from September, 2004
As a candidate for president of these United States, a job with some unspecified responsibilities for Puerto Rico and Guam and other dependencies, I have had to cut down on my reading. Fortunately, however, the prevailing ethos of book reviewers allows me to follow the common example and write a review of a book I haven’t read.
Mark Bittner’s fine book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, is, in the words of Publishers Weekly, an “appealing, heartfelt account of one man’s attempt to bond with wildlife.” As Booklist informs us, “Bittner moved to San Francisco in search of himself . . . A period of homelessness came to an end when he was hired to help an elderly woman.” This unsung elderly woman lived on Telegraph Hill, a San Francisco landmark that is a must-see for tourists and presidential candidates who wish to court the city’s voters. The job did not include the care of the wild parrots who frequent this landmark, but Mr. Bittner, compared by one reviewer to a latter-day Saint Francis, went the extra mile and developed the habit of feeding the parrots out of his hand and becoming emotionally intimate with them.
The book was made into a documentary film, or vice versa. It is unclear whether the film is as good as, better than, or not as good as, the book. From my conversations with other members of the Cherokee Round Table, however, I conclude that I should recommend both without qualification. I’m warned that I shouldn’t give away the surprising ending, which seems to involve a love story.
Mr. Bittner now has an up-to-date web site, which can be found on Google by typing in the keywords “wild,” “parrots,” and “telegraph.” From the FAQ page of this excellent website one can learn everything one would want to know about the subject of adopted birds. The question that interested this presidential candidate was: Can they talk? The answer: No.
In my last column I promised, in my well-chosen words, “that if elected, he [I] will do everything in his [my] power to see that a Constitutional Amendment be passed to enable American parrots over the age of 18 to exercise their rights to charge the ballot box.”
Not the least important facet of Mark Bittner’s work on parrots is that he makes us rethink our positions on matters of grave interest to Americans, including certain birds. The question that comes naturally to mind is this: Should nontalking parrots be given suffrage, a word that reeks of the nineteenth century?
Assuming a relationship between the ability to talk and the ability to think, whether clearly or befuddledly, on the grave matters of state, I must reluctantly but cheerfully modify my earlier vow. I now solemnly promise that if elected, I will do everything in my power to see that a Constitutional Amendment be passed to enable talking American parrots over the age of 18 to exercise their right to charge the ballot box.