• Bear

  • Kent Gilbert / Associated Press

    A cranky, bitey, 40-year-old bird was the catalyst for a life-changing epiphany.



When I was 24, I tried to kill my then-girlfriend’s parrot.

Pancho was about 40, which isn’t all that old in parrot years. I hated that bird. He used to bite my toes and stand next to my face so the first thing I saw in the morning was his jaundiced yellow iris opening and closing.

My girlfriend and I had serious alcohol problems. Like “Days of Wine and Roses” but with malt liquor and 39-cent cheeseburgers from McDonalds. We went to a heavy metal show in an abandoned storefront one Saturday night. A brawl broke out. My totally classy girlfriend jumped in. Witnessing violence started a countdown in my head.

Later that night, we were drinking Bacardi at a friend’s house. I decided it was time to go home. I put my hand on my girlfriend’s cheek. She took this as a sign of aggression and slapped me hard in the face. She was all class and had four rings on. The countdown accelerated.

We returned to my apartment and reconvened the argument. She left in a huff. I climbed into my Ford Contour, which was already beaten by several alcohol-related crashes, and sped to her house, at one point driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

I arrived at her house and resumed the argument. This was not a healthy relationship. When it became clear I was not getting through to her, I turned my rage upon Pancho. I grabbed a handful of peanuts in the shell and chased the bird around my girlfriend’s apartment throwing the peanuts and screaming.

“Come here, you rotten green bastard!”

Parrots are surprisingly hard to catch. My girlfriend picked up the bird, ran to her room and slammed the door. Sometimes I forget I weigh 200 pounds, so the door shattered into toothpicks when I threw my shoulder into it. My girlfriend retreated into the bathroom and closed the door. Common sense dictated that the situation was getting out of control, so rather than ratchet things up a notch, I swerved home and fell asleep on the floor.

I woke to pounding on my door. I looked through the peephole and spied seven of my girlfriend’s male relatives seeking revenge. Needless to say, I did not answer. After they left, I walked to the liquor store and McDonalds and spent the day drinking, eating cheeseburgers and watching a “King of the Hill” marathon on Fox.

I had one of those pesky moments of clarity:

“John, you know you are an alcoholic, lowlife piece of shit.”

“Yes, moment of clarity. Yes, I am.”

I drove to the liquor store and bought some more beer and continued drinking. Upon waking up the following day, I withdrew $100, penned an apology note and slid both under my girlfriend’s front door. I never drank again.

It’s been 13 years. The girlfriend is long gone. I assume the parrot is making some new guy miserable. My biggest regret is that my last beer ever was a Miller Genuine Draft.

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