Saturday, June 15, 2013

Common Decency

Elise is in New York City for a birthday girl's weekend while I stayed behind to hold down the fort. It's not as bad as it sounds. It was entirely my idea. I knew what I was getting myself into, so this morning, I packed everyone up and took them to the zoo. Though they had already been to the zoo a half dozen times already, Elise always takes them during the week. I still hadn't been and was dying to see the new seal exhibit.

After fueling up with doughnuts and coffee, we drove into town. Of course, we stopped at the seals first. They didn't disappoint. Seals amaze me. Usually one can easily tell the difference between something natural and something made by man. Natural things are organic in shape. Like snowflakes or leaves no two are exactly the same, composed of curved lines that cannot be duplicated. Whereas man can easily program a computer to pump out a kazillion drawings of a snowflake or a leaf or a straight line or perfect trapezoid using lines of the exact same length. What, to me, is so amazing about seals is the way they can propel themselves so effortlessly in a perfectly straight line through the water. It is not an organic movement. It is unnatural, like a torpedo or a rocket.

After the seals, we hunted wolves. Sam and Peter howled at the empty enclosure to no avail.

I discovered that Clementine was not a fan of either the elephants or the gorillas.

In front of the reptile house, two Galapagos tortoises mated. Sam looked up at me and asked, "What are they doing?"

"They're making a baby."

Then, the male tortoise began moaning, a low, guttural moan that he repeated over and over.

Sam: "Why does he keep making that noise?"

"Umm...Let's go see the alligators."

But truth be told, the human watching was nearly as interesting as the animal watching. I noticed that people are either at their best or worst while at the zoo; that a hot day with whiny, tired toddlers either makes a parent...or breaks one. I'd like to think I'm in the later camp, but I also know my limits, and the closer it got to noon, the quicker I drifted toward the exit.

In my human watching, I noticed a distinct like of common decency with which people--mostly parents, married couples--spoke to one another. I think if they stopped and just listened to themselves or, better yet, had someone record how they talked to their loved one and played it back to them, they, I hope, would be shocked and appalled.

As Clementine and I waited for Sam and Pete to take turns looking through the telescope at the elephant exhibit, a young overweight man came out of the bathroom toward us. He had a thin, but bushy, bright-red beard, round, John Lennon glasses and wore a green t-shirt that read, "Trust Me. I'm a Jedi". He wrestled with a crying toddler, not much younger than Pete, the same way one might try to wrestle from the grasp of a hungry boa constrictor. He was headed toward a woman, presumably his wife, behind a stroller, who asked the man, "Did you go?"

He glared balefully at her and spat, "What do you think?!"

Later, Clementine and I were watching a giant gorilla swing through his enclosure. Mostly, I was trying to convince her that the gorilla wasn't going to whisk her away and raise her as its own like Tarzan. The woman standing next to me was digging in a backpack being worn by her husband. They were surrounded by three children, all older than Sam. I'd guess they were between 7 and 11. She was clearly having difficulty finding what she was looking for, and the man never thought to take the backpack off and help her find it. Instead, he sniped over his shoulder, "I don't know why you keep putting it back in the same spot if you can't get it out."

Like I said, Clem wasn't a fan of the gorillas, and I didn't stay long enough to see if she ever found what she was looking for. Part of me hoped it was a frying pan she was going to use to clock him over the back of the head. Or pepper spray.

On our way to the car, I witnessed another couple whose little one was breaking down. (At least, Pete knows when he is breaking down and has the courtesy to inform us, "I'm breaking down.") The father was trying to wedge the uncooperative youngster into the stroller whilst the boy did his best impression of a howler monkey. I don't exactly recall what the mother said to the clearly exasperated father, except to say it was something to the effect of, "It's not like he's never done this before." To which the dad replied, "But at the zoo?"

Yes, even at the zoo.

I am not passing judgment. In every one of these instances, it could have very easily been one of my kids that was breaking down. It has been. I've been there, and it will be me again someday. I just wish people would remember that you wouldn't talk to your dog that way, so why would it be okay to talk to the person you love that way? Because they know you love them and you can get away with it? I might feel differently if this were an isolated incident, but this is three instances in the span of so many hours. How many others were there this morning? And the nature of it is even more troubling. It's subtle enough that many may not even notice. But these kind of comments are insidious and they will creep into your subconscious and feed on the love that is there.

I shouldn't pass judgement, because I don't know the history of any of these couples. I only see a nanosecond of their lives, albeit an unpleasant one. When it is me with the inconsolable child, I am able to maintain my composure enough to remember that Elise is not my enemy. If nothing else, she is my unwavering ally. For this I am eternally grateful.

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