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Barely Bear

The Onion at the Center of the Universe

You and They and Lousie

The Tale of the Papagano

The Great Wheel


Hard to Ignore

Rules of Thumb

Hand Jive

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Third Wish

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Please Note: This journal contains a wide variety of stuff -- complete stories, bits and pieces, commentary, and who-knows-what else. As is always the case these days, the material is protected by copyright. On the other hand, I publish it here to be shared. Feel free to pass it on. Just give me credit. Fair enough?
September 29, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The end of September, 2014
Major storm overnight – heavy rain, wind, lightning, thunder – the works.
A brief clearing at dawn, revealing a light dusting of snow on the mountain peaks.
Below the snow line, splashes of yellow and red and orange– aspen and oak.
A few leaves on the cottonwoods here in the valley have turned yellow.
The temperature has dropped twenty degrees since yesterday.

Mr. Bear was last seen wandering away after my monologue from the shower.
I’ve never bored a bear before, but maybe this time I have.
He’s still out there somewhere, just elsewhere . ...

If the bear was not enough to worry about, now there’s a black-widow spider building a web by the outdoor shower – pack rats have a nest under the front porch - mice are running amuck in the kitchen at night - magpies walk into the house if the doors are left open - kamikaze flies buzz me when I’m trying to write - and coyotes hang around close by the house holding choir practice after sundown.

This is where the wild things are – me included.

And that brings me to the subject of elephants . . . .


Once upon a very, very long time ago there was a supernatural Being.
He had a wife, who was also supernatural.
She created a boy out of earth to protect her privacy while she bathed.
One day, her husband came home to find a stranger guarding his wife.
In rage, he struck off the boy’s head with his sword.
His wife was overcome with grief.

To appease her, the supernatural Being sent out his minions to find a wild creature facing north, and bring back its head.
They found a sleeping elephant, cut off its head, and brought it back.
The supernatural Being attached the elephant’s head to the body of the boy.
He brought this new biomorphic creature to life and treated him like a son.
He gave his new son supernatural qualities.
He declared this son to be the Lord of success in new beginnings, with power over
obstacles, and the special source of knowledge, wisdom, and wealth.

In time, human beings began to worship this new Being.
He was portrayed as a man with the head of an elephant.
To emphasize his humanity, he was given a round, fat belly – and is often shown in a dancing pose, smiling benevolently.
He’s also depicted riding on a large mouse – a sign of his humility.

Do you believe that story?

More than a billion people in this world do.
They are adherents of the Hindu religion, rooted in India.
The elephant-headed creature is called Ganesha.
His parents are called Shiva and Parvati.
Most Hindu homes have an image of Ganesha in a place of honor.
He reigns as the most important representation of their conception of the gods.

* * *

(If you want to have a broader view of Ganesha, go to the web, bring up “Images of Ganesha”, or go to Wikipedia and read up on Ganesha.)

* * * *

I talked with a friend who is a native of India and grew up Hindu.
I asked about Ganesha.
He first related the mythical story I told at the beginning of this essay. 
Then he related his experience with religious images.
At a young age, he was sent by his parents to a Catholic school for boys operated by the Jesuits.
They wanted him to get the best Western education possible – and wanted him to be fluent in the most proper English.
He lasted only one day in that school.

Because of what happened when he was taken into a cathedral to be introduced to the religious traditions of the Catholic Church.

He said the children first stood before the high altar.
Above it was a huge cross on which hung the emaciated, tortured form of a man, with blood on his forehead, face, and hands - and with more blood flowing down his side from a wound.
A terrifying sight for a little boy.

When it was explained that this was the Son of God, and that he had been crucified
by his Father to compensate for the sins of human beings, including the little boy’s, the child ran screaming from the church and away from the school.

My Indian friend said he could not imagine that he had ever done anything so bad that it would call for a father to do that to his son on his behalf.
The image gave him nightmares for days.
His parents sent him to a school operated by Quakers,
No crucifixes – no religious images at all.

* * *

It’s instructive to compare images.
After you check out Ganesha, bring up “Images of Crucifixes” from the web.

* * *

I asked my Indian friend if there were any meaningful religious images in his life.
“Oh, sure,” he said – “Ganesha – there’s always been a bronze statue of him
on the family altar in my home. My mother prays to it every morning. And I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t have a statue of Ganesha of my own.”

