Thursday, April 13, 2006


In Which We Talk About the Birds and the Bunny...

It's not often I find myself in a situation I can't wiggle out of. And let me tell you, if I'm in a situation I want to get out of, I can wiggle like a hula dancer. I will use any and all means at my disposal to accomplish that wiggling: charm, groveling, the appearance of total incompetence, and outright lying, to name just a few tactics.

Where I run into problems is when I'm co-opted into taking on a responsibility or duty that Her Lovely Self has agreed to perform. She, you see, is the exact opposite of myself. She's the world's worst wiggler when it comes to getting out of situations she'd rather not be in. There aren't enough fingers on my hands or yours to count the number of times she's agreed to do something and then spent the rest of the time--and sometimes even months or years thereafter--kicking herself for not saying no.

For example once, in earshot of the wrong people, she off-handedly mentioned something about Thomas' school grounds needing some raking and tending. With the week, she found herself being asked to work on the school's brand-new Beautification Committee, of which she was chairperson, not because she sought the responsibility, but because she was the only one who had expressed the slightest concern. She then felt she had a moral duty (read: "a responsibility to my own big mouth") to follow through. And guess who had to follow her through, hauling the wheelbarrow, the rake and the roto-tiller?

That's a large-scale example--we'll be the unpaid groundskeepers at that damn school until the Brownie graduates. On a much smaller scale, though, it's even worse.

A year or so back, we got a hurried call from the neighbors whose back yard abuts ours. They had an unexpected death in the family (as opposed, I guess, to those deaths you can mark on your calendar months in advance) and needed to leave for Chicago in, oh, 10 minutes. Could Her Lovely Self please, oh pretty-please with sugar on top, please feed their pets while they were away?

Of course, wanting to be the Good Neighbor and help someone in a bind, HLS agreed.

Well, you can guess what happened. Since then, every time our neighbors go out of town--and in the summer, they're out of town a lot--they call and ask HLS to feed their pets (gratis, of course. And even if they offered money, she wouldn't take it). And she just can't say no, unless it happens to be one of those rare instances where their being out of town coincides with our being away.

Which to my mind suggests an obvious solution: every time they call and ask, we should just make apologies and say we'll be out of town too.

"I can't lie like that!" HLS will say, giving me a look that seems to say, This is what I've linked my gene pool to?

"Then just tell the truth," I say. But oh my God, she'd rather die--or lie--than tell them the truth.

And the truth is: She can't stand feeding those damn animals.

Which consist of: two chirpy little birds and one huge rabbit, of the white and fluffy variety, but with the spawn-of-the-devil red eyes that totally freak you out when it looks at you. But it's not the devil eyes or the incessant chirping that bothers her. "It's just that they're so...messy," is all she'll say. Which must be damn messy, considering we live with a dog who every time he goes outside can be counted on to hoover up rabbit turds like they were M&Ms. Only afterwards does he regret that decision. Regrets it all over the living room carpet. And the kitchen floor. And the--well, I think you've caught my drift.

I never really press HLS on the habits or hygiene of our neighbor's pets. I would just really not rather be involved. But then last weekend, when the phone rang and our neighbors announced their need to fly out to Chicago again (yet another dead relative. I've suggested keeping a checklist in case they try to run too many dead grandparents past us), Her Lovely Self came up with a completely novel solution to her moral dilemma.

She agreed to have ME do it.

Which was pretty ballsy, if you ask me (which she didn't). Because I would have no compunctions about calling my neighbors up and saying, "You know, there are about 5 ultra-responsible kids in the neighborhood who would take care of your birds and your rabbit for just a few dollars a day. Isn't it time you called one of them?" Except, HLS gambled I wouldn't do that because it would reflect badly on her and hell hath no fury like a woman who's badly reflected. Also, by the time I got home from work that Friday, the neighbors were already gone for the funeral and so I was stuck.

