Who’s Your Daddy?

October 12, 2008

I think I may be slowly changing my mind on my position about how much I like sharks.

Okay, I “like” sharks in the sense that I like them swimming about on my television set, and then only briefly. They seem inherently menacing, like bears or Dennis Rodman, and so a little bit of them goes a long way. And any prolonged viewing of a shark on TV or at the zoo aquarium will reach the inevitable eventuality of them bloodily chomping down on something or someone, making a big show of raw flailing flesh about the water grinning from whatever it is sharks have instead of an ear to whatever it is sharks have instead of an ear. Kinda cool in the abstract, I guess, but not someone I’m inviting over for bridge anytime soon.

Reports out of Virginia are that a shark, with the unfortunate name of Tidbit (sharks, regardless of gender, should be named after evil Greek gods, belligerent generals, or rocks, not theoretical Fisher Price toy product lines) was pregnant, even though she had had no contact with a male of her species, ever. DNA tests proved she, indeed, carried the baby shark even though she was of the stay-home-on-prom-night-watching-Sixteen-Candles-and-weeping sort. This is the second such documented case of the asexual reproduction of a shark, the first being a few years ago in Omaha. There, when a lady shark gave birth to a baby shark which was—in what can only be described in medical terms as “awesome”—immediately chomped down by another larger, presumably male, shark, intent on keeping his child support payments to an absolute minimum. More proof, of course, that you couldn’t get any in Nebraska even if you tried.

I am constantly concerned that our animal brethren—everything from mammals and amphibians to fruit flies and South American hostel residents—are in a perpetual state of conspiracy against the eventual overthrow of the human race. Evidence for this isn’t hard to find, of course. Our pets are masters of manipulation, forcing us to purchase artificially-flavored bacon-style chunks and then reversing Pavlov, getting us to fork over the tasty nuggets on a regular basis for doing remarkably simple tasks such as not taking a dump on the good white couch in the den.

I trust very few animals, in fact. Cats, in particular, seem a manipulative breed, the entire attention-getting concept of nice-dinner-trumps-football-playoff-game mentality conceptualized in a living organism that coughs up its own hair as a form of passive-aggressive routine maintenance.
So when I hear about sharks cranking out babies asexually, it greatly concerns me on two very important fronts. First, it makes me think that sharks have more up their sleeves than simply crunching down jellyfish and looking for surfers to terrorize. While I’m all for that—I am unsure whether jellyfish or surfers rank higher on the list of things this world could conceivably be better off without, though “both” is an adequate answer—I’m also well aware that the same tactics to use against creepy ink-squirting sea critters and community college dropouts in southern California can also be used against major freight shipping lanes in the Pacific and oil tanker itineraries.

Besides operating in the grand conspiracy, it also worries me because of its message: Mother Nature is stating to the world that males are unnecessary. Sure, there have always been footnotes in our high school biology text books about the three or four known organism that can reproduce without a male, but these are normally strange, rare amphibious creatures that are useless outside of filler for Chinese school cafeteria meals. It’s not like cheetahs or elephants are stomping around cranking our calves and kittens indiscriminately about the Serengeti. (Just so you know, I know about as much about geography as biology, so cover your ears and hum if you don’t like my gross miscalculations of species taxonomy or temperate zones.) Now that the phenomenon has progressed to include animals that could, in theory, bite my head off with little to no repercussions amongst their contemporaries, I am much more gravely concerned than before.

There are several theories as to why these sharks are flushing out virgin births. Seafood has, traditionally, been a quite literal breeding ground for strange reproductive activities. Some blame it on the ocean’s quite unique biodiversity; others on the social instincts of the animals. My own personal theory is that the ocean is a large, almost unfathomably large place, and I could see it difficult to find a compatible mate. It’s probably hard to find another whale or dolphin that shares your own interests in catching tasty fish or watching Rushmore with the sound turned down. I could see at times that your options are to ride the current for four months or so from the Indian ocean to the Hudson Bay just to get some strange and not even get a two-star meal out of it—or unluckily become one. Or just putter around the house in curlers and learn how to do it on your own. I could see males doing the former—and probably have—but I can see the females just embracing the latter, a sort of proto-feminist movement within the marine animal community. Next they’ll be demanding equal plankton for equal work and a more fair distribution of lifeguard bits.

Of course, I’m sure many activists will point to this occurrence as proof that gender is unnecessary and may eventually disappear as a function difference between men and women. While it may be true, it also points towards a grim world in which all transportation seizes up from lack of oil changes, all businesses close from four to five so Oprah can be watched, and no decision is ever made about anything, ever, and even if it is, it is changed immediately after the original decision can no longer be reversed. Alas, this is scarily close to the world right now. At least we could do without those uppity sharks.

Kiss a Sasquatch Good Morning

August 17, 2008

For a time, at least, alarmingly significant portions of the North American population thought that they had found him. Bigfoot, the elusive creature of which folklore and major motion pictures starring John Lithgow are made, was captured. Captured, of course, in the way all Bigfoot sightings are—in the sense of “We may or may not have found an animal of indeterminate origin that we’re not going to show you any of the evidence for.”