And I replied, “Now let me get this straight. A crucifix freaks you out.
But at home you have a statue that is the image composed of the body of a young man, who was decapitated by the god, Shiva, and whose head is that of an innocent sleeping elephant, who was also decapitated. Shiva stuck the two parts together, brought it to life, declared it to be his son, and said it should be worshipped.
And all this to placate his angry wife.
And you believe this elephant-headed deity can grant favors expressed in prayer.”

“Well . . . yes.”


(long pause)

“I’m not sure I can explain it. It’s a matter of faith, not rational mind.”

No argument from me - I understand what he means..
Because, if you were to tour the environment in which I live, you would find several images of Ganesha, large and small – traditional bronze figures from India, as well as abstract sculptures created with Ganesha in mind.
Take a look at my Facebook page.

* * *

You might well wonder why.
And, if you want the truth, I also wonder why sometimes.
I’m neither Hindu nor from India.
The Southern Baptist Church I grew up in had no images to worship.
It took literally one of the ten commandments that admonished:
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”
So there were no crucifixes in my church – (and certainly no statues of Ganesha.)

So what’s my fascination with Ganesha about?

My Indian friend thinks my feelings about Ganesha are superficial and childish..
He thinks I confuse Ganesha with Dumbo and Babar and Horton.
Sentimentality left over from childhood.
There’s probably some truth in that.
I see Ganesha through Western eyes.
And I can’t take too seriously a god portrayed as a fat guy with an elephant head.

And that’s the point, isn’t it.
Having an image around of a god I don’t take too seriously.

When I look at images of Ganesha, I’m amused.
I always smile – and rub the belly on the biggest one I own as I pass by.
Ganesha reminds me of the quest to understand infinite things in the context of living a finite life.
Ganesha is a link between The Great Mystery of It All and Robert Fulghum’s ordinary life on a Wednesday afternoon in September.
It’s a joyful quest, not one of agony and suffering.
It’s light-hearted, not fearful.
I do not worship Ganesha – I merely appreciate what he represents.
He is a metaphor pointing at the amazing absurdity of existence.

Ganesha fills that gap between what I think and what I feel about Being.
Between what I can express and that for which I have no words.

Nevertheless, I will try to find the words.

* * *

If I had posted this essay yesterday, you would now be trying to make sense of six paragraphs of intellectual gymnastics explaining Ganesha’s presence in my life, and his theological implications for religious belief.
There was one pretty good paragraph about all the images the creative imagination of the human race has constructed – infinite.
This morning I re-considered what I wrote and thought,
“Blah, blah, blah - I don’t know what the hell all that means, and if don’t understand it, why should anyone else?”
So I’ve just deleted six paragraphs of senseless word salad.
You have been spared.

* * *

I’ll leave it here:
Why is Ganesha a part of my life?
I think I know.
But I really can’t say.
Words don’t apply.
Some very important things are like that.
And that’s OK.

link to this story

September 25, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The last week in September, 2014
The warm days, and clear cool nights continue on and on and on . . .
The color on the mountain slopes expands every day –
yellows and reds and oranges – mostly aspen and oak.
a few leaves on the cottonwoods here in the valley have turned yellow.


Yesterday afternoon I was wrapping up a new essay.
The voice of hunger knocked on my door: “It’s 4 o’clock - What about lunch?”
Yes, of course, lunch
– and I went up to the house and into the kitchen.
While making a turkey sandwich, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye
out on the patio – by the pool at the base of the fountain.
“It’s just a bear,” I thought – maybe I was imagining things.

And the chronic hysteric in my mind that usually sits way up in the balcony in the theater of my inner life, shouted:


What? Yes!
Not 20 feet away (I measured the distance later) was a real bear.
The big kitchen door was wide open – nothing between bear and me.


I stood there petrified, turkey sandwich in hand.
The bear drank water from the pool and lay down.

The sane adult in my mind appraised the situation rationally, calmly.

“Yes, it’s a bear – you’ve been around bears before.  This is not a grizzly – it’s a small brown bear – with a cinnamon-colored coat – a very mellow bear, apparently. It’s lying down, not attacking. It won’t hurt you if you leave it alone. Just be still and watch.”


