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Barney

Naturally, I celebrated the overly mythologied beginning of this vile empire by hiding from a misogynist cockatoo in the hills outside of Portland, Oregon. It wasn’t too hard to hide, since both the cockatoo and I were in the mansion of the Kentucky Fried Chicken scion, and there was plenty of room for both of us.

The scion of the Kentucky Fried Chicken empire is one half of an gay couple who have devoted their lives to two things: a modern dance nonprofit and Barney, the misogynist cockatoo. Neither the scion of the Kentucky Fried Chicken empire nor his partner was present in the mansion to celebrate the beginning of our vile empire, which, come to think of it, also rests heavily on fried chicken. They were away in the south of France on vacation, and kindly encouraged my friend Greg, who was housesitting for them, to open their home to his own guests to alternately celebrate, ignore, pamper, hide from and grill the various birds of our nation.

Enter a dozen people, a jug of sangria, and some marinating ribs, already smoked.

When we arrived at the mansion, Greg was a wreck. Four days spent largely with Barney the misogynist cockatoo had wreaked havoc on his nerves. Caring for Barney was far more involved than feeding the average neighbor’s cat or fish. Barney came with two pages of typed instructions, detailing how often and when he was to be fed his specially prepared diet of couscous, sweet potatoes and broccoli. Barney, reported Greg, liked to watch movies before bed, but only movies with much dialogue and little action. The directions advised that if you don’t go to bed when Barney goes to bed, he gets upset. Best of all, Barney is tempremental and hates women. He has attacked women viscously in the past and sent them to the emergency room. Therefore, the women at the party were kept from his sight, and Barney was kept from ours.

Barney was spirited away to another wing of the vast house and I was advised repeatedly not to even look at him should we accidentally meet. The scenario gave me an eerie feeling I hadn’t had since we attended my Orthodox cousin’s wedding and my mother, grandmother and I were forced to sit on a separate side of the temple from my father, grandfather and brother. It was the feeling that there was something about me I couldn’t change that was both dangerous and inflammatory.

With Barney duly hidden, we pampered Greg instead. One dose of Kava Kava, one juice smoothie and several joints and cocktails put a little distance between him and the bird. Only the many posters of Hitchcock’s The Birds, white feathered wreaths in the bathroom and bird likenesses in every room reminded us of the beast downtstairs.

As the party progressed, all the men drifted away to pay their respects to Barney. Everyone came back with a story. “I talked to Barney.” “I danced with Barney.” “Barney and I played a special game.” I would have been jealous, but I was too busy feasting on the flayed flesh of other animals, while Barney pecked at his vegetarian dishes in the house’s small but well-appointed gymnasium.

The afternoon was a banquet of delights. I ate my first oyster. We devoured ribs, grilled shrimp, vegetables, corn, sausages, hot dogs. We whipped fresh cream and ate it with berries. There was proscuitto and melon, there were specially-glazed hazelnuts, there was venison pate, which itself was wrapped in bacon. There was fine wine and fine weed. I quickly forgot that I was a second-class citizen, and that somewhere in this beautiful mansion lurked a bird who given the opportunity would rip my lower lip from my face. I licked my lower lip. It tasted of cream, of salt, of Syrah.

The table grew heavy with carcasses. Bones and husks and shrimp shells were piled on plates, puddles of wine and ash littered its surface. It was a meal in the style of another long-gone empire, a meal of locally-grown produce and artisan charcuterie that this empire never intended. Only by selling billions of buckets of deep-fried chicken to the ever-expanding people of this ever-expanding empire had our absent hosts managed to make it possible for us to dine this way–in the hills outside the city, in the shadow of our exploding, self-devouring nation, in hiding from a pampered bird who lives in a beautiful glass prison. In its own odd way, it seemed right.

And that is why the symbol of my nation won’t be a noble eagle, but Barney the misogynist cockatoo, to remind us we must feast in the sunlight on the decks of other people’s mansions, even if very nearby someone who’s never met us is quietly plotting our demise.

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