Monday, December 31, 2012

Dexter Strickland and Paco

My wife had to work today while I had the day off, so she charged me to use our nearly expired coupon for T.C. Anderson's car wash in Durham. As I approached the counter to present the coupon, I heard a loud cackling noise coming from the back of the store. At first I thought it was an unruly child, but my curiosity grew when I saw a middle-aged couple calmly singing "You Are My Sunshine" into the corner of the room toward the commotion. They were engaging in conversation and song with Paco, a talking parrot.

"How long has that bird been here?" I asked the cashier.

"We've had him for 10 years," she said.

I finished my transaction and slowly walked toward the couple and caged bird, trying not to disrupt their rhythm. Paco danced to the song, alternately running in a circle and twisting his head like Stevie Wonder. His singing was only intermittent but awkwardly loud, like a call on speakerphone with terrible reception.

The couple must have sensed my presence behind them, so they backed away. It was my turn to talk with Paco. I approached the cage and silently read the posted instruction sheet while Paco eyed me with anticipation. It said that Paco liked to say hello and goodbye and would, as had already been demonstrated, respond to one specific song. Since I had been to T.C.'s many times but never heard anybody talk with Paco, I felt suddenly self conscious about talking to a bird in the presence of other people. Singing alone seemed even more embarrassing, so I turned to walk away.

"Bye bye," Paco said. I stopped and turned toward Paco to briefly reconsider, but I decided again to leave the bird alone.

And then, as I was watching NC State lose its bowl game on television in the waiting area, I noticed that UNC basketball guard Dexter Strickland was doing the same thing. An older gentleman also noticed Dexter's presence and introduced himself before asking when Carolina's next game would be. Dexter seemed happy to chat with the guy. They shook hands before Dexter left and struggled to shove what must have been a thick wad of singles through a slit in a wooden box labeled "tips."

Frustrated that I was too timid to be my friendly self around a Carolina athlete in public yet again, I walked back to Paco, who saw me coming from a mile away since his side of the store had cleared. He clawed at the front side of the cage as if to wave hello. I leaned in close.

"Dexter Strickland dunked on Miles Plumlee in 2011," I whispered, "but I still feel like I have nothing to talk about with him. Isn't that silly? Also, he is a tremendous tipper."

"Bye bye," Paco replied.

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