Now, you're probably thinking: I could just flatly refuse, and make her do it herself. But I figured, oh what the hell. I never feed the damn things. I might as well take a turn. And anyway, I did agree to that whole "love, honor and obey" part of the standard marriage contract, so I not-quite-cheerfully agreed to feed the menagerie.

Now, before we get too deep into this story, let me clarify something for those of you out there who own--or even just like--birds or bunnies: We can still be friends, okay? In general I bear no ill will whatsoever to birds or rabbits, with the exception of the ones my neighbors own. And the bird who dive-bombed me and the Brownie. And the 30 or so wild rabbits I've seen two summers in a row munching away at my wife's vegetable garden like it was a Wendy's salad bar. Are we clear on that point? Great. Let's move on.

That night at dusk, I walked Blaze down to the neighbor's house, lashed him to the porch rail and let myself in with the key they had dropped off. I don't know what my neighbor does for a living, but he makes a lot more money than I do. Never mind that his house is twice the size of mine, his living room and foyer looked like photo spreads from House Beautiful. I made my gape-mouthed way to the kitchen, specifically to the breakfast nook of the kitchen, where the whole House Beautiful ideal came to a jarring halt.

There, instead of, say, a tasteful café table and some elegant chairs, sat a bird cage roughly the size and width of a Navy torpedo, stood on end. From within, two tiny, rusty-red birds eyed me, chittered to themselves for two seconds ("Whothefuck? Whatthefuck? Whothefuck? Whatthefuck?" 'Idunno. Idunno. Whyaskme?"). Then they were disquietingly silent.

Below them was a series of gleaming metal cages connected by a system of bright metallic stove pipes, with odd dispensers and other attachments hanging off the bars at random intervals. If you had asked a member of the Borg Collective to build you a rabbit hutch, it would look like this.

One of the stovepipes quivered ominously and then out hopped the rabbit.

Well, not hopped, so much as poured. He was huge. He didn't look like a rabbit at all. More like the hideous offspring of a large down pillow and a pair of white Uggs.

As soon as he revealed himself, the birds started in again. Only this was no two second-chitter fest. This was the extended dance remix ("Whothefuckthefuckthefuckthefuck? Whatthefuck? Whothefuckthefuckthefuckthefuck? Whatthefuck?" "Idunno. Idunno. I du-ha-huh-nonononononononononono. Whyaskme?" And on it went).

And then I saw the page on the counter bearing the legend: Feeding Instructions for the "Kids."

Two sheets of paper full of densely packed text.

On both sides.

Oh dear God.

I wish I had saved the note, because it's a piece of work. When we left Thomas for the first time with a babysitter, I don't think Her Lovely Self wrote a care-and-feeding note longer than two paragraphs, and I thought THAT was long.

It's just as well I don't have it because I'd be compelled to repeat it here, and reading it might cause your head to explode. So let me sum up. And let me also assure you that what follows is only a BRIEF summary:

For the birds (whose names I have totally blotted from memory, so we'll call them That Goddamn Bird and The Other One), I was supposed to feed them twice a day--once first thing in the morning, and once at sunset. But if at all possible, in the morning only, but not the evening, I was to feed them at a separate hour from the rabbit (let's call him Uggs Bunny).

You read that right: apparently, I was to come down at say, 8 in the morning, feed the birds, then return a little bit later to feed Uggs separately. No rationale was given for this. Did the sight of Uggs so put That Goddamn Bird and The Other One off their feed so that they didn't eat? Had Uggs be complaining because TGB and TOO were dropping food onto him? Clearly, I would have to ignore this instruction and feed them at the same time to observe the results for myself.

In addition to feeding the birds, I was also to change their drinking water AND their bathing water. There were two unlabeled water containers in the cage. Which was the drinking water and which was the bathtub? No fucking clue. I had thought that I could deduce the identity of the bathing water because it might, you know, be dirty. Have feathers and droppings and stuff in it. Thing is, BOTH containers were filled with bits of feather and the most foul-smelling shit I have ever been within a finger's width of. Here, the note gave me careful instructions on rinsing and washing (by hand, with dish soap) the bowls, and taking care to make sure there was no soap residue left behind.