This time, of course, they thought they had found him. “They,” of course, being the sort of people to call a press conference before the conclusive DNA results have actually come back yet, so sure of their find. The story was even picked up by the major news outlets, something I assumed was devoted solely to the items that Lindsay Lohan regards as acceptable things to enter into or exit out of her hoo-ha or the occasional report as to what Obama pooped out after eating a McGriddle. But there it was, amongst sordid tales of subprime reform and protests in Beijing: Some Fringe Nutjob Thinks He Might Have Found Bigfoot.

Well, not exactly. The report, no doubt currently wrapped in a manila envelope being mailed to the Pulitzer committee, featured a rather disturbing photo of what appeared to be a Bigfoot carcass. It wasn’t Bigfoot kicking up some mold spores in a big hairy cage tied up by leather straps in some dude’s basement, or Bigfoot eating Froot Loops while sitting on a tree stump trying to do the Jumble. It was a post-Sasquatch. He looked like he was crumpled up in an abandoned meat locker, a shameful burial and no doubt a nightmare to the olfactories. It basically looked liked a hollowed-out monkey suit had been dumped into a malfunctioning refrigerator with the door tore off.

Of course, there’s a pretty good chance that it was, in fact, a picture of a hollowed-out monkey suit that had been dumped into a malfunctioning refrigerator with the door tore off. The DNA evidence, once the results came back, identified it as human or opossum. Of course, the counter claim was that these were obviously part of the stomach contents of Bigfoot, a known opossum connoisseur, but one doubts exactly how much further they are going to go with this.

The story, of course, is otherwise light on details and full of rampant skepticism. The body of a 500-pound suspected Bigfoot was “stumbled upon” by two individuals while hiking, who, oh, by the way, just happen to immediately contact someone who have previously detailed Bigfoot discoveries in the past. That’s about as believable as the cat who lovingly purrs up against you after you find out that someone just took a dump in your bathtub while you were out.

Bigfoot sightings are exactly the sort of thing that happen with unfortunate regularity, but not rare enough that it still shows up on the Odd News column. They go way back to the late 1800’s, when those still searching for the frontier would often report sightings of strange animals to journalists hungry for a story that didn’t involve railroad combinations or inkwell trusts. Most of these were converted into sensationalistic mockeries of modern journalistic standards except, of course, for the Sasquatch Preservation Society newsletter and the New York Post.

Out of all of this, the most amusing aspect of this Bigfoot story is the fact that a reporter for the Scientific American, no doubt looking longingly back at his four-year college degree in journalism, had to actually type out the phrase indicating that the individuals who made the claim “made an announcement on a bigfoot enthusiast radio program.” A bigfoot enthusiast radio program, eh? Someone in Riyadh just put another note in their file.

I don’t quite get the allure of Bigfoot. I mean, there is a certain attraction to many creatures in the cryptzoology menagerie; the scaly, dragonesque dread of the Loch Ness Monster, perhaps, or the eerily terrifying hoop snake, or maybe the tauntingly alluring mermaid. But Bigfoot? He’s basically just an ape, only bigger. He doesn’t have any special powers and didn’t come into being via any generally accepted birth of legend, except perhaps the divine experience of ingesting peyote by our Native American ancestors. He basically lumbers around and waves off cameras like the Amish, leaving big, suspiciously asymmetrical footprints and a disappointing taste of locale.

It’s somewhat perplexing exactly why individuals make wild, easily disproven claims such as this Bigfoot find. On some level, no doubt, there’s a certain amount of self-delusion involved, the exact sort of thing that fuels the initiative of American Idol contestants, Division IV rugby enthusiasts, and House Republicans. But it certainly can’t be the entire thing. As with nearly all human endeavors, the chance that someone, at some point, is going to stop someone and say, “Hey. Maybe this is kind of a stupid idea.” It doesn’t always happen—witness New Coke, the Golden Compass, and the inexplicable success of John Mayer—but more often than not batshit craziness tends to be self-regulating. At least, that the sort of thing that lets me get to sleep at night.

There Goes Another Candidate: Care of the Dog That Bit You Edition

July 1, 2007

A few testy gallons of ink have been spilled over the past few days over what was supposed to be a small, character-building anecdote during a Boston Globe profile of Mitt Romney. Not since Lyndon Johnson drop-kicked an innocent bloodhound into the Mekong has the mistreatment of a canine caused such a political stir.

Romney, sometime Massachusetts governor and Presidential contender, was asked for an example of his crisis management style. Instead of saying something along the lines of “I helped a troubled Salt Lake City Olympics committee overcome scandal” or “I ushered through a large-scale engineering project in my state through a fiscal crisis,” he decided that the best course of action was to retell a delightful tale about how, during a family vacation to Canada in the early 1980’s, he strapped the family’s Irish Setter to the top of the car. Then, when the animal unexpectedly got nervous about traveling atop a large metal canister at 55 mph in a small plasticish cage and responded by leaking brown disgustingness all over the back window, Elder Statesmen and Future President Mitt Romney pulled over, took a garden hose, sprayed off the dog, car, and cage, replaced the poor mutt back in his canister, and all individuals went upon the remainder of their trip, presumably canine-diarrhea-free.

