As a physical therapist who visits people in their homes, I’ve seen some crazy things. I had a patient who was a hoarder that saved all her bowel movements in dated mason jars for over a decade, taking up her entire basement. I had a patient who collected exotic pets like alligators, snakes and even a lion cub. I had a “preacher” with a twenty million dollar house and a wife and girlfriend that both lived in that house. I had an uber-rich, retired Hollywood A-list celebrity who became an agoraphobic hermit with zero regard for personal hygiene and b.o that could be smelled from the bottom of Laurel Canyon Drive. I’ve seen a patient who lived in downtown hotel with 15-20 junkies living in his place. I had an 85-year-old female patient make a pass at me, and I had a 92-year-old male patient do the same. I’ve had patients punch me, offer me drugs, and steal from me. I’ve seen it all.
When I became a father, my son became my No. 1 responsibility, and I had to learn to show more discretion in which patients I chose to take on. I learned this lesson from Bird Woman.
My boy was 3-months-old when I got a new patient in an area of Long Beach that was unfamiliar to me. Her home was in such a remote area that I felt like Christopher Columbus upon finding it. After parking, I considered planting an American flag to claim the seemingly undiscovered land.
I approached her front door with caution. She had the kind of giant door knocker you’d find on the front door of a haunted house in a Hitchcock film. I lifted it and banged it against the big wooden door.
“Come in, quickly,” she said, opening the door a crack.
Upon entering, I felt like I’d walked into an episode of “Animal Planet.” Bird Woman put a raincoat around my shoulders to ‘keep me clean’ (her words). Birds were flying, swooping, gawking and pooping. My first instinct was to turn and run, but I feared sudden movement could be dangerous. There were so many birds in her house that it would be easiest to tell you what kind of birds were not there, so, here goes:
There were no bald eagles.
There were no vultures…
And that about covers it. Unless you count pterodactyls ─ there were none of them, but I think pterodactyls are actually flying reptiles rather than birds. I dunno, maybe not. I’ll just play it safe ─
There were no pterodactyls.
But every other kind of bird on planet Earth ─ Bird Woman had it in her home.
Yes, there was an ostrich. Yes, there was a turkey. There was every kind of parrot I’d ever seen, a couple pelicans, storks, and three flamingos.
For a moment, I considered checking the closet for Ashton Kutcher because I was sure I was being “Punk’d.” But then I remembered that only famous people get “Punk’d.”
Bird Woman had just gotten a total hip replacement, but I don’t think we spent more than five minutes on her hip. We spent most of the appointment talking birds. While she talked, she fed them bird seed out of her hand, before eating some herself from that same dirty hand, surely giving herself bird flu and mouth herpes all in one shot.
Bird Woman was so many degrees of crazy that I couldn’t tear myself away. I was fascinated and certain I could get away with asking just about anything. “Do you breed your own birds?” I asked. “You could probably cross-breed a new species. You could be, like, the first person to ever breed an ostra-parrot.”
“It’s hard to cross-breed birds,” she said. “But I did invent a “sparrow-saurus… Half sparrow and half bald eagle.”
“Seriously? Wow. Can I see it?”
“No, it’s dead. The vet said its heart was too small to support its body size.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“How do you keep this place clean…ish?”
“I open the basement door, throw food down there, the birds chase it, and then I hose down the upstairs while they’re down there. But I don’t like to keep them there too long, I get lonely without my babies.”
“Doesn’t hosing down the inside of your home ruin everything in your apartment?”
“That’s why everything is covered in plastic.”
To be honest, I hadn’t even noticed the plastic. And typically, when I enter some old ladies home where they have the furniture covered in protective plastic, it’s the first thing I notice. There was just too much going on here for that to be even in the top 10 of odd things about her home.
My next question was totally inappropriate, but Bird Woman seemed to be lacking normal people boundaries, so I just went ahead asked, “Are you attracted to your birds?”
“Don’t be silly,” she said.
To be honest, I was a little disappointed by her answer. But then she elaborated—
“People aren’t anatomically compatible with birds,” she said.
This caused me to simultaneously choke back a satisfied smile and throw up in my mouth at the same time.
Meeting someone of this extreme caliber of crazy is a rare treat, and I was going to fully indulge myself.
As I was reveling in the brilliance of her last answer, a baby chick began pecking at my foot, which got me to wondering, “Do you eat chicken?”
“No! What’s wrong with you? Would you eat your babies? Gross!”
Yeah, I’m the gross one, lady.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I picked up and held the baby chick; this caused my parental instincts to kick in.
I thought of my 3-month-old baby and panicked. What kind of exotic bird diseases was I about to bring home to my young son?
I left immediately. Outside, I wasn’t about to get into my car, the car that Keller rides around in, with bird-parrot flu and other diseases all over me. Since there wasn’t another house within shouting distance, and nobody but crazy Bird Lady around to see me, I took all my clothes off and threw them in her outdoor trash can. I put on some dirty clothes from my trunk, drove back to Hermosa Beach, and went to my gym where I showered for an hour in nearly scalding water, trying to kill the AIDS and cancer and hepatitis and every other exotic disease that was probably incubating on my skin.
At the very least, my gym membership had finally been used.
Back home, I vowed not to lay a finger on Keller for at least three days so I could make sure I hadn’t caught anything. Two months later, I learned that Bird Woman died from a bacterial infection. Not surprisingly, it was traced back to one of her birds. After this, I was paranoid, for weeks. I realized I’d put myself in a position that a new father shouldn’t. The risk taking lifestyle I’d always lived doesn’t jell with fatherhood. If something happened to me, what would become of The Bride and Keller? I realized I needed to make more responsible life decisions.
Now, as a grizzled veteran father, I’m more discerning about what kind of patient’s homes I’ll go into. However, I go rock climbing regularly and experiment with drugs whenever the kids are away for the night, so maybe I haven’t learned anything.
Point being… well, no point—just trying to entertain you with a good story.
I am here for your amusement.