My Congo African Grey picks up stuff REALLY fast. Sometimes he’ll piece together stuff that’s hilarious.
Yesterday I was sitting next to him reading, and he was preening quietly so I told him he was being really good — giving them attention when they’re not screaming gives them the option of not screaming when they want attention, so I try to do this a lot.
His response? He said in a friendly tone, “You’re a really good Nattie. Haha. I love you, bitch.” My husband and I use obscenities as casual endearments.
Then sometimes he’ll throw stuff together in Engrish-y ways that almost make sense. The other day we were moving, so I put Bongo (the African Grey) and our cockatiel in their travel cages so I could take their huge cages apart to stick in the truck. Bongo didn’t like this, so he decided to lift up his water bowl, which lifts the food cup door, and throw it on the floor. Shocked, I said, “You douche!” Bongo yeowled, this hilarious gibberishy cat-like sound. My husband came in and asked what happened, and Bongo said, “Yes, that became water now.” I want to put that on a shirt with like, a picture of an anthropocentrized flower or something.
Other times he’ll say stuff that makes sense, logically and grammatically, that he’s put together on his own, but it’s just funny. The other day we were sitting in silence for a while, when Bongo suddenly let out this long sigh and said, “Well, I guess I *am* Bongo,” not in a revelatory tone, but in the same grudging way someone takes responsibility, like when someone says, “I guess I *am* the adult here.” I blinked at him and said, “Alright. How does that make you feel?” and he just gave a weary “hm” and started preening, like there was nothing to be done for it so we may as well move on with life.
On a less philosophical note, a few weeks ago we put the birds to bed, which basically means just putting them in their cages and covering them. Most nights, Bongo does not want to go to bed, but that night he REALLY didn’t want to. He tried to scramble back out of the cage but wasn’t fast enough. He then clung to the side as my husband wrapped the blanket around, and, adopting my husband’s raging-at-Mortal-Kombat voice, yelled, “Nooooooooooooooooo!” We cracked up because we couldn’t help it, which he did not seem to appreciate. He fell silent once the blanket was in place. Then we flicked the light switch off, and Bongo said simply, “Fuck.”
Bongo is awesome. Parrots are awesome. When we lived in Texas, there was a breeder who said that her breeding parrots would speak some human to their chicks, like “good girl” and “here’s some nummies” when feeding them. Bongo uses both when he talks to our cockatiel, which is positively creepy since they hate each other; he’ll climb on Precious’s cage to harass him, and say, “Come here Precious” and snicker, and when Precious starts squawking in outrage, he says, “Calm down, Precious,” or (more rudely) “Shut up, Precious.” What’s especially amusing about this is we practically never said those things to Precious because Precious didn’t scream as much as Bongo used to; we’d say “calm down, Bongo” instead, but he says Precious. He also tries to blame his own screaming on Precious if I’m out of the room: he will scream a lot, and if I eventually say anything back telling him to knock it off, he says “shut up Precious.” And then screams again. (He doesn’t scream much anymore after I started being more alert to enforcing and ignoring certain things.) Precious also does this horrible, scratchy barking sound in imitation of an alarm clock we had when he was a baby, and Bongo will start whistling La Cucaracha whenever Precious starts in on this because Precious LOVES La Cucaracha and will instantly start singing instead.
It is always interesting to me to see different ways Bongo figures out how to use sounds to change stuff around him. One of my favorite things he likes to do is sit on the back of my wooden office chair, and he will start banging his beak rhythmically on it, which is a normal bird thing, especially with male birds (Precious does it too). But if I start making percussive beat boxing noises, he will keep banging his beak AND make a clicking sound AND put his wings up and dance a bit. The rhythm is shaky but it’s super cute. If he wants to get my attention, he knows I will do that with him for a while. He also likes to sing, “Boooooongo, Booooongo biiiiird,” in it sometimes, just whatever notes he feels like.
