Re: Of Leopards and Their Spots
“So, what’s so special about today?” I tried once more. We stood in line, my hand still in hers.
“Oh, you know, one of their theme days.” Skye carelessly shrugged her bare shoulders, an elegant glide of bones under smooth skin. She gently drummed her fingers on the back of my hand while we took a small step forward, moving up in line.
Flippant. I would’ve been suspicious she was blowing me off or intentionally avoiding the question if that wasn’t so Skye. She was even laissez faire with her finals. While I would be holed up in the library or in my dorm, panicking, stressing and studying all night, Skye would be out clubbing or getting stoned. By some miracle she managed to pass her classes. She was more fond of saying she was a “student of life”. If she didn’t consider it important, she simply was not going to remember or pay it much attention, no matter what the rest of the world thought.
“You had this planned, but you don’t remember the theme?” I wasn’t going to let this go so easily.
“Yah.” Skye glanced sideways at me. "Relax, Gavi-poo. We’re here to have fun. You’re too tense. Just let go and roll with the flow. " She shook my arm playfully. “We’ll find out what’s going down when we get inside. You dig?”
“Yeah, I guess.” She had a point. Did it really matter what the theme was? I relaxed and she rewarded me with a lopsided half smile. I glowed with pleasure, feeling both pride at making her smile and feeling foolish for making such a big deal about a silly theme.
The line moved again. I looked around at the couples everywhere. “I thought there’d be more kids. This being a family place and all.” I mused out loud.
Skye shrugged nonchalantly again. “It’s still early. The kids will probably come later.” She also had a point there. Getting small children ready for a full day out probably took time, so families probably wouldn’t arrive until later.
We were almost at the ticket booth now. The curvy woman with tight, frizzy blonde curls and obvious boob job in front of us dug through her purse to pay while chatting with the clerk. The man with her was a stereotypical lunk. All muscle, no brains with a huge helping of inflated ego. A walking wall of muscle topped by a handsome, chiseled face, dark brown eyes and dark brown hair with blonde highlights gelled up into crispy spikes. He probably lived at the gym and guzzled protein shakes. And he was looking right at Skye with a confident, roguish twinkle in his eyes. He glanced at me once with an expression like I was something smelly he’d stepped in.
I hated meat heads like him. My old insecurities rushed up to pick and peck at my self confidence. I gazed down at my sandals. My childhood had been spent as a magnet for red rubber dodgeballs hurled by knuckledraggers like him. Was this the kind of guy Skye cheated on me with? She wouldn’t be interested in him- I told myself- she was here with me. This was our special day. Right?
Despite the shaky self-pep talk, my fingers tightened around Skye’s as if by holding on I could keep her at my side. She was like a beautiful, exotic bird that could fly away at any moment. I curled in on myself, instinctively shrinking back from the hunky lunk. Did he cheat on his woman the way Skye had cheated on me? No, she promised me. I believed her. I had to.
A gentle but firm tug on my hand pulled my stiff body to her side. I watched her sky blue eyes skim dismissively over the lunk then she leaned in, bending down in those high platform shoes to press a kiss to my cheek. I wouldn’t look at the muscled meat sack, but I smiled with relief. Yes, Skye was here just for me. For us.
She tugged gently again, pulling me forward this time. Lunky had lumbered away, led off by his girlfriend. As she paid for our tickets and guided me into the zoo, my nerves slowly calmed down. Skye seemed to sense this; her thumb rubbed soothing circles on the back of my hand. She kept me closer than normal, our bodies almost touching.
“Hey babe, chill. It’s just you and me today.” Skye cajoled gently. She pointed up with her free hand. My eyes followed her arm up to a huge map. “Where should we go first? Monkeys, big cats, bears……oh, here we go! A mini safari!” She talked more to herself than to me, like it was up to her to make all the decisions. It made me feel small, almost childlike inside.
“A Safari? Like an African Safari? Is it safe?” My mind filled with National Geographic images of lions and angry elephants attacking jeeps.
“Worry wart.” Skye just smiled in amusement. “Of course it’s safe. The animals are in pens here. It’s not like we’re going out into the wild savannah.” She paused for a heartbeat. “That might be fun, too. Oh, Gavin, look! How cute!” She cried excitedly, taking off and sweeping me up in her enthusiastic whirlwind as if I were a fluttering leaf.
