You don't all that often get invited to a parrot's 50th birthday party, especially a parrot still owned by the little kid (50 years older now, of course) that bought him.
There were only people at the party, as it turned out, and they brought rather inappropriate gifts, if one may say so without being rude, such as bottles of wine and a surprising amount of Polish vodka.
"Does this bird drink?" I asked Hallie Young, wife of the bird's owner, Howard Young.
"Not a drop," she said. "Unless you count the time during World War II he caught a cold. He had a little Scotch then."
"But purely medicinal," I assumed.
"Brought him right around," she said.
As it happened, I showed up on the wrong day, but no harm was done.
"Bye," said the parrot when I left.
"Does he talk much?" I asked earlier, Perry Winkle (as this bird is known) mainly looked out the window at the Potomac River from his perch in a vast glass wall of the Watergate apartment.
"He can wolf whistle," said Hallie, "and say 'Polly want a cracker' and a few things."
"Does he, ah, do any salor talk" I pursued.
Certainly not. He is a gentlemen parrot, or, maybe, a lady parrot. Even when surgeons removed a tumer from his preeen gland a while back, nobody could determine the bird's sex.
Howard Young bought him for $25 when he was a 9-year-old lad. When he went off to school and to war and so on, his parents in Connecticut kept the bird.
"He has a life expectancy of up to 125 years," Hallie Young said.
"Do you, ah --" I asked.
"Both the children will be glad to have him, someday," she answered.
Their son used to ride Perry around on his bicycle and -- who can say how these things happen -- the parrot took some sort of offense. Perhaps a boyish indiscretion of some sort, perhaps a word spoken in haste without thinking.
"Sometimes Perry can't stand him," said Hallie, stroking the green and yellow feathers.
But blood is thicker than water, and in time nobody doubts a great reconciliation with the son can be effected. One thing you learn in life is not to discount blood ties.
"He bit my mother-in-law once," said Hallie, "when she tried to tidy up his cage.
"He's a bit messy," she went on, as the parrot shelled a pea, dropped the pod and spit out part of the pea skin on the floor.
"She was reaching in to clean his water cup. He bit her hand, and she had to have the fingernail cut out. Then he was bad about imitating her friends when they came to play bridge. You know how ladies talk and get excited at bridge. Perry started imitating them and it was quite embarrassing. On bridge days he had to be kept in the kitchen."
Once the Youngs had cats, and one day his mistress found his cage door open and no parrot. She raced through the house (this was pre-Watergate) and found him sitting on the rung of a chair, unharmed, but quite glad to see her. There have been no other traumas.
A Panamanian parrot, Perry is mainly green with yellow head and some nice red touches on the wing.
Sometimes, if they travel, they get a sitter. They have one friend who comes over and sits down and talks to Perry while she has a martini or two, because parrots like human company. Perry, fortunately, is broadminded, though a teetotaler, and does not suppose there will be no more cakes and ale merely because he prefers peas.
The Youngs have a place up-island at Martha's Vineyard. They look out their window to the island's only nude beach (a thing they secretly blame on Robert McNamara, the former defense secretary who owns land there and is darkly suspected of having pushed the nude beach down a ways so it wouldn't be in front of his house).
It has never bothered Perry.
Ordinarily in this space we deal with pretty great matters like the soul, but today we should make an exception from solemnity to speak of Cinnar. s
Some newspapers ran a picture of Cinnar on their front pages when he won Best of Show at the Westminster Kennel Club on Tuesday, and while it is far from my function to comment on news judgment, it took me some trouble to find out who won the Westminster Show this year.
It is, of course, the greatest show of the Western World.
Cinnar is a red and white Siberian husky, owned and bred by Lt. Col. and Mrs. Norbert A. Kanzler of Accokeek, Md.
The winner over the 2,468 other mutts, mostly champions in their assorted 137 different breeds, was, in short, one of us, and you would think his own home town would raise a cheer. Hip-hip:
Cinnar's handler was 23-year-old Trish Kanzler, the owners' daughter.
Usually at Westminster some fluffy or at least very fancy dog wins best of show. I well recall speaking to a breeder of basset hounds after one Westminster show:
"Sir," I said, "you have the most beautiful hound I have ever seen, and I am very sorry the judge did not put him up."
Instead of a gracious thank you, the hound's owner bared his teeth and hissed:
"He's the most beautiful (ommited) hound anybody has ever see, except that (omitted, omitted, omitted) judge."
So you see it is very hard indeed to win at Westminster. Cinnar's win is the more remarkable since part of his ear is missing. At an earlier show, another dog reached over and bit part of the ear off. For Westminster, it took a number of weeks (before the show) to decide whether Cinnar could enter. t
Once I knew a man who retouched color photographs (he said) for Playboy, and he said (he was justifying the high cost of come color retouching he was doing for photographs I was using) the reason the girls looked so good was because of his retouching.
"Actually they're all dogs," he said of the girls. "They got warts and bumps you wouldn't believe and veins and everything. If they were dogs you couldn't even get them into Westminster."
True. A blemish is almost fatal at that show. So to have a piece of ear missing is unthinkable. But the authorities ruled the injury had occurred in an honorable fight (Siberian huskies are a working breed) and should not disbar him.
"My husband, an ordnance officer, is leaving for a year in Saudi Arabia," said Kathleen, "and the Westminster win is at least quite a send-off.
"I guess you can figure out," she went on, "what he has put up with for 20 years, since I am the dog person really. We lived on the base at Leavenworth and in Alaska, and at other posts we managed on our own. We're not rich, and we have the horses as well as the dog kennels, so it hasn't been all that easy.
"I started showing dogs when I was 14. When we went to Alaska, my husband was a second lieutenant.We took a miniature schnauzer and a collie with us. But I fell in love with the Siberian huskies, and we brought back two bitches with us. Cinnar is their descendant.
"He has won 30 best-in-show awards, and is one of the top award winners in any breed in America even before Westminster. But of course to win at Westminster is the impossible dream. Cinnar -- well, I didn't just find him on a corner, you know, but he's the result of 20 years of breeding and planning.
"And I'm glad for Trish, too, because it's not often that nonprofessional handlers win big. She used to ride for the equestrian team at the University of Maryland, but sometimes she'd be working with the dogs, and I think that very politely they made it clear to her she had to choose either the dogs or the horses.
"In effect she decided our dogs were better specimens than the Maryland horses. So I'm glad she has something to show for her faith in them.
"Oh, of course it was the thrill of a lifetime," she said.
"And a working dog," I cried. "If a Siberian husky can win, why a hound can win," (though no hound has ever won at Westminster, a defect of that show that is rightly complained of at great length in the current Sports Illustrated, in what some people consider the finest piece of analytical journalism yet seen in that magazine.
"If Cinnar could win, anything can win," she said expansively.
"There I was at Madison Square," she said, "with the thousands cheering and I remember thinking at the time, 'Well, if I died right now -- what else is there?'"
"There's nothing else now, madam," I said. "There are no more worlds to conquer."
Still, it is something to be Alexander the Great, or Cinnar, or the Kanzlers, or citizens who have the honor to have produced in their own town the dog of dogs.