Thursday, February 27, 2014


When I first saw him, he looked ordinary–one of many birds that flit around in countless pet shop cages. I was unaware that they had distinct personalities. He was a brilliant turquoise blue with a yellow head. My daughter had had a succession of failed pet experiments, including a goldfish disaster of 2992 that I still shudder to think about. “You mean you have to feed them?” Fish and crabs had all died. We already had a cat that didn’t express interest in children. So this parakeet was the next step.

Since parakeets are social, and he didn’t have a friend, I took upon myself to give him attention.  I put him in the home office and he would sit on the window ledge and talk. He emitted a long unmelodious series of chirps, squawks and warbles. Some of the sounds were vaguely human words. The bird would climb up my arm and sit on my shoulder. He pecked at my hair like he was grooming me. He licked the salt off my skin after a workout with his rough tongue. I found it soothing to have a bird perched on me.

I was one of his flock.

Neptune had special skills. He liked to fling his toys off of the top of the cage. He would spin his Ferris wheel. He dropped things that hung in his cage to wake my daughter up when she failed to arise soon enough to let him out.

After a year, my daughter decided that Neptune needed a friend. She saw the bright yellow bird in the store and had to have her. My daughter named her Saturn. After that, Neptune bonded with her more than people and started to talk “bird” more than “human.” They had conversations together and chattered nonstop. The first thing upon waking, Neptune would go straight to her cage.

These two birds lived for years. But recently, I found Neptune puffed up and lethargic. He squawked in pain whenever he had to move. His leg was limp. I realized something was seriously wrong with him, so I took him to a vet.

The vet suggested $900 worth of invasive tests and procedures, but if he was really that sick, the procedures would not prolong his life much. I took him home, not sure what to do. I hated to see him suffer.

He flew into Saturn’s cage, but all he could do is huddle on the bottom. When I checked on him later in the evening. I was shocked to see his limp body. I took him out and put him in a paper towel by his own cage, with the faint hope that he wasn’t dead. I was sad, but relieved that he wasn’t miserable anymore.

In the morning, he was in the same state, so I put him out on the patio. I don’t usually cry, but his death was unspeakably sad, touching some deep melancholy inside. The reaction reminded me of how I felt when I went back to the vacant house I had lived in for eighteen years and saw the empty hummingbird feeders. My ex had left me and I was stuck with a house that I had to sell.  Seeing the hungry hummingbirds reminded me of the sense of abandonment and loss and the inevitability of change. Like then, the intensity of sadness that came out of nowhere surprised me. Neptune was a connection to my old life that was gone.

His companion was now alone and I worried about how she would react. Did she know he was gone forever? Would she be able to survive on her own? Without him she sat in her cage and didn’t move or talk much. She was unhappy and was a shadow of herself. I wanted to help her, but she wasn’t bonded to me. I was a poor substitute for her friend.

I had to tell my daughter that her beloved pet was gone. When I told her, she started crying and so did I. Neptune  meant a great deal to her, and she missed him.

I often wonder why humans are so fascinated with animals and form such strong relationships with them. Maybe we don’t want to be alone on the planet and animals are part of our world. They bring us joy, love and peace. A strong nurturing instinct makes us want to help them if they are sick or injured. Unassuming small creatures hop into our lives, steal our hearts with their antics and have a huge impact.  This ordinary parakeet wasn’t so ordinary after all.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

P.F. Chang's Half Marathon Race Report

Every race is a chance to exceed what I think I am capable of doing, but the results aren’t always what I expect or hope for. Lately, I have been disappointed with my body’s lack of energy, and refusal to speed up to a pace that I could normally do easily. The possibility that maybe this time would be different, motivated me to try again.

