FLIPPING THE BIRD
When I was a little kid, my parents bought me a parakeet. I had never owned a pet before and was eager to give it a go, though my parents were a little dubious that I'd be responsible enough to take care of him.
I insisted that I would feed him faithfully six times a day, or however many times you're supposed to feed a bird. And I would change the newspaper at the bottom of his cage whenever it got dirty with whatever it got dirty with. And I would love him and squeeze him – if, in fact, you're allowed to squeeze birds – as often as he would let me.
The parakeet, which turned out to be a boy, was mostly blue with streaks of gold and green interspersed here and there. He had a high-pitched chirp that was kind of startling at first, but later when I got used to it, it sounded like music. But in those early days, apparently – so my parents tell me, I don't remember all the details – I would totally flip out when the bird let out a chirp. I probably even wet myself a few times, but we won't talk about that.
I'd had the bird for almost two weeks when my dad sat me down for a man-to-man talk, which he'd never really done before and which made me kind of nervous, because I was afraid somebody was dying.
"Son," he said to me, because I am also a boy. "Son, how long have you had that bird now?"
"About thirteen days, Dad," I said. I was always very literal when it came to measurements of time. "And sixteen hours. Give or take a few minutes."
"That's good, son," said Dad, and his serious tone took on a little more serious tone for some reason. "Son, what are you gonna call the bird? You know, a parakeet, like all of God's creatures, needs a name."
"I hadn't really given it much thought," I admitted, and Dad frowned a little in response. "Do you have any suggestions?"
"Well, he's your bird," Dad continued. "I would think that you would want to pick a name for him yourself." And he was right. I did. I just didn't know what to name the bird.
Suddenly, the bird – for lack of a better name – squawked loudly right behind my head. That was where his cage was, in the corner of my room, which was where we were at that moment. Not expecting the sudden cacophony, I shrieked a shrill squeal of my own in reply.
Dad chuckled, which I didn't think was insensitive at the time, but upon reflection it actually kind of was.
"You've got to stop flipping out every time that bird chirps, son," Dad said, still chuckling.
"I'll try, Dad," I said, then added. "Hey!"
"Hey, yourself, kiddo," Dad shot back.
"I thought of a name for the parakeet!" I squealed, but this time in delight and not in fear.
"Okay, what is it?" my dad inquired.
"You just said I'm always flipping out when the bird chirps, right?"
"Why," I proposed, "don't we name the bird Flipping? You know, like 'flipping out'?"
"Well, son –" Dad started, but I rudely interrupted him. I was still learning my manners at the time.
"I think it has a nice ring to it, don't you think so, Dad?" I said, and the frown mysteriously returned to his face. I didn't let it steal my moment though. "Ladies and gentlemen, we proudly present to you Flipping The Bird!" I giggled at my own theatricality.
"I don't think –" Dad started again, but I hadn't learned any more manners in the last few seconds than I had up to that point, so I interrupted him again.
"Flipping The Bird is an outrageous name for a parakeet," I raved, proud of my use of the word outrageous, which I had recently learned. "It's like Oscar The Grouch, or Winnie The Pooh. It's perfect, don't you think so, Dad?"
"Well –" Dad started yet again, and yet again I stopped him, as embarrassing as it is to admit that now.
"I'm gonna go tell Mom," I exclaimed, and left my dad alone in my room with the newly christened Flipping The Bird squawking away like mad. Apparently, my outrageous revelry had made Flipping flip out a bit, too.
Several years later, after Flipping had lived a long life – for a parakeet at least – and had died and been buried in a cigar box (I don't really know where that box came from, since neither of my parents smoked cigars), I learned the true meaning of the phrase "flipping the bird."
And I chuckled. Not like when Dad chuckled at me for startling at the bird's squawks. Mine was the chuckle of misguided youth, a chuckle at the blissful ignorance I'd owned so obliviously all those years before.
Because – even though the idea of naming the bird what I ended up naming him made my dad uncomfortable at the time (to say the least) – when you really think about it now, it is kind of funny.