I stumbled behind her, caught off guard and kept off balance by her constant tugging on my hand. She stopped as suddenly as she had started. My unsteady momentum kept going while she stood still. I tripped, but her arms wrapped around my waist, steadying me. One hand briefly brushed over my butt, the touch so light it was probably an accident. Or a very, very sneaky grope disguised as an accident. Either way, I blushed, my cheeks bright pink at the contact. I nervously looked around at the crowd; no one seemed to have notice Skye’s hand on my butt.
That’s when I saw what had Skye so enraptured. We had joined a small throng of zoo visitors gathered around some employees promoting today’s special theme. I stared in shock, rubbing my eyes. A young woman in typical khaki zoo uniform and shiny name badge stood in front of a small cart on wheels. A huge sign hung from the cart’s side. It read “Mother and Cub Day” in bright, multi-colored letters. Happy cartoon animals in diapers had been painted around the letters. Balloons in a rainbow of colors were tied to each end of the cart. The most ridiculous part of all were the two tall men flanking the short woman. Clowns. They had bright red, round rubber noses and happy, smiley face paint. The clown on the left wore a curly blue fright wig, and the one on the right a matching neon green. Both wore the typical khaki uniform top and shiny name badge with typical zoo employee shoes. The typical khaki shorts had been replaced by diapers.
I rubbed my eyes. Was I seeing that? Yes, they were diapered. Adult clowns in diapers, what could be funnier? And not just any diaper. A Safari diaper with happy cartoon zoo animals plastered all over it. That print looked so familiar…. Only an Adult Baby would know about something like that. If this was done as a stray gag, any diaper off the grocery store shelf would do. To a normal adult, a diaper was a diaper. To an Adult Baby, the diaper details were everything. Not that I’m an AB, mind you. I only knew from ….my occasional curious googling. That was it. Yet a pit opened up in my stomach. My nerves jangled. I wanted to puke.
I tugged on Skye’s hand. “Let’s go. I don’t feel good. We’ll come back another day.” I tried to sound mellow and cool, but my voice shook, betraying how I truly felt.
“You felt fine this morning. It’s probably just nerves; the zoo is a little crowded today. We’ll walk around and the crowd will thin out. It’s a big park. It’ll be okay.” She squeezed my fingers reassuringly and pressed her lips to my forehead. I could smell the minty gum she’d chewed earlier.
“But, the clowns-”
She pressed a finger gently to my lips, cutting me off. “Shh. You don’t have a fever; you’re just nervous, baby. Just relax and let me take care of everything. You always worry so much. Today is our day, I got it all planned out. I just wanna see you relax and enjoy yourself, babe. Just chillax and go with the flow.” Skye planning was one hell of an oxymoron. But she was doing all this for me. This had been a particularly rough semester with intense classes for me; I had spent the months tense, worried and wound up; towards finals I was practically a neurotic nutcase. Skye had noticed- hell, she had even planned all this- just to help me. Touched, my heart softened and I looked into her eyes. The warm, tender expression in that concerned blue gaze melted my anxiety away.
“Well….I guess it …couldn’t hurt to just walk around a little.” I mumbled. “But those clowns are ridiculous. Those diapers.” I shuddered and took a step away from the balloons and diapered clowns, trying to pull Skye along with me.
She just tugged me back to her side. “It’s cute, just a promotional gag. Mom and Cub day with silly baby clowns giving away balloons. Ooh, and the girl’s giving out freebies! It looks like a big bag, too! The zoo’s really going all out today. I knew I had good vibes about this!” She squealed happily. She loved samples and freebies- it was a great way to discover new products. I couldn’t argue with that logic.
“It’s ridiculous. They’re obviously going for a family theme here, but there’s no families. It’s all just couples like us.” I pointed out, glancing around. Nope, not one kid yet. I just wanted to get away from those horrible diapers. Clowns. Get away from the clowns. My eyes darted around the crowd, but they kept straying unwillingly back to the colorful happy diapers. With the face paint, it was hard to read the clowns’ expressions. Poor bastards; they had my sympathies. Walking around in a diaper all day. A tiny part of me wondered what that would feel like? That was the same part of me that had probed me into googling all that Adult Baby stuff. I ruthlessly squashed the stray thoughts.
Skye smiled like she thought I was being silly. “It’s still early. The babies will come later. It takes time to get them ready.”
Okay, I could see that……“But then why are all these couples here for a family themed day?”