I try not to pay much attention to the hysteric – it’s the paranoid voice of Chicken Little, who is convinced the sky is falling and the worst is about to happen.
The hysteric is usually wrong.

Calming down, standing very still, I watched and waited.
The bear stood up, stretched, and walked around to a shady spot just below the kitchen window, and lay down again.
I kept on watching - while eating my turkey sandwich – enjoying my lunch even more now that I felt assured that I was not going to be the bear’s lunch.
Not an attack-bear – a loafing-around bear.
A beautiful animal, but not even really big enough to make a fireplace rug.

After a while Mr. Bear stood up, stretched, and slowly ambled away back across the patio, into the trees, and on up the hill out of sight.
But I knew he was still out there somewhere.
That’s why you would have seen me going down the hill to my studio later on,
armed with a fireplace poker and an air-driven boat horn, ringing a bell, and singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” at the top of my lungs.
A part of me knows that wild things are unpredictable.
And part of me is still afraid of bears.

When I went back up to the house I noticed a big brown shape moving on the other side of the living room doors.
I banged my poker on the wall, rang my bell, blew my air horn and upped the volume on “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

The UPS delivery man was not amused – at first – but when I explained, he laughed. I suppose the story of Fulghum and bear prevention will be all over town tomorrow.

I went to bed last night thinking about where the wild things are.
Some are always out there – rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, bears, mountain lions, aliens from other planets, and unknown things that make noises in the night.
They are out there – and inside my head – and probably under my bed.
That’s life and so far, I’ve lived with the wild things well enough.

Today I bathed in my outside shower in the early morning sun.
Looking up the hill without my glasses on, I noticed a vague shape – like a large rock – rise up and move toward me.
Fetching my glasses, I could see clearly – Mr. Bear was back.

BEAR, BEAR, BEAR! screamed my hysteric.

The bear lay down under a tree a few yards away.
He stared at me.
I stood still and stared back.
I wondered what was on Mr. Bear’s mind.
I wondered if seeing me unclothed was like seeing a banana unpeeled.
Perhaps I would be tastier in a raw state.

While drying off with my towel, I kept an eye on him.
And then, instead of going back inside the house, I started talking to him.

In soothing tones, using my most authoritative voice, I explained that I welcomed him on my property – that I admired his color and coat – that I had a live-and-let-live attitude toward wild things – but that I might also be wild and dangerous - going around with a fireplace poker and a boat horn to protect myself – and, by the way, that I had an orangutan that might like to meet him.

The bear yawned, as if bored to tears.
He stood up.


But no, the bear turned and walked away up the hill into the trees.

I want to think that I like knowing he’s still out there.
In a way it’s a compliment that he has chosen my yard as a daytime lounge.
And it gives me an energizing adrenalin rush when I walk between my studio and house, fully alert to the world around me.
The bear gives a certain edge to my day.
I’m not actually so afraid now – just prudently cautious.
But I wonder how long I am going to feel the need to walk around outside with the fireplace poker and horn, ringing a bell singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” . . .
What must the bear think?

For photos, see my Facebook page:

link to this story

September 21, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
Third week in September, 2014
The warm days, and clear cool nights continue.
More gold and orange touches of aspen leaf color far up the valley.
Afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains from time to time.


Did you ever give someone an onion as a celebratory gift?
I did that.
Last week, as a matter of fact - when my wife opened an exhibition of her paintings in Seattle - and I was here in Moab.
My friend, Ronnie the Rooster, delivered the onion to her.
Along with it, there was something I once wrote about onions.
Alice, a character in my novel, Third Wish, gave her companion, Max-Pol, an onion as an un-birthday present.
Here’s the account:

* * *

He takes the onion out of the box and holds it in his hands.
About the size of a baseball.
Its outside layer is paper-like - pale, pinkish-brown, and striped.
He knows that the next layer will be pansy purple, and the layers after that will fade from purple into ivory and white and on into a final lime-green kernel at the center.

At the bottom of the onion are the remains of roots.
At the top are the first felt-green sprouting tips of assertive growth.
The kernel and roots and tips are signs that the onion is ready to live again if called upon.
The onion isn’t dead.
It is ready and waiting.

Placing the onion on the table, he reads the accompanying note:

“Granted that a bouquet of flowers for an un-birthday is more customary, a bouquet has a limited life. Fleeting beauty is poetic, but flowers are dead on arrival – a fading, fugitive, momentary gesture. An onion, on the other hand, is not only beautiful; it is useful and contains lasting possibility.”

