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Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Penguin Incident.

My friend Sarah and I have been raising holy hell together since we were in eighth grade, almost fourteen years now. Even though we don't get a chance to talk or hang out much anymore, I would still consider her among my best friends, because she laughs at my jokes, and also, because we can tell each other anything at all without fear of judgement.

When we were younger, we pulled a lot of shenanigans, including ghost hunting in the local cemetery and getting stoned at a football game and buying popcorn at the movie theater so we could sit on the steps and throw it at people. Sometimes we'd drive around and yell at people out the window just for kicks. You have to understand that we grew up in a very small, rural town, where most of the guys had trucks taller than their trailer-houses. We certainly weren't interested in those guys, and fun was hard to come by, so when we ran out of stuff do in town, we'd head over to Grand Rapids, a large-ish city not too far from here. (We called it Grand Crapids back then. I still do.)

Grand Rapids is a total shit town, but it would like to think it's fantastically progressive, so it has a couple gay bars and an art museum and a shitty little zoo. And in the winter, you can get into the zoo for free, so me and Sarah, and sometimes our other friends, would go hang out at the zoo, since we were too young to get into the gay bars and too loud to be anything other than a nuisance at the art museum.

The Penguin Incident, as it has been infamously labelled, occurred in the winter of 2000/2001. I was living in the city with the previously mentioned abusive ex, and Sarah was living with her parents, like the nice girl she always has been. One day, Sarah called me. "Get your coat on," she said. "I'm coming over and we're going to the zoo."

...............

She ran up and gave a quick hello to the asshole ex, and we then we piled into her mom's astro van and headed over the to zoo. Or as our progressive wanna-be city calls it, the Zoological Gardens. Pretentious fucks.

We got a pretty good parking spot, because most normal people don't go to the zoo in subzero temperatures, not even in Michigan, and eagerly ran up to the ticket booth like a couple of little kids. (Looking back, we actually were little kids. When you get to a certain age, eighteen is little.)
There was a guy sitting there, selling free tickets, which we thought was hysterical. And then we went in.

The first thing we saw was a cement pond with a bunch of ducks and geese and a lone flamingo standing around on the ice. "Why doesn't he just fly away?" Sarah asked, so I ran towards it, yelling and flailing my arms, but it just shifted it's weight to the other leg and looked at me noncommittally. "It's frozen," I told her. "That pink fucker is frozen."

After the pond, you have to walk up like thirty five thousand cement steps. If they were normal sized steps, there would only be maybe twelve, but the assholes who built the zoo thought it would be cute to put in a zillion little steps - the kind that you just can't walk on with any sort of rhythm. Up a step, skip two, up one, skip three, up two, fall on your ass because you lost the rhythm.

At the top of the steps is a bald eagle in a flight cage, which is ironic, because the sign by the bald eagle clearly states the he can't fly. And in the cage next to him are two golden eagles, which aren't golden at all. They're brown.

And then, after you walk up some more ostentatious little steps and around some big maintenance buildings, you get to the Living Shores aquarium building, which houses the Patagonia exhibit. I was just thinking, as I was writing this - where the hell is Pata-frickin'-gonia? I thought those were shoes. Turns out, Patagonia is the southern part of South America. And do you know what lives in Patagonia?

Penguins.

But they're not the big icy ones. They're little, maybe a foot tall, and they live where it's warm and they're kind of cute. And at the zoo, they live in a big glass tank with fake rocks on the outside. The tank doesn't go all the way up to the ceiling - it's only maybe twelve feet high, and the ceiling in the Patagonia room is a big blue dome with birds flying around, to try to make you forget that you live in frickin' Michigan.

Anyway, there are big fake rocks around the edge of the glass, and if you climb up on them, you can get right up to the edge of the glass, and the water line is maybe ten inches lower than the rim of the glass. And the penguins like to swim on their backs right near the edge.

I noticed this right away, and being that I share 99% of my DNA with monkeys (shut up, you do too) I took the opportunity and scaled those rocks like I was in a race or something. And I reached my arms down and with both hands, I grabbed me a penguin.

Now, if you are like I was, you might think penguins would love to be held and stroked and talked baby talk to. But guess what? They don't. Believe it or not, despite their cuteness, penguins are actually wild animals who are terrified of human beings. Terrified.

The penguin completely and totally freaked out. It made this sound, like "harnk, harnk!" and tried to flip its way out of my hands. The noise it made, coupled with the frantic splashing of its cute little flipper-limbs, set the rest of the penguins and two seagulls into a complete frenzy. All of a sudden, a hundred cute little penguins were going "harnk, harnk!" and the two seagulls were going "craw-WAK! craw-WAK!" and the they all jumped in the water and swam around furiously. At some point I let the penguin go, but I was so surprised by the chaos that ensued, that I don't even remember it.

I jumped down from the rocks and looked back at Sarah, who had the strangest look on her face. She looked really, really worried, and then when she caught my eye, she burst into laughter. And that made me laugh, and we sat down on a bench and laugh helplessly, till we were crying and the penguins had settled down.

I don't remember the rest of the zoo. But on the way home, we saw a guy fall off his bike into heavy traffic.

As we rode home, we kept thinking of the penguins, and we'd collapse into laughter again. And when we got back, we told the ex about it, and he didn't laugh. He said "you could have been arrested," and I told him, yeah right. Even cops know better than to go to the zoo in the middle of January, and if by some weird circumstance there had been a cop there, he would have laughed too. It's not every day you see a whole herd of penguins going bananas at the zoo.

2 comments:

breedermama said...

I adore that you thought that you could just grab a penguin and start petting it. Luckily I wasn't with you because you would've climbed down and looked at me only to find a breeder-shaped cloud. Seagulls scare the crap out of me. Fur realz.

Jenni said...

leave it to ninja mom to make the zoo in winter intersting! I have a friend like Sarah too - they are the best.