At first I thought it was Invasion of the Costume People III, or that Papageno, Mozart’s feather-costumed birdcatcher, had strayed into Madewood’s library, complete with birdcage on his back, after missing a cue in an errant production of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.
But it was only Suzanne Pritchard– whose narrow house scales the side of a mountain in Topanga, California, near Santa Monica– sporting a nifty open-sided backpack cage, wherein sat Errol Grey, her African Grey avian buddy, who stared out like Edgar Allan Poe’s raven.
But it wasn’t a case of Nevermore. Suzanne, a Santa Monica native, had visited Madewood ten years ago, in 4 BE (Before Errol), who adopted her from a pet store six years ago. She was determined to revisit Madewood, even after TWE (Travel With Errol) forced her to abandon her motorcycle trips and pack Errol, case, cage, perch and all, into a sleek SAAB sedan that can barely contain all of her winged companion’s paraphernalia.
“It was like he was a little orphan waiting for me,” Suzanne recalled. “I walked into the pet store, and he couldn’t take his eyes off me. It was meant to be.”
Not surprisingly, Errol has his own Twitter account (restricted) and, of course, tweets.
For several decades, Suzanne, a fifth and sixth grade teacher, who was a marketing specialist and land developer in previous lives, has dedicated herself to hospice care, and Errol fits right in. Winner of a 2012 Animal Therapy Award, Errol, according to Suzanne, “really knows how to work a crowd” and is a regular visitor to the twelve-bed hospice unit at the VA hospital in Sepulveda, California, as well as to the division that deals with psychiatric trauma such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“He can do the marine cry, ‘Oo-rah!’ in six or eight different tones and inflections, depending on who he’s visiting,” Suzanne says with pride. “He’s quite the little mimic.
“He has a real ministry with the soldiers,” she continues, “and can’t wait to go to work. ‘Step up, Sweetheart,’ he’ll tell me, ‘Let’s go!’
“But he’s very thoughtful. If I don’t get going fast enough, he’ll cock his head and ask, ‘Want some coffee?’
“When we get to the VA, he starts right up, ‘Hi, people, we’re here, we’re here!'”
As self-aware as he may seem, Errol hasn’t quite grasped that he’s classified as a flightless parrot. After a ride on a helicopter, he decided that this flying thing is a pretty good deal, and Suzanne now coaxes him out of his travel pack with the enticing words, “Helicopter . . . want to ride the helicopter? (See video.)
“Raspberry tummy kisses.” Suzanne laughs as she bends over and blows air over the downy feathers on the submissive bird’s chest.
It’s not all work and no play for Errol. He and Suzanne never miss Dancing with the Stars. His favorite dance is the tango; and, Suzanne maintains, he dips like a pro.
These days, Suzanne is playing the exciting new game, “Waiting on The Supremes.” Two years ago, she added a simple chapel and guest suite on the lower levels of her three-story mountain treehouse. The views, she says, are spectacular.
But whether or not the additions will be used by women seeking a calm, safe place to exchange wedding vows depends on the fate of California’s controversial Proposition 8.
Suzanne has assembled a dozen or so wedding dresses from which participants can choose. Will Errol get the last word if he wanders into a fitting?
“Wrong color. Makes you look heavy,” he might chirp. Just before the bride does a helicopter on him, right out the window.