The Zoo Zealot

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Zoo Zealot

If you’re hanging around with nothing to do and the zoo is closed, come over to the Senate.  You’ll get the same kind of feeling and you won’t have to pay.”  –Bob Dole

Robert was one of those people that could take something that seemed fun and interesting, and then turn it into piles of paperwork and regulations.  He would walk amongst the families having a good time and navigate the school groups that were on a field trip.  While they would point and chatter excitedly about the rare animals and their luxurious coats, Robert would look to his clipboard filled with documents and make notations.  It was his job to nitpick and make notes of every little inconsistency that he saw, and Robert fulfilled his task with a rampant fervor.

As a Zoological Expert in Assessing Liabilities, Robert walked around zoos and made sure that their insurance policies were in line with the running of the operation.  Several years ago, Robert’s company had made some modifications to the plans that they offered to zoos.  The all-encompassing plan that had previously covered all animals for each individual zoo had been changed.  Now the all-encompassing plan covered every animal that was in existence, regardless of whether the zoo had any of those species in residence or not.  This meant that if zoos could not afford to pay the premium price, they instead paid for each animal.  For each animal, there were different rules and specifications.  The variety of animals and situations for each zoo necessitated a ZEAL visit them on a regular basis.  Of all the ZEALs that were assigned to travel the zoos of the world, none were as precise and enthusiastic about details as Robert.

Walking by a seal enclosure, Robert made a “tsk”-ing noise and made on more mark on his clipboard.  The seal had been transferred from an aquarium that had closed, and therefore the animal had a penchant for tricks.  The Greenville Zoo had a flipper-clapping allowance for seals, but none for balancing balls on their noses.  Robert would have to charge them extra or advise them that their policy was in jeopardy.  Flipper-clapping was allowed, but balancing balls on the nose of a seal could cause a myriad of problems that Robert’s company might have to reimburse them for.  There could be dirt or debris on the ball that would transfer onto the seal’s nose, infecting or obstructing the seal’s nasal passageways.  The rubbing of the ball on the seal’s nose could bruise the surface area or ding the animal’s whiskers.  Robert shook his head in disappointment.  If the zoo was going to flagrantly allow this sort of reckless behavior just to encourage higher attendance, they would have to pay up the nose for it.

Robert made an impression on people.  At six foot five and two hundred and seventy pounds, he was a physical force to be reckoned with.  Adding somewhat comically to his appearance were his half-glasses.  Most people did not associate such slight and delicate frames with someone of Robert’s size.  More often than not, the glasses would be seen on a librarian, or perhaps an elderly woman that served on a student advisory board.  Yet Robert, ever the model of efficiency, found it impractical to pay for an entire oval’s-worth of glasses when he only needed the bottom half.

This stringent manner was also evident in Robert’s manner of speech.  The large man, who one could only assume had a booming voice, rarely ever spoke.  Robert preferred a short, sharp, “tsk”.  He felt that conveyed his typically annoyed opinion when confronted with unsatisfactory conditions.  If his coffee was served without the needed quarter inch for cream, he would reply, “tsk”.  Should a small child stand at his feet and ask if Robert was a sumo wrestler, the only reply the man would offer was, “tsk”.  As Robert approached the lion’s den, he could feel another “tsk” coming out.  Perhaps even a “tsk tsk”.

Proud Lion by Steve Linster

From a hundred yards away, Robert could see a lion and two lionesses sunning themselves on a rocky shelf.  The lionesses were sleeping, but the lion was still gnawing on its breakfast.  Even from the distance between them, Robert could tell that one more insurance liability had appeared.  The lion was chewing on a bone, which meant that the handlers were not serving the lion’s meal in accordance with their insurance policy.  Robert kept the files of each zoo at hand and he flipped to page seventy-two without pausing.  There, clear as could be in subsection nineteen, was the requirement that any and all food served to the residents of a zoo should be properly deboned to insure that no animal could choke on any obstructions.  Robert did not care how “harmless” bones were said to be.  If the lion chewed long enough, the bone might splinter and the remnants could cut the animal, thereby causing a possible claim.  That of course, was nowhere as bad as the lion being taken by surprise and accidentally swallowing the bone as portrayed in some of the sillier nineteen-twenty’s comedies.

Robert looked down at the long list of problems with the zoo.  The penguin habitat did not have any non-slip pads on the watery rocks.  The tuxedo-clad animals could slip and slide on such dangerous surfaces and break a wing or cause a concussion.  The perches for the flamingoes were far too perilous and the grass was far too wet.  Robert had paid out a claim for a flamingo with a broken neck and promised that he would never have to do so again.  Then there were the monkeys.  Robert did not care what sort of monkeys they were; he only knew that they were not being given disposable gloves.  If the animals decided to comb each other or, heaven forbid, start flinging their feces about, the spread of disease would be horrific.  Robert shuddered once more at the thought.  The price of replacing inflicted monkeys was so outrageous that Robert could not even manage to utter a “tsk”.

