Latest from Book of Birds: “The Deranged Grackle”

For a couple days in October there were a lot of Common Grackles on the big tree outside our building. The shiny, purple-headed, yellow-eyed blackbirds were on every branch making their typical cacophony of squeaky gate calls. As it was migration season, they soon all vanished… except for the deranged one.

The Deranged Grackle had one white eye and was always on the ground right next to the door. It seemed easily agitated and would make a particularly loud squeakygate. We felt bad that it was all alone.

“What an adorable anomaly!” we said and welcomed it inside.

“Squeakygate,” it said and made itself at home.

We viewed ourselves as a little deranged sometimes and figured we’d be able to relate with the creature. But it didn’t take long before its “squeakygate” did not sound pleasing to our ears. It got in the way of the things we’d rather listen to like music and the rain and our thoughts.

If we tried to ignore it, it would just get louder. If we tried to cajole it into leaving it would just loudly hide somewhere we couldn’t reach. 

We tried to have a sit-down with the bird about it.

“Alright, let’s reason this out,” we told it. “Your species is not supposta stay in this region this time of year, not supposta have a single white eye, not supposta be inside an apartment, and is not supposta make this much noise. It’s unacceptable to us, and you need to stop being this way.”

“Squeakygate!” it answered. “Squeakygate!”

But it didn’t seem to listen to us at all and didn’t try to change, and that made us feel helpless, and that made us feel angry. And feeling angry made us wanna get as close to its white eye as possible and scream things at it like “WHY ARE YOU SO DERANGED?!”

But it would only scream back, “SQUEAKYGATE, SQUEAKYGATE, SQUEAKYGATE!” all night long.

The same script repeated almost every day. Sometimes we’d scream louder and longer and use different scream-words, but the bird would always “squeakygate” just as loud and long. It was a real stalemate, you could say.

Then one time these psychologists came to my job at the college to tell all the teachers how to deal with deranged students.

“Whenever they seem to be living in The Other Universe,” they said, “just use this.”

Then they handed each of us a stuffed Koala Bear wearing an undersized t-shirt that said “mental health.”

The Koala Bear had such a cute pudge-belly. It had such a cute, oversized black nose. It had such cute, little circle-ears. Why not use this at home, I thought.

The next time the Deranged Grackle was squeakygating, we placed the Koala in front of it. The stuffed bear didn’t scream back or cover its ears. It just took the squeakygates the whole time with a permanent-stitched smile. In fact, its plush exterior seemed to absorb the sound, each squeakygate becoming softer and softer until there was silence. Eventually, the Deranged Grackled gave up and actually wing-nuzzled the doll, and it was so adorable we realized we truly loved the unique bird. 

“New strategy,” we said, “always use Koala.”

Altho for whatever reason we couldn’t always remember where we put it, or what it looked like, or even where the nation of Australia was located. And we‘d end up screaming again even tho it never worked.

“FUCKING CRAZY WRONG BROKEN BIRD FIX YOURSELF NOT FAIR FIX YOURSELF BE NORMAL EVIL AWFUL THING YOU ARE SUPPOSTA BE NORMAL BAD BAD BAD IM NOT THE PROBLEM YOU ARE YOU CRAZY DERANGED FUCKING GRACKLE!”

“SQUEAKYGATE, SQUEAKYGATE, SQUEAKYGATE, SQUEAKYGATE, SQUEAKYGATE, SQUEAKYGATE, SQUEAKYGATE, SQUEAKYGATE, SQUEAKYGATE!” the Deranged Grackle would predictably respond.

Sometimes strangely in the middle of it all we’d accidentally notice the Koala had been right over there all along. Thank god, we’d think. 

But before giving it to the bird we couldn’t help first smush it firmly against our own faces and scream our own repetitive cries deep into its softness until we’d calmed down enough to say “We’re sorry, Deranged Grackle. We promise to do better next time.”

October 2018, Boulder, CO… originally appeared in hockspitslurp

Listen to “The Deranged Grackle” here!
Common Grackle, Waneka Lake, Lafayette CO, May 2021

For more from Book of Birds…


For more from the Nine Books series…

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