By Ron Hayes
How much would you be willing to pay for a newborn yellow-winged Amazon parrot?
Anthony Calicchio paid pizzas.
“I had a friend in Stuart who had a white cockatoo with some pink plumage, and its name was Pink Floyd,” he begins. “That’s what got me interested in having a bird.”
Calicchio grew up in Brooklyn. In 2008, he moved down to Boynton Beach to become a chef at Cafe Frankie’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria on East Ocean Avenue, and a year later he bought the business — and that newborn yellow-winged Amazon parrot.
“I got him from one of my customers,” he recalls. “She had two parrots. One of them laid four eggs, and Frankie was one of the four. We bartered for him, and I gave her $800 in pizzas.”
Not all at once, you understand.
“Well, I gave her a gift card with $800 on it. Every once in a while she’d come in and get a small pizza and a Coke or something. It took her about two years to use it all up.”
Calicchio’s pizza-rich friend bottle-fed the bird for four months, and then he brought it home.
“I kept him home for one day, and then I brought him to work,” he says.
Frankie the parrot was named after Frankie’s the cafe, not the other way around, and in the decade since, he’s come to work there almost every day. Perched atop his 5-foot cage just outside the door, where al fresco diners can admire him, you might say he’s become the restaurant’s beloved, bright green, yellow-winged maitre d’.
He rides on Calicchio’s Harley and he rides on his shoulder as Calicchio walks to lunch at the Banana Boat restaurant just across the avenue. He poses for selfies. He calls “Hello.”
Frankie knows about 30 words, none of them obscene.
“He says, ‘Whattyawant’ and ‘Fuggedaboutit’ and ‘Not me,’ ” Calicchio says. “I’ve had some customers try to teach him to curse, but kids come to see him, so I don’t let that happen.”
To stop by the cafe for the lunch special and not find Frankie strutting, preening or crowing “Hello!” would be like Walmart without the old greeters, or Publix without the free scales.
And then one day last month, his cage stood empty.
Frankie was born on the Fourth of July 2009, and on July 3, 2019 — a day before his 10th birthday —the bird disappeared from Calicchio’s backyard on Southwest Second Avenue.
“It was traumatic,” he recalls. “Frankie was on his cage at home, and I guess he got spooked and hopped over the fence. It’s the first time he’s gone in 10 years.”
The bird had no tag and no microchip implant, but he did have a decade of loyal customers and a local news media that know a good human interest story when one disappears.
TV crews came to show viewers the distraught owner and the empty cage. Newspapers as far away as Daytona Beach ran stories about the “famed” parrot. Calicchio got 2,000 hits on Instagram. Customers texted daily to ask if Frankie had been found. Missing-bird fliers were posted.
A week later, on July 10, a good Samaritan named Patrick O’Bryant called Calicchio. One of O’Bryant’s employees, Oviedo Gonzalez, who lives a few doors from Calicchio, was leaving for work when he spotted a parrot under his car and put it in a tree just before it risked getting run over.
At work, he told O’Bryant, and the two men returned to Gonzalez’s home, where they found the bird, still in the tree.
When O’Bryant saw a missing-bird flier, he called to tell Calicchio he’d taken the parrot to a friend named Tina Rosen, who cared for animals at her property behind O’Bryant’s wholesale nursery west of Delray Beach.
According to Calicchio, he then called Rosen and they exchanged photos. Rosen told him they weren’t the same bird because the photo on the flier didn’t show an orange spot on the shoulder and he didn’t have proper documentation. She told him she wasn’t comfortable having him come to her house and declined a $500 reward for the bird’s return — in currency this time, not pizzas.
When Rosen stopped taking his calls, Calicchio called Boynton Beach police, and Officers Jarvis Hollis and Lawrence Rini were on the case.
Rosen didn’t answer their phone calls either, according to their written report.
“At this time, Rosen has still declined to return the bird,” Hollis wrote. “Let it be known, Calicchio was unable to provide proper documentation for the bird, however it’s more than likely that the bird Rosen is in possession of is Calicchio’s bird.”
The officers called in Liz Roehrich, the city’s animal cruelty investigator.
The next morning, Calicchio and Roehrich went together to Rosen’s house and left with Frankie.
“She didn’t say hello,” Calicchio says. “There were six dogs barking at him, and all she said was if he broke out you should put a chip in him.”
Calicchio emphasizes there was nothing sinister or criminal in Frankie’s disappearance. The parrot wasn’t purloined, and no ransom was demanded.
Rosen declined to be interviewed. O’Bryant says she was not trying to keep the bird.
“She just wanted to make sure he was the rightful owner because he didn’t have proper documentation,” O’Bryant said, “and she blocked his calls when he became aggressive.”
On one point, Calicchio agrees with Rosen. Frankie will be getting a microchip implant.
On Friday morning, July 12, Frankie was back at work atop his cage.
“He’s back!” a grinning UPS driver exclaimed as he walked up to deliver a package.
“You got him!” arriving diners exulted.
“Where was he? What happened?” they asked.
“He was happy to see me,” Calicchio says. “When I brought him home, he was shaking. He had an orange and bananas, and somebody brought him a mango.”
Sitting at a table beside Frankie, Calicchio greeted customers, sharing their happiness when they saw the yellow-winged maitre d’ was back.
“It’s just like losing a part of your family,” he said. “I live alone. Just me and him.
“You know, Amazons live to be about 80, and I’m 54. He’s going to outlive me.”