Not all that surprisingly, animal rights activists and, well, most human beings reacted with a range of emotions going from “general head-shaking” to “comparing it to the Holocaust.” Also, not surprisingly, many of the other presidential contenders were asked about their own relationships with pets. Perhaps remarkably, many of the other candidates have no compunctions about detailing their stories, and subsequently a lot of skeletons were drug out, dusted off, and put proudly on display.

Before he lost nearly 110 pounds, Mike Huckabee kept a steady supply of rats in his Little Rock governor’s mansion to guarantee a fresh supply of milk for his daily breakfast of twenty-four pancakes, eighteen sausage links, and a colonic.

John Edwards bravely saved a warren of rabbits from being subjected to cruel cosmetic trials by volunteering himself instead.

When house training a beagle, Rudy Giuliani used a then-untested method of corrective conditioning, mostly rewarding the dog with corned beef hash when he was good, and shoving a broom handle repeatedly up its anus when he was bad. Then came 9/11.

While interred in a POW camp in Vietnam, Arizona senator John McCain had to eat a greyhound to keep himself from starving. In his defense, it was #4, no MSG, on the menu.

Bill Richardson owns a Chihuahua, which currently is the only evidence available that he is actually of Hispanic origin.

Hillary Clinton distrusted husband Bill’s dog, Buddy, as a diversion in attention to their marriage. She arranged the White House Travel Office, the Rose Law Firm, and Susan McDougal to have Buddy hit by a car to combat the ever-growing threat of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

On the very day that he descended from the heavens, Barack Obama healed two groundhogs, four dogs, and a leprous tabby.

Fred Thompson used to be responsible for taking Annie Parisse out for her daily walk on the set of Law & Order.

On his regular trips to Fantastica, Dennis Kucinich rides atop a snow white unicorn accompanied by a band of musical changelings.

Wesley Clark has keeps a stable full of stalking horses, which are owned by the Clintons.

Ron Paul regularly establishes cockfight rings, proclaiming it to be an educational display of the concept of “survival of the fittest.”

Joe Biden
keeps a parrot. Big surprise.

Every fortnight for the past thirty years, Newt Gingrich holds a ritual deep in the woods of Arlington where a half dozen virgin white mishas are sacrificed to Alvin Toffler.

Dick Cheney often drinks the blood of fawns for lunch, usually mixed with a quart of Valvoline.

While on a promotional tour for An Inconvenient Truth in Antarctica, Al Gore married a puffin in a moment of ecologically orgasmic weakness. The marriage was later annulled on advice from his advisor.

Sam Brownback refuses to believe that calico cats exist.

While some may dismiss all of this as unimportant distractions from the real issues, it’s not exactly a secret that character counts during elections. People want to know the human side of a candidate and, in the case of Rudy Giuliani, whether there is actually at least a human side. People voted for George W. Bush not because of his stance on the estate tax or abortion, but because he seemed like a regular guy that would not be out of place sitting in your living room, watching the football game, and not being able to figure out the proper way to swallow a pretzel without passing out. Bill Clinton’s ability to feel our pain wasn’t just a throwaway political cliché, but a genuine ability to build rapport with people by making everyone in the room feel like he was looking them right in the eye, pressing firmly on their hand in a comforting manner and slowly moving his hand up the small of your back looking for the clasp.

Though when it comes down to it, perhaps Romney’s so-called gaffe was a well-placed advantage to his campaign. By declaring the experience he has with hosing down feces, psychological manipulation, and emotionless crisis management, he’s establishing himself as the person best able to handle Gitmo.

Loch and Load

June 28, 2007

People have always had a fascination with the mysterious. The unexplained holds a lot of draw to those easily fascinated by it, whether it be things such as Bigfoot, UFOs, or Dennis Kucinich. And a lot of new press has recently been generated over one of the oldest mysteries of the Western world: the Loch Ness Monster.

Of course, the people of Loch Ness want to believe. The proprietors selling little plastic Nessies really do believe. The existence of the monster is ingrained in the history and the culture of Scotland, and people continue to believe even though the frequency of sightings appears, on average, to be somewhere in the likelihood of once every seventy years.

The field of investigation imaginary animals is called “cryptzoology,” a word I’m very uncomfortable with. It makes me think that these are people interested in collecting animal carcasses and devising new and creative ways to preserve them in giant stone monoliths. I mean, yeah, it sure as hell beats scrapbooking, but you gotta wonder what disturbing Ranger Rick article they read when they were nine to make “proving creepy-ass fictional animals actually exist” a valid career choice.

The first sighting occurred in 565 AD when the legendary Columba, no doubt uninfluenced by the fermentation of mead, saved the life of a Pict being attacked by the monster. The monster, not being savvy in PR management, ducked undersea to appear infrequently to newspaper reporters, the only additional appearances being those told by husbands when searching for an excuse as to why they came home at five in the morning smelling of beer and rotting oak.