“Moreover, an onion is a bouquet in a way. The bulb of a member of the lily family. If allowed and encouraged, it will flower. And the seeds will make more onions. And more flowers.

“You may, of course, eat it raw just as it is – both bulb and stems. Chop it, grate it, slice it, combine it with many ingredients, fry it, or bake it. Nothing adds sweet tangy flavor to food like onions. What would a sauce be without them – or soup or stew or roast or salad?

“Or you may plant the onion and, if encouraged, it will grow. I have one in a glass jar on my windowsill – roots in the water, leaves in the air, stems budding. Self-perpetuating if allowed to go to seed, hundreds more onions may be grown. And those, if dried, braided into long strings, and hung in the kitchen, will keep the smell of summer soil and sunlight through the winter.

“More. The outer skin is paper and may be written on or else boiled and used as a red stain for eggs at Easter, or to dye thread, which may in turn be woven into scarlet blankets, as the Cretan villagers once did. “Medicinal qualities, as well. Good for your basic health.

“And no encounter with an onion is incidental. Its juice brings tears to your eyes and perfume to your fingers and breath. If you rub the juice on the bottom of your feet your breath will smell of onions the next day. An onion is oils and sugars and water and sophisticated compounds and complex crystalline structures. A marvel in a chemist’s lab or under a microscope.

“The onion is a metaphor for the layered nature of existence itself. At its green center lies the germ of infinite possibility. When the farmer wanted to know why I was being so careful in choosing one onion, and I told him, he gave me the onion and said that ‘Fecund’ is the essence of onion.

“And as a gesture on your un-birthday, the onion expresses the poignant bittersweet truth of evanescent affection.
Flavor for the life.
Anything looked at carefully may be a window on the universe.”

* * *

In that spirit, I gave my wife an onion.
Because she’s an artist – and sees the world through creative eyes.
She wasn’t surprised at the gift.
She understands and shares my values and ways.
When she arrives in Moab in a couple of weeks I will give her a 25 pound bag of newly harvested onions I bought on my trip down from Seattle.
Flowers would only be dead compost in a short time.
The onions will last and be used all Winter.
Every time she cooks with one, she will be reminded of me and us and the mystery of life and the universe and everything.

link to this story

September 17, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The middle of September, 2014
Warm days, clear, cool nights.
First golden touches of aspen leaves far up the valley.
Afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains round about.


For most of your life you will bear the burden of a simple question.
One indelibly written on the walls of your active mind from early childhood.
The question will shape how you dress and how you behave.
It will affect your friendships, your love life, and your job.
The question will be an aspect of most of the choices you make.

The question is: “What will They think?”

How you imagine you appear to other people will define you in subtle ways.
All through most of your life.

At least until that fine day comes when you have lived long enough to understand the serious flaw embedded in the question.
It’s this:
You finally realize that you cannot ever know what They really think about you.
Never, ever.
They don’t ask and they don’t tell.

You will know that in part because you know you are other people’s They.
And you know you rarely ever tell anybody what you really think of them or how they look or what they do.
Not because you are dishonest, but because you want to be liked and loved and admired and trusted.
Not because you are devious, but because you wish to do no harm.
That’s how They operate, too.

On top of that, you are not even really certain what you think of you.
Your own self-image constantly varies from day to day, and week to week, and year to year, and situation to situation – as long as you live.
Ranging from “Looking good” to “God help me.”

In sum, what you think of you, what you think of others, and what They think of you is never set in concrete – but always a mysterious, moving mix.
You’ll never know for sure . . .
Not even when They say something positive.

The great blues man, B.B.King, put it more succinctly this way:
“Only my mother really loves me, and she may be jiving me, too.”

This truth about what They think will come to you about the time you accept the fact that you look old.
Grey hair or bald head, wrinkled skin, fat ass or bulging belly.
Dressed for comfort, not style.
That kind of old.

Oh, sure, you may not feel old or think old or act old.
But you know you look old – the mirror doesn’t lie or joke around.
But this may be seen as good news.
Because the way you appear to others now is a free pass to escape from the jail of “What will They think?”
You have a ticket to ride.
The world will cut you lots of slack when you look old.
You may go ahead and weird out – be charmingly eccentric.
What They think is their problem, not yours.
Age has its privileges.

