“Woolworths Parakeets”


I’ve always loved a straight shooter.  Alan Ziegler is one of those folks who knows how to push the literary broom around.  Check out his prose poetry collection, The Swan Song of Vaudeville.  Whittle yourself out an afternoon and allow yourself to be delighted.  I recently asked Alan about a piece in the collection which he’d written about his mother’s Woolworth’s bird called “Woolworths Parakeets.”   He emailed me the below story / anecdote:

“My mother worked at Woolworths for many years, and one day a shipment of birds came in and they discovered one between the compartments. Since the manager didn’t know what shape it was in, he declared it DOA so the store wouldn’t have to pay for it, and gave the bird to my mother. Sylvester lived more than ten years and his favorite thing to say was “Stupid Reagan!” — which he said with vehemence.”

Something about Alan’s anecdote – the detail, the relationship, the quote, the bawdy simplicity – spurred a string of associations.  For me, it was the scene in Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm where Christina Ricci gets caught by her father who finds her in the neighbor’s basement wearing a Nixon mask, making out with a prepubescent boy.  For photographer, Jerome Jakubiec, the story inspired recollections of Hunter S. Thompson’s above portrait of his wife.

I am reminded that the best portraits reveal the big bleed that exists between people – the quiet mercy and the analytic fascination to which we are subject when we give ourselves over to love.


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