She giggled. “Because the weather is perfect. Like I knew it would be; I told you I had a good feeling about today. Women’s intuition.” She pushed forward, taking her turn at the front of the crowd and dragging me with her. The smiling woman in khaki uniform handed Skye a big plastic bag plastered with smiling cartoon giraffes, monkeys, zebras, and lions. Just like the Safari diapers the clowns wore. What use would kiddie crap be to us? Still, a small part of me wondered what was in the bag…
Next to us, the clown in curly neon green wig and huge, eye-catching diaper handed an orange balloon to the spiky haired lunk from the ticket booth. Lunky took it with a “what the hell” expression on his face. His frizzy haired girlfriend with the manufactured, oversized hooters held the gift bag. Before he could notice us, she was already leading the confused-looking jackoff away. I quickly ducked behind Skye; for once I was glad she had worn her heels. I worried the muscled moron would look back and see us, or even worse, one of those damn diapered clowns would try to hand me a balloon. My cheeks burned with just the thought. Maybe they were trying their spiel out on couples as a practice run for when the families with babies arrived later on?
The female employee handed out gift bags to all the females, while the diapered clowns attempted to hand out balloons to the hapless guys. Quite a few feminine retorts of “Take it, don’t be rude!” and “Say thank you!” were heard amongst the small crowd. Typical women forcing their men to mind their manners. I guess women saw us men as nothing but brutes in need of civilizing.
Luckily, I avoided the balloons and diapers. Clowns. Not soon enough for my taste, we walked away from the crowd with Skye happily digging through the gift bag. I pointedly looked away, keeping my gaze focused on the surrounding, landscaped trees and bushes or on the cement path beneath our feet. Temptation nagged and I sneaked a few sideways glances. Just what all was in that bag? Normally a promotional give away was just a few things- poster, stickers, t-shirts, water bottles. Small, cheap crap like that. Nothing to write home about. I could tell just from the size of the bag and the way it bulged out like a toddler’s puffy, diapered bottom that this was the motherload. It was like several promotions all rolled into one. The size of the bag had me curious; that was it.
Skye pawed through the bag like a curious raccoon. She “oohed” and “awwed” in excitement over the freebies. I didn’t see what was so great about it. Not like we’d be able to use any of that crap. She caught me looking several times; each time I quickly looked away.
“Wanna see? There’s some really great stuff in here.” She offered, holding the open bag out to me.
Happy sappy baby lions and giraffes smiled up at me. I immediately jerked my head away, nose up in the air. “No, thank you. I don’t see how any of that stuff would be useful for us. It’s just for kids and families, right?”
“Oh, Gavi-poo, you’re thinking inside the box. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Oooh! Coupons! Yay!” As carefree and careless as a lucrative stripper could be, Skye had also been raised by a family on a tight budget. She knew to appreciate a good coupon when she saw one. “Free drinks!” She elbowed me with a good-natured grin. “And you thought there’d be nothing in here for us.”
“Well…maybe it’s not that useless after all.” I half-heartedly grumbled. Her smiles and cheer were infectious; this was how she’d gotten me to agree to come here in the first place.
“That’s the spirit, my Gavi-poo.” Skye said in a perky sing-song.
“So,” I shuffled my feet, looking at the ground, “where do we go from here?”
“HURR-EEE, HURR-EEE!” Another diapered clown- this one with a curly yellow wig and a beer gut hanging out over his diaper- blared into a megaphone. “Ladies and gentle-boys,” he hollered among the throngs of couples only now just beginning to spread out after the ticket counter and gift bag handout, “step right up!”
“Look Gavi!” Skye pointed him out as if I couldn’t see him not even fifty feet away. It seems my question was being answered.
“Step right up, folks!” he bellowed, “Take the safari tram ride. Why walk, when you can take a whirlwind tour of the zoo and see the sights before you experience them?”
“Oh, Gavi,” Skye nudged me towards the clown. “Let’s do it. It’ll be fun!” I looked at the clown, his ridiculous ensemble beckoning all to stare at him, and my feet became leaden. Skye must have felt my resistance. “Oh come on, Gavi-poo, don’t be like that.” She teased. "If it’s the mean old clown that’s bothering you, I can always cover your eyes while we walk past.
On the periphery of my vision, I caught site of the guy in front of the line, with his tank-top, and denim shorts, and pierced ears; a grizzled five o’clock shadow highlighting his stupid cocky grin while his eyes wandered over every girl in the park but the one he was with.
