Had the morning off and decided to make my way over to the National Zoo.
The D.C. zoo is free, which is a great thing, unless of course you visit
on a day when children are shooting each other.
But once you dodge the bullets, watching the zoo’s visitors reacting to
the animals can be as fascinating as watching the animals ignore the
Today I spent about 10 minutes staring at an enormous gorilla. The
creature, resting on a grassy hill, bathed in sunlight as he gnawed on a
twig. It occurred to me, sitting there with him in silence . . . he had
a certain dignity. A kind of gentle power. It was a beautiful moment.
And then the crowd arrived.
The first of the group was an Orthodox Jewish family (complete with
Orthodox apparel). A little boy and a little girl wearing little beanies
(I'm not sure how to spell yamaka) rushed to the thin railing that
separates man from beast.
Pointing at the gorilla, the little boy cried out "Look, Mommy! He looks
like a man!"
The mother issued a quick (and I mean lighting fast) reprimand. "NO."
She said (with an Orthodox accent), "But he is not a Man. He is not a
She paused for a moment, perhaps aware that the children's sudden
education was incomplete. She continued, "But he is not a Man. He
doesn't wear clothes."
The argument seemed to satisfy the kids, but evidently not her, for she
continued to give reasons as to why the gorilla (small "g") was not a
"He doesn't have a voice. He doesn't use his hands the same way we do."
By the time this Orthodox home-schooling field trip of a lesson ended,
the size of the crowd had increased to full capacity. We were
surrounded. The gorilla and I were surrounded by the crowd.
And that was the moment the gorilla let me down.
Sitting there on that grassy hill in the sun, he picked his nose and ate
The crowd went wild.
Laughing, cheering him on (in many different languages), they applauded
as the gorilla repeated his crass act. Without a doubt, the crowd was
delighted. They got their moneys worth this time.
An elderly zookeeper--who, prior to the unscheduled entertainment, had
been trying with great difficulty to explain the different social lives
of gibbons, orangutans and gorillas--feeling a sudden spasm of wit,
shouted "That's the not worst thing he does!"
The crowd went wild.
But to me the zookeeper confided, "He [the gorilla is a “He”] must have
learned this from humans. He only does this when there's a crowd."
I waited around to see if the gorilla would act like someone had just
kicked him in his groin, but no luck. Too bad. Crowds really like that
When they were certain the gorilla had finished picking his nose and
eating his boogers, the crowd moved on.
Later that day an eight-year-old child and his mother stand together in
the Reptile House, silently observing two crocodiles, until the child
breaks the silence and asks, "Mom, are these real?"
But his mother doesn’t hear his question. She’s too busy talking to
nobody about how "EVIL" those crocodiles look.
©copyright 2000 j q citizen