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The Parrot Man: ‘PURRFECT’ days in paradise

By Staff | Mar 1, 2012

Columnist Norm Bezane (left) meets the birds with Brian Botka.

LAHAINA – In this era of the digital camera – clunky version, handheld, iPhone or iPad – no visitor or resident, no matter how many sunsets, hula dancers, rainbows or plumeria photographed this or in past years, is ever going to beat out Brian Botka.

The job of the “parrot man of Front Street” Wednesday through Sunday evenings is bringing joy and a permanent record in the form of photographs of people with parrots to thousands of customers.

For 20 years, Brian has happily worked for a company originally formed three decades ago by one Bud “the Birdman” Clifton.

Brian is much more than a casual clicker of a camera. An artist and accomplished photographer in his own right, the parrot man selects from five multicolored parrots, micas and cockatoos that he perches on the hands and shoulders of customers.

After putting on a silk lei – just the right color to match what customers are wearing – Brian snaps away, finally proclaiming, “PURRFECT.”

Listen in as he talks to both birds and customers – his usual street pattern beginning with, “Come on up. Won’t poop on you on my shift, guaranteed.”

Brian, to a new customer, “Hey hold my little baby; lay ’em down. Now what I am going to do is a few different shots. We will put Mai Tai (the youngest parrot at 14) on you. He is not going to goober on you.

“Don’t show fear, people. They sense fear. Now I am going to put a bird on your head. He wants to be top dog today. Oh, this is going to be beautiful. I want that chin forward,” he tells a lady on the left.

To the bird Mai Tai: “Preen her hair; make her look good.” Botka watches the parrot gently grab thin strands of his customer’s hair. “Good boy!”

To the customer: “Don’t worry about a thing. You are looking good.”

To Mai Tai: “Mai Tai, look at the camera. Peanut, look at the camera, man. On one, two, three (click).”

To the customers: “That’s excellent. Stay with me. I want to see your teeth. This is a photo you will want to see forever. Awesome. One, two, two-and-a-half, three… big smile! This is a phenomenal shot. Got it. PURRFECT! Excellent job – very well done.”

Typically, last week, Brian put birds on a tiny baby, a three-year-old with a toothy smile and a parade of family groups – among them, he said, “one poor guy” who was here with six older sisters.

Over the years at the parrots’ perch near the corner of the Pioneer Inn facing Lahaina Public Library, Brian’s film and digital camera lenses have captured everyone from celebrities to a group of two-dozen cheerleaders here for a contest at the Hyatt, all in one frame.

Actor Dustin Hoffman one time brought back from Lahaina a parrot picture and added a painting from artist Jim Kingwell for good measure.

Carlos Santana and his new wife have been in. So have movie stars Demi Moore, Danny DeVito, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and even President Bill Clinton’s political consultant, James “It’s the Economy, Stupid” Carville.

A bit of a political junkie himself – his brother works in Washington, D.C. – Brian engaged Carville in a memorable, four-hour marathon conversation right on Front Street.

He also got a hug from Mary Matalin, the “Raging Cajun’s” conservative wife, who he said was the sweetest, smartest person he had met for a long time.

Joking with clients in ways that bring automatic smiles, Brian says “purrfect” so often when he looks through the lens that one bird noted it well.

One day, in parrot speak, the bird spontaneously began crying out “PURRFECT” all day. Tiring quickly of the gambit, the parrot hasn’t returned to using the word since.

That doesn’t stop Brian. The results continue to be “PURRFECT” every time.

Next column: How to become a parrot man.