This all changed in 1934, when what is euphemistically known as the “Surgeon’s Photo” was published. (Robert Kenneth Wilson, the surgeon in question, was a gynecologist; apparently, no one wanted to get too specific about his branch of medicine to avoid awkward questions, or at least anything more awkward than “You’re a professional doctor, and you’re wasting your evenings taking pictures of shadowy figures in murky lakes?”) This was famously revealed to be a hoax in the mid-90’s, when a confidant of the doctor, on his deathbed, declared that it was a “project” (read: an idea cooked up with airtight preparation one drunken stupor with an overly imaginative friend) which concluded with making the figure from a “submarine” (read: random piece of floating junk he found in his garage) with “molding” attached to it for the head (read: some elongated cylinder-type thing he picked up at a flea market).

Since all of the sightings have been in poor lighting, from a distance, or by disreputable sources, not unlike Marlon Brando, any claims to its existence have to be taken with a grain of salt and a lot of whiskey. This widely cast net of supposed sightings also leaves a rather large cast of characters as to what the Loch Ness monster looks like: a long-necked seal, an eel, a dolphin, a largish dog, a plesiosaur, an enormous salamander (!), an otter, a mollusk of some sort, a mysterious coelacanth, trees (?), the fictional kelpie, and, apparently, a brick of Styrofoam with a Pringles can superglued to the top of it.

I’m particularly intrigued with some of these theories. Many of these suggestions represent animals that are extinct—namely, the long-forgotten plesiosaur. The coelacanth lends itself to this particularly well, since it was thought to be extinct for a few million years but turned up off the coast of Madagascar (his excuse: “Had a dentist’s appointment up in Yorkshire”). If the eerie-looking coelacanth (He looks like a fish pasted together for a grade school project, and the last kid who was absent that day got to glue on all the extra remaining fins) can come back from being extinct, well, why can’t Nessie be “extinct” (please note pretentious quotation marks)? I’m also a bit puzzled about the dog theory. Sure, I’m certain that Scots can spend their evenings in various stages of being where their perception may be, ah, altered, but even the wispiest of denizens could tell the difference between a legendary reptilian creature and a Great Dane who forgot his boogie board.

The most recent sighting is a video uniformly described as a “jet black thing” that looks like a “forty-five foot long eel-like creature” and is “moving quite fast.” There is, rather remarkably, a good bit of skepticism about the new video. For once thing, the video does not exactly give any kind of reference to length or lighting, so it’s nearly impossible to determine whether it’s forty-five feet or really all that black. One suspects the video has the quality of that episode of ALF I taped back in 1988 and have left on the dashboard of my car for the past ten seasons.

But, still, any press is good press for the Loch Ness tourism industry. Any few bits of information that leak out are always good for some rampant speculation. And it’s mostly harmless fun, anyway: despite major scientific efforts through SONAR, undersea expeditions, and an infinite number of BBC documentaries, the evidence is inconclusive at best. It’s not Nessie they want; it’s the thrill of ambiguity. Most hedge funds, dollar-store pregnancy tests, and California-based religions have been founded on much less.

To Bee or Not To Bee

June 15, 2007

Ha ha! So damn clever, I am, with that title. Unfortunately, the wily bee is not so clever. Bees are disappearing without reason, and it could spell trouble for the honey, nature documentary, and elaborately planned homicide industries.

It’s not all bees that are disappearing; it’s only the European honey bee, which, obviously, is mostly doing its disappearing in North America. They’re suffering from something called “Colony Collapse Disorder,” which sounds like something Hernan Cortez was diagnosed with when he pranced into Tenochtitlan, found that they considered him to be the Savior, and felt rather alarmingly uninitiated to contradict them. Bees by the thousands are simply disappearing, either dying in what is most likely a rather disgusting pile of insect corpses, or flying off to parts unknown never to return, perhaps to desolate places such as Siberia or a Cuban health clinic.

People tend to have a love-hate relationship with bees. Mostly, it’s hate, though. The only positive things that come about for bees are when they’re trying to sell us cereal or nasal decongestant. People hate bees because they build nests in inappropriate places, they hurt like the dickens when you step on them in cheap flip-flops, and they make your girlfriend squeal and jump around like a broken wind-up toy from a Happy Meal when even the mere suggestion that a bee is present is disclosed to her. Actually, that last one is a benefit, not a drawback, especially if she’s wearing a tank top, but you get the idea.

I remember when I was a child I was scared of the Killer Bees, a menace to America so fraught with portent that they must be capitalized. I received the awful news from the most trusted of sources—the network TV movie. One of the channels, in a fit of one part “educating the public” and six parts “we want to show something with bees in it” wrote, filmed, produced, and aired a particularly disturbing movie about how Killer Bees were going to invade America from Mexico (or perhaps Chile or Nepal—it doesn’t really matter) and KILL US ALL with their poison stingers and the lackadaisical attitude towards watching our cholesterol. This instilled in me a fear of bees in general, and I waited patiently for the Coming Storm when the skies would blacken from the wings of the Infinite Swarm, stinging me and my family to a painful and possibly fatal death. I even remember devoting an unfortunate amount of time of my childhood developing, with a mechanical pencil on graph paper stolen from school, the perfect anti-Killer Bee house with plenty of places to hide, somehow impenetrable from bees the size of dimes, and an elaborate schematic of pipes from which fountains of Ultra-Strength Raid could be dispensed to negate the oncoming slaughter. I should have been hooking up with that cute brunette who sat behind me in Study Hall, but instead I was making the world’s most elaborate Anti-Bee House.

