During Spring Break, it’s traditional that along with sleeping through at least two mealtimes per day (my revolutionary dieting strategy), our family takes our yearly trip to the Exotic Animal Poo Encounter, otherwise known as the local Zoo. (I’m sure by now we’ve paid enough zoo admission at this place to purchase a family of rhinos, or at least pay the salary of the guy who hoses out their pen.) This year was no different, despite my suggestion to our three daughters that it would be just as much fun to go see the aquarium fish at Walmart-and some of them might actually be alive this time.
When we visit the zoo, I always insist that we arrive right when they open in order to avoid the onslaught of daycare centers and families consisting of at least twelve unruly children. The chorus of urchins screaming out animal noises and bludgeoning each other with rolled up zoo maps is almost unbearable (and that’s just my own family.)
This year, our zoo trip took place in the midst of our yearly East Texas spring cold snap, meaning it was below 96 degrees, so many of the animals were still indoors wrapped up in their Snuggies and watching reruns of Family Feud. In fact, when we reached the elephant enclosure, we were greeted with a sign that indicated they only come outside when it’s over 50 degrees. (A similar sign now hangs on my bedroom door.) Because I take advantage of educational opportunities like this, I explained to my kids that elephants are cold-blooded, like turtles and politicians, and that if they get too chilly, they won’t be able to fly with their ears.
Our next stop was my daughters’ favorite zoo exhibit, which is basically a giant chicken coop full of parakeets that were expelled from the pet store for completely ignoring all human beings, even the ones that repeatedly tap on the cage and shout, “Polly want a cracker?” at the tops of their lungs. Everyone knows that parakeets don’t eat crackers, except the ones topped with sour cream spinach dip. (I never was able to get one of my pet parakeets to live more than a couple of weeks, for some reason.)
Once you enter the bird zone, you are offered the opportunity to purchase five grains of bird seed stuck to a popsicle stick with Elmer’s Glue. This allows you to spend the next two hours standing with your stick up in the air like a cigarette lighter at a Journey concert during an endless rendition of “Open Arms.” The goal is to tempt a parakeet to perch on your stick while you frantically yell at your wife to hurry up and take a photo before he finishes. Typically, though, most of the parakeets sit just out of reach waiting for the perfect moment to fly overhead en masse and make you wish you had kept your mouth closed.
After rejecting my proposal that we should now go home and let the animals rest, my daughters were ready for the reptile house, a carpeted building where the lights are kept very dim to allow you a better view of the fingerprints and toddler smears on the protective glass. Other than squinting and straining to catch a glimpse of the rare and poisonous spot-bellied three-toed spitting dragon newt, which was apparently taking an extended smoking break in his hollow log, we spent most of our time waiting in line. We were lucky enough to line up behind an extended family whose sixty-five children were all too short to see the animals without being lifted, one at a time, by their elderly grandmother–while the other six adults in their group leaned against the wall experimenting with Snapchat filters. Thank goodness Granny had her walker and oxygen tank!
The grand finale of our zoo trip was a visit to the gift shop. Unfortunately, the only gifting that goes on in this place is exchanging my hard earned cash for some plastic junk and plush animals (because we only have enough of those to open our own outlet mall). I always encourage my daughters to choose a souvenir to remind them of some of the animals they’ve seen, like note cards depicting parakeets, exotic reptiles, or bored teenagers with terrible posture. Instead, our purchases this time included a pair of plastic binoculars, a bag of marbles, and a small box of painted rocks. Oh, well, at least they only cost a month’s salary.
On our way to the exit, I stopped at my favorite zoo exhibit, the men’s room, which, ironically, was the best smelling part of the zoo I had experienced up to that point. While I was washing my hands and listening to the walkie-talkie of the zoo employee in a nearby stall bellow out something about a four-alarm pooper scooper emergency in the black bear enclosure, I thought about how much my daughters had grown since we first pushed them through the zoo in strollers. Someday I hope to continue this tradition as I watch my grandchildren gaze in wonderment at all of God’s marvelous creatures at the zoo, and I’ll be sure to bring my walker and oxygen tank.