For example:
I passed the Moab city park where the lush green grass was being watered.
My mind slipped into fantasy:
I could strip down to my boxer shorts, and frolic around through the sprinklers laughing, and shouting “I need candy!”
What harm?
Suppose other old people did that?
Does what They think matter?

Well, They might call the police.
But probably not right away.
Because this would be a wonderfully entertaining distraction – an old geek running wild and free in the park on a beautiful day.
They have any candy, They might even give me some.
When the police do come, I would probably not be arrested.
All I have to do is explain that I have not gone crazy – I’ve gone sane.
I just wanted to set an example.
I’d say I felt a need to be happy and young again, like once upon a long time ago when running around under sprinklers was a really fine thing to do.
And I hope
They – and the police - would laugh and secretly hope They will be like me someday.

No, I haven’t done that . . . not yet . . . but it’s a plan.

What I have actually done is a little less provocative.
I go around accompanied by a large stuffed toy orangutan in a pink party dress – with one tattooed arm, and ballet slippers on her feet.

At first I was worried about what They might think – but not anymore.
By and large people are amused and pleased.
Strangers will wave or talk to me – and to my orangutan.
They want to have their picture taken with me and my companion.
And They will not call the police.
In Moab They will send photos from their cell phones to friends, saying:
“Louise is back in town.”

As you may recall from a previous web journal posting, Louise came into my life as a whimsical joke.
I needed a special partner for a tango dancing exhibition.
And there she was in a toy store window – smiling winsomely at me.
I was enchanted and wondered about her tango inclinations.
She proved to be a great tango dancer – followed my leads without a single mistake, to great applause from the audience.
And she was the belle of the ball – lots of men wanted a dance with her.
That was how I first learned Louise was comic relief in an all-too-serious world, where foolish joy was in high demand.

As I carried Louise around on a regular basis, I learned it was like having a cute baby or a friendly fluffy dog along with me.
She taught me that my assumptions about what They thought was often wrong – They liked Louise, and if I was good enough for Louise, then I must be OK, too.
They look forward to having her around.

After 1,500 miles and five days on the road, I arrived in Moab and went straight to the City Market to get supplies before heading on up the valley to where I live.
The first person I met didn’t say “Hello” or “How are you?” or “Welcome home.”
They asked, “Where is Louise?”
In my hurry, I had left her in the car.
So I went back out to the car, put Louise in the child’s seat in my shopping cart, and went back inside to shop, which always takes longer because Louise attracts lots of attention.

When I called to make dinner reservations for tonight, I said there would be two of us – me and my orangutan.
And the manager said, “Wonderful! We’ve missed Louise.”

What started out several years ago as a joke has taken on a life of its own.
Louise has become real.
To me and most people who meet her.
She seems to bring out the goofy/friendly side of people – and me.

An old man I met while traveling with Louise is a case in point.
He came over to my car, reached in to take Louise’s hand, and petted her head.
He said she reminded him a lot of his first wife.
“What happened to your first wife,” I asked.
“Oh, she’s actually my only wife – and she’s inside the hardware store shopping – she’ll be out in a minute – you’ll see.”
Sure enough, out came the wife – round, short, frizzy red hair, pink dress, a big smile on her face – a larger human version of Louise.
“How about a trade?” asked the old man.
He walked off laughing.
Leaving me wondering what he told his wife as they drove away.

As always, Louise just smiled, having learned what I never seem to learn – that silence and an inscrutable grin are often taken for wisdom.

To round off this rambling journal entry, here’s a flashback.
A short story in which I played a minor part just before I left Seattle:

A little boy was walking along the sidewalk, holding his dad’s hand.
The child had been scrubbed, groomed, and outfitted.
Fresh haircut, new sport shoes, new backpack.
Under one arm he carried something old and worn – a large stuffed toy animal of uncertain species – loved into a furry lump.

As they walked up to where I was standing waiting for the crosswalk light to change, I said to the father:
“First day of school for your son?”
“Yes. He’s been ready for weeks – he can’t wait to go to school.”
The little boy chimed in, with excitement in his voice:
“Tiger is going to love school,” says the little boy, looking down at the furry lump under his arm.


