Gimme bears on bicycles

I must be getting old.

It’s funny how things looked so different when I was a child. The house and neighborhood that I grew up in always seemed so vast and spacious, but now it feels tiny and cramped. The photos of that first girlfriend who I thought had supermodel  looks now reveal a face that only a mother could love.The t.v.show that seemed so hilarious as a child now is more embarrassing that anything else. I don’t know what accounts for this but maybe the years that pass serve to change our tastes. This is true of not only people or events but also of places as well. Those childhood locales that once seemed so magical tend to lose that magic as we get older. While places like Disney World still hold sway over me, other places have lost their allure.

I recall as a school boy that no school field trip or family outing caused me more excitement than a trip to the zoo. Yesterday being a great day for getting out and about, I picked up the wife and and my son and his friend and we headed out for a lovely day at the local zoological gardens. Wait a minute. I guess I need to be honest here. The real reason that we went to the zoo yesterday was because it was the annual $2.00 admission day. And since thanks to the nationwide drought(no global warming my ass) , it looks like the price on everything is about to go up so we decided to take advantage of the deal.

I love it when my wife and younger child are able to accompany me on an outing. However, I have a confession to make, a dirty little secret that I must share. Don’t tell anyone but…..the zoo sucks. That is it. I said it and now I feel really guilty about it. I don’t know what happened. I used to love the zoo and now I find it excruciatingly painful.  It’s like  sweet potato pie. It is something that I should enjoy, but frankly just makes me nauseous.

Maybe it is my zoo’s fault. The zoo here in Jacksonville, Florida used to be pathetic. Due to the prominence of concrete and steel in the cage construction, our zoo used to be more urban that our downtown. The animals on display were awful too. They were not the noble creatures that Jim Fowler likes to go on the Leno show and brag about. Rather, they more closely resembled the rejects from some kind of animal Half-way House. Not that I blame them. The weather here in North Florida can be less than hospitable so I guess like good government, good animals stay the hell out of our area.

But, oh what a menagerie it was. There was Leo the lion that just didn’t care. Sorry, but  this king of beast had long since abdicated anything that  resembled a regal presence. Unfortunately, his apathy toward anything other than his food trough would soon infect all aspects of the zoo. There were lazy ostriches which would just lie there resembling the world’s largest and ugliest feather dusters. There were the gross little monkeys who would happily spend the day snacking on discarded cigarette butts. I am quite sure that Darwin never foresaw our primate cousins evolving into some kind of degenerate miniature  Malboro Men. There were the water buffalo who seemed intent on maintaining their title as the randiest of all of God’s creatures. I grew up in city devoid of alcohol sales on Sunday and where a man could not buy a beer inside a topless bar. However, any Church youth group unlucky enough to visit our zoo would be exposed to hours and hours of bovine coitus. Nevertheless, the star of our unfortunate animal refuge was the polar bear, correction, the green polar bear. This poor creature was caged outside in the Florida heat, a situation even our native animals try their best to avoid.He was not provided any kind of air conditioned shelter so his only means of cooling himself was by continually immersing himself in the swimming pool in his enclosure. And thanks to the algae in this pool, the bear turned lime green. Now having a green polar bear may be great for winning bar bets with out-of-towners, but it destroys your faith in the people running your zoo.

The zoo’s general malaise was also reflected in the laziness of the zoo’s design. The bears of the non-green variety were housed in concrete pits. Sorry Mr. Grizzly, but nothing says that you ain’t in Yellowstone like being surrounded by hardened stone. Even the signs labeling the animals were haphazardly done. I guess the theory being that in 95 degree heat, nobody is going to notice whether you are staring at a gazelle or an impala. As you moved to the back of the zoo, most of the signs just said,”animal” on them.

The zoo went through a renovation in the early 1990s and is now a great home for animals. The  habitats are open and seemingly barrier free. They do a good job of emulating the natural environment of the respective creatures. So this  means I should like it more not less, right? But something just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s the admission prices. A non-discounted admission costs $20. $20? When you are questioning then girls in the box office, and for some reason its always girls, they give some song and dance about the funds being necessary for the feeding of the animals. Where the hell are they buying this food, a convenience store? Maybe the zoo needs to find some unique ways to cut costs. I, of course have a few suggestions.

First of all, cut down on the number of animals. Do we really need 26 varieties of parrots? When I was growing up I knew there was only one type of bird worth having. It drank beer and hung out with Baretta. The rest of these birds do have a place in the universe and that is either

sticking out of women’s hats or underneath a sticker that reads, “Cornish game hens”. There are other ways to trim the fat at the zoo too. I know the zoo keepers and all the other animal experts have these complex thoeries about animal management, but I got one too. I think it’

s time for some good old fashioned survival of the fittest. I say we tear down some walls literally between the species. It would be like a March Madness for animals. We could do the seeding based on animal populatity. Sorry Mr. Wormheaded Slimeweasel you just drew the 16th seed and are facing off against the Cheetah. Good luck. The animals would get at least a fighting chance as long as they could fight and we would get a show. Just imagine the fun of filling out your bracket at the office. And this time, a Cinderella story might actually include mice.

Another zoo issue that needs addressing is the smell.  No, I am not talking anout the odors that the animals naturally produce, I am talking about the paying customers. I find it ironic that there is a strict No Shoes No Shirt No Service policy but deodorant use remains completely voluntary. Listen up. If I am going to brave temperatures that rival those on Venus, I should not have to endure the offending odors of those who  missed the memo about the invention of Speed Stick. We just left the petting zoo, and the goats smell better than you.

Speaking of the petting zoo, I like the direction of making the animals more assertive in the entertainment. But why stop there? Why should the goats have to carry the load alone. Do you know you much people pay to dive with sharks in Australia? I have a blank check for the zoo and a list of people that I would love to see locked up with any carnivore you got. But, it doesn’t end there. As anyone who was seen Mary Poppins can confirm, penguins make great waiters.Why not let other animals earn their keep as well? If I am going to have to park at the far end of the parking lot in order to visit the zoo. Then, dammit, there better be a rickshaw pulled by zebras to pick me up. And can we please stop celebrating every time an animal gives birth. I, for one, am tired of feeling obligated to applaud these creatures for having a sex life. This is a zoo, not a brothel. Ironically, the only animals not doing it like rabbits…are the rabbits. So how about the next trick we teach them is abstinence. All I need to figure out is how to buy a promise ring that fits a three-toed sloth.

O.k., zoo keepers the ball is in your court. And, if you can’t fix the zoo, at least answer me one question:

What kind of wine do you serve with wildebeest?

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