I know better now, of course. The best way to get rid of bees is to pour gasoline in their hive and throw a match on it. By the way, any one of you can nominate me for the ASPCA Humanitarian Award any day now.

Lost in all this scary bee talk is that fact that bees help us. And they don’t just help us by getting us out of mowing the lawn. For one thing, they aid in the pollinating of flowers, which is required for…something. I don’t recall, because I spent most of my elementary school biology class designing a freakin’ Anti-Bee house. But I’m reliably informed that it is necessary in the diversification of a healthy biosphere, or some nonsense like that, but apparently what it boils down to is that if bees don’t pollinate, almonds will be about eight bucks an ounce. And that’s just tragic.

From my own personal observation, the main benefit of the bee shortage is the emergence of the humble bumblebee. (Yes, I had to use that adjective.) I love bumblebees; even though they’re just as painful to step on, or accidentally inhale when you yawn while riding the lawn mower you couldn’t get out of using, they’re just so comically friendly. Or, rather, they seem friendly; they hover about, the Koob of the colony, slowly lumbering about (yes, I had to use that verb) looking for a place to sit down and lick the flower bits they’ve collected off of their weird-looking knees. And, yes, those would be the bee’s knees.

Alas, all this talk of the great bee disappearance is probably bunk. Most beeologists assure everyone that sudden decreases in bee population are rather cyclical, probably because beekeepers’ sons aren’t a dutiful to the bee industry as their fathers were. (I’m assuming fathers, here, since I highly doubt too many women act as beekeepers, unless beekeeping involves jumping up and squealing most of the time.) And bees will rebound in no time, no doubt bringing the price of honey down to a more manageable level so the four or five people in the world who actually eat honey on a regular basis can sleep easy at night. At least they don’t have to worry about Killer Bees.

Revenge of the Fish

April 11, 2007

I don’t fish, but I understand it’s supposedly a rather relaxing activity. Apparently, I am wrong.

By all accounts, it was a normal day of fishing for Josh Landin. He and his friends settled down for a rather mundane day of bait fishing, when suddenly one rather bold fish decided that enough was enough and he just wasn’t going to take it anymore, even if it meant making a completely futile attempt that would immediately cause him to die and have no impact on the rate, frequency, or quality of the fishing. The fish, 57 pounds and nearly five feet long—the equivalent of the sixth grader with the full mustache and a rather tenuous grasp on the purpose of standardized testing—appeared from the water like a deus ex machina, only with less a purpose of bringing about a convenient resolution and more for a purpose of horking a chunk of flesh from Josh’s calf. The convenient resolution occurred much later at the hospital once Josh got over a hundred stitches applied at the hospital. Thankfully, his friends kept the long-deceased fish, where they plan on letting the local crabs feast on his carcass. Which seems to be about the best solution for everyone involved, except perhaps the fish.

Animals have taken an increasingly alarming stance against the encroachment of human populations into their environment. Deer, long the bane of suburban planners and Dodge Neon owners, have been particularly nuisancical in their objections, their form of protest being as fertile as a Kentucky sorority house and desecrating the foliage. Town councils all over the country have dealt with this in a manner of comically disquieting ways, from hidden oral profilactics in salt licks (“Here, eat this”); massive deportation to more deer-friendly locales (“Here, get in”); forced contraceptives (“Here, hold still and put this on”); and, in the most extreme cases, a bounty for incoming rural hunters (“Here, hold still”). These latter individuals are all too happy to demonstrate to lonely soccer moms the difference between sloppily violent street guns and the finely glamorous art of hunting, or as glamorous as something like that can be when you are carrying around a packet of synthetic doe piss.

The most amazing thing about this is that the animals haven’t turned against us sooner. Take our dogs. We treat our dogs as pets, with copious amounts of love and compassion, but we start our relationships off with our best friends by naming them Booger and snipping off their cocoa pebbles. Then we pat them on the head and make them grab sticks out of the air, then pump them full of Chinese wheat gluten and wonder why they deliberately piss all over the porch steps.

And, really, what pet hasn’t suffered the humiliations of perpetual subservience? We condition our hamsters and gerbils that strolling about endlessly on a little steel wheel is about the single greatest demonstration of earthly nirvana that can ever visit upon a rodent. For felines, we cultivate a dependency of a formula based on finely balanced proportions of catnip, codependency, and Fancy Feast. We cage our fish in translucent Cracker Jack boxes and feed them hippie-colored compressed factory sweepings from the same Centrum canister for two years instead of busting out an extra eight dollars for a fresh jar of Sam’s Choice Enhanced Goldfish Meal every Daylight Savings Time.

