People often ask about the dead bird on our wall. It’s a little brown sparrow, perched on driftwood, his head cocked. But there’s more in the shadowbox, and that’s when the explanation gets a little…complicated.
Yes, he was a pet, and if you think it’s creepy that I had him stuffed, fuck you. I know a lot of people with jars of cat or dog ashes, and nobody gives them shit. This little guy’s name was Kookie Buki, and he was a Hollywood bird. He led a pretty unusual life for a California House Sparrow. He (and yes, he actually was a she, but we thought he was male until his adult feathers came in) was hatched a block behind Musso & Frank, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood.
We were walking home from the grocery store and heard an ungodly screeching. I looked down, and there in the dirt was this tiny, naked, ugly creature with its mouth gaping open. I still find it amazing that he wasn’t eaten by a cat, because he was not subtle. At all. I scooped him up and we took him in, never expecting him to live through the night. We didn’t sleep, just tried to keep the bird warm and give him water, and whatever the website we’d found said to feed him. The next morning we tried to take him to the only bird rescue we could find. They turned us down, saying the bird was way too young and would unquestionably die.
So we kept him. I found a set of wind-chimes that had a fake bird in a little wooden cage and put the wee bird in it, took it to work with me on Hollywood Boulevard. I really wish I had pictures of it; I told the people who asked that I was doing community service for accidentally killing birds by singing (it’s a Shrek joke, guys). Always got a laugh, and all the kids wanted to see. Good for tips, too, and sometimes I let kids hold the cage.
We didn’t know what kind of bird he was. An Australian kid insisted he was a kookaburra, but pronounced it “Kookie Buki.” Which was so damn cute it stuck (though I later wished I’d named him Jack Sparrow). It quickly got shortened to Boo Boo, and that was what we called him. He looked like a testicle with feet and a leathery shrunken head with a big yellow clown mouth. Ugly as hell.
He was a tiny medical marijuana patient. We read that a lot of hatchlings die from the stress of being hand-raised. We would take Boo to the stoner that lived in our apartment complex a couple of times a day. He would take bong rips and blow the smoke on the bird, before and after we’d go out on the boulevard. We hoped that this would keep him more relaxed, and stimulate his appetite. I guess it worked; at least, I had to feed him very often. I spent a lot of cigarette breaks dripping stuff from an eyedropper into Boo’s beak, until he was old enough to eat mealworms and birdseed. After a few weeks, he got fatter and fluffier and started to look like a baby bird instead of a Skeksis.
I’d heard of Alex, the parrot that could talk and identify objects and stuff. They said he was as intelligent as a five-year-old child–so that’s how we treated Boo. We showed him Sesame Street and talked to him and had daily routines. Boo wasn’t as advanced as Alex was, but he could pick out some numbers and letters, some logos, and responded to a few commands. He was very friendly and expressive, too, and chirped and talked. When he was angry, he would chitter sharply, bent way down with his tail and wings fanned out. I suppose he thought he looked terribly threatening, but it was funny as hell.
He was never a very strong flyer; we tossed him gently into the air enough times that he pretty much got it, and could go horizontally pretty fast. But he couldn’t gain any altitude, and if he was on the ground, he would just scamper. He was very affectionate though, and loved to curl up against people, or play in their hair. This freaked a lot of people out, so we had to stop taking him to work with us. He came along with us most other places, in his increasingly larger travel cages. At home he flew free.
But what of Elmo and the yellow washcloth? Those were his bedtime toys. He loved Elmo and would flutter and chirp whenever he was on the television. We got him a little stuffed one, and he liked to curl up in its lap and sleep. At night, he slept next to my pillow in a little plastic bowl, tucked in with his Elmo and his “blankie” with a sheet draped over the top. He would squawk and fuss if either were missing from his bed. I’d read him Goodnight Moon every night and sang the same song, and he’d snuggle down in his bowl and go right to sleep. I wish my son went to bed so easily.
When I moved back home to my parents for a year, the bird came with me. I may have lost almost everything I owned, but I kept that little bird. He took a number of airplane flights, packed into a mesh pet carrier with wheels and snuggled under the seats. At my mother’s house, he couldn’t fly free all the time because of the cat. He had a very large cage during the day, was loose in my room at night, and adjusted quite well to his new surroundings. And then one morning, not long after I met Chip, I woke up and he was gone. Curled up and peaceful. I was heartsick, and couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing him again. He had been so much more than just a pet bird. He was my “person-bird” and I loved him dearly.
So I took him to an excellent taxidermist (who I will link to as soon as I find his card). Later, Chip’s mother had Boo put in the shadowbox, along with Elmo and the blanket, as a birthday gift to me. I have had him on my wall ever since. Sometimes I’d swear I see him fluttering in there out of the corner of my eye. He was such a neat little guy, and had such a full, interesting life. How many sparrows can say that?