Sunday, July 4, 2010

Monkey See, Monkey Do.

Last week, I took a field trip to the Los Angeles Zoo. It was educational.

I took the slog, and photo-documented all the weirdest animals I saw. Sadly, I didn't write down the names of any of them, so I can't even tell you what many of these creatures are called. But they are beautiful. (And, okay, I know flamingos, and the emperor tamarind because that one was my very, very favorite--it's the little monkey with the serious white mustache).

As I walked the zoo, getting a little sunburnt, because apparently in LA you should wear sunscreen if you're going to be outdoors for five hours, I had the disturbing realization that we--homo sapiens--are like the plainest animals on the planet. In fact, we're downright boring when compared to flamingoes (flamingos? my computer is telling me both are correct) whose knees bend backwards, or goat creatures with crazy shaggy hairdos and spiraling horns.

I had also forgotten that sometimes, at the zoo, animals stare back at you. Especially meerkats. It's like nobody told them they're the exhibit. And I wanted to say, "Hey, don't waste your time watching us. What've we got? Some flexible thumbs, and wimpy skin that is allergic to sunlight. You know who doesn't need SPF? That crazy blobby warthog thing next to the flamingoes (flamingos?)."

I rode the bus, the LA city bus, to get to the zoo (and lest you compliment me on my resourcefulness, I should tell you that Kate--my roommate's best friend and our houseguest this week--figured out all the logistics. I was, as they say, along for the ride). Here's what I saw:

A mother clutching her daughter's overalls so she couldn't fall out of the bus seat.

A little boy who begged and begged for his grandmother to sit next to him, but she didn't, so he had to sit next to his sister, which he obviously found pretty disgusting. Until he forgot she was disgusting, and they told each other jokes and made each other laugh the whole way to where they were going.

A constant rotation of people taking seats, and then offering up their seats the moment they saw someone older, or more infirm, get on the bus.

An ancient, ancient man who shuffled onto the bus, then helped another ancient man onto the bus at the next stop, and then they got off the bus together, and a very young man with a skateboard helped them down the stairs at their stop.

I guess this is just common courtesy, but I saw so much of it--and I was on the LA city bus, so I expected the sort of indifference that mass transit in a huge city would seem to invite. What I saw, the whole ride, was a surprising gentleness and desire to connect. People just wanted to be helpful.

Then, at the zoo, I was walking behind a big man in oversized clothes. He had lots of blue tattoos like I associate with gang tattoos. He even had a tear drop tattooed under his eye. My brain categorized him as "a rough sort," and I wondered, "what's this guy doing at the zoo?"

He passed a woman pushing a stroller just at the moment her frustrated toddler managed to launch himself right out of his seat and sort of flip towards the pavement. I froze, frightened for the ensuing injury. But in a single, swift, and gentle motion, before the kid could even hit the ground, the same "rough sort" swooped him up and landed him back in his mother's arms, like it was the most natural thing in the world. No hesitation. He didn't even pause, or miss a step. The woman said thank you, dumbfounded, and the kid had this dopey, wide-eyed expression like, "What the hell just happened?"

It was all kinds of heroic.

And my point is that even up against such exotic, curious animals as flamingos (flamingoes?), tapirs, and emperor tamarinds, we people can hold our own.




  1. I had similar experience (both with zoo and city bus) in New Orleans. At the zoo, I couldn't help but think of how strange it was to be at the zoo. The elephants, the first exhibit as one enters, were standing with their big rumps to the crowd, which struck me as funny. There were all these tourists taking photos of elephant butts. And the apes were sitting on the edges of a sort of porch structure, and I couldn't help but think they looked like bored teenagers. One was literally staring down at his nails. Another was drawing slow circles in the dirt with a foot. I almost expected thumb twiddling and sighing. As for the city bus, I can say that I was always a bit scared to wait by myself every a.m. at the bus stop because the bus stop was crawling with people I would assign the "thug" title...but the funny thing is, they never acted like thugs...they were kind. They helped mothers negotiate strollers on and off the bus. They greeted the bus driver like an old friend.

  2. I am glad you're still slogging even though you are employed! :)

  3. I love the zoo, even tho seeing animals in cages makes me kinda sad. Do the elephants know they're in California or Iowa or Nebraska rather than the African desert? (Well, likely in winter in the midwest they get an inkling...)

    Also, beautifully observed on the people front.

  4. loved the post. thank you for sharing...

  5. You are the sweetest. - Kristin