Because, you know, drinking shitty water's okay, but that dish soap, man, that's a real avian hazard.

Also, every other day--morning feedings only--I was to give TGB and TOO a little scoop of multi-colored bird food in a separate feeder on the back of the cage. This was their treat bowl. Treat? For what? I wondered. Shitting in the tub?

Furthermore, I was to take special care not to let them out of the cage or out of the house. Whew, thank God they included that line. You know, really spelled it out for me. In fairness, I guess they felt compelled to make this distinction because Uggs, in fact, WAS allowed out of his metal stovepipe condo. At least once a day, I was to let him out to scamper--as much as a great white fur towel with eyes can scamper--so he could get some exercise. Or perhaps mop the floor with his body.

And here I must quote directly from the note because, well, because this is MY life we're talking about, and at this stage I don't see much point in being all coy with foreshadowing. The note read: "Don't worry about him running away to the living room or into the basement or garage [both of which had small pet doors in them, the previous owners having owned a small fleet of cats]. He doesn't like carpets so he prefers to stay on the tile floor."

While he was engaged in his calisthenics, I was to refill his food bowl (and on the counter nearby was a large bag helpfully marked "Devil-Eyed Bunny Food" or similar). I was also to remove one (1) leaf of spinach from the bag in the refrigerator and place this on top of the food in the bowl. Of the many attachments on the bars of his cage, I learned one of them was the water dispenser (the inverted bottle half-filled with water was the giveaway), which I was to change with each feeding.

Right. So much for our brief recap.

I decided to start with Uggs first, mostly because he could have his scampering time while I did my job. I found a hinged door at the top of one of the cages and opened it up. Uggs hopped over, looked up at the open door, then disappeared down a stovepipe to one of the other cages.

"Suit yourself," I said. And then I reached in and grabbed his food bowl, filled it, putting the decorative spinach leaf on top, put it back in.

As my hand was still in the cage, Uggs moved faster than I would have bet on. He came shooting through one of the stovepipes like fat, white, furry-assed bullet and attacked the bowl. I barely got my hand out of the way. While he chomped away noisily, I wrestled with his water dispenser assembly, emptied and refilled it, and put it back on the cage. Uggs ignored me, lost in his orgy of buck-toothed gustatory carnage.

After a few long moments of psyching myself up, I opened the bird cage. TDB and TOO both retreated into this little wicker nest thing high up in a corner of the cage, and there they continued their inane and increasingly rattling chittering. I grabbed the fouled water containers, rinsed them both out in the Corian sink and decided that, since my neighbors had made such a point about the danger of dish soap residue, it was probably safer for everybody if I just gave each container a good shake, wiped 'em out with one of my neighbors' designer-label dishtowels and filled 'em back up.

While I was doing this, I suddenly heard a sharp metal banging sound behind me and jumped.

Old Uggs had emptied his feed bowl and was now attacking his water dispenser. He didn't seem to be drinking from it so much as using it for a punching bag. One second he was whacking his muzzle against it, then he'd reach up with his paws and bat the metal dispenser nozzle. He was definitely getting water--hell, he was spraying it out of the cage. But that banging! Was it really necessary?

Evidently he felt it was, because he kept doing it. And I confess, I didn't mind so much once I realized that the sound reminded me of an old manual typewriter. I completed my duties with the birds (which included That Goddamn Bird lighting on my hand and nipping it as I put food in his bowl, the little shit) and throughout this process, Uggs was in his cage, typing away. I had this image of him writing his memoirs ("Chapter 7: An Unexpected Guest...")

Done with the birds, I went back to the sink to wash my hands and to rinse out what turned out to be quite a bloody little divot out of the top of my hand, thanks to That Goddamn Bird.

When I finally shut off the water, I realized something was different.

The typing had stopped.

