By Gerald Hausman
Santa Fe, NM, USA
After 22 years of living on a barrier island off the West Coast of Florida, my wife and I decided to move back to the place we came from – Santa Fe, New Mexico.
There are four of us in a 1993 Ford F-150 pickup truck. I am driving. To my right on the seat is Mouse, our 15-year-old diabetic dachshund who is now almost totally blind. Next to Mouse is Lorry, and in the back of the cab is George, our 37-year-old Blue-fronted Amazon parrot. We have had George since he was a baby, a wild bird stolen from a nest somewhere in Mexico and given to us by a Lutheran minister in Santa Fe.
We are the most unlikely animal family on the road right now and cars passing us sometimes stare. First night out, heading towards Fort Lauderdale, we somehow find ourselves lost in the dystopian landscape of a truck stop. A hundred engines are growling. We park and listen to the guttural roar of the truck stop night.
It's midnight at Joadie's Cafe and Strip Club. The night is wet from a recent rain and the puddles are lakes. It is always summer in these regions of congested America in Florida. We watch, all four of us, as silk-vested men with pencil mustaches overstep the puddles and then slink through the neon night to Joadie's.
How much I would give to be a fly on the wall in that hole in the wall.
Mouse is stoic. She waits for her next insulin injection. George chortles. He can see what's going on in Joadie's. He doesn't like it, except to cackle at it in his sinister way.
Let me explain something about George. To him, clothes are feathers. He thinks we humans look okay in our variable feather clothing. But George loathes people who divest themselves of their feathers. He can see that something of this nature is going on at Joadie's. Feather disrobing is such a no-no with George that he screams. His raucous screech splits the night. Some sleepy-eyed truckers roll down their windows and glower, fat-faced and – forgive the pun – truculent.
Ah, George...I well remember the time he attacked someone in our house who ran from bathroom to bedroom naked as a jaybird. (George hates jaybirds, but more so, naked human bodies.) He has attacked bald men just for being naked-headed. "Get yourself some head-feathers," he rasps.
And that reminds me – George really talks. Once he watched a TV murder mystery with me where the villainous husband of a victimized woman was shot dead. George watched in surprise as the mean bastard bit the dust, and then George said, "What happened to the poor man?" When he wants to George can speak the King's English.
His disgust at Joadie's skin parlor causes him to croak, "Cover up!" Then he adds, "Nite-nite." He says this in an innocent little kid's voice.
We put an old Army blanket over his cage.
It is in Pascagoula though, where George, for some reason, feels at home. Pascagoula, a tribal bend in the wide lonesome river where the people known as "the breadeaters" once made their village in the long ago. Legend has it they honored a mermaid deity. Rather than give in to a Spanish priest who tried to convert the tribe, they joined the fish woman in Biloxi Bay and forever disappeared. This story is told to us by a Mississippi man named Zip.
Another night in the soft, whimpering wilderness that Henry Miller once called "the air conditioned nightmare" we eat at a Waffle House and then repair for the night at a Super 8 where there is as much mischief as Joadie's midnight cafe and truck stop strip club. Mouse begs pizza at midnight in Pascagoula. We give tiny pieces and she shares them with George who walks, well, pigeon-toed to the feast. Then the old blind dachshund beds down on her sheepskin that we carry from place to place – it being her only safety in this chaotic world of lostness – and George settles down next to Mouse and I hear him say, "This is for you when you wake up, I know you can't talk now."
To be continued...