Monday, April 25, 2005

Welcome to the Third Circle of Zoo

"Daddy, why are you SCREWED?"

Eli 3.9, scoring with the question of the weekend.

Let me say this about the San Antonio Zoo, because you might find yourself in San Antonio some day, looking for something to do, and you might see a brochure for the zoo and think "Hey! That would be fun!"

Hey! You would be wrong!

The fun, as it were, exists only in the brochure. The actual zoo, in contrast, was apparently designed by Joseph Conrad, who must have decided after writing Heart of Darkness that he wanted to create a zoo with the same basic themes.

The animals know this, even if they are not fans of Conrad. There are only three states in which animals exist inside the San Antonio Zoo: dead, diseased, or demoralized. It’s Dante’s version of car bingo.

To be fair, that's only true for mammals. Fish, blithe idiots that they are, just F. Scott Fitzgerald across their ponds, waiting for food to be lobbed at them by disgruntled zoo patrons. They have always relied on the kindness of strangers.

Yes, it’s remarkably inconvenient that Tennessee Williams wrote that line instead of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but there’s nothing I can do about that.

The birds? Well, they're birds. Some of them acquire an English vocabulary consisting of several hundred words, but they still foul their cages with impunity, being totally unable to learn the intricacies of a toilet, let alone a bidet. So they also don't seem to mind.

The mammals, though, are miserable. They seem to uniformly exist in small, inadequate spaces, most seem underweight, and almost all have a glassy glaze over their eyes. They have the health and motivation of the bums who sit on the sidewalk outside the liquor store. I assume their living conditions were sponsored by some pharmaceutical company testing anti-depressants for animals, because the entire population would need heavy, and daily, dosage.

Except, of course, for the bees. While the actual residents of the zoo seem uniformly ill and dispirited, the feral bees are in extravagantly robust health, congregating by the dozens near every drink stand and trash receptacle. A promising zoo mini-game involves lobbing a drink container into a trashcan and then running like hell as the swarm emerges from the dark interior once the lid is opened.

This is the condition of the zoo: we were there for two hours, saw hundreds of animals in that time, and not once did we see an animal run. Depression does that to you, clinical studies confirm, and when we saw a snow leopard sleeping on its back, meaty paws in the air, a spirited discussion ensued over whether the animal were sleeping or dead, although in this zoo, the answer hardly mattered.

We tried to "sell" the zoo to Eli 3.9, but it wasn't easy. Statements like "Hey! There's a malnourished elephant" or "That kudu could really use some Prozac," while accurate, seemed less than enthusiastic.

In the end, we decided to do something we very, very rarely do with Eli 3.9: we lied. We said that we’d seen all the animals, when in actually we’d barely seen half, and we went instead to a play area at the front of the zoo. As it housed no demoralized animals, it was delightful in comparison, and Eli sprinted around the open, green spaces, as happy as a boy can be.

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