On Sunday afternoons, the congregants of St. Robert Bellarmine church are greeted at the door by one of the quietest and best-behaved members of the parish.
Outside of church, though, Barney won’t shut up.
Barney is a double-yellow headed Amazon parrot, and he doesn’t go anywhere without Bob Jermyn of Elmwood Avenue. They pick out their groceries together, play the Lotto, and on Sundays pay their respects at the Catholic church where Jermyn has attended for more than 30 years.
“He doesn’t talk because he knows we’re in Mass,” Jermyn said of his companion. “He doesn’t poop or anything…unless it’s a long Mass.”
As the song says, all God’s critters got a place in the choir.
Rev. John Collins says his 5 p.m. Sunday service brings in a lot of regulars who know Bob and Barney, but occasionally he gets someone concerned about the animal in the back of the church.
His reply: “I think he’s very brave bringing that bird around so many sinners.”
Jermyn first met Barney in a pet store on Burbank Boulevard. After initially failing to get the parrot to speak, Jermyn began to walk away.
“Birds can’t talk,” Barney snorted.
That was 20 years ago, and they’ve been inseparable since. Jermyn says having Barney around is about companionship, but it’s also a lifelong bond -- Barney can live to 60 or 70 years old, providing comfort and friendship for a lifetime.
A doctor’s note for generalized anxiety allows Jermyn to bring Barney everywhere -- he has a perch attached to the armrest in Jermyn’s car. At the grocery store, Barney picks out his own crackers. Sometimes he nods toward a scratch-off lottery ticket, and more often than not, he picks a winner.
Barney’s also a food critic. On a visit to a friend’s house, Jermyn let Barney try some spaghetti.
“Ooh, that’s good” was Barney’s assessment.
No matter how many times he makes it, Jermyn just can’t get the same review for his own cooking. But Barney has plenty to say otherwise.
“Once he gets talking you can’t shut him up,” Jermyn said.
Upon entering his apartment, I was greeted with a “Hello” from Barney.
It’s a cozy place Jermyn found in 1979 near his job at Burbank Steel Treating. A POW MIA hat hung from a hook near the door.
Jermyn is a Vietnam Navy vet who regrets he didn’t stay in high school when he enlisted at age 18.
Barney got my attention again.
“Hello, Barney,” I replied.
I asked Jermyn whether he’d call Barney his best friend.
“Oh yeah,” he laughed. “He doesn’t talk back or nothin’.”
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he's not looking for prognosticating pets to help him find a lottery ticket, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.