His girlfriend finally seemed to notice, giving him a sharp elbow in the side, making him recoil. A look of pure petulance came across his smug face. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but the gist of their body language seemed to communicate her annoyance and his lack of care towards her feelings. Like, “So what? Why are you gettin’ mad?”
I saw her frizzy hair turn towards and gesture towards the clown and his announcement about the tram ride. The crowd was beginning to split now. Part going for the ride, the others deciding to start walking and observing the animals right away. He shook his head and crinkled his nose before pointing towards the section of people who didn’t want to ride the tram before giving his lady friend a quick slap on the ass and a grope for good measure.
“On second thought,” I leaned over to Skye, “tram’s fine. We’re gonna be here all day, so let’s get the most out of it. Get the full experience.” Anything to get away from that douche nozzle. Prick hadn’t said one word to me yet, and already I hated him.
“Okie dokie!” Skye agreed as she practically began to skip along into the crowd going on the tram ride. I had to to break out in a half-jog just to keep up. On the bright side, as annoying as it was to play catch-up with Skye, it was very gratifying to watch her walk away.
As we got closer to the clown in the yellow fright wig, Skye stopped abruptly and pivoted around to face me. “Don’t worry, Gavi-poo, I’ll save you!” She through her hands over my face, covering my eyes. “Now, the big bad clown won’t hurt you.,” she teased in a rather convincing baby-talk voice.
“Skye…” I groaned in exasperation. “Come on. Can’t we just be normal this one time?”
“Normal’s overrated,” I could feel Skye grinning, even with her hands cupped over my eyes. “Tell ya what, Gavi-kins,” she offered. “Every ten steps you take, I’ll give you a little kiss. Deal?” I
“Deal,” I smiled. I took a deep breath and strode forward blindly, taking awkward, lumbering steps; torn between getting this ridiculous exercise in flirting over with and seeing just how many kisses I could get out of this bit.
“Wheeeeeere’s Gavin?” Skye cooed on the tenth step. Her hands fluttered open like window shutters, revealing her radiant face and beautiful eyes. “There he is!” she cried out before giving me a playful peck on the lips. Then, like a cuckoo clock, my pretty little bird drew back, and her hands slammed shut over my eyes again.
Once again, I continued walking. More confident with each step. People must have been aware of our shenanigans and were giving us plenty of room to perform. Normally, I might be averse to such public displays, but Skye always did manage to coax me out of my shell. Besides, my eyes were covered. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say.
“Eight…nine…ten!” Skye counted. “Wheeeeere’s Gavin?” Once again she flashed into my sight. "There he iiiiiis! I couldn’t help but chuckle a little this second time as she rewarded me with a second peck on the lips.
“Three…four…five…” Skye counted, but then I felt her push up against me. “Hold on baby, we’re out of room. Line is forming up.” She removed her hands from my eyes, and I slumped a little bit in disappointment. That third kiss would have been nice. “Oh, what the hell,” she remarked before covering my eyes again.
“Wheeeeeeere’s Gavin?” I grinned like an idiot in anticipation. “There he iiiis!” Skye sang out before leaning forward and giving me one last peck.
As we continued to shuffle along with the rest of the huddled masses, and proper lines began to form around security railings; we came to a canopied area that gave us a little break in some shade. Within the canopy there were big and tall aquariums filled with all sorts of little animals.
It was actually pretty smart, really. While a bunch of people were waiting to get on a tram to go see the big animals in reasonable facsimiles of their natural habitats, we could casually view smaller critters in their controlled underground and underwater habitats. It was nothing spectacular mind you, but it was more interesting to look at and mentally digest than the back of some guy’s head or the guard railing making us shuffle up and down like rats in a maze or something.
The first thing I could see was a decent sized aquarium. Little tropical fish swam around in it, oblivious to everything outside of the water. On the tank were the names of the different fish and a little plaque about what region they were originally from. It was a little weak, honestly. I’d seen similar tanks and nearly identical fish in restaurants and pet stores. Look. Yawn. Move on.
Next, as the line shuffled along was a rather impressive ant farm. It started at my feet and went up over my head. Hey, if you’re gonna do stuff with small animals, go big. Once again, there little placards and stickers all over the glass.