“Well, Tiger isn’t going to school – only you,” said the father.
The child looked up, alarmed, wide-eyed, speechless - “What? Why? But . . .”
The father explained, in solemn tones: “Only children go to school – pets stay home – but he’ll be there when you get back this afternoon.”
“NO, NO, NO,” wailed the little boy.
He collapsed on the sidewalk, clutching his stuffed animal.
He sobbed, “Then . . . I’m not going . . . ever . . . . I hate school.”

The light changed, I walked on.
The father sat down beside his son to explain that what the boy had expected to happen wasn’t going to happen – no matter how much he wanted it to.
That’s life – the way it goes.
When I looked back from a block away, father, son, and Tiger
were still down on the curb in consultation about the expectations of the world and where stuffed animals fit in – or don’t.

A week later, I thought about the kid and his furry lump as I set off on my long-distance road trip with Louise, sitting in the passenger seat as my co-pilot.

I wish I could introduce him to Louise.
I would have explained to the little boy that, as hard as it seems now, his situation will improve - someday.
Someday, when he is old and wrinkled and fat and grey, he can have the stuffed animal of his choosing.
He can take his friend wherever he wants.

He won’t have to worry about what Theythink because he, too, will have learned that essential truth – that you can’t ever know for certain.
So you must go ahead without knowing and make the best of mystery.
Besides, it’s what you think of you that matters most of all.

I would tell him that the world yearns for lightness.
Because life is all too dark and heavy and hard too much of the time.
I would tell him that anything that makes people smile is good.
And if they smile at you, it’s a sign that they think well of you.
And if they smile, they will often come over and want to meet your silent friend – even have their picture taken with the two of you.
They won’t be strangers after that.
And you will go away thinking the world is not as full of sons-a-bitches and idiots and critics as you sometimes do.

As I said, Louise came into my life as a whimsical joke.
But I take her seriously now.
She goes almost everywhere I go.
Because I want to think as well of other people as I can.
I still don’t know what They really think.
But the response to Louise gives me a workable clue.
She’s never let me down.

see photos on Facebook)

link to this story

September 01, 2014

Seattle, Washington
The first week of September, 2014
Warm afternoons, cool nights.
Some early morning clouds, with a mix of fog and showers before noon.

Here’s another story.
From not so very long ago and not so very far away . . .
Is it true?
Some of it.
The rest could be and should be true, and might well be, sooner or later . . . .


One September, when I was living on the Greek island of Crete, I read this fact in a book about birds:
“The average life span of a parrot is one hundred and twenty years.”

That stuck in my mind and became the seed of this story:

A few days later I was sitting on the terrace of a taverna in the mountain village of Kefali. There’s a grand view from there out over a deep valley winding down to the Libyan Sea.
On a clear day you can see all the way to Africa.
And this was a clear day.

Suspended from a rafter of the terrace pergola was a large birdcage.
With long black ribbons hanging down from it, fluttering in the wind. Flowers had been woven into the wires of the cage.
The flowers had been there long enough to dry and fade.
The cage had a melancholy feel about it - poignant - sad - mysterious.
The door was open – the cage was empty.

It seems that an old and much-beloved papagano - parrot - had lived in the cage for many years, but the parrot was nekros – dead - probably.
O Kirios papagano . . .poli leepeemenos . . . -
The Honorable Mr. Parrot - so sad . . .
Apparently it was a long story, but nobody wanted to relate it.
Or the story was not quite finished, and nobody wanted to end it.

That’s all I saw or was told.
The rest of the story came to me as I drove on down the valley to the sea.
It seemed as if I could intuit what happened in my imagination.

It may be said the parrot belonged to an old man.
Or it may be said the old man belonged to the parrot.
Since they were always together – never apart – it is best said that they belonged to each other.

The old man’s parrot liked riding in his car.
The bird rode beside him on a perch hanging from the car’s ceiling.
They bumbled along together, the old man calling out to friends from one side of the car and the parrot hurling a stream of calls and curses and songs out the other side.

One day, the old man had a heart attack while driving his old car, and the car soared off a cliff, tumbled end over end onto the rocks below, and fell into the sea.
The parrot was with him at the time.

“The old man’s time had come,” the villagers said.
“But the papagano had many years left to live – a tragedy.”