Some animals, of course, have learned, and act rather forcefully as a result, their brutally violent actions much more effective than filling out a nonexistent customer satisfaction survey. Sometimes, animals are subtle about their resentment. For instance, you occasionally read about some distant elephant in Bombay who, after forty years of bonding with their elephant steward, or whatever they’re called, they show this appreciation by stamping their keepers forcefully in the face about a hundred times in succession.

Probably the most recent notorious example of this is the case of Montecore, a white tiger trained from cubdom by Roy Horn, better known as the least gay member of Siegfried and Roy. In exchange for six years of training, room and board, and all the Frosted Flakes he could ever possibly want, he decided one day that Roy would look exceptionally great clamped between his teeth and bloodily mauled in front of a live audience numbering in the thousands. (Vegas being Vegas, not a single member of the audience “saw anything.”) While being carted to the emergency room, he famously declared that they not harm the cat, being Red Flag Number One that perhaps that mother’s day gift of a chocolate-covered gazelle was perhaps a little bit too familiar, even given their endangered status.

Naturally, the subculture of people who love to see animals attack people (Hey, to each their own. You should see what TiVO “recommends” to me based on my viewing habits) has spawned the legendary When Animals Attack, a Fox product (who else?) seen as a practical alternative for NBC Nightly News viewers. These shows, which were primarily a rather rough documentary in the form of crudely spliced footage of animals attacking humans in rapid succession, garnered respectable viewers while it was on. Most of these viewers, of course, weren’t intimidated when Snappy the wrongly-identified “box” turtle pinched their longman, or unimpressed when Chirpy the ex-girlfriend’s worthless parakeet merrily chomped on their big toe like it was country fried steak day down at the cafeteria, so they have to get their big-animal conflict fix on the tube. And while any animal with enough hardened dead skin cells formed into a talon-shaped, uh, talon is a potential enemy, sleep soundly knowing that man will always have the upper hand. That is, until Boxy learns how to access the internet.

A Case on Behalf of Being A Rabbit

April 6, 2007

I think it would be great to be a rabbit.

I mean, why not? Rabbits haven’t been relegated to rodent status like guinea pigs or communications majors. They’re not imputed with vices like snakes and scorpions are, even though their impact on the environmental ecosystem is roughly equivalent. (Here, I am assuming that shedding your skin on top of the refrigerator in the half-darkened and rarely visited part of the garage in an unexpected place so when I find it I wet my pants or crawling into your shoe and taking a nap until you poke your big toe all up in his face and the only retort, naturally, is to sink your stinger deep into the ingrown part of the nail, respectively, are parts of the ecosystem.) And they’ve hippity hopped up the Disneyified branch of the evolutionary scale, so the only rabbits poorly looked upon are those sitting on the dusty shelf at the Snatch ‘N’ Sniff Boutique in Mobile, Alabama.

So, I say, why not be a rabbit? Just think of the perks, at it were.

First, you have the benefit of advantageous association. You have the sugary contagious happiness of the Trix rabbit; the second-degree imagined respect of Harvey; the wiseacre traditionality of Bugs; The honest-I’m-not-enjoying-this-at-all-haw-haw-look-at-what-he’s-up-to-now! frivolity of Br’er; the benign and complete noninfluence on modern culture of Peter; the corporately inclined energy of Roger; the nonexistent nostalgia manufactured from the time filler at two in the morning on the Boomerang channel in Ricochet; the lamentable hubris of the Hare; the soulful, post-9/11 determination of the Energizer; and the creatively named yet innocently missed Bunny Rabbit. Thinking about any of these fictional characters, and you think fondly to yourself—anyone would love to hang out with any of these rabbits if somehow they anthropomorphically inserted themselves into our daily lives—Bugs making change at the register at Denny’s, say, or Trix running mule routes along the Rio Grande.

Fictional rabbits aside, the rather comical engineering of the standard rabbit is a pleasant aftertaste as well. While they seem rather poorly designed, with an inability to walk or, technically, do much at all, what they are designed to do they do very, very well. You can scour the animal kingdom with a fine-toothed comb and not find another creature that can stand still for six hours at a time munching on the same piece of vegetation without so much as twitching. Though one tends to think that someone somewhere was acting on a dare during the prototype stages of their construction—giving the poor rabbit such big ears, large enough to hear the many, many natural predators that come knocking on the door, yet have a complete and utter inability to actually run away without scrambling about in an amusing manner akin to the last sketch of a Benny Hill hour. At least those choppers, while the bane of every rabbit during Senior Picture Day, are really good at chomping down on ugly raw vegetables and pet store clerks.

The rabbit has an easy life. What are rabbits known for? Eating grass and laying the cottonwood, mostly. And while I could do without all the grass-eating, I also don’t envy the female of the species, who apparently are impregnated if standing downwind from the rabbit equivalent of the prom king and gives birth to about six hundred rablits approximately every Monday.