I turned around and discovered why: I had of course left the top door of the cage open. Evidently, when Uggs finished eating and drinking, he decided it was time to scamper around the kitchen.

Except, of course, that he wasn't in the kitchen. In fact, he was nowhere to be seen...

Chapter 8: Eaten by the neighbor's dog who was lashed to the deck.
I am sure the neighbors will return to find a couple of business cards for pet sitting services displayed on their countertop.

I am not so fussy about my bird and I take no offense whatsoever. Clean food & water once a day - done.
this can't end well. ha. I have sworn off of petsitting, I spent hours one night chasing a stealthy dog.. ugh. hope you found the moster bunny!
LOL... I laughed so hard at this, I think I peed a little. However, the funniest part is that it gave me flashbacks from when my friend used to walk this old woman's dog (who's name was Ladybug... the dog, not the woman) and fed her 18,000 (give or take) guinea pigs every day after school. Ladybug got special fresh free-range chicken and bottled water. Ladybug had many an outfit that she was to wear when her dainty little feet were touching the icky-dirty outside world. Oh, and the guinea pigs were fed fresh hand-peeled (none of that pre-peeled crap for them!) carrots and celery.


Can't wait for the second half of your story! :-)
I have gotten my Magazine Man reading down to a Zen-like state. First, I make sure I am alone, and that the phone and email are off the hook. Then I defer food and drink for a half-hour or longer. Then I look at paintings for a few minutes, to clear my head. Finally, I relax my breathing, and when I'm ready, I load The Masthead.

Still, that wasn't enough and by the time I got to "...drinking shitty water's okay, but that dish soap, man, that's a real avian hazard", I was laughing so hard I had a coughing fit that turned into a hideous liquidy belch that was part puke.
No, no, don't tell us...
Uggs is the real Easter Bunny, and took off to get busy with his work...
Can't wait to read the rest of the story!
Stu, I have a word for you, and it's ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Shafa, I like your prediction. In fact, I rather hope it comes true.

MM, how many animals have you known with the names That Goddamn X and The Other One? :D
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oh face hurts I am laughing so hard. but no puke/belch, (btw, thanks for that stu.)

What the birds were saying almost killed me, both times. My roomy had to ask me if I was ok 'cause I was doing the no-sound-can't-breathe laugh.

Oh and fat bunny...
k, can't breathe again!
Geez I can't believe these people want you to do all that for free. Our neighbors used to feed our cats, but we took the bird to my sister's house. (Some kinds of pain you should only inflict on family.)

Really though, our bird wasn't that picky either.

Hey maybe if you do a bad job they won't ask you again. That's a pretty well-known husband tactic anyway, isn't it? ;)
Shafa...My thoughts exactly. I was wondering if Blaze was going to come into this story. If so, I'm sure it will be priceless.
I don't even know what to say to this...LOL. All I can say is, I think it's fantastic that you have a crazy life-story to tell for every holiday season. I can't wait to see what happens next...
To Heather: Speaking of your reaction, here's a cartoon I find pretty funny:
Oh, crud. I've got no computer at home, so I have to wait until Monday to find out what happened to Uggs. Oh, well, I'll amuse myself by imagining all of the hideous possibilities :-)
Did you happen to mention if the pet doors led outside? If so...I can't wait to hear about Blaze vs. the Bunny! I know I'll have to wait all weekend to hear how this ends, but I won't even complain about another cliffhanger...they're starting to grow on me anyway.
Too much information Stu!

But, oh the funny!

Thanks for the laugh on a Good Friday. :)
Stephen King wrote a story inside the story "The Body". The inside story was of LardAss Hogan and his revenge. Ever since I read this tale, my funny bone has been extremely sensitive to puke stories. My apologies to those who don't find yurk funny.
Stu- from now on I will have to say "I have a word for you, and it's .eu."

And then someone will say, "That's two words."

And someone else will say, "No, that's one word and a bit of punctuation."

And I will say, "Screw you guys, I'm going home."
Respect My Authority!
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