Blah-blah-blah, live in colonies, blah-blah-blah this batch from South America, blah-blah-blah, queen lays a whole bunch of eggs. They were almost like your typical picnic-invading ant. Except for their jumbo size- larger than my thumbnail- and nasty tendency to swarm and attack anything near their extensive nests. Worker-ants, guard ants, male drones for reproduction and nothing else, larvae, nurse ants, yadda-yadda-yadda.
The line lingered a bit in a spot, giving me time to fully take in the spectacle of tiny little creatures living out their tiny little lives on display; and like one of those old magic-eye pictures, the random scurrying and chaos of the giant ant colony came into focus for me. All around, ants were scurrying with purpose and activity. Something had taken place that was making it an all hands on deck situation in ant land.
I leaned over the railing a bit to get a closer look. All over the colony there were tiny little, wriggling grubs. At first I suspected these were mealworms or something put in by the staff. It was feeding time. But I immediately decided against that when I saw that the ants weren’t eating the little wriggling things.
Instead, I saw the ants carry the writhing and frankly creepy little blops through the tunnel to a single compartment. Were those larvae? Baby ants? Why were they all separated and only now being moved? Had some asshole shaken up the tank causing the nurse ants to move the larvae all around and only now they were getting reorganized? But it was just ants. What did I know? I’m not an entomologist.
“Look, Gavin!” Skye nudged me as the line for the tram kept inching along. She pointed to yet another aquarium filled with tunnel and dirt; only these tunnels didn’t have ants scurrying around them. Tiny little bald, wrinkled, pink rodents with yellowed teeth too big for their mouths dug and squirmed through the tunnels.
“Awwwwwww,” Skye cooed at the tank. “Naked mole-rats! Aren’t they cute, Gavi?” Cute? Not really. Maybe cute in a so-ugly-they’re-cute sort of way. Kind of like those troll dolls that my big sister used to collect before I was born and kept on her dresser growing up. Nah…troll dolls at least had hair.
“Kind of,” I lied. It was a harmless lie, and it kept the conversation going. I had never seen a real naked mole rat. Closest I had ever seen was a cartoon one on that o
ne Disney show about the kickass cheerleader spy and her doofus friend who was way below her league. Didn’t they hook up in the end? Was I the doofus friend with the naked mole rat in this relationship? “I didn’t know they lived in colonies,” I said blandly.
“Well, obviously,” Skye smirked at me. “I mean, the evidence is right there in front of our eyes.”
“Yup,” I sighed, boredly, “those are naked mole rats alright. And they’re living in colonies.”
“And if it looks like a naked mole rat,” Skye grinned mischievously at me. “And it scurries like naked mole rat.”
“Seriously?” I smirked back at her. “You’re stretching the phrase that much?”
“What?!” Skye brought her hands up to her chest in a coy little who-me pose, her playful smile trying to be concealed by mock confusion…and failing. “There aren’t any ducks around here.” She giggled playfully. “I’m just saying, those look like naked mole rats, and they’re living in a colony, so clearly…” she let the thought drop off.
“Naked mole rats live in a colony,” I finished the sentence for her. Skye was being so weird, today. But then again that wasn’t much different from any other day. I liked her weird.
Once again, my eye caught a little scene of drama in the tank. A tiny little mole rat, it’s eyes barely open, stumbled alone through one of the dirt chambers. It’s whiskers twitched and probed as it’s head swayed slightly in the cramped corridor, like it was looking for something.
From behind, a bigger, adult mole rat came and grabbed the little one by the scruff of the neck and began dragging it around. The little one started thrashing about trying to escape the big one’s grasp while it was being dragged through a tunnel.
“Oh shit!” I whispered to Skye, pointing out what I was seeing. “I think the big one is an angry male and it’s about to eat that baby!” I told her. “A friend of mine with hamsters growing up saw this happen.”
Skye took in the sight, and then shook her head slightly.
“Uh-uh,” she said. “That’s not what’s happening. I’m betting that’s a mama rat. Look.” The big mole rat dragged the kicking and flailing baby one into a more spacious chamber and then released it. Then it gave the little thing a nudge and a lick. After a few seconds, the little one started peeing out little squirts into the chamber. When it was done, the big rat started dragging the little rat back out. This time, the little rat didn’t resist.
“How’d you know?” I turned to Skye.
“Because I can read, silly.” Skye indicated a sign on the tank right above the chamber the rat just urinated into.
