Friday, March 22, 2013

Going Ape; or Stories I Like, Yet Am Not Entirely Convinced They Are True, Part Five

You don't exactly have to be a card-carrying member of PETA to have weird feelings about zoos. I mean, imagine - you're some huge animal, just chilling in Africa or South America, just being all majestic and wandering wherever you want when somebody shoots a tranquilizer in your ass. Next thing you know you're enclosed in a pen the size of a living room and getting stared at and photographed by human families.

Some of my conflicted feelings probably come from growing up in the '70s in the tail end of 'private zoos.' I'm not sure if these were all over the country or just the South, but I remember my dad pulling over so we could look at a sad black bear pacing on a cement floor in a little barred cage out in the middle of nowhere. Even though it was cool to see a bear up close, I remember thinking he didn't look too happy in his new home.

Modern zoos do a lot of work in conservation and education, and the habitats for their animals are close to what the animals are used to, rather than a homemade cage baking in the Florida sun. Plus, with loss of natural habitat, you could make a case that the animals are safer in captivity than in their home; sort of like a witness protection agency.

This attention to large, natural enclosures is a fairly recent development. In fact, in the story I heard, we'll have to go back, back to a time of more primitive zoos. Back to the '70s. Or possibly the '80s. I've heard it both ways.

Back then the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa was like most zoos of the era, in that they still had cages instead of habitats. Except for the lions, as we've learned from Goodfellas. Most animals adjusted to their lives behind bars. Except for the orangutans. Using their smarts and Beast Strength, the apes would wait until the keepers went home, reach out of their cages, bend the locks and take off through the streets of suburban Tampa.

This always cracked me up, because I always pictured families sitting down for breakfast glancing outside at an ape just truckin' down the sidewalk.

After a while the keepers figured out what was going on and created more moats and stuff, saving families from marauding orangutans.

This sort of thing happened all the time in Tampa.

I have no idea where I originally heard this story, but like the Elvis story, I've used it for years. If I was at a fancy dinner party or event, and someone mentioned zoos, or apes, or orangutans, I'd have a great little story to bring out. And yes, that happened more than you might think.

But is it true?

Well, sort of.

Apparently I was off on the date. According to "Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives" by Thomas French, the great escape was in 1991, which for some reason isn't as funny. Basically, Rudy, a young female orangutan was having trouble fitting in with the rest of her ape roommates. She climbed a tree out of the enclosure and willingly surrendered when French showed up. It's actually kind of sweet.

As for overall truth, I'd have to give this one an almost true. There was an orangutan that got out, but the best part of the story to me was the orangutan snapping the lock and wandering down the streets, which resulted in subtracting some points from the overall score.

We hold things to a very rigorous standard of truth here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

An Artistic Catastrophe

Remember in school when you'd hear about people rioting when they first heard "The Rite of Spring" or went all crazy over some Picasso paintings or beat up Ornette Coleman? And then you'd go experience the art that got everyone so pissed off and you'd just sort of shrug and wonder why people were so much more excitable back in the old days?

Maybe you even thought that those reactions you heard about years later were exaggerated; I mean nobody really goes that crazy over art that you could just as easily ignore, you know?

I am here to tell you that some art is still so ahead of its time, so revolutionary, that the masses erupt in rioting and poor behavior when confronted by it.

I speak, of course, of the cat circus.

Years ago, my ex-wife (who was my wife at the time) called me at work and informed me that there was a cat circus that weekend, and we were going.

I might have put up a bit of a fight just to keep things interesting, but I was intrigued. Plus, it was only five bucks and in a hot sauce store, so how bad could it be?

The hot sauce store was very small. Probably about twice the size of my living room. When we arrived with our friend Keith and his daughter, the place was packed. I guess they underestimated Jacksonville's love of art and culture.

They had to schedule a second show because there were so many art lovers. It was tight, but we were able to squeeze our way up front. As we made our way up there, we could hear people loudly complaining trying to get their money back because of the poor conditions.

The complaining would only grow louder.

So we watched the cat circus. It was pretty much what I wanted to see. From what I remember, some cats walked on a little tightrope. A rooster did...something or other, and I think there were some rats doing some stuff. It was hard to see. I think they rang some bells or something.

And yeah, some of the tricks were a little rusty, like when the lady sort of had to coax the cat onto the tightrope, but still, she got a cat to walk across a tightrope. That's more than I've ever done. And I wasn't really expecting to see cats flying out of cannons or catching each other on trapezes, you know?

But the cat circus was just a warm up to the main event. The cat band.

Check 'em out! Cats rocking the house!
I've seen a lot of bands in my time. I've seen bands at house parties where condensation was dripping off walls and the floorboards creaked as people danced. I've seen amazing, cathartic sets at the Hardback, when it seemed like the whole crowd and band was one pulsating organism. I saw The Who finish up "Love Reign O'er Me" as a rainstorm started in Tampa Stadium. I saw the Jesus Lizard and Fugazi in their prime, multiple times.

But none of these bands could hold a candle to The Rock Cats. Never have I felt such primal energy combined with musical talent as I did from those three kitty cats that night in the hot sauce store.

OK, not really. It was three cats playing instruments. What did people expect it to sound like? Beethoven? King Crimson? It actually reminded me of that post-college time when people started playing "sound sculptures" or "experimental music" or "noise" instead of playing music that was all full of fun and rock and roll. That stuff is a lot more tolerable coming from little kitties than from arty musicians.

