Once upon a time there was a penguin named Parry. Parry lived at the South Pole where he made his living by selling used refrigerators. Parry made so much money that he could afford to take a vacation. Having heard about the Empire State Building and the theaters on Broadway, he called a travel agent and bought a plane ticket for New York.
Parry seated himself as comfortably he could on the airplane, which wasn’t very comfortable. A woman in the seat next to him insisted on being moved for some reason which Parry could not understand. Her seat seemed to be as good or as bad as any other. The flight attendant gave him odd looks when she passed by his seat, but she didn’t seem to mind having him on board as long as he fastened his seat belt and kept his tray and seat in their upright positions for landing.
The best part of the flight was near the end when the airplane flew over New York harbor. Parry had a perfect view of the Statue of Liberty from his window. He could hardly wait until he reached the ground and could go out to see it.
But when Parry landed at LaGuardia Airport. his troubles began. He tried to take a taxi to Manhattan, but no cab driver would take him. He bought a ticket for the airport bus to Grand Central Station, but when the bus came, he was put into a cramped compartment under the bus with everybody else’s baggage. Parry squawked long and loud but nobody paid him any attention.
After being rudely put out of the bus on Park Avenue, Parry looked up the name of his hotel and walked the dozen blocks it took to get there. The hotel was so tall, Parry thought they would surely have had room for him even if he hadn’t made a reservation. He waddled into the lobby and walked up to the desk.
“May I—help you?” the question seemed to die on the lips of the man standing at the desk.
“Yes,” said Parry. “The reservation for Parry the Penguin.”
The man looked flustered as he checked the computer.
“Uh—well, I see a room for a Parry Penguin,“but—uh—er—I am afraid that you must inform Mr. Penguin that pets are not allowed in this hotel.”
“No pets? That is fine with me. I have never owned a pet and I do not intend to begin owning one during my visit in New York. May I have my room please?”
“Why did Mr. Penguin send you instead of coming up to the desk himself?”
“But I am Parry the Penguin and I have a reservation.”
“But I simply cannot give a hotel room to a penguin.”
“And why not?”
“Because—well, let me put it this way. Most people think that penguins belong in the Bronx Zoo.”
“The Bronx Zoo?”
“Why yes, haven’t you heard of the Bronx Zoo?”
“Yes, I have. I hear that some polar bears live there.”
“That is true, some polar bears do live in the Bronx Zoo and so do several penguins. That would be a much more appropriate place for you. Or, you could go to the Central Park Zoo which is much closer.”
“I would rather not share a residence with a polar bear,” said Parry.
“Well, it would be awkward to share a room or a cage with a polar bear although I am sure you can receive separate accommodations. Can you now understand why some people do not want to share a residence with a penguin?”
“No, I don’t understand. I don’t eat people.”
“But that isn’t the point.”
“Then what is the point?” asked Parry.
“The point is that I will have to call the police if you persist in asking for a room when I have told you I cannot give you one. If the police come, they will take you to the Bronx Zoo.”
“And put me in with the polar bears?”
Since Parry did not want to be thrown to the polar bears, he waddled out of the hotel and began to walk the streets of Manhattan. He saw other hotels but he didn’t feel like taking a chance on being handed over to the police who would hand him over to the polar bears. So Parry the Penguin walked along Fifth Avenue until he came to a street vendor selling pretzels. He stopped, pulled out his credit card, and asked for one pretzel.
“You can keep your money,” said the vendor. “I like to feed the birds.”
Parry wasn’t sure he liked the vendor’s attitude towards birds, but he took the pretzel and enjoyed it very much. But that didn’t give Parry a place to stay the night. After walking a bit further, he came to Central Park. It was the loveliest place he had seen besides the South Pole, even if it didn’t have any snow at that time of year. He walked around the park but avoided the zoo that the hotel clerk had told him about in case they did have polar bears. When it began to get dark, Parry was very tired and he began to wonder where he would spend the night if he couldn’t find a hotel that would take him. When he saw a small group of ragged people all huddled together, he went up to them.
“Hello,” said Parry. “What are you doing out this time of night? Don’t they have room for you at the hotel?”
“We ain’t got no money for no hotel,” said one man with a thick stubble of beard on his chin.
“We’re homeless!” cried a woman who didn’t have many teeth left but had three crying children clutching her skirts.
“You mean nobody will sell you a home?” Parry asked.
“We mean we ain’t got no money to buy no house and we ain’t got no money to rent no apartment neither!” cried another man in the group.
“And why do you have no money to buy a house or rent an apartment?” asked Parry.
“Because we don’t have jobs,” said a woman who clutched her shopping bag as if that were all she had on earth.
“Why don’t any of you have jobs?” asked Parry the Penguin.
“Because nobody hires homeless people,” said a man.