It Read: NAKED MOLE RATS DESIGNATE A SPECIFIC CHAMBER IN THEIR COLONIES FOR URINATION AND DEFECATION. ADULTS DRAG THE PUPS TO THE CHAMBER TO RELIEVE THEMSELVES SO THAT THEY’LL KNOW WHERE TO GO WHEN THEY’RE GROWN
“It’s rat potty training!” Skye gushed, and brought her hand up to her mouth, suppressing another smile.
“Huh,” I shrugged. “Guess so.” Then I saw the baby rat deposited by the adult into another chamber filled with more pups, all squirming and feeding on their mothers. Then the adult rat picked another pup and began to drag it back to the rat latrine.
“That’s weird,” I mentioned to Skye.
“What’s weird?” Skye responded, her eyebrow arched.
“That little rat we just saw made it an awful long way away from the other baby rats. I can’t tell. Do you think that one’s older than the others?”
“I dunno,” Skye shrugged. “Maybe that rat was just a little too big for it’s britches.”
“Yeah, but it was almost there, too, before it got snatched up and dragged the rest of the way,” I offered.
“Maybe baby rat just needed a little help getting to the potty,” Skye offered. “It’s cute.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I conceded. “Animals are just weird, sometimes.”
“Yeah,” Skye agreed. “I try not to think about it too much. Come on, Gavi-kins. The line is moving. It’s almost our turn.”
The procession inched along; more the crowd getting restless than there being anywhere to go. Then, the rumbling, squeaking and clanking of a giant machine bore into our collective ears as a jeep pulling along a nearly leviathan trail of carts. The carts were mostly open sides; bench style seats with metal siding and metal canopy to provide shade. It was painted a dull brown and green with the Zoo’s logo on it, giving the impression it was ready to blend into the wild African savannah.
A woman who appeared to be in her mid thirties hopped out of a middle section of the carts. She wore a khaki button up shirt with the zoo’s logo on it, with matching shorts, and a pith helmet to complete the ensemble. She looked every part the cheesy theme park’s idea of “jungle explorer.”
“WHOOOOOOO’S READY FOR A SAFARI RIDE?!” She screamed out into a megaphone of her own.
The crowd, including myself, hooted and hollered with the cheap pop she was clearly expecting. I had decided that I really was here to have fun, so I might as well let myself get caught up in all this cheesiness.
“Then ladies and gentlemen, hop on in! We’ve got some exploring to do!”, our tour guide announced. Excitedly, we all bounded for the tram and crammed ourselves in, four to a cart, two on each side.
Across from us, another couple sat, a man with long, almost hippie like hair, kept back in a ponytail, and what I assumed was his short, pixie cut girlfriend. Both of their skins were bronzed from hours of prior sun exposure. Their mutually laid back demeanor made me think they were both surfers or skaters. The type of people that did “extreme” sports but were otherwise laid back. The kind of people I honestly pictured Skye hanging with…and dating…before we met. They could have been related, honestly. As a couple they were nearly identical in attitude, while Skye and I felt…complimentary?
The dude-bro smiled lazily at me and gave me a polite nod.
“You two hear for the special event, too?”, the short little chick with the shorter hair asked Skye.
“You know it,” Skye beamed, as she wrapped an arm around my shoulder, pulling me closer to her and giving me a quick squeeze. The other woman reciprocated, and did the same to her boyfriend, adding in a quick little peck on the cheek.
“This is gonna be so fun, today!” she said, grinning giddily to Skye.
“I know, right?” Skye agreed.
I shot surfer-dude a questioning look. What was so cool about “Mother and Cub Day”? What did that even me? Was I the only one not in on the joke? He just gave me a slight shrug, moved his eyes towards his own girl, and then smiled as if to say “Who cares, she’s happy, I’m happy. Why not just go with it?”
Damnit…surfer-dude was right! Who cared what was going on as long as Skye and me were happy?
“Everyone loaded up?” The tour guide’s voice boomed out of speakers connected to the carts. “Okay, good. Here we go. Thank you folks,” the tour guide began what sounded like a prepared spiel, “for coming to our very special Mother and Cub Day. I’m your tour guide for this ride, Rhonda. Can everybody say ‘Hi Rhonda!’ ?”
“HI RHONDA!” We all yelled in chorus.
“Good,” Rhonda said in a nasally and stilted accent reminiscent of Mr. Rogers. “I knew you could.” We all chuckled at the terrible impression, probably first written back when more people knew who Mr. Rogers was.