Robert lumbered his way towards the administration office.  The employees darted out of his way and avoided his gaze.  He had heard the rumors around the zoos.  Many institutions had a picture of him up in the offices and warned not to contact him unless an emergency occurred.  Robert had been told once that zoo staff knew that he had no sense of humor about regulations and that any phrase uttered might bring a bevy of fines against any institution he oversaw.  Robert was satisfied with the effect.  He wanted all of his clients to adhere to the rules stringently and to live in terror if they did not.  Without Robert and his fellow ZEALs, these kinds of places would certainly go wild, and he just would not have that.

Identity Crisis: It Bugs One Until They’re Daffy

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Identity Crisis: It Bugs One Until They’re Daffy

Human identity is the most fragile thing that we have, and it’s often only found in moments of truth.” -Alan Rudolph

Sam didn’t start off feeling like he was at war with himself.  Until a friend made a casual observation, Sam had never really questioned his identity.  Was he an outgoing type that waddled around, or was he the twitchy type that scurried off whenever danger approached?  Sam used to act on his instinct and treat life on a case by case basis.  But the more others made observations, the more he felt like he had to fit into one category or the other.  When it came to his identity, there was no gray matter according to Sam’s cohorts.  It all came down to one question:  Was Sam a duck or a rabbit?

To everyone around him, it seemed like the simplest of questions.  Ducks swam in water, rabbits liked dry land.  Sam tried to reason with them that ducks still breathed air and walked on the grass.  Also, rabbits could swim.  Why should he have to choose?

The arguments only got more intense.  Ducks had bills, rabbits had teeth.  Ducks had feathers, rabbits had fur.  Ducks quacked loudly while rabbits barely made a sound.  Surely Sam could figure out which he was and stick to that.

The trouble was, Sam didn’t see the discussion as black and white.  There were days when he woke up and found himself feeling quite sociable.  He would walk around, see some friends, and quack merrily to them.  He flapped his wings excitedly while telling a story and swam in a nearby lake with a tight formation of his friends joining in the fun.

Then there were times when Sam wanted to shut the world out.  He poked his head out of his habitat early in the morning, looked around, and tried to avoid the crowds.  He went out, got his breakfast, and came straight home.  He might huddle around a few close friends, but he wasn’t always in the mood to see other animals.  Sam had a pile of books on his shelves at home and was quite content to spend quiet hours reading them.

ImageThe other animals liked Sam; there was no question about that.  Still, they felt like they needed some sort of a resolution.  When they saw him, they didn’t know how to treat him from day to day.  Would this be a good day to go for a swim, or was he going to nibble on carrots?  Would he help them dig out a spot for a community bunker, or would he fly away from them?  Soon, sides were taken.  There were Sam’s swimming friends that thought he was at his best when he quacked and flapped in the pond with them.  Naturally, the more land-based critters showed where Sam had dug up a patch of carrots and had shared them with a needy family.  They argued that no duck could ever dig up a bundle of carrots, so therefore he must be a rabbit.

Sam grew weary of the pulling back and forth.  He liked his friends, both sets of them.  Finally, enough had been enough.  He couldn’t take the demands being placed upon him anymore.  Knowing that a mutual meeting place would keep feathers (and fur) from getting ruffled, Sam announced a gathering at the nearby park.  There, where the meadow gave way to the lake, Sam would address his friends.

The squirrels gathered with the raccoons and chittered about excitedly.  The frogs croaked to the trout and made their opinion known.  Soon, Sam appeared.  He thanked them all for coming and told them that he appreciated how much they all seemed to care.  Without further delay, he made his announcement.  He was going to continue to live as both rabbit and duck.

The ruckus from the gathered creatures was considerable.  Voices were raised, fur was angrily shed, and there was discord among the animals.  Sam racked his brain for what to do.  He had to restore order.  Then it happened.

The animals stopped their arguing and bickering as they heard an odd sound.  It was like two sounds emanating from the same source.  Sure enough, they turned around and found that both noises were coming from Sam.  He was quacking and thumping his foot against a hollow log.  The quack-drumming held all the animals’ attention.  It was true; Sam really could be part of both worlds.

There are still some tense moments in the animal kingdom.  Some animals can’t accept identity shifts easily and Sam does his best to be patient with them.  He’s the extrovert that lets others have the spotlight and the introvert who likes to party.  He is an excellent swimmer and digger.  There are things he still can’t do very well.  He’s not the greatest tree climber and he is hardly an intimidating figure.  But Sam does something that no other animal can do.  He is a very excellent Sam, and that’s all he ever wanted to be.

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