March 4, 2014

In class today, go to this link for a discussion of how to use the expression “a lot.”

Other stuff from today:

We talked about the stylistics and mechanics of incorporating quotations into a response – please come see me for a handout on how to do that.

We practiced those techniques in writing another SAR – students who were absent need to make this one up. Word Press is having trouble uploading documents right now, so I’ll post the electronic copy later. For the moment, here is the text for those of you who need to finish your response tonight:

City life was getting to Dad. “I’m starting to feel like a rat in a maze,” he told me. He hated the way everything in Phoenix was so organized, with time cards, bank accounts, telephone bills, parking meters, tax forms, alarm clocks, PTA meetings, and pollsters knocking on the door and prying into your affairs. He hated all the people who lived in air-conditioned houses with the windows permanently sealed, and drove air-conditioned cars to nine-to-five jobs in air-conditioned office buildings that he said were little more than gussied-up prisons. Just the sight of those people on their way to work made him feel hemmed in and itchy. He began complaining that we were all getting too soft, too dependent on creature comforts, and that we were losing touch with the natural order of the world.

Dad missed the wilderness. He needed to be roaming free in open country and living among untamed animals. He felt it was good for your soul to have buzzards and coyotes and snakes around. That was the way man was meant to live, he’d say, in harmony with the wild, like the Indians, not this lords-of-the-earth crap, trying to rule the entire goddamn planet, cutting down all the forests and killing every creature you couldn’t bring to heel.

One day we heard on the radio that a woman in the suburbs had seen a mountain lion behind her house and had called the police, who shot the animal. Dad got so angry he put his fist through a wall. “That mountain lion had as much right to his life as that sour old biddy does to hers,” he said. “You can’t kill something just because it’s wild.”

Dad stewed for a while, sucking on a beer, and then he told us all to get in the car.

“Where are we going?” I asked. We hadn’t been on a single expedition since we moved to Phoenix. I missed them.

“I’m going to show you,” he said, “that no animal, no matter how big or wild, is dangerous as long as you know what you’re doing.”

We all piled into the car. Dad drove, nursing another beer and cussing under his breath about that innocent mountain lion and the chicken-shit suburbanite. We turned in at the city zoo. None of us kids had ever been to a zoo before, and I didn’t really know what to expect. Lori said she thought zoos should be outlawed. Mom, who had Maureen in one arm and her sketch pad under the other, pointed out that the animals had traded freedom for security. She said that when she looked at them, she would pretend not to see the bars.

At the entrance gate, Dad bought our tickets, muttering about the idiocy of paying money to look at animals, and led us down the walk. Most of the cages were patches of dirt surrounded by iron bars, with forlorn gorillas or restless bears or irritable monkeys or anxious gazelles huddled in the corners. A lot of the kids were having fun, gawking and laughing and throwing peanuts at the animals, but the sight of those poor creatures made my throat swell up.

“I’ve got half a mind to sneak in here some night and free these critters,” Dad said.

“Can I help?” I asked.

He mussed my hair. “Me and you, Mountain Goat,” he said. “We’ll carry out our own animal prison break.”

We stopped at a bridge. Below it, in a deep pit, alligators sunned themselves on rocks surrounding a pond. “The biddy who got that mountain lion shot didn’t understand animal psychology,” Dad said. “If you let them know you’re not afraid, they’ll leave you alone.”

Dad pointed to the biggest, scaliest alligator. “Me and that nasty-looking bastard’s going to have us a staring contest.” Dad stood on the bridge glowering at the alligator. At first it seemed to be asleep, but then it blinked and looked up at Dad. Dad continued staring, his eyes in a fierce squint. After a minute the alligator thrashed its tail, looked away, and slid into the water. “See, you just have to communicate your position,” Dad said.

“Maybe he would have gone for a swim anyway,” Brian whispered.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Didn’t you see how nervous that gator got? Dad made him do it.”