I guess the band rubbed people the wrong way, too. People were going crazy, demanding refunds (a whole five dollars!) because the show wasn't "professional" enough.

Me, I got my five dollars of entertainment out of the thing.

I felt sorry for the hot sauce store owners, having to put up with people angrily shouting, complaining about the poor conditions and lack of  professionalism in the cat circus and band. I also felt sorry for the cat circus woman, who was only trying to expose our fair city to some art.

But most of all I felt sorry for the crowd. These people were experiencing some of the greatest, most groundbreaking art of the 21st century and all they could do was complain about the temperature in the room or the fact that three cats couldn't play "Eruption" or "A Love Supreme."

I wept as I started the car and we drove home. I wept that our city could not appreciate the power, the art, and the majesty that was the cat circus. I wept that years from now, children would not understand that the cat circus was ahead of its time. Would they judge us harshly? I hoped not. There were some of us who got it, some of us who were hip.

I pray that history remembers us.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Earl of Eatin'

Who doesn't love a sandwich? Got some meat or a piece of cheese that's been sitting in the refrigerator that you're not too jazzed on? Put it between two slices of bread, slap some condiments in there, and it instantly becomes exciting!
The Earl of Sandwich, with the original sandwich recipe.
I've eaten my share of sandwiches over my life - day after Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches, exotic treats like the banh mi or the torta, reubens, Cubans, and grilled cheeses galore. Put it between some bread, and I'll probably take a chance.

I've noticed that some of  you aren't as adventurous as I am, however. In fact, just the mention of one of the sandwiches I grew up on is enough to nauseate many of you.

I speak, of course, of the banana sandwich. Not the peanut butter and banana sandwich of Elvis fame (although I've had a lot of those, even if they were unfried), I mean the other banana sandwich, the one I thought my mom made up, just based on people's reactions through the years.

Basically, you take a ripe banana (and who can eat those brown mushy bananas? Ugh.), cut it into sections, sort of like big coins, spread mayonnaise on two slices of white bread and arrange your banana coins on one slice of bread. Slap the other slice of mayonnaise bread on top, and you have the banana sandwich.

Through the years, so many people have expressed so much disgust at this recipe that I began to think that my family and I were the only people in the world who experienced this treat. But now with the internet, I see that it even has a Facebook page. I don't exactly know if it's a Southern thing or what, but it's nice to see that other people have eaten them.

I think the main thing holding people back from enjoying a banana sandwich at their favorite restaurant is the lack of a striking name. How about Tropical Surprise? Mayonana? Ape's Delight?

I haven't had a banana sandwich in years, and I can't say that I miss it, but every once in a while I'll think about one. Trust me, once you've had an Ape's Delight, it will lodge in the pleasure centers of your brain.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Days of Fish and Death

So my girlfriend arranged a whole Valentine's Day surprise for me. She wouldn't tell me anything about it, only that the day had a theme. I would find out later the theme was "fish and death," which there's no way I would have figured out. Oh, don't act like you would have got it, you would have been as clueless as me.

Things got off late thanks to my drive the night before, since I sort of hit a deer. I guess. It was in the middle of the interstate and I thought it was a log. I heard this huge crash when I hit it and pulled over to the creepiest gas station ever, surveyed the damage and drove the remaining 2 hours in a state of fear and sweat. It wasn't until the next morning that we noticed that the log left hair on my bumper.

So I'm dealing with insurance and wondering what's going to happen, but was remarkably able to relax and go with the day's theme (which was not revealed to me until the end).

First up, Atlanta Aquarium. This place is awesome! We got to see all the stars - otters, penguins, sharks, all your A-teamers.

We also got to hang out at Jellyfish Wall. Check it out:

I don't know why rich people buy boring stuff like yachts and memorial walls at hospitals. When I get rich (hey, there's still time), I'm buying a wall of jellyfish. I will sit in front of it in a leather chair wearing a smoking jacket petting a cat while I plot my kung fu treachery. And yes, I like how I went from rich to Bond villain in about 3 seconds.

And of course, any aquarium that doesn't have lots of stuff that can kill you isn't worth your time:
Piranha 3D!

It was also cool just hanging out and looking at fish whose friends and family I caught and ate:
Hangin' with Mister Grouper

After looking at fish for a few hours, it was off to part two, Oakland Cemetery. It was cold.
This is right after a ghost told me not to be shitty about Christmas

We had a pretty awesome tour, then we wandered the cemetery on our own, writing poetry and reflecting upon the futility of life.
Actually, I was thinking about the ending of "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly."

After that, we ate about 30 pounds of seafood across the street. I think that's where the ugly fish from the aquarium end up.

Oh crap! She also got me this awesome shirt - check it out:
If you live in Murray Hill, or I've driven you around, you'll recognize this as the logo on the baseball field. Every time I pass it I say, "I wish I had a shirt like that." Now I do. I figure I'm either gonna lead a team of scrappy kids from the poor side of town (which I guess is Murray Hill) to a baseball championship, or I'll have to start a gang or a doo-wop band.

She also collected all my old Myspace blog posts in a book, bound with fine Corinthian leather. So yeah, I really made out.

Guess I'll really have to up my game next year from this year's half-off day old candy and flowers from the gas station.