I usually try to avoid this huge race. The hassle factor is high. The half marathon had over 13,000 participants, which meant a trip into downtown Phoenix for packet pick up the day before. I had to be at the race site two hours before to get parking, line up for the porta-potties and stand around in the corral for half an hour. I like low key, local races where I can arrive an hour early, get my bib number on the same day, warm up and line up ten minutes before the start.
The organizers assign corrals according to projected finish time, This system seemed to be widely disregarded and no one policed the corrals. I was supposed to be two corrals down, but my friend convinced me to be in this one, which was the two hour half marathon people. Some of these people were delusional.

The starting gun went off and we waited. And waited. Fourteen minutes later I started to run–except all the people in my way slowed me down. They weren’t running as fast as a two hour half marathon–maybe a two and a half. I got acid reflux, which is horribly painful and always plagued me at the beginning of any run. My lack of warm up was back to haunt me. Razor blades in my chest made speed difficult, so the first mile was slow. A chance of a personal record for this race slipped away. I tried not to despair.

A guy passed me carrying a six foot long Sun Devils flag. I had to get out of his way to avoid it. Possibly, he had a good reason for carrying it in a crowded race, like a noble charity cause, but I didn’t care and was just irritated.

The reflux went away, but sluggishness persisted. I forced my legs to go faster and they argued with me. This run was not going to be easy. I finally got up to an acceptable mediocre pace, but the terrain wasn’t cooperating. The slight uphill was obnoxious.

Normally a small incline isn’t a problem for me. Running as hard as I can for thirteen miles makes the hills grow substantially. The back of my legs hurt. I tried not to think about how many miles I had to go. My Garmin  G.P.S watch showed a lag in speed frequently.

A Garmin watch is a wonderful, but evil tool. The pace function kept taunting me, telling me that I was inadequate and not fast enough. My mind was the real tormenter, but the watch was easier to blame. I just couldn’t seem to please it. The distance reading also didn’t seem to agree with the race mile signs and always buzzed the mile before the sign, which meant the official time would be slower than the watch’s.

I kept hoping to hit the easy part, so that I could go faster. After 8.5 miles of pain, the route was an out and back, with the worst hill of the course. The placement was unusually cruel. The sight of the 2:09 pacer going downhill as I ascended distressed me. Race goals evaporated to mere survival. My mood grew worse as I cussed and struggled onward. Finally, the top.

I felt somewhat guilty to be in such a cranky mood. I was healthy and able to run on a sunny, warm day, but misery over-ruled positive thoughts. Crankiness is easier than gratitude and I had not expected it to be this hard. The last half marathon I had done, in 2010, was faster and not this arduous.

The road descended, then ascended, and I was unhappy. The up tick in speed wasn’t happening. Instead I was slowing down, which wasn’t what was planned. The bridge over Tempe Town Lake that arched up then led down to the finish line was up ahead.  Large groups of walkers  blocked my way. I couldn’t understand why these people strolled this close to the finish line, then realized they probably had done the five mile mini-marathon. I didn’t see any point to walking an entire race, but some people like do this.

I darted around the walker herds and sped up. The finish line was the incentive to get to the end faster. I couldn’t wait. This wasn’t the race I had hoped for and it was more difficult than  expected, but the self-flagellation  was done. Total time was 2:08:48, for 13.2 miles, not 13.1, according to my watch. At least I had the satisfaction of  the physical challenge of running that far and hard. The discomfort didn’t matter as much as being able to do the feat. It beat walking.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day Bug

You scurry across the floor in broad daylight.
Past a riot of heart-shaped balloons floating in the air, ribbons trailing among store aisles of shiny foil boxes of chocolates. Antennae waving, little legs moving in a blur. Rows of red and pink color cards proclaiming love, undying devotion, kisses.

You crawl on the rose petals, pausing to regard shoppers who blindly worship Cupid’s deceit with  obligatory offers of gifts.

You drop from the flowers to the ground with a plop and scramble off,
to seek darkness and safety.

Do you have cockroach candle-lit dinners for two?  Romantic cockroach kisses?

You cross paths with a heavy boot.


Happy Valentine’s Day.