The tram started to move and wind it’s way on the zoo pavement, doing a long U-turn like a snake coiling around it’s prey. I shuddered just thinking about that.
“Now,” Rhonda went on, twirling her pith helmet on her finger. "I bet that at least half of you are probably wondering: “Why Mother and Cub Day?” I saw plenty of heads attentively nod in the carts in front of me.
“Well, the answer is very simple,” Rhonda continued, still sounding like a spiel. “We’ve actually had what could be a breakthrough recently.”
“Dinosaurs?” I snarked to Skye. “Is this the part where they show us the dinosaurs?”
“Hush, Gavi-poo,” Skye ordered. “I wanna hear this.”
“As you may be aware,” Rhonda kept doing her prepared speech while the tram slowly chugged along, “it’s actually very difficult to get some animals to breed in captivity. But now, thanks to the magic of modern medicine, fortuitous timing, and some generous contributions by various corporations and philanthropic groups, we have made it so that there are new baby animals popping up in the zoo.”
A collective “Awwwwwwww” came from what seemed like every girlfriend, fiancee, wife, mother and sister, on the tram.
“That’s right. Thanks to some new medical breakthroughs including a combination of experimental immune boosters, fertility enhancements, and natural aphrodisiacs, we have a whole heap of proud new mamas in the zoo today and they are ready to show off their little ones to you all today!”
The applause was almost deafening as over half the train-mostly the women exploded into cheering and squees of joy. About half a second later, a lot of their dates were smart enough to clap along and hoot and holler with their spouses, but it was definitely the female half of the population that started the cheering.
Oh shit. A tiny neurotic thought burrowed out of nowhere deep into my brain. Was Skye pregnant? Was that why we were moving in together? Was that why I was being taken to “Mother and Cub Day” at the zoo? Was this how I found out.
“Hey,” I leaned in and whispered to Skye when there was a break in the applause. “Are you pregnant?”
Skye snorted derisively.
“No,” she whispered back. “Do you know what pregnancy would do to my figure?” That’s true. Pregnant strippers weren’t exactly a commonly sought after commodity. “'Sides, Gavi,” she whispered lovingly in my ear, “you’re all I need to take care of.” I shouldn’t have smiled a that. It was a little condescending. But I was all she needed. I liked that.
“But wait,” Rhonda the tour guide kept talking, “it get’s better! As a part of our marketing synergy, we’re going to pass on some of the magic to you!” Once again, more cheering broke out. This time though, not nearly as many guys cheered along. They all heard the bit about the fertility drugs, too.
“Don’t worry, boys,” Rhonda broke in through the cheering. “Don’t worry, we’re not including the fertility drugs. The FDA would have a field day with us if we did that. No one’s gonna be a daddy because of us.” Laughter greeted that pronouncement, this time more guys than girls. Girls laughed too, though. Skye looked like milk would have squirted out of her nose had she been drinking some.
“BUT…” Rhonda clarified once the laughter had died down, “we will be selling our very own energy drinks with nutritional and immune system boosting properties for men and women. Energy supplements and what not. Nothing you wouldn’t add to an after workout smoothie or chug after a game of basketball. We’re gonna give the gatorade and powerade a run for their money!” There was some appreciative clapping, but it was clear we were losing enthusiasm for this sales pitch.
“Well enough about that though,” Rhonda finished. “Let’s go see what we really all came here to see. We’re approaching the animal habitats.” There was another around of genuine, but less enthusiastic clapping. The kind of clapping that announced “about time.”
The tram went off the pavement and onto a dirty path through some bushes. The path was wide and rutted, well worn from the tram tires. The ride went from smooth to jostling as the carts rumbled onto the uneven dirt trail. The bushes were thick and lush, their branches allowed to grow untrimmed and tangled to enhance the illusion of wilderness. As we drew closer to the animal enclosures, the musky, sweaty smell of animals and dung filled my nostrils.
“Let me begin by telling everyone,” Rhonda’s voice echoed through the tram speakers, “that we will effectively be taking the backroads around and through the different animal habitats we have here today. If you see or hear about anything that catches your eye on our little trip, feel free to hoof it on back through the zoo and take a closer gander for yourself.”
Landscaped fauna brushed by us and we went on a slight incline up a hill.