We followed Dad to the lion’s den, but the lions were sleeping, so Dad said we should leave them alone.

The aardvark was busy Hoovering up ants, and Dad said you shouldn’t disturb eating animals, so we passed it by and went on to the cheetah’s cage, which was about as big as our living room and surrounded by a chain fence. The lone cheetah paced back and forth, the muscles in his shoulders shifting with each step. Dad folded his arms on his chest and studied the cheetah. “He’s a good animal — fastest four-footed creature on the planet,” he declared. “Not happy about being in this damn cage, but he’s resigned to it, and he’s no longer angry. Let’s see if he’s hungry.”

Dad took me to the concession stand. He told the lady running it that he had a rare medical condition and couldn’t eat cooked meat so he’d like to buy a raw hamburger. “Yeah, right,” the salesclerk said. She told Dad the zoo did not allow the sale of uncooked meat, because foolish people tried to feed it to the animals.

I’d like to feed her lard ass to the animals,” Dad muttered. He bought me a bag of popcorn, and we returned to the cheetah cage. Dad squatted outside the fence opposite the cheetah. The animal came closer to the bars and studied him curiously. Dad kept looking at him, but not in the angry-eyed way he had stared down the alligator. The cheetah looked back. Finally, he sat down. Dad stepped over the chain fence and knelt right next to the bars where the cheetah was sitting. The cheetah remained still, looking at Dad.

Dad slowly raised his right hand and put it up against the cage. The cheetah looked at Dad’s hand but didn’t move. Dad calmly put his hand between the iron bars of the cage and rested it on the cheetah’s neck. The cheetah moved the side of his face against Dad’s hand, as if asking to be petted. Dad gave the cheetah the kind of hardy, vigorous petting you’d give a big dog.

“Situation under control,” Dad said and beckoned us over.

We climbed under the chain fence and knelt around Dad while he petted the cheetah. By then a few people had begun to gather. One man was calling to us to get back behind the chain fence. We ignored him. I knelt close to the cheetah. My heart was beating fast, but I wasn’t scared, only excited. I could feel the cheetah’s hot breath on my face. He looked right at me. His amber eyes were steady but sad, as if he knew he’d never see the plains of Africa again.

“May I pet him, please?” I asked Dad.

Dad took my hand and slowly guided it to the side of the cheetah’s neck. It was soft but also bristly. The cheetah turned his head and put his moist nose up against my hand. Then his big pink tongue unfolded from his mouth, and he licked my hand. I gasped. Dad opened my hand and held my fingers back. The cheetah licked my palm, his tongue warm and rough, like sandpaper dipped in hot water. I felt all tingly.

“I think he likes me,” I said.

“He does,” Dad said. “He also likes the popcorn salt and butter on your hand.”

There was a small crowd around the cage now, and one particularly frantic woman grabbed my shirt and tried to pull me over the chain. “It’s all right,” I told her. “My dad does stuff like this all the time.”

“He should be arrested!” she shouted.

“Okay, kids,” Dad said, “the civilians are revolting. We better skedaddle.”

We climbed over the chain. When I looked back, the cheetah was following us along the side of the cage. Before we could make our way through the crowd, a heavy man in a navy blue uniform came running toward us. He was holding on to the gun and nightstick on his belt, which made him look like he was running with his hands on his hips. He was shouting about regulations and how idiots had been killed climbing into cages and how we all had to leave immediately. He grabbed Dad by the shoulder, but Dad pushed him off and assumed a fighting stance. Some of the men in the crowd clutched Dad’s arms, and Mom asked Dad to please do what the guard had ordered.

Dad nodded and held out his hands in a peace gesture. He led us through the crowd and toward the exit, chuckling and shaking his head to let us kids know that these fools were not worth the time it would take to kick their butts. I could hear people around us whispering about the crazy drunk man and his dirty little urchin children, but who cared what they thought? None of them had ever had their hand licked by a cheetah.


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