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THERE are people who go to the zoo all the time. I traveled for a while in Europe last summer with a boy and girl who went to every zoo they could. The first thing they would do in a new city was find out if there was a zoo. Pardon, mais onest le zoo.
I almost never go to zoos. I don't like the cages, and what is more, I usually don't like the animals. "Animals" are supposed to cuddle. My cats get affection because they absolutely depend on me and never get upset by it. Still, I suspect that my cats are not "real" animals. They are pets because they don't do things that might upset people DcVore says in Nat Sci 17 that make babboons greet each other by massaging each other's testicles.
At a zoo, it's often hard to love the animals. They've got too many problems: they're dirty and smelly. They never get outside of their cages. It's easy to feel sorry for them, but feeling sorry for something often makes it impossible to love it as well.
There are also too many animals at the zoo. Too many dull ones, and too many sleeping. Who wants to walk by skunks, donkeys, wild boars, and alligators to get to the monkey cage? I have nothing to say to those animals. Another problem is the bears. All real bears seem to be wildly imperfect reflections of the ideal pooh. If you don't believe me, go to the Square and look for the girl who sells home-made bears, and says in a tiny voice, "Bears for sale." In the middle of the Square. The girl is so tender and exposed that I melt.
I never melt at the zoo. I feel the same rigid depression as I did one Christmas in New York City when I had 75 cents in my pocket. I kept passing Salvation Army Bands and Santa Clauses and gave to each one until the money ran out. And then I had to walk ten more blocks and mumble "no money" to each Claus. In the same way, there are too many animals.
What makes animals cute is their confused subhumanity. I enjoy my cats most when they seem stupid and ridiculous. When one of them crawls into a bag and can't get out, I use the same laugh that white people probably had when they watched Stepin Fetchit being "spooked" in the old movies. The point is that people have preconceived ideas of what's nice about animals and other people, and are happy when they can find images that conform.
THE Franklin Park Zoo has a Children's Section. I was dragged there last Sunday by my girl-friend, who had to study monkeys for anthropology. It was the first zoo in a long while where I have been happy. First of all, it wasn't oppressive. Zoos are usually out of control. But this one is small and has the kind of ordered fantasy that adults design into things they make for children. There were just a few animals, and they were the kind you can dig very easily. Baby elephants, and baby lions, and raccoons, and a few very asexual monkeys.
The zoo is designed like a courtyard in a fancy modern hotel. Everything looks new and precise. There's grass, and a lagoon with concrete islands for the spider monkeys and gibbons. The monkeys have wood houses on metal poles, each labeled in over-large letters: "Spider Monkeys" and "Gibbons."
Most of the animals spend their time begging for food. This is demeaning for them, and if you look them in the eye, they get embarrassed and stop. Except for the otters, who have developed a routine of begging, arfing and clapping-hands which, though clearly stolen from the seals, forces anybody who has any money to go buy them some food. Otters have learned that to eat, you've got to cute, and to be cute, you've got to parody yourself.
One girl who works at the zoo teaches chimpanzees how to pet their own newborn chimps. She holds the chimp's hand and together they stroke the baby. As if it were a cat.
Only one animal mars this happy antiseptic view of the animal world. It was a tapir. A worse than pig. A huge brown yeech off in the corner honestly munching at some grass. I expected a zoo keeper to come out apologetically and hustle it away.
A lot of young black children were at the zoo, accompanied by high school kids. I spent three summers doing that kind of thing. Maybe I got zooed out. One of the kids struck up a conversation with me about my hair. I asked if he liked this zoo. He didn't answer but he did say that the teenagers from the suburbs brought him almost every weekend. I have no idea how to read that, but it is potentially at least slightly frightening.
I am left with my cats, and what would be an easy question if I didn't have any anxieties: Is it better to see reality or the domesticated things that make you feel warm and happy?
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