“Over to my right,” Rhonda gestured, “we have our giraffe enclosure. We sell treats to feed the giraffes up close and personal. The giraffe habitat is home to George, Georgina, and most recently little George junior.” I looked over and saw two giraffes, an adult and a baby. The giraffe enclosure was mostly sandy dirt and grass sprinkled with a few tall trees for shade. Mixed in with the giraffes were a few zebras in an attempt to recreate what the herbivores would look like on an actual safari. On the other side of the huge pen was a big, raised wooden deck with roof for shade; people stood on the deck to feed the giraffes.
“Now some of you may be wondering where George is,” Rhonda spoke up. “Fun fact, baby giraffes are capable of walking within an hour after their birth. Adult giraffes, meanwhile are very cautious and fear intrusion, even by other, unfamiliar giraffes. So when little George was born three days ago, Daddy George ran and hid in his barn and hasn’t come back out yet.” The little fact was met with quiet chuckles, mostly from the women, likely imagining their dates doing the same thing at seeing a baby.
The tram went down the incline and slithered a bit to the left. “Next to the giraffes we have our elephants, with proud new mama, Jumbo and baby Gumbo.” Sure enough, among all of the elephants there was a large baby elephant floundering about in the dust of the elephant habitat while it’s mother stood placidly nearby. Their size and huge flapping ears distinguished them as African savannah elephants, different from their short-eared Indian cousins. The only difference from the giraffe enclosure was a watering hole for the elephants to play in. “Baby elephants can spend hours flailing about as they figure out what to do with their trunks, and elephant mothers have the longest gestation period of any animal pregnancy of roughly two years.” There was a lot of “ewwwing” and wincing as the women on the tram collectively imagined being pregnant for that long. I even caught Skye rubbing her tummy and flinching in pain.
Then another strange, intrusive thought occurred to me: How did the zoo manage to have all of these baby animals and new mothers with the different pregnancy terms? Did they start this project two years ago with an elephant, or did they just get lucky and happen to come across one that was already pregnant?
The tram rumbled back onto pavement, and horns honked warning pedestrians.
“Up here to either side of us are our wolf and lion enclosures,” Rhonda explained, “or as we call them the Starks and Lannisters.” More polite chuckle for an HBO reference. At least it wasn’t Mr. Rogers. “And coincidentally, each pack and pride has a new little addition that we lovingly refer to as Bran and Tyrion.”
Almost on cue, a wolf cub could be heard howling in mock ferocity. I turned my head just in time to watch an adorable little pup, its paws too big for its body, baying as it’s mother came up to start giving it a tongue bath. Everyone who saw it, pointed and “awwed” at the sight. That was Bran, no doubt. I couldn’t see little Tyrion among the lions on the other side.
The tram went back onto a dirt path. “Sadly, there isn’t much to see right now in the gorilla habitat,” the tour guide droned on, “the gorillas seem to be shy this morning. But be sure to stop by later if you want to see Queen Konga and her new bundle of joy Prince Darwin.”
“You can’t see it from here,” the lady with the mic kept talking, “but a ways beyond the gorilla habitat, we have our play area for the young…and the young at heart, complete with petting zoo, and pony rides.”
“Oooooh,” Skye eyed me, hopefully. “We are totally checking that out.”
“Seriously,” I asked her.
“What?” Skye shrugged innocently enough. “She said for the young at heart. I’m young at heart. Aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” I agreed, not sounding at all convincing but wanting to make my girlfriend happy. “Sure. Totally young at heart. Love petting zoos. Love 'em.”
“And, throughout the day,” Rhonda perked up for one last sales pitch, “we have all sorts of shows going on for your entertainment at our Animal Amphitheatre.”
The tram began to slow down. We were coming to the end of the ride.
“Now most places would dump you off where you started,” Rhonda went back into prepared speech mode, it seemed, “or drop you off at some gift shop. But not us. We’re in the very back of the park now, and all there’s left to do is wander around and enjoy your day. Do whatever you wish, but if I may suggest, why don’t you all take a nice leisurely stroll through our synthetic rainforest over yonder?” she pointed to a large building on the horizon surrounded by trees and painted up with pictures of monkeys and parrots and tropical frogs, and butterflies.
“I’ve been Rhonda,” she concluded, “unless you didn’t like me, in which case, I’ve been Wilma. Now have a great day at the zoo!”
Skye and I piled out of the the tram. Almost instinctively, I stopped and stretched my back and legs, feeling cramped from the ride. Skye walked right by me, as if I wasn’t there, expecting me to catch up