Scared Straight: A Modern Fable

Gort Rumson was worried because it was three weeks until his Aunt June’s birthday and he had not as yet decided on a present for her. Since his early childhood, he had adored Aunt June and always made it a point to give her a special gift on her birthday.

When Gort was in the fourth grade, Aunt June had saved him from a horrible beating at the hands of the schoolyard bully. Throughout the years she had always been there for him, as today’s college students are fond of putting it. 

When Gort was in high school, his mother had come home to find him in a melancholy state—he was bawling his eyes out because his girl Cathy had dumped him.

“Don’t worry, son, there are other fish in the sea,” Ellie Rumson had said, trying to calm her broken-hearted son.

“Cathy’s not a fish,” Gort had replied, stopping Ellie in her tracks and leaving her speechless at her son’s firm grasp of the obvious.

In desperation, Gort turned to his Aunt June for solace and wisdom. She gave him a big hug and said, “Dear nephew, life has more twists and turns than the Snake River. Just because one pulchritudinous maiden has rejected you doesn’t mean they all will.”

Aunt June’s words were like sudden glory bursting through a clouded sky. Immediately Gort’s tears dried, his grief lifted, and he felt like living again. 

Aunt June had also been a good mentor for Gort. She taught him how to write love poetry, how to throw a curve ball, and how to do quadratic equations. Most important, though, she taught him how to use all of the attachments on a Swiss Army Knife. 

Over the years Gort had given Aunt June some very special gifts for her birthday: a Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman, a Ronco Food Dehydrator, a Popeil’s Veg-O-Matic, and a Ronco Mister Microphone. One memorable year he gave her a Bengal cat, a China rat, and a Bombay cockatoo.

Using word association, a strategy Professor Markem had taught him, Gort said aloud, “Cockatoo, cockatoo, bird, bird, parrot. Eureka! That’s it! A parrot would be a perfect present for Aunt June.”

The next day Gort visited a pet shop in Peoria. The moment he entered he saw the most gorgeous parrot he had even seen, and he was all the more convinced that Aunt June would love this bird.

“How much for the parrot?”Gort asked.

“My friend, you don’t want this bird, believe me,” the owner said. “This bird sings filthy bawdy songs and uses such vulgar language that even Lenny Bruce would have been offended. You buy that bird and the political correctness people will be on you like a ton of bricks. Not to mention the animal rights people and the First Amendment people.”

Rather nonplussed, Gort replied, “What have animal rights and the First Amendment to do with this bird?”

“Look closely and you will see that the bird’s bill is taped shut,” the owner whispered, looking as guilty as the Creeper in “Sherlock Holmes and the Six Napoleons.”

“Obscene language doesn’t bother me. I worked two summers on construction. Besides, I believe I can correct the bird’s speech. I want the bird. What’s your price?”

“Well it’s your funeral. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You can have this bird for the special price of $5.99.”

Being a nice guy, Gort said, “Nonsense. I will give you $6.00 for the bird. He’s worth every penny of it.”

Gort took the bird home and removed the tape. The parrot let loose with a stream of vulgarity that was more foul than the prison sewer in “The Shawshank Redemption.” The bird actually combined obscene words to take vulgarity to a new low.

Very patiently for two solid weeks Gort tried to change the parrot’s manner of speaking. To no avail. If anything the vulgarity became worse. 

After saying “Good Morning” to the parrot and being answered by the usual stream of obscene, vulgar language, Gort lost his patience. He grabbed the parrot by the neck, opened the freezer, threw him in, and slammed the door shut. For a while Gort heard this awful racket coming from inside the freezer—scratching, clawing, flapping, tapping, pecking. Then complete silence. Not a sound.

“My Gosh! I didn’t mean to kill the bird,” Gort said to himself as he rushed over to open the freezer door.

The parrot flew out and addressed Gort, “Sir, I realize that my language has been offensive to you and that I have been rude and unseemly. From this moment on, I assure you that I will give you no cause for complaint or displeasure. Au contraire, I will be the very model of eloquent language and graceful behavior.”

Then the parrot pointed one wing at the freezer and said, “If I may ask, Kind Sir, pray tell what did the turkey do?” 


 Dr.  Logsdon is the much-loved English professor who has inspired students at Western Illinois University and Eureka College for many years. He lives in Eureka with his wife, Mary, and writes a weekly story for the Woodford County News Bulletin.