Thursday, June 26, 2003

African Wild Metaphors

Having been homeless a bunch of times has warped my conception of a good time. It used to be that a good time involved some activity. There had to be a convertible and a woman. I expected some state and federal laws to be broken. Two or three weeks' worth of spending money had to be thrown away within minutes. My idea of a good time is now and probably always ever will be to sit indoors someplace where I belong and not have to get up and move.

That's what I like about the zoo. What I can do at the zoo is pay my money (or someone else's money, I don't care) to get in, then find my way to the food pavilion, sit down with a burger and a drink and watch the other people at the zoo who are running around looking for animals to watch.

As many of you know, I am no longer homeless but live in a subsidized apartment building, the Union, run by the same people who run what's called the Downtown Emergency Service Center. These people, who also call themselves DESC, don't want me to just sit in my room and not get up. They try to entice me out of my room with ping-pong, bingo, parties, and games. Nothing much works until someone mentions a field trip to the zoo.

The zoo is wonderful. You've got your animals. Animals are cool. You've got your basic zoo paradigm: the animals are mostly locked up, but it's made to look like they aren't, if it's a good zoo. Every time I go to the zoo I think there has to be a wealth of political metaphor there. I think of Walden II, Brave New World, and lately the Matrix, and I'm sure I will have something insightful to say in this column about such metaphor, perhaps having seen the orangutans.

So last week I went to the zoo with a bunch of fellow residents of the Union. I couldn't wait to get my hands on some of those hot political metaphors I was going to write about, and then I would check out the snow leopard, and then I would retreat to the food pavilion to sit and not get up.

First we all rushed to see the tiger cubs. We studied our maps carefully and found our way to the tiger cub display. As we approached them I thought of all the injustices of child exploitation around the globe that I had ever heard of. I was thinking, boy, these are going to give me terrific insights. Finally we arrived to see them stretched out on some fake rocks in front of us. What a dearth of political metaphor they represented. I have never seen such a paucity of metaphor in a pair of cats as in those two. I have more political metaphor in my little toes.

Then we went to see the snow leopard. Whenever I had looked for the snow leopard in the past he was almost impossible to find thanks to his camouflage. There'll be a metaphor in that for sure, I thought.

Well, guess what. This year the snow leopard was out in plain view putting on a show for all the visitors. He wasn't hard to find. You could see, hear, and smell him as easily as an incontinent Great Dane. Not much political metaphor there.

There was a little relief in the form of the one neurotic porcupine. But I do neurosis all the time. I was hoping I'd find a metaphor that was more out of the way, a little less common. I can find neurotic at 3rd and Pine.

Finally, just as I was about to give up, our group approached the African Wild Dogs. As we walked up to them I could see four wild dogs running around their area in a single file, nose to tail, always in the same order. I shouted something stupid like, "Hey, everybody, look! Puppies!" Or something like that. The lead dog then made a beeline for me with his three buddies following him in their constant order, and he stood in front of me and said: "Hoo."

Then, when he was satisfied that I was nobody, the lead dog took off with the other three to look for other potential challenges to his power in their territory.

That made my day – I'd seen politicians themselves.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Non-Exploding Chickens

From time to time, as the terror alert level creeps closer to blood red, as Homeland Security threatens to review all my past reading material, and as strange acronymic law enforcement groups discuss good and bad protesters and what to do about them at secret meetings in my city, I fantasize about getting away from it all. Then, when I'm done doing that, I think about bagging it all and moving to New Zealand.

You all know about New Zealand. That's the country at the lower right-hand corner of the Mercator map of the world that looks closer to Australia than it is, is proud of its flightless birds, and is now the place everybody imagines when they think of Hobbits and Middle Earth, thanks to the movies. Why wouldn't I want to go there? That's the question I've been asking myself ever since Ronald Reagan got his way with the electorate and my ex won the house.

Well, now I am getting answers to that question, thanks to the internet.

First of all, they have non-exploding roosters there. That's right, they have roosters that run around and look as if they are exploding roosters, but they are only fooling you and they don't actually explode.

What happened was a rooster was seen in Christchurch near Sydenham, New Zealand, running around with canisters with protruding wires strapped to its legs. That, as we all know, is a clear and unmistakable indication that a rooster will probably explode. Then the police chased the rooster into an alley, killed it, and called in an army bomb disposal unit to deal with the canisters, which were determined by them to be non-exploding.

My point being that the whole terror alert thing has gone too far. It's gone so far it's reached the lower right-hand corner of the world. Think of it this way: if you have to spend three hours chasing down non-exploding roosters for fear that they will explode, EVEN IN CHRIST-for-God-saken-clear-off-the-map-CHURCH, NEW ZEALAND, you can't be safe anywhere.

But I discovered that story by accident. I wasn't looking for information on non-exploding roosters, I was looking up SkunkShot gel.

I wanted to know what SkunkShot gel was and why it was being used by the police in Los Angeles to keep homeless people out of potential squats. My search led me to Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Motto: Te Whare Wananga o te Upoko o te Ika a Maui (Translation: We Wish We Were on a Beach in Maui.) It turns out that SkunkShot gel began with the realization, by scientists at Victoria U, that North American skunks stink.

That is a more impressive discovery than it sounds, since, after all, North American skunks are not native to New Zealand. I imagine many trips back and forth between New Zealand and North America to get the exact stinkiness worked out in scientific detail.

Really, that last paragraph was just me being abusive. What the scientists actually did was create a gel with skunk-smell ingredients, now available in the form of SkunkShot. You can use it to make anything you want smell like a skunk. The Los Angeles police have been using SkunkShot to stink up potential squats. They are so creative. No doubt the subject came up at the LEIU conference.

My own thinking is that SkunkShot has a lot more potential than that. For example, Metro has been concerned for years that homeless people have gotten in out of the rain under bus shelters. So much so that they've torn them down. No more! Just apply SkunkShot to those shelters and those people will keep away for good!

Problems with panhandlers, Seattle? SkunkShot your sidewalks! They won't be back!

Yes, New Zealand is all right. They only make the stuff there. And the roosters don't really explode.