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Friday, April 6, 2012


Aloha! Surf's UP! Get 'em while their hot! Start your engines! Play Ball!

There are many phrases that get our interest level up and our motors running. After several grey days all I need is "It's sunny outside!" and I feel better and more like doing something beyond my recliner and computer. Tomorrow will bring the sound of lawnmowers all over the neighborhood and the outdoor activities will commence in earnest.

Today beautiful downtown Fallon will see a sky completely covered with sun. The weather guessers are claiming 55F for a high but I believe we will see at least 60. A gentle SSW 4 mph breeze and no rain will make for a very pleasant day outside. Tonight should bring the full moon and a crisp 30F.

Anna is struggling with sinus congestion and I expect that we will be in for a long season of allergy battles. Currently tree pollen is high which affects her the worst. Pills, spray and drops, oh my!

We will be picking up Mr S. in a little less than one hour and taking him to lunch and then shopping at Walmart. Last week we played "I forgot my list" again, which prolongs the wandering up and down the aisles, which he enjoys. It drives me crazy, but then I don't like to shop anyway.

I have been trying to take him for a ride after shopping each week, just to let him stay out and enjoy the sunlight and fresh air. Staying indoors and doing the same routine causes/increases depression for me and I have a lot more options than he does. A call from his care facility said that he is skipping going to meals again, which is not good. We shall find out what is going on with him in a few minutes.

While this story didn't occur on Easter Sunday (two weeks prior) it was well into the "pastel season" where everyone was dressing in their spring ensembles and going to the mall to promenade in their finery. So put on your bonnet, grab up your favorite walking stick, and step inside where music is playing and the air is cool.


It was 1979 and I had just gotten out of the Army and was waiting to get picked up by the FAA. There wasn't any question about me being hired, I scored 105 out of a possible 100 (with my 5 points for being a Veteran). I just had to wait until they had room in a class at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City. Until such time as the FAA decided to call my name, I had to go to work. There was still groceries and utilities to pay for, and a family to take care of.

Columbus, Georgia was still a friendly town in 1979 and a good place to be I thought. So while I waited for the FAA to make their move, I looked around for employment; knowing that when the call came, I would drop my temporary job and depart.

To move on to the story though, let me just say that I was hired by Docktor Pet Center, Inc. to manage their Columbus store located in the Cross Country Mall. It wasn't that great of a job, financially, ($2.90 per hour and commission on what I personally sold), and the 40 hour week that I was promised; was never less than 60 hours, and usually was 72 hours per week. And no overtime.

This story is actually about a little critter named "Houdini," who I inherited when I took over the store. From the first day I saw him two things were apparent to me; there was never a more appropriate name for a creature, and I really liked this guy! He was a master magician and a comedian rolled into one.

The person previously in charge hated and feared Houdini. Even going so far as to say that the little guy was possessed by the Devil himself. She wanted Houdini destroyed because he was "dangerous" and she worried about what he might do someday.

When I came in to the pet store to officially take charge, one of the things that I insisted upon was a joint inventory inspection. I wasn't about to sign for something that I couldn't see. That inspection is when I first got bitten by Houdini.

We had reached the large aquarium tanks on the list and I couldn't see where one of the 55 gallon tanks was. It was not in the storage area in the back and wasn't on the sales floor and wasn't in use to hold any display.... This was what I was worried about, supplies missing or worse. This store was in a terrible financial mess due to sloppiness and graft, and plain old stealing.

The outgoing manager was with me all through this, "where is the tank," business and didn't mention a word about knowing the whereabouts of the missing tank the entire time. She was trying to get away without having to deal with the "issue" of Houdini.

Finally I said, "the inspection will stop until the missing 55 gallon tank can be explained." This meant that her departure would be delayed, because I had her paycheck under the papers on my clipboard, and she didn't get that until I signed for the store, releasing her from responsibility. She gave in and told me that it was in the Kennel room.

