate to her that I was not a crazy person.

And all the while, as we spoke, I gesticulated with the Klinger.

After an agonizing five minutes, I excused myself by way of a side hug, made my purchase, and scurried home.

Father Mulcahy and B.J. sharing a good laugh

They separate, feeling pleased with their time together.


  1. Like Amy, I've always been a fist-bumper (for the same reason: touching = NO!). Now I'm left wondering if my fist bumps are too cold. I've never thought about it before. What if people have been meaning to tell me all this time but didn't want to hurt my feelings.

    1. Welcome to the lonely community of cold bumpers

  2. Klinger + happy nuggets = strange but amusing mental image for the rest of the day. :-)

    1. Oh good, I am glad I could at least give you something nice to think about

  3. "Thank you, God, for this Klinger; my family will have bread tonight!" That was great. Also 'one ten of dollars.' You're responsible for a lot of giggling over here.

  4. You need to find out if either Father Mulcahy or B.J. now lives in Ireland.

    1. I'll have to see where they ended up in the short-lived AFTERMASH show

  5. That's a cool action figure. Glad you posted it.

  6. I usually silently lurk in hopeful anticipation of a new post and always enjoy them. This was one of your recent best though, thanks and best wishes, Tony

  7. They separate, feeling pleased with their time together.

    Between that, and the perfect description of the casual-stand fail, I am doubly-slayed (slain?), by this one. Excellent as always.