And what are the goals of the lowly rabbit? To eat more grass than your neighbor, which, given the trajectory of the standard rabbit warren population, is probably cottontail to cottontail with you right now? I could handle that. It’s a lot better than aiming for holding onto a spirit-crushing middle management position long enough to retire without too much shame. You may find the odd rabbit that aims to outlive his immediate friends and family, something, granted, a touch tougher than simply shoving mushed grass in your mouth all day long. But the old adage is still the best one—you don’t have to be faster than the fox, you simply have to be faster than that draggin’-ass Mipsy.

Still, rabbitry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There are still some negative portrayals of rabbits in the culture. Top of this particular list is that smug, self-satisfied look of the Playboy Bunny, the one that says “Hey, at least I’m not gonna be the one to spend all weekend watching the Monk marathon, hoss.” And while rabbits have come to symbolize fertility (“How you doin’?”) and innocence (“I’ve never done anything like this before!”), they are just as often portrayed as irresponsible (“I’ll pull out!”) and cowardly (“That ain’t mine!”).

All told, though, being a rabbit seems like a solid, fulfilling career change. And if you’re still not sold, think about this: if you were a rabbit, you would never have to be forced to read Watership Down. ‘Nuff said.

Reign of Terriers

February 15, 2007

This week was the presentation of one of the most highly esteemed dog shows in America. As with most newly commercialized extravaganzas, it has a long and illustrious history. Back in the late 1800’s, there were those in America who decided that what the United States needed most was to organize a confirmation show for canines. They spent countless hours making sure that not only was it going to be a prestigious show, but a uniquely American one as well. This is telling in their decision to name the show, when they chose a uniquely American name, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

These competitions are orchestrated beauty pageants for an animal that occasionally warrants a two for one deal. These dogs are trained, groomed, and paraded about by their owners, officially called “handlers,” because “creepy, lonely aunts” is too disturbing a phrase for basic cable. These dogs are then judged by their peers (ahem), and ultimately one of them wins the much-coveted “Best in Show.” This is also the procedure for finding a spouse.

There are seven different categories where dogs compete:

·Working: The poor dogs in this category are the James Brown of the canine world. They are the tax-evading, wife-beating, laying-in-state-for-three-rank-months, Christina Aguilera-inspiring coronary waiting to happen. No, wait. Wrong metaphor. I mean, they’re the hardest working dogs in the species. They are primarily known for dogs that perform normal tasks as part of their breeding, such as taking out the trash, washing the car, or playing the under on the Cavaliers.
·Terrier: The terrier group is the classification of dog that has fallen the furthest from respectability. At one time, they were know for their exceptional hunting abilities against small varmints. Nowadays spend most of their time lounging around, mooching off the government, and waiting for the occasional sitting for pillowcase tartan-pattern crotchetiers.
·Toy: This category includes those dogs that, if they were not dogs, they would be manufactured by Nerf and marketed on Nickelodeon. They are classified as dogs simply by the biological fact that if you were to cut them open there may be a mess involved, though to be fair even if you don’t cut them open there may be a mess involved. Toy dogs lack such normal features that most dogs have, such as a prodigious snout, a tail, prominent ears, or a soul. Batteries not included.
·Sporting: Sporting dogs are dogs that are willing to go to the pub with you and play wingman. Or, perhaps, they are good at retrieving whatever it was that a hunter shot and hit from a field full of cattails. They also laugh at you if you hold the gun an inch away from the screen and still miss.
·Hound: Hounds tend to be the most contemplative of dogs, and by “contemplative” I mean “lazy.” While the mighty bloodhound may have a reputation as a stellar hunting dog, all he does in reality is the same thing all hunters do; namely, tell the wife they’re going hunting, and then spend six days drinking beer and staying away from the wife.
·Herding: Herding dogs are those trained to herd animals, primarily sheep. Most owners of herding dogs are proud of this unique, innate, and fascinating ability, even though the herding dog’s only ability is simply to be smarter than a sheep.
·Non-Sporting: The veritable “none-of-the-above” canines, these poor mutts are the recycle bin of the dog world. Nonclassified and unwanted, they are given a nondescript “Miss Congeniality” equivalent award, and then sent home to work in a shady cubicle while poodles and golden retrievers become prom queens and quarterbacks. The non-sporting dogs are most likely to stay up until midnight to change the will when no one is looking.

It’s kind of fun to watch the show, though, and not only for the dogs. Why these women handlers who I know deep in their heart of hearts love, adore, and cherish their beloved, insist on wearing tight skirts when presenting their dogs is beyond me. I guess it’s kind of amusing but wholly impractical. Especially for those women who have been at the show year after year, then when they are expected to parade their dog around the stadium, have the nerve to act vaguely surprised when they realize exactly what kind of logistical nightmare it is to trot a few paces behind their dog in an outfit that has more compressed tension than Isaiah Washington at a Kenny Chesney concert.

I also find it amusing that dog experts are able to compare two entirely different breeds of dog and find out which one is better, even though the dogs’ only similarities diverged in the gene pool around the time of Noah. They make a show of checking underneath the dogs and prod them gently with an inquisitive stare and, immediately afterwards, the unwavering look of Catholic disapproval as the dog chomps happily on the treat they were undeservedly given for successfully standing still for forty-five seconds.