The Kennel room is where all the dogs are displayed in cages for people to see behind a glass wall. My first thought was, "how in the world did she get that tank into that little area." And then, "why in the world would you do such a thing?" When I asked her why, she had just one word to say; "Houdini."

Upon closer inspection; I saw that inside of this rather large glass enclosure, there was a cage, and this cage had every opening secured with heavy wire. Inside this cage was the resident demon... Houdini.

Houdini had been locked inside this double secured, solitary confinement, since after his last escapade in which he had released: a couple of the birds from their cages; the mice, rats, gerbils and hamsters from their enclosures; moved the aquarium filter return tube on a 100 gallon tank to outside the tank, causing water and small fish to be pumped out onto the floor and was chasing a kitten around yanking on its tail when he was finally nabbed by the staff and put into the lock-down situation where I found him.

I thought that the confinement conditions were too extreme, even for such a "hardened criminal." So I moved the blocks off the top of the tank, and removed the cage from the tank. It was at this point I looked out through the glass wall and saw my staff closing the sliding glass doors which led to the mall; and the former manager tossing a note on the counter with her forwarding address and the words, "Mail it to me" printed on it, as she ran out of the doors just as they closed together. What is the problem with these people anyway?

It was then that I got my first example of Houdini in action. The openings to his cage were all wired shut, except for one where his food dish was inserted and I didn't notice it. But Houdini knew it, he had worked on it and undone the wire and waited patiently for his chance... and then I gave him one.

As I turned to look out through that glass wall and stared in wonder at the actions of the employees, Houdini was making his move. He unhooked his food dish and squeezed out and around it. Just as I turned back at the sound of the food dish hitting the floor, he nailed me in the hand and bit and twisted until the blood was flowing. Then he took off around the room opening cage latches on the dog cages faster than I could. I could only stand there dripping blood, and watch in awe of this little monster.

Oh, by the way, did I happen to forget to mention that Houdini is a cute little blue...PARAKEET!

Which brings me to the second part of my story:

The Big Breakout

I had rebuilt Houdini's cage and improved his living conditions, as well as our own. It now took four hands to unlock the dog snaps which secured each and every opening (four snaps per) and his terrorist activities were kept to a minimum.

Bird sales were booming as a result of my clipping the wings on some cockateils and handling them constantly, to where any one who was interested could hold the birds and they behaved themselves. The birds actually sold themselves. We purchased some "bird playgrounds", which consisted of a wooden tray base and some perches and ladders. To this we added a bell and a mirror from existing stock on hand, and the birds did the rest. They would climb up and down and ring the bell and fuss and chatter at the bird in the mirror. It was great!

Things were going so well that we ordered more birds. We now had cockateils, parakeets, love birds, canaries and finches on hand in the store. Birds everywhere! We had all the cockateils trimmed up and on their best behavior; we were selling!

All this time we had ignored and pretty much forgotten Houdini, but he hadn't forgotten us! As always, like a great white shark, this "Great Blue Budgie" was lurking, waiting for his opportunity. And then, two events transpired which set his plan into action.

We brought a blue & gold macaw into the store that screamed at Houdini, and we had to tether the Macaw to his cage by his leg in order to keep him in one place. Once, he flapped down to the floor and walked out the door into the mall with one of our sales people in pursuit and was quickly apprehended. But not before being spotted by Mall Security and causing a nasty-gram to be sent by the Mall Operations Chief, "Re: livestock running loose and the consequences you face." More importantly though, the macaw upset Houdini and you could see by his actions that he was really angry. Be Afwaid, Be Vewwy Afwaid!

And the second event was human error, brought about by complacency and the human "Superiority Complex." One of the young people (who were our sales staff), evidently thought that Houdini had "learned his lesson." When they put fresh food and water in his cage, they only used one dog snap to secure a door on his cage. And then closed the store up for the night.

The next day was Sunday, and it was always busy on Sunday's in the mall. People were all dressed up from church and wanted to go somewhere and show off their nice clothes and get something to eat in one of the mall's restaurants. Something that remains very popular with the older folks even today.