The old man’s car and body were recovered, but no trace of the parrot was ever found. Probably dead, but in the absence of the corpse it was possible that the bird had flown free, though nobody knew if the parrot could still fly. And, of course, parrots can’t swim - so its fate was uncertain.

Whatever happened, the parrot was gone.
The door to its cage had been left open just in case it returned.
But months had passed . . . and no papagano.

The man and the bird had been together since the old man was born.
And the parrot had belonged to the old man’s father before him.
The bird had been in the village at least a hundred years.
And it was who-knows-how-much-older than that, having appeared at the end of the 19th century.

As with its disappearance, mystery also shrouded its arrival in the village. There were many stories: The papagano had been blown in from a ship or left behind by the departing Turks or escaped from a zoo or flown in from an African port – but nobody could say for sure.

Some people said the parrot was a Muslim - the only one in the Christian village - because it could recite passages from the Koran and sing songs of the Levant in Arabic.
Some said the bird was the ghost of a Wandering Jew because it could curse in Hebrew and Spanish and German.
It had a prodigious memory.
It knew the names of villagers long dead or departed, and even mimicked their voices, much to the pleased dismay of friends and family.
Furthermore, the parrot could also imitate chickens, crows, goats, sheep, dogs, cats, and donkeys.
Even the animals were often fooled.

Whatever its origins, the bird had become a true Cretan - stubborn when coerced and unwilling to respond on demand. It performed only of its own free will, no matter how sincerely implored, or even when bribed with food.
Reliably unpredictable, usually entertaining, and sometimes demonic. Cretan, for certain.

The parrot seemed to know that the village priest detested the Koran, and it plagued the old man with Islamic scripture whenever he came near its perch. The priest once cursed the parrot, to his regret. For the bird repeated the curses in the unmistakable voice of the good Father.

The absence of the parrot was like the loss of the village historian.
It was a living keeper of memory.

Or the village blabbermouth, depending on how you looked at it.
The villagers thought that a creature that had been around so long must know things none of them knew or could ever know or even wanted to know. Gossip. Solutions to village mysteries. Truths that should not be told.

Not everybody mourned the demise of the parrot.
The parrot’s ability to remember things was feared by some, and they shunned it, being careful not to speak of certain things where the parrot could hear. When the bird disappeared some villagers sighed in relief.

On the other hand the parrot seemed to know many fine old songs.
And seemed to know when many fine old women needed to be reminded of the days of their youth and the sweet nothings they still liked to hear whispered in their ears.

There is a rumor that the bird did not die in the accident, but was found alive, washed up on a beach. And it was killed to keep it from ever repeating certain secrets.
It is also said that the parrot survived, and is flying from village to village telling everything it knows.
And keeping enchantment alive in the hearts of young girls and old women.
The fate of the parrot remains a fine mystery.
And mystery always provokes imagination.

The village never really understand how important the parrot was to their lives until he went missing.
All who pass by the cafe terrace glance at the cage and its open door and wonder if the parrot will ever appear again.
The parrot stands for a kind of hopeful optimism that the balance of the affairs of the village will be restored.

Is that the end of the story?
Perhaps - I don’t know.
Is there a moral or a point?
Perhaps - I don’t know.

The story just seems to follow on from the cage with the open door.
The rest is up to you, make of it what you will.
A parrot is only a parrot, with an occasional exception.
Just in case, be careful what you say around one – they do live a long time.

I suppose, when I think about it, I’m like the parrot.
No original thoughts - nothing entirely new – terminally curious - with just a lifelong assortment of words and sounds and ideas collected from the world and other people.
An imitator, fabulist, singer of old songs.
I am the cage, as well, decorated with flowers and ribbons, with an open door, and a mystery inside.

I’m never quite sure if what I say makes any sense or means anything important. People are nice about it, but one never knows for sure.
Meanwhile, the ‘parrot’ in me keeps occupied, and what he says entertains some people. But what the ‘parrot’ knows can also be dangerous, because there’s usually some complicated truth in it.

Truth is like an onion – you peel layer after layer until you get to the center only to find it was layers all the way in.
The truth is only the sum of all the many versions it takes.
Like an onion, the truth can bring flavor to life or make you cry.
Being a good steward of truth is always problematic.
There’s so much that could be true, and should be true.
That we wish it so.
That’s why we tell each other stories.

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