Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Not Exactly Seeing Red

The San Diego Zoo is a wonderful place. It was the site of some of my first school field trips, the first place that I ever got to see and smell exotic animals, and learned about far away places. It is the zoo of zoos, and I do consider myself fortunate to have taken advantage of it for my entire life. Like the weather here, it is easy to take for granted, as well. It’s been 7 or so years, now, since I’ve visited. I think I’m about ready to go back. Things will be different this time, though, to be sure.
I should probably remember the date, but for many years it was a day that I really didn’t want to recall in any way, shape, or form. A beautiful, sunny day, filled with the promise of family fun. Sam was happily strapped into his stroller, in a blue outfit, equipped with snacks and juice bottles and eager to take on whatever he was rolled up to. We flashed our passes at the gate, and headed North, toward the elephant exhibit. Passing the restaurant and bus depot, we stopped to admire the small exotic bird cages, trying to interest Sammy in the bright feathers and beaks beyond the mesh before us. We shuffled over to the Koalas, trundling over the accessible wooden tree house ramps, pulling the prince from his perambulator for a better view. On to the elephants; Sammy was going to love the elephants!
The elephant exhibit, although it has been re-worked over the years, is essentially the one I remember from my first glimpse of these amazing creatures. It is a large island, ringed with a sidewalk and road, across which are exhibits of other large mammals. We wheeled over to the far side, and I saw a couple of animals I hadn’t remembered ever seeing before, red rhinoceros, rhinoceri, rhinoceroses. They were big and red and I was drawn over to look at them.
It happened in an instant, an instant that now takes up several moments’ worth of my long–term memory cells, pushing out more important things like, well, I don’t remember. The large creature that I had been regarding at fairly close range, obviously sharing no sort of Dr. Doolittle-esque understanding of my admiration, calmly turned, lifted up its tail, and sprayed me from head to foot. Upon reflection, a country boy would have recognized this brief signal, but this city dweller had received no such training via any of my behavioral psychology texts, and my previous animal research had only involved rats and primates.
Short of having this done to one on a regular basis, armed with the proper Personal Protective Equipment, most of us have no inkling of what to do upon realization that they are soaking in rhinoceros urine. I was not pissed off, I was pissed on. The fact that she had done this to me from about 15 feet away somehow did not impress me; at the time it instantly effected a sudden lack of respect for the creature and entire species, for that matter. I never wanted to see another animal, again. I invite you to now take a moment, pause, and laugh as hard as you want. It’s o.k., I really want you to - get it out of your system. Thanks. When you’re ready, proceed.
Fortunately, the aim was precise, and no one else had been voided upon. It was also fortunate that there was a restroom nearby, and I could at least wash off my face and hands, and kind of rinse my hair out, some. It became obvious that I had neither the facility to undo this, this, thing that had happened to me with powdered soap and paper towels, and I looked at myself in the mirror and contemplated my options. I had absolutely no desire to parade through the rest of the zoo, smelling what I was smelling like, if only to myself. I really didn’t want to find the nearest keeper and announce, “Hey, your rhinoceros just peed all over me! – just to have them double over in hails of derisive laughter, take me back to the keepers’ lounge, do it all over again for the group, followed maybe by a cold hosing-off, afterward. Perhaps if there had been a large pin at the gift shop “It’s not me – A Rhino peed on me” or “Pee on me if you’re Horny” (yes, I realize that this is in bad taste, but, you have to agree, completely appropriate in this particular case) I might have pressed on.
As calmly as I think I could have been, I emerged from the bathroom and mumbled something like, “I’m sorry, I think I’m done for the day”, and headed for the exit. I have never really thanked her, but I remain grateful that my sweetie did not challenge my decision, and dutifully followed, wheeling Sammo back out to the car, without snickering once (that I heard). I was fuming, internally as well as externally, all the way home. Silently, I walked to the washing machine, deposited my clothing, and found the apex of that day’s adventure under the shower head. I don’t remember speaking of much the rest of the afternoon, and I was happy to close my eyes and put it all behind me - oh, a day or so later.
I’ve been thinking, lately, that it’s time to visit the zoo again. But this time, things will be different.