When it is all said and done, of course, the judges make their decision based on what qualities are truly the “best in show,” a phrase I put in quotes because it’s such a comical concept. What do they use as a qualifier? There’s no swimsuit competition and no chance for the Pekinese to tell us how she wants to end world hunger or the shingles epidemic or anything. Do they base it on their ability to bark incessantly for no reason in the middle of the night, or how fast they can eat their own feces? Whatever private criteria they use, of course, it can’t be any worse than how we pick our real estate agents, Presidents, or crotchetiers.

A Horse Is A Horse, Of Corpse, Of Corpse

January 31, 2007

This past week, we commemorate the passing of a sports legend who regrettably had a brief yet inspiring career. Barbaro, the promising winner of so many bottles of cheap whiskey across America, was laid to rest.

I’ve never really understood horse racing. Well, the obvious points of horse racing are there—expensively maintained expensive horses trot gallantly around in expensive racetracks while men in expensive coats drink expensive gin and tonics to place a $3 bet to show. But I never quite understood the apparent utility of creating this equestrian sport pretty much based on mechanics whose sole purpose is to facilitate some of the most complicated betting arrangements ever devised, the definition and determination of payouts in a sueprfecta being a perfectly reasonable prima facie case for alcoholism. There is also apparently a secret society of horse owners who have a perpetually ongoing standing prank to come up with the most nonsensical names for their horses, evolution apparently passing “Black Beauty” and “Buttermilk” by.

Announcer: Aristophanes’ Sternum is coming around the bend…but Stereotanz Diskotech is coming up right behind…and here comes the Treaty of Westphalia making a surprise push for the win…but it’s Invasion of Granada who goes…all…the…way!

Poor Barbaro had a promising start to his racing career, walking in undefeated when he won the Kentucky Derby. Alas, at the beginning of his attempt to complete the Triple Crown at the Preakness Stakes—the horse equivalent of either a Superbowl ring or a bucket of raw carrots—he started off crankily, causing a false start (and, presumably, a 5-yard penalty), and soon broke his leg in three places. Horse surgery is apparently more complicated than horse betting, and even though he was trotting happily about in the stables, eyeing up the mares and ordering Netflix, his doctors pegged his chances of escaping the baseball glove factory at a dismal rate, which immediately was tabled at 5:1 odds.

Something more complicated that horse surgery is horse terminology. At least I think so. Then again, I’m confused by the chain of command on CSI, so what do I know? A foal is a newborn horse, unaware of the life of running incessantly, pulling beer kegs, and “Why the long face?” jokes ahead of him. A colt is a horse known for choking, specifically in the playoffs. A filly is a young female horse waiting to get her first Bratz trapper keeper, so she can be classified as a mare. A stallion never calls the next day. A gelding is a horse that wishes he were dead. A roan is a horse that plays WoW for sixteen hours a day and hasn’t gotten the mail in six weeks.

For the past year, Barbaro has wavered in and out of positive diagnoses, until finally last week he was euthanized and marinated in artificial lamb and chicken flavorings. So ends the rather sad yet briefly glorious tale of one of horseracing’s newest sensations.

Some people have been upset at the coverage that a lame horse has received in the news, when there are much more important things in the world to be reporting, such as the war in Iraq or Tyra Banks’s dinner plate. But as effete almost-sports go, there’s at least some history to the pastime. The legendary Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown, broke the racing records at the Belmont Stakes, the Kentucky Derby, and the Preakness, won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year (apparently the equestrian equivalent of getting two raspberry Zingers out of the vending machine instead of one), overthrew the government in the Hungarian Revolution, invented the iPod, and sired parts of Sara Jessica Parker, brought horseracing to a respectable level in the eyes of fans and nongamblers alike. Seabiscuit was another famous horse that managed to bring hope and optimism to many during the Great Depression who foolishly thought Father Coughlin or Mussolini might bring it instead. Seabiscuit’s numbers do not even come close to matching Secretariat’s, but a movie was made about him, so he is equally as important. And the cult of the Horse Whisperer has also added to the mystique. A Horse Whisperer is a technical term in horse circles of someone who—well, let’s face it, it’s a nut job who thinks they can talk to horses.

Horse Whisperer: Well, there, Barbaro, how’s that leg treating you?
Barbaro: I am in constant unimaginable pain.
Horse Whisperer: Well you’d better perk up. You want me to send you to the glue factory for a tour? Ha ha!
Barbaro: No.
Horse Whisperer: Don’t you mean NEIGH?
Barbaro: It’s unbearable! My legs are aching.
Horse Whisperer: Awww. Let me ask you something. Why the long face?
Barbaro: Please kill me now. Please.

Some people may disagree with that definition, but those people are 12-year-old girls who tend towards the Catherine the Greatish.

If there’s one thing the sad tale of Barbaro has to tell us, it’s that there is a rather efficient way to deal with those sports heroes whose careers can no longer be salvaged. No doubt Peyton Manning is sleeping with one eye open, for now.