“Well,” said Parry the Penguin sadly, “I have a job and I have a home but they still won’t let me stay at a hotel here in New York which gives me no place to sleep the night because I can’t catch a flight back to Antarctica until tomorrow.”
“You can stay with us,” one of the children offered.
“I’m not so sure—“ said the mother.
“Thank you very much,” said Parry the Penguin.
“Tell us a story!” one of the children begged.
“Say ‘please,’” said the mother.
And so Parry the Penguin told his new friends the story of Percy the Penguin who built a snow fort that was taller than the Empire State Building but it melted during the winter because at the South Pole, winter time was summer time and even the South Pole warmed up a little during the summer that was winter time in New York.
After the story, Parry the Penguin and his new friends went to sleep in the park but, during the night, Parry was awakened by the sound of rough voices. Several men carrying clubs in their hands were telling the group friends that they had to leave the park. What Parry the Penguin could not understand was why these men would drive away the humans but not try to drive him away, even though he was standing right next to them. Even so, Parry the Penguin didn’t want to desert his new friends and so he waddled along with them as they left the park and until they all found a place to sleep on the steps of a large building.
Early the next morning, Parry the Penguin and his friends were awakened by more loud and unfriendly voices and they were ordered to leave the steps of their apartment building. Parry discovered that, although he was apparently allowed to sleep in the park when humans were not, penguins were not allowed to sleep on the steps of apartment buildings any more than humans were.
As the penguin and the humans moved along on the sidewalk, the children ran to the rear of a restaurant and rummaged through the garbage cans for whatever they could find.
“Why are they doing that?” Parry asked their mother.
“How else can you get food when you ain’t got no money?”
“Oh, don’t they feed you?”
“Are you kidding?”
“No, I am not kidding. The man who fed me a pretzel yesterday wasn’t kidding when he said he always feeds the birds. Or so I thought. I guess he feeds birds but he doesn’t feed people. Just a minute and I’ll be right back.”
Parry the Penguin went up to the nearest street vendor and asked him if he was willing to feed the birds.
“You’re pretty big for a pigeon,” said the vendor.
“Yes, that’s true,” said Parry, “but then, I’m a penguin and not a pigeon, and I’m a pretty average size for a penguin.”
“Sorry, I don’t feed penguins, just pigeons.”
Parry pulled out his credit card and asked if he could charge five Polish hot dogs on that.
“I don’t take plastic,” said the vendor.
Fortunately, Parry had a ten dollar bill stuffed among his feathers and so he bought ten dollars worth of Polish hot dogs and pretzels and brought them back to his homeless friends.
“You’re the best penguin in the world!” exclaimed one of the children.
“Thank you,” said Parry. “I try to be decent to my fellow creatures. Now, I was thinking of taking in a Broadway show while I was here. Would you like to go to a matinee performance?”
“YES! YES! YES!” everybody cried.
And so Parry the Penguin bought a copy of the New York Times, looked up the theater listings and and then walked to Times Square with the homeless people. When he went up to one of the ticket booths, everybody else in line moved to another booth and Parry didn’t have to wait to buy his tickets. But when the woman at the booth gave Parry the Penguin much the same look as the man at the hotel counter, his heart sank.
“What can I do for you?” she asked hesitantly.
“I would like eleven tickets for the matinee performance of Phantom of the Opera, please.”
“I’m sorry, but—we are sold out today.”
“It didn’t say you were sold out when I read the New York Times before coming here,” said Parry the Penguin.
“Uh—we just had a group order from the Ladies Club of—uh—Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that you were starting a run of Our Town,” said Parry the Penguin. “That would be very nice. Eleven tickets, please.”
“You don’t seem to understand,” said the woman.
“Yes,” said Parry the Penguin. “I am afraid that I don’t understand the problem.”
“Well, the problem is that we simply cannot admit a penguin to our theater. The customers would never stand for it.”
“I don’t mind sitting next to humans,” said Parry the Penguin, “so why should humans mind sitting next to penguins? Besides, the other tickets are for humans and they are willing to sit with me.”
The woman looked at the homeless people standing around Parry the Penguin and made a very sour face.
“You don’t seem to understand,” said the woman. “Will you please move on before I call the police?”
“Yes, I do not understand, “Parry the Penguin muttered, “and yes, I will move on before you call the police.”
“Well, thanks anyway,” said one of the homeless men.
“If we can’t go to a Broadway play, perhaps we can go see a baseball game in Yankee Stadium,” said Parry the Penguin.
“YIPPEE!” cried the children.
“It’s a long walk to Yankee Stadium,” said one of the men, “it’s way over in the Bronx.”
“Oh, I see,” said Parry the Penguin. “Well, that is a problem. I don’t want to go to the Bronx.”
“Why not?” asked one of the children.
