Metamorphosis in African Gray

I don't know how this book will turn out--the premise is unique, the introduction, oblique, and the title while not unique, is reminiscent of a story in Arthur C. Clarke's Tales from the White Hart.

from The Defenestration of Bob T. Hash III
David Deans

The only place where anything fun ever seems to happen in the Acme language course book Forward with English! is in the section known as Everyday Accidents and Domestic Mishaps. To illustrate what an everyday accident or domestic mishap might consist of, various familiar and generally very careful picture book characters volunteer themselves as the unwitting victims of a moment's dapper imprudence. We wince at the sight of a chin getting scratched by a razor in a bathroom mirror, we gasp at fingers straying too near the burner of a kitchen stove, we chuckle at the picture of a fedora hat (Br. Eng.: "trilby") getting whisked off into a neighbor's hedge by a freak gust of wind; while the sight of a parrot suddenly turning into a man and falling off its perch will give many reason for pause. I think what makes those cheeky pastel-and-ink cartoons in the mishap section so interesting is that for a brief, tantalizing moment they offer the only clue that there might exit another dimension outside the world of scheduled routines and codified speech bubbles that reign elsewhere in Forward with English! Of course, by the Repairs and Rectifications section that follows, the regular world of clockwork expectations is securely back in palce, if not quite quickly enough to have stopped us catching a glimpse of that other somewhat whacked-out dimension beyond. 


The book may not live up to the subversive promise of the leading paragraph--but even if not, that paragraph deserves an airing, as does the one that follows as the promise of a premise of some considerable humorous possibility if not merit.

For a few dazed moments, among a freshly laid bedlam of birdseed, I lay there flat on my back, staring at the ceiling in amazement. A halo of cartoon star spinning round my head and a watery bird whistle twittering inside it. I found myself wondering how the picture book artist might try to depict my own misadventure for some future edition of Forward with English! thereby admitting it too to that select pantheon of mishaps. In the "before" picture, for example, you could have an African gray parrot, sensibly perched at the living room window with nothing, barring a wink, to suggest an impending disaster. Bestide it, in the "after" vignette, you could then have a man in a suit--necktie floating into the air like an astronaut's weightlessness experiment, businessman's glasses dancing off the bridge of his nose, staring at us with that look of mild astonsishment, as if someone had just played a practical joke on the departmental manager by announcing an unexpected downturn in the quarterly sales figures while he was practicing on the office trampoline during lunch break.

So mishaps occur. And yet, with a little more care, how easily disaster might often be averted: shaving more slowly, keeping one's eyes peeled for banana skins under a window--in my case, repairing to a more reliably solid piece of furniture the next time I'm about to switch from the psittacine form to the so-called Homo sapiens.

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