But what’s been REALLY great, is Bongo’s about to turn six, so for the last year or so he’s been transitioning to adulthood more fully. He seems to have gotten much smarter — like, quicker to understand things — and mellowed out over this time. The other week I was sick and lying in bed, really tired, but Bongo was freaking out wanting to see me so my husband brought him in the bedroom and left him on the chair I mentioned earlier. Bongo started gibbering and laughing and talking to me a bunch, which cheered me up, and I didn’t want him to feel ignored so I kept up for twenty minutes or so. Finally, though, I was just too tired, but Bongo kept talking. I tried to think of a way to explain, not really knowing if anything would work, but not wanting to upset him. When we put the birds to bed at night, we say, “It’s bedtime!” so that seemed like an option. Then he knows that “mommy” is me, plus he had started using it as an adjective — he started saying “want mommy kiss” a year ago.
So I try, “It’s mommy bedtime.” To my surprise, he stops talking abruptly, then says, “Okay.” And he stayed completely silent while I took a nap. When I woke up, he said in a bright British accent, “Hullo!”
Birds are the best.—
I saw an article about parrot intelligence where some jackass was going on in the comments about how birds don’t understand the human words they use and their mimicry isn’t any more impressive than those cats that sound like they’re saying “no”, we just get fooled into believing they’re intelligent because they figure out how we react to these sounds and how to use them to get what they want and it’s like dude I’m sorry but are you aware of what “language” is?
Ok, this was hilarious.
Inner Peace For Only $150 a Month
Its getting late I thought to myself looking at the time on my iPhone as if we were having a debate. The numbers condescendingly glaring at me like a mother when shaming a child as I try to muster the energy to feign indifference from my comfortable savasana under my thin sheet. Its 5:15am and time for me to brave the hoards of blood thirsty vampires, commonly called mosquitoes, and drag myself across the ashram for morning meditation and yoga. I have 15 minutes. Pffft, I used to do this all the time in Seattle and the yoga studio was 3 miles away!
“Kobes, come on! I don’t know how this happens every time. For a yogi, you’d think you’d at least try to be on time to class,” my roommate Dan yells to me standing by the front door with his yoga mat, towel and water bottle in one hand. His other hand is on his hip with his stance favoring the same side. His right foot is tapping the ground like a heavy metal drummer stomping on the bass pedal. We have 15 minutes before class starts as we race down the stairs and hop into the disheveled, red ’94 Chevy S10 pickup truck I bought from a friend’s father for $500 two years prior. If it was a horse it would have been turned to glue long ago. We ease up the hill of our apartment complex and onto the street weaving through traffic, hoping the Ballard draw bridge doesn’t rise to repel the invading hoards of businessmen fleeing their downtown cubicles for the domestic dystopia of their Greenlake abodes. We’re in luck. Ganesha doesn’t bless us with such an obstacle today and we smoothly cross the bridge and begin our ascent up the tax brackets towards the summit of Queen Anne.
We park a few blocks away and briskly walk past the multi-million dollar homes, Lexuses, BMWs, Porsches and trophy wives pushing $500 strollers, turn the corner in front of the Starbucks, pass the Noah’s bagels and enter Super Hott-ti Yoga inc. with minutes to spare. Inside a gaggle of women are complimenting each other on their cute, new Lulu Lemon yoga pants, looking through the jewelry on display, drinking artisan juices and testing the various scents designed to open their charkas. We sneak in, find a corner to stash our things and approach the desk. “Koby! Dan! Namaste! So great to see you!” Says Melanie from behind the small IKEA desk, my fellow yoga teacher’s face lighting up like a floodlight on Qwest…I mean Centurylink Field. Dan and I smile and return her greeting. “Oh, Koby looks like your pass has expired. Do you want to renew for the same or switch to another plan?” Melanie asks. I never like this moment, when I am forced to place a monetary value on my yoga experience. Should I renew for another month of unlimited classes? Or should I just buy a set package? How often am I going to be able to come? How much is that per class? I always go through the same thought process which eventually filters down to the same equation which leads me to the same rationalization, “$150 a month isn’t so much for inner peace.”