“Because there is a zoo there and they have polar bears and I don’t want to go where the polar bears live. I have had too many bad experiences with them back home in Antarctica.”
Suddenly Parry the Penguin was stopped by a microphone that was practically stuffed down his throat.
“Good morning,” said a woman who was holding the microphone. “You’re live one ESPN!”
“Well,” said Parry the Penguin, “that is much better than being dead on ESPN.”
“Can you tell me why you are wearing a penguin suit this morning?” asked the newswoman.
“That question is very easily answered,” said Parry the Penguin. “The reason I am wearing a penguin suit is because I am a penguin.”
“Yes, really. Do you have any more questions?”
“Well, no. Thank you very much.”
“Well, I must say that the penguins back home in Antarctica are much nicer than the humans here in New York,” muttered Parry the Penguin.
“Can I be a penguin?” asked one of the children.
“Can I be a penguin, too?” asked another child.
“No, you can’t be penguins,” said their mother.
“Because you’re people.”
“I’ll tell you what,” said Parry, “I’ll make both of you honorary penguins. How’s that?”
The children cheered and they both gave Parry the Penguin the best hug he’d had in years.
“Well,” said Parry the Penguin, “I can see that there just isn’t going to be a place in New York where penguins can live and there isn’t a place where homeless people can have a home and a have job so that they can have a home so they can get a job until somebody buys or rents a place where penguins can stay and where homeless people can have a home and have a job. I have a feeling that person is going to do this will have to be me or it won’t be anybody.”
With that, Parry the Penguin and the homeless people walked the streets of New York into poorer sections of Manhattan until they found a store front that had a sign inside the window that read: FOR SALE OR FOR LEASE. At the bottom of the sign was a telephone number. Parry the Penguin pulled his cell phone out of his feathers and dialed the number. He asked to buy the property and gave his credit card number over the phone. Then, the transaction done, Parry the Penguin walked into the empty store and went to work with his friends.
By early evening, the humans, no longer homeless, had bought furniture from several church rummage sales and a sign was placed in the window that read: PERRY THE PENGUIN’S USED REFRIGERATORS STORE AND HOME FOR THE FORMERLY HOMELESS.
“We don’t have any used refrigerators to sell,” said one of the men.
“We will when the shipment I just ordered for overnight delivery arrives tomorrow morning,” Parry the Penguin replied.
“But who’s going to buy a used refrigerator?” asked the woman with the shopping bags.
“Why, people who need a used refrigerator, of course,” said Parry the Penguin.
Parry the Penguin ordered enough pizza for to feed all of the homeless people who came in to have a home. It wasn’t long before ragged people stumbled in, but each time Parry the Penguin greeted them and asked if they wanted to stay for the night, they ran away.
“What’s the matter?” Parry asked after this had happened for about the fourth time. “I thought this was a nice place for homeless people to stay in.”
“It is,” answered the man with the stubble of beard. “I don’t know how to say this—and I hate to say this—but I have to say it. Some people are afraid to stay in the same building with a penguin.”
“But why?” asked Parry. “Penguins never hurt people.”
“The trouble is that it is not usual for people to share the same house with a penguin,” said a woman.
“Do you mean that I have to leave?” asked Parry with tears in his eyes.
“No! No!” cried the children, but the grown ups all said that if Parry didn’t leave, nobody would come and stay at the home for the homeless and help run the store for used refrigerators.
So Parry sadly walked out of the house. He managed to get a cab to LaGuardia Airport because the cabbie couldn’t see in the dark very well. The next flight to Antarctica was not until the morning, so Parry had to spend the night sitting in a waiting area which he had all to himself. When he went to the ticket counter to exchange his ticket for the next flight, the woman at the counter told him that he would have to fly in the baggage compartment with the rest of the animals on board. And so Parry was locked up in a dog cage and flown home that way. From the baggage compartment, he could not hear the flight attendant wish him a pleasant flight. He assumed he was not meant to have one, and he didn’t.
When Parry the Penguin got off the plane at the South Pole, the other penguins asked him if he had a good trip.
“Don’t go to New York,” Parry advised them. “They don’t like penguins there. They don’t want penguins to live anywhere in t he city except in the Bronx Zoo with the polar bears.”
“Then we’d better go up there and open an office where penguins can work for fair and open housing for penguins,” said one of the younger penguins.
“You can do that if you want,” said Parry, “but nobody will enter your office when they find out it is run by penguins. As for me, I’m going to stay here the rest of my life and never travel again.”
And so Parry the Penguin stayed at the South Pole and sold used refrigerators for the rest of his days and business was good because of his outlet in New York. The New York Times even did an article on Parry the Penguin’s Used Refrigerators Store because nobody had started such a thing before. And nobody has opened up such a store in New York since, either.
For sample stories from my published collections, see the stories page.