Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Parrot Story

A few Christmases ago, I spilled bouillabaisse on the one warm jacket I owned. I was doing New Year’s Eve in San Francisco that year, so was at my parents’ house and had to take the jacket to the cleaners in my hometown. I went to pick it up the morning of January 31, and when I handed the clerk my ticket, he returned with a woman’s jacket with a parrot embroidered on the back.

Allow me to elaborate.

If Dorothy Zbornak had a louche sister who frequented seedy Las Vegas bars, this would have been her trademark garment. I’m not even sure what to call it. It kind of looked like a bathrobe or smoking jacket, but the fact that it the embroidered thread sparkled made me think this was a piece of clothing that its owner would wear out, for the world to see and admire. It was also huge. It would have been too big for me to wear, in every possible sense. I imagine the owner took it to the cleaners because it had rosé stains or maybe kahlúa stains. Whatever booze had been soaked into this thing, its name had an accent mark in its name, for sure.

I searched the internet to try and find an example of this garment but found none. I imagine it was a one-of-a-kind. But here is something that approximates the parrot, at least. Just imagine it bigger and sparklier, and then make it even bigger and sparklier yet and you’re partway there.

via ebay

“That’s not mine,” I told the clerk.

He insisted that it was because it matched the number on my ticket.

“But that is a woman’s jacket. And also  I don’t think it would fit me.”

He seemed unwilling to factor in this evidence. To him, this was the jacket I was leaving with. I described my actual jacket at length — black, for a man, not having a parrot on the back — and he left again to see if he could find it. And there I stood, staring at this hideous, marvelous thing and wondering what kind of person would not only own it but want it to get cleaned for future use.

Then the door jingled. Then I heard a booming voice that kind of sounded like Ursula the Sea Witch’s. (I have styled her dialogue to suggest how she spoke it.)

WELL, I supPOSE that they KNEW that I was on my way OVER!

There stood the only woman who could own the parrot jacket. She was taller than I was. She wasn’t fat, but she was huge — a commanding physical presence. She had hands that looked like they could palm a basketball or my head. She looked like the kind of woman who addressed everyone as “darling.” She was wearing a blouse that had all the flowers on it.

“Is that your jacket?” I asked.

WELL, YES. They MUST have had a INKLING that I was COMING.”

I agreed that that must be the case. At this point she was leaning on the counter like she was waiting to order a drink.

I’M throwing a PARTY tonight,” she said, though that was probably the case more often than not. Did I mention that all her sentences ended in a chuckle? They did. Throaty laughter was her punctuation, and life, clearly, was this woman’s party.

The clerk came out with my jacket, which now seemed plain and sad compared to the parrot jacket and the woman who owned it. I had somewhere else to be, so I wished them both a happy new year. The woman responded with an “mmm” noise that I think meant to return my wish or at least agree that she would, in fact, have a good year. (How could she not?)

I never saw her again.

Now, my hometown isn’t exactly a village, but it’s still small enough that a person like that wouldn’t go unnoticed. People don’t just wear sparkly embroidered parrot jackets where I come from. So when I got home I asked my mom if she knew of a giant woman who acts like she’s always auditioning for Auntie Mame. “No.” my mother answered. “Why would you ask that?”

“No reason.” I realized it was an oddly specific question.

Previous stories about me that I allege are funny:

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