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A Trip to the Zoo
Less Than Pulp 56
We took our oldest to the Capital of Texas Zoo this weekend because he loves otters, and this place lets you pet one. Because we live in Central Texas, we headed out early to beat the heat. In this region, beating the heat means being outside when it’s 85 degrees F instead of 105. In other words, you’re not beating shit.
We spent about an hour on the road with an indie rock mix on Spotify. I used to be ambivalent about the genre. Even at almost 40, my musical tastes lean toward the heavier side. Industrial, black metal, death metal, and thrash metal, or some fusion of these get my blood up in the best ways possible. The only exception is if I’m listening to vaporwave, which I like to have on while I’m working.
Indie rock is music for being in the car with Jean. It always has been. We once made out in her car for nearly three hours straight while listening to Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism on repeat. That was back in 2007. Other choice records for us at the time were Sam’s Town by The Killers (in particular, the songs “Bones” and “This River is Wild”) and Give Up by The Postal Service. This brings up my main problem with indie rock, in that those artists I listed are hardly independent creators; even back then they weren’t. However, they all occupy a space on the musical spectrum that the tastemakers have chosen to call “indie rock,” and I do enjoy them, especially if I’m riding shotgun while Jean drives. Or if she and I are kissing.
On this trip, Spotify gifted us with tracks by Foster the People, Cage the Elephant, and Peach Pit. Again, hardly independent artists, but I don’t make the rules, and they were all good songs.
The sign for the zoo was small enough that we might have missed it had either of us blinked. The entrance took us down a dirt path to a gravel lot. Several small creatures were posted up in the adjacent field, not in any enclosure at all. I quickly realized these were prairie dogs and pointed them out to the kids.
We parked beside a truck that had clearly been there a while. Its tires were half-buried in the ground and all manner of dust blanketed its windows and exterior. On the front of the main building, a sign told us to honk our horn and come on in. There were maybe two other cars in the lot.
The prairie dogs were cool, but this rickety building in the middle of nowhere was what son and his friends would call “sus.” Regardless, we had driven all the way out here and he wanted to touch an otter, so by God, we were going to make that happen.
After we paid, we headed through the building and into the zoo itself. It was all open air, with gravel paths and plenty of shade from the surrounding trees. Upon entering, an owl watched us from the darkness of its enclosure. We could hardly see it in the shadows, except for when the light reflected off its large, orange eyes.
Next up came the coatimundi exhibit. One of the younger creatures of this species was loose. You may not be familiar with coatimundi, but they are extremely cute. Even so, a loose wild animal is never not going to give me pause—watching Old Yeller and Cujo gave me a lifelong fear of rabies. Thankfully, this little fella just kept climbing across the branches of a nearby tree and watching us. I alerted the zookeepers—one of whom had only three days on the job—and they attended to the loose animal.
From there, we saw something I never expected to see anywhere, something I suspect I’ll never see again unless I ever end up owning a farm. We watched a mama pig give birth to three piglets. It was both beautiful and gross at the same time. Lots of fluid, pulsing orifices, and gnawing off of umbilical cords, but damned if those baby pigs weren’t almost painfully cute as they struggled to find mama pig’s nipples so they could nurse. I wanted to take one home! Instead, we again alerted the zookeepers, but like us, they could only watch. Two male pigs stood at the fence, making it clear they weren’t going to let anyone else inside the pen during this gory miracle.
Already, this was a zoo experience like no other. It was like we’d actually ventured into the wild and were seeing things we weren’t supposed to see. The kids were loving it, and frankly, so were we. It was so outside our usual experience—truly indie, you could even say. You don’t get loose coatimundis or unsanctioned, live piglet births at the World-Famous San Diego Zoo.
At the crocodile enclosure, the reptile watched our daughter with interest for a long minute before diving all the way beneath the water. We got away before anything else could happen. Though we didn’t suspect it could have escaped, we all would’ve run away screaming if it popped out of the water Jaws-style.
Next, we crossed an unshaded path, scattering prairie dogs who seemed interested in watching us but less interested in interacting with us. Along one side of the path, we spotted old planks of wood and other pieces of disused objects that may have once been used to build enclosures for the animals. On the opposite side, there were all manner of goats, gazelle, and other similar creatures in their respective fenced in areas. Some of these we could actually feed, but it was getting hot already and we were grateful when we reached the next shady area.
By the time we found the lions, I got a text from author and screenwriter Shane McKenzie who was supposed to meet us there. He said he was at the entrance and the otter handler was coming to find us. He and his kids followed the otter handler to where we were waiting.
The otters made the most adorable squeaks when the handler arrived. The one my son would be petting even jumped into her handler’s arms and nuzzled his face and neck. She was almost like a little dog. My son sat next to her, got some kisses on the cheek, and pet the little gal’s head. If you’re connected with Jean on Facebook, chances are you’ve seen the pictures or video.
We walked through the rest of the zoo with Shane and his children. It was getting hot, but sticking around was worth it. We got to see a hippopotamus up close while another zoogoer fed it handfuls of hay. They really are majestic creatures, but also a little terrifying, like something between a dinosaur and a cow. My daughter couldn’t stop staring at it. There were also some cute monkeys and a black bear that was pacing in its enclosure. When the bear growled at us, we decided to move on.
Hungry and hot, we left the zoo and reconvened at a Southern-fried Italian spot called Leo’s. We all agreed that it was a very strange zoo experience overall, but it was also unlike anything else we’d ever done before and well-worth the trip.
I think a lot about animals and our relationship to them. Jean and I were vegan for a couple of years and vegetarian for even longer. For medical reasons that I may write about at a later date, we had to start eating animals again. I still sometimes struggle with this decision, though I do ultimately think it’s the right one. Or at least I think it is given the circumstances.
Anyway, this is one of those newsletters where I just write about my weekend. Sometimes you’re going to get those. I’m a dad who writes, not a writer with a family.
Tuesday, we leave for Pennsylvania!
Reading: Devil’s Creek by Todd Kiesling and Firestarter by Stephen King
Watching: 1923, Blood Vessel, and Twin Peaks: The Return
Listening: Elder Signs: A Weird Fiction Podcast
My newest horror novella Bladejob is now officially here. It’s a book about blood rituals set in the world of professional wrestling.
But Lucas, didn’t you already write one of those?
Why yes, I did, with Ryan Harding. However, Pandemonium was a tribute to the Italian Demons franchise and a showcase of on-page carnage. Bladejob is a lot more intimate and ultimately about human monsters. You can grab it directly from the (truly independent) publisher right here.