We didn't open until 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, because most people were in church before that, and if they weren't, they didn't want anyone to know it. Most folks went to church in 1979 Columbus, Georgia. It's just what you were supposed to do.

My mistake was giving my keys to a young person (who sleep walked until after two o'clock), to go on ahead and open the doors and turn on all the lights and start getting ready for the day's business; while I checked our mailbox at the mall office. In retrospect, I should have sent the kid to the office.

When this youngster got to the store he didn't so much as look inside, or he wouldn't have opened those doors.
Houdini had opened not only his own cage, but every bird cage in the store, and the mice, rats, gerbils, and hamsters were freed too. The covers were off of the reptile tanks, and the fish tanks had stuff floating in them that used to be on shelves. The telephone was unplugged, and the bird seed bags were all opened and seed was everywhere. An atomic bomb named Houdini had gone off during our fourteen hours away from the store. I don't know if it was a social comment or what, but the birds had been sitting on top of the cash register and crapping on the keys, all night and morning. What a mess!

If the kid had just looked in the glass doors; he would have seen something straight out of the "Birds" (Alfred Hitchcock), and certainly would not have opened the "Portal", and let them escape.

As I was walking through the mall, I made a mental note of how busy it was already, and how it could be a very good day for us. I heard the first scream and started to run towards the shop, rounding the corner just in time to see Houdini leading an "aerial assault" on an elderly blue haired lady. As she screamed again her false teeth shot out of her mouth and into the wishing pool, you know the kind that kids throw the money into, even though they would rather keep it. Her screams sounded a lot different after that, kind of muffled or something. By now I was running hard for the store, and people were running the other way. I thought, "This can't be a good sign" and it wasn't. There were mice and various other assorted rodents wandering out of the store... going to check out the sales I guess.

I heard a big screech and crashing sound and thought now what? Maybe I should just go on home and start this day over.

Houdini was making another pass through the pet store, after his successful run down the center aisle of J.C.Penney's, and came back to get at the macaw who had tormented him. He made a couple of low passes around the parrot's head to get him good and riled up, and then a high speed dive right across his beak. The Macaw launched into the air after him... but he was still tethered to the cage. When he hit the end of his "leash" it jerked the cage into the air and right into a big fish tank full of oscars. Fortunately, the bird did not go into the tank or those fish would have drowned him and ate him. But he was effectively anchored by the cage in the tank and was hanging upside down by his leash. Houdini made a couple of victory laps around the tank and was out the door before I could kick the rodents back inside and shut the doors.

Some little twit was yelling "Bats!", out in the mall and scaring people half out of their already strained wits. Now if he had said "rats" he would have at least been correct. We had snakes in the trash can wells, birds in the trees in the center courtyard, and Mall Security running around like the Keystone Cops. Some with their guns drawn, others with their "mace" in hand, in case of attack by "Fiendish Finches" or "Killer Canaries." At that particular moment I was contemplating "Keeticide" with extreme prejudice!

It took all day to round up the low movers and most of the birds. Some of the birds went into a Casual Corners store (clothing) and sat on the edge of the light fixtures and "bombed" the clothes, which we had to buy. Obviously just cleaning them wouldn't work in this case.

We ran around netting birds, grabbing rodents, and actually recovered all the reptiles right away. Amazingly enough, we only lost one rodent, a hamster, and it wasn't really lost. I had kicked it back inside and it had landed right next to a reticulated python who was hiding under a shelf, and he became a snack. That kept the snake from wanting to move and hunt, so it was good. We lost one kitten, which one of the little kids said he saw a woman pick up and put it in her pocket and leave the building. There were several lost birds, finches and canaries mostly. A few had crashed into the glass and broke their little necks, some got out through a door being held open by a guy wanting them to go free. And there are probably some living inside that mall today, up high around the skylights and in the tops of the live trees growing in the courtyard. It was a day to remember.

And after all that was done, I went back to the store to call in the results to our district manager. After completing the call I looked up from where I was sitting, holding my head, and Houdini was sitting in his cage, whistling and admiring himself in his mirror. What a guy!

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