Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Skip and Flip -- Their story

Our birds, Skip and Flip, came to us in a most unusual way. Some years ago, neighbors in Tuxedo Park were leaving with their children on a Christmas vacation. We encountered them at a party a few days prior to their departure and they asked us whether we would be willing to care for their parakeets while they were away. We’re considered “soft touches” for this sort of thing and, even though neither of us had ever had birds as pets before we said yes.

On their way to the airport, our neighbors dropped the birds at our house while we were having dinner. After presenting us with the bird cage, they hurried off, saying --this is a fact, we both heard it – “you don’t have to give them back, they’re your birds now.”

We were shocked and it took a while for it all to sink in. They never returned for their birds and didn’t even call to let us know that they were back from vacation or to inquire about the birds. Obviously, we began to harbor uneasy thoughts about them and had serious concerns about what their kids must be feeling and how they were being raised.

In any event, the birds joined our family and have lived among us as good citizens for years. Skip and Flip (renamed by us for the late 1950s recording duo featuring Clyde “Skip” Battin, a latter-day member of The Byrds, and Gary Paxton, who later produced Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett) are enchanting creatures and extremely beautiful. Sharing the cab of a U-Haul truck with them during our move to Pennsylvania will always have a place in my top 10 weird experiences (the looks I got from other drivers and gas station attendants; the birds’ extreme sensitivity to bumps in the road which caused them to shed feathers and make the truck cab look like a movie pillow fight scene; their excellent and varied accompaniment to songs on the radio).

The birds now live in Caroline’s office. Their cage is mostly left open (the office door is closed to the cats, obviously) and they clearly have a lot of mental interaction with the outdoor birds they see through the windows flying by and in the trees. They’re incredibly alert, active and cheerful and really love the music that comes out of her computer. (They’re partial to marches.) Recently Caroline correctly diagnosed that Skip had developed mites, which can ultimately prove deadly, and the birds were successfully treated at the local avian vet (also in the weird experience top 10, but a doctor’s office visit that includes a fair amount of laughter can’t be all bad).

When I was much younger, I couldn’t really relate to birds. I don’t know why, but I suspect it was because my only exposure to them was outdoors where they were either too small or moved too quickly for me to contemplate or in zoos where I didn’t think they made for terribly exciting exhibits. I didn’t think of them as being particularly “alien” or “other” and the whole Max Ernst obsession with birds wasn’t anything I could ever relate to, although it was pretty effective as art. My introduction to relating to them and liking them came through my mother-in-law’s bird watching and feeding, which we adopted when we began spending more time outside of New York City.

As a teenager, I used to read John Cage’s A Year From Monday a lot. (Aphorism-filled books generally matched my attention span.) When he wrote: “We are as free as birds. Only the birds aren’t free. We are as committed as birds, and identically,” I really liked it and still do, not because it makes a great deal of literal sense or I understand it now better than I did then, but because of its sort of Zen-ness. Skip and Flip have made it clear, in a very cheerful and polite way, that they find the statement irrelevant.


  1. Curtis and Caroline,

    Well, see, it's like this: we have this absolutely adorable bush baby named Horace who is in need of a home, so...

  2. Tom,

    Good morning. Sorry I missed this. If I tell Jane and Caroline about this, your bush baby will be assured of a home.

    A dilemma.

    I've always wanted a bush baby, however.


  3. Curtis,

    Before coming to a decision it might be wise to consider Gavin Maxwell's account of bush baby adoption (Ring of Bright Water). He found river otters a piece of cake in comparison.

    By the by, the past few cold rainy nights have been spent in imaginings of your splendid drive in the farm country tother day. These in turn prompted a post I have just put up over at my place, "Disappearance: Wallace Stevens". Let this be the secret place in which it may be told: that post is dedicated to you and Caroline.