This is not a parrot

When I got home from vacation, I read that there had been a little excitement in O’Hare when airport security turned up a set of eighteen frozen human heads in cargo. Well. This sort of thing is going to happen. It’s as common as pants-monkeys. In fact, it isn’t even the first frozen-head incident I’ve read about in the past year. But it got everyone all het up, especially in Chicago, where there might have been political implications.

Also, not parrots

You sense a different national attitude before you even get out of the airport in Auckland. In New Zealand, officials would assume you wouldn’t be carting around a box of severed heads unless you had a good reason. We slid through security without being asked to remove our shoes, with the agent requesting only that we partition our daggers in a baggie for admiring. The entire setup was designed to funnel travelers through one at a time so that security personnel could wish each of us a proper good day, hand us a complimentary pair of sheepskin slippers and top up our shampoo. They were a little touchy about us bringing in apples, but otherwise everyone was nice as pie, and in something closely resembling English. The only sign of passive-aggression I witnessed was the placement of doorways in shops and houses. You have to step up into them, as though entering a hatch on a rocket-ship, and they were clearly designed to sieve out the easily-tipped-over visitor; probably a sensible ploy in a land with good medical care available to all. But on the heels of a series of spectacular crashes, I had recently developed a high prancing step like a Clydesdale with an admirer. I was not about to be selected out at the beginning of my trip, and I caught on right away.

Again, a very nice picture, but not of a parrot

On our first foray to a snow-covered mountain, I was promised a kea. The kea, I am given to know, is the world’s only alpine parrot. An alpine parrot! I visualized a stunner bright as the flag of an island nation, wearing a sporty fur earflap-hat and a muffler. I had to see a kea! Sadly, none materialized. “They’ll be around soon, when we get lunch,” I was told. “They’ll strafe your shirt and make off with your sandwich, and then they’ll do the finger-poppin’ number from West Side Story.” Oh boy! Parrots!

No parrots. We even went on a hike specifically labeled “Kea Point,” but it was pointedly unparroted. “Is this something I’m liable to overlook?” I asked my friends, who insisted that it was quite a large, ungainly parrot, sort of soiled-looking and dingy, and not overlookable. Plus, any one of them was likely to entertain us by eating our rental car. I was assured they would show up any time we slowed the car down sufficiently, massing up on the windshield wipers and mirrors in a gang, and one of them would shove a sharpened beak through the window and demand five dollah. Oh boy! I thought. Parrots!

No parrots. Many other feathered oddsters showed up. My favorites were the silver-eyes, sweet greenish jobs with pink armpits and flight goggles, and the fantails, which spread their tails just for fun, coy as geishas. The guide book claims they do this to attract insects, but I believe they’re just tarty by nature. It’s hard to resist a truly flirtatious bird, and I was very happy, but I still thought I deserved a parrot, especially if everyone else had already bagged a quorum.

This is Betsy, not a parrot, but it was RIGHT HERE, swear to God.

Monday we hiked the Te Henga (“Taaah-wow-wow”) trail. I spotted another fantail and a brace of silver-eyes and then–oh spank me with a glory paddle–in a pohutukawa tree (“paaah-wow-wow”), I saw a new bird, now known loud and wide in a localized area as Murr’s PARROT! PARROT! PARROT! LINDA! HOLY SHIT! PARROT! PARROT! PARROT! or, elsewhere, the Eastern Rosella. And a proper parrot it was, too, red and yellow and blue and green and probably other things not even on the visual spectrum, attractive and bouncy and not at all put off by sudden loud noises. Way finer than that big, dingy, greasy, car-eating, invisible, hooligan parrot. I looked that one up. Closest living relative is the jackalope.

Attention Portland-area readers: I will be reading from my book, Trousering Your Weasel, plus some new bonus material, at the splendid St. Johns Booksellers at 7PM on Friday, Feb. 8. I’d love to meet you and shoot the you-know-what.