I roll out of my cot and yank on the same Nike running shorts and Under Armor t-shirt with sweat-whisking technology I’ve worn each day for the past week from the line suspending my mosquito net. I snatch my mat bag from under my bunk, my zafu dangling from it by a carabineer, grab my water bottle and proceed through the dark dormitory towards the bath room. I hear the clanging of the five minute bell as I splash cold water on my face computing the number of days its been since I’ve encountered the artificially heated kind. “Has it already been two months?” I think. I re-evaluate my math while strolling back through the yoga barracks into the twilight filled jungle campus of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram located only 100km or so from the southernmost tip of India.
As I make my way into the large, covered but open-air meditation hall I quietly nod to Ollie and Lucy, the nice English couple I’ve befriended, who’ve claimed a space towards the back of the hall. I return a silent Namaskar to Kamila the beautiful Czech Ashtanga teacher I selflessly provided a tour of the ashram to the day before. She’s sitting closer but a little too close to the front of the hall for my liking. I am a good student, but not that good, ya’ know? With all the presence of a zen master I place my bag silently on the ground, liberate my zafu from its metal tether and assume my preferred meditation asana. The soothing sound of “Aaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuoooooooooommmmmmmm,” is slowly, repeatedly flooding the dark hall, lit only by the rising sun and the candles reverently placed in front of the 8’x6’images of Sri Swami Sivanada and Sri Swami Vishnudevanadra on the right and left of the stage respectively. Each paired with a corresponding life-sized statue in front of it. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuoooooooooommmmmmmm,” the sound of peace and synchronicity reverberates again as I close my eyes. At this very same moment the Swami from whom the universal mantra was emanating begins to give instructions for the meditation.
Dan and I weave our way through the crowded mass of professional young women conversing with the more well-off, future versions of themselves and enter the boisterous hive of activity that is the yoga studio. People are passive aggressively negotiating with those around them to slide their mats over just a few inches so they too can enjoy the practice of harmonizing their breath, mind, body and spirit without having to accidently touch anyone. People are talking about their kids, their date last night, how hungover they are from the Seahawks game and how much they are really looking forward to learning to understand their true nature during the upcoming yoga retreat with their favorite teacher at some unnamed luxury, eco-resort in the Galapagos where they have, “Just the best margaritas.” Above it all, as if trying to drown out the elementary school cafeteria roar, is Justin Timberlake singing about how he’s going to love you right from the hot new album he just dropped. “Oh my god. I love this song!” one college-aged yogini says to the yogini teacher as she navigates the maze of exposed floor space to the front of the blank, white room. “I know. Its soooo good. I’ve added it to all of my playlists this week!” replies the teacher. “Yes! You’ll have to send me your list on Facebook.” the 20-something, baby faced student with painted on leopard-print tights and a matching black sports bra beams
After the Swami finishes his instructions thirty minutes of silent meditation follows. The terminus of which is greeted with the single ring of a bell, the trigger for each person to quietly, peacefully unroll their mat, respectfully clear their area of personal debris and ensure there is appropriate space for everyone. The Swami then guides the group of 350 or so yogis through pranayama exercises.
Upon reaching the front of the class the yogini teacher extinguishes Mr. Timberlake in favor of some slow, ambient electronic music that exudes digital calm. She turns the music down slightly and introduces herself to the 32 beautiful souls in the room, asks if anyone is new to the practice or her, “60 minutes of power,” and ends her introduction with, “Above all I just want you to leave here feeling better than when you came in.”
With the final exhale of the 20 minute long breathing practice the Swami cues his seekers to slowly, mindfully make their way to their backs and enter savasana. He instructs them to relax, close their eyes and connect with their breath. He suggests they surrender all their weight to the Earth and feel the energy of Mother Nature supporting their body. As they do this he reminds his practitioners this support and grounding energy is always available to them.
The yogini follows her well wishes by instructing her audience to slowly, comfortably make their way onto their backs and into savasana with their eyes closed, palms at their hips facing the ceiling and feet spread to the corners of their mat. “Relax your brow, forget about your busy day and just breathe,” she says.
Then slowly, as if synchronized across time and space I hear, “The Yoga Sutras book one verse one reads, ‘Yogás citta vrtti nirodhah,’” as both the Swami and yogini say, “and now the practice of yoga begins.”*