Dr.Dolittle could talk to the animals and that might be every child’s dream. Why was that just doing little?
It was a 10-minute walk to the park. Through the mountainous gray chicken coops and corridors of exhaust in the West End and onto the goose shit covered trail ringing Lost Lagoon. He saw things in these terms. Whatever was good about a place was erased by the dirty commerce at its core and the dandruff on its shoulders. When he got to the Lagoon he had like-minded company in the nasty geese. Branta Canadensis. They talked to him. In truth they were always yelling. That was the one animal in Stanley Park that had truly learned how to push the boundaries. He once saw a goose, dissatisfied with the fact that a toddler had no seed to feed him, push the child into the water. All it took was one bum’s rush. Gaggles had become mosh pits. The geese were the old punk rockers of the park and thus were just freeloaders when the commitment to anarchy had been finally neutered. Nihilists still need to eat but working for it is pointless. He guessed that this is what also happened to the hippies. They were back on Howe Street with new Hugo Boss threads, and every once in a while buying “red” products to soothe their battered consciences. Other old hippies lived in the park after dark and worked with only thought fragments, camp stoves and dirty hands. Other hippies hid in the suburbs and quietly invested in R.E.S.P.’s for their children. They drove what they considered to be practical and environmentally responsible cars. They recycled everything that the city told them they were allowed to recycle. They imbued their young with a “more realistic” sense of the democratic process and taught them how to cover their asses. These children of compromise were ten years ahead of the children of old-school punks as they headed into a work force filled with entry-level opportunities. Vancouver coffee shops struggled to find employees.
The man’s idealism painfully welled up inside him every morning and he walked to the park to lose himself in “almost nature”. He could relate to the animals that were almost wild. He found that, like the urban raccoon, he was living off the pocket change left over from the avails of prostitution. He guessed that the raccoons were far enough along in this evolution that the thought rarely crossed their tiny brains. They did not yearn to be truly wild because this lifestyle kept them alive much longer. Dark-age homo-erectus only lived to the age of thirty-five. Here in Vancouver you could make it to eighty-five through pure, animal cunning and a low stress level. There were free clinics and vitamin enriched food filled the dumpsters behind “the Bread Garden”. Stay off the crack and watch your back. He was also almost wild. He and the animals used the illusion of free will to marginally maintain their souls. They could do what they wanted as long as the mulching machine kept leaving scraps on its plough through the jungle.
Today he walked to the heart of the park. Ironically this was the site of the abandoned zoo. As a child his grandparents took him here to watch the penguins swim around in tiny left-hand circles or the polar bears rocking from foot to foot in the ritual repetitive movements so common to anxiety disorders. His grandparents called it “dancing”. Here teens could taunt a howler monkey into absolute tantrums or stare down a single clinically depressed Mandrill Baboon through a chain link curtain. The animals that didn’t seem too human were still here in the “Amazon” exhibit or the Aquarium. The backlash had been strong enough that a Vancouver compromise had come down. Reptiles, a few birds and all the sea creatures could stay. They had no cute mammalian faces. It was also decided that the whales wouldn’t be forced to do tricks on a regular schedule but would appear to do so of their own volition and because of their love for their trainers.
As a child he was most enthralled by the old men and women who sat on the zoo’s park benches and had the “wild” animals come to them. There was the “Pigeon Lady” and the “Squirrel Man”. Pigeon lady had at least two-dozen birds fluttering and strutting around her at all times. They would land on her shoulders and head and hands. Wherever she held food they would light. At times she almost wore them as clothing. The Squirrel Man would hold out peanuts in the shell and huge gray squirrels would run up, sit up on their haunches, and take them with their tiny paws. He could place peanuts on his knee or on the top of his head and the Squirrels would run up and grab them. The odd animal was comfortable enough to stop on his head and eat the nut right there.
If he stood close to the Pigeon Lady or the Squirrel Man the animals would allow him to do the same. On all his visits the scavenger messiahs would give him tips. Like any true professionals they were happy to share their secrets. They were happy to have the attention of wide-eyed youth. Stay very still. Think gentle thoughts. Always hold an open palm. The birds will land on an outstretched index finger if you wait long enough. Wear thick fabrics because you don’t want to react to the tiny pricks of talons or claws. A bird will not peck at your eyes or face. Squirrels don’t bite. Be patient. He copied the little “tasking” noise the Squirrel Man made by sucking little wisps of air through his teeth and tongue. The squirrels knew this meant, “Come here my friend I have food”.
Sciurus Carolinensis are the medium to large sized tree squirrels (8 to 10 inches long with a bushy, 6 to 8 inch long tail, weighing 500 to 600 grams). Colouration ranges from a dark to pale grey body with white to pale grey underbelly and tail. The Black Squirrels abundant around here are a melanistic phase of the Eastern Grey Squirrel. Between 1876 and 1929 a pair were accidentally released from the London Zoo and the North American variant has run rampant through Europe ever since. Currently they are destroying Scottish forests and meeting little resistance. Black squirrels were imported from Ontario to Vancouver’s Stanley Park Peninsula prior to 1914 and have since run amuck into the city, across to the North Shore and into the Fraser Valley. This big black species has driven out all the native chipmunks and smaller red squirrels. They are the pumped up Ninjas and beach bullies of the squirrel world. These black beauties are efficient climbers with tough curved claws, and the ability to reverse their hind foot 180 degrees to permit headfirst descent. Tails are used for balance when running and leaping between trees. He pondered the tails every day.
He had returned to this spot daily for the last eleven years, not really knowing why, and when Harold the original Squirrel Man fell on ill health and just disappeared he had become the Squirrel Man for this new generation. Although he didn’t understand them in scientific terms he had plenty of time to quietly observe their behaviour. Science was unimportant. He related to them and understood what they wanted from each other and from him. He was a catalyst for accelerated symbiosis with human kind. He was close enough to them that he could often see his curved reflection in the orbs of their shiny black eyes. He had bested old Harold’s trick of having the squirrels take the peanut shell from between his teeth. He had gained the animal’s confidence to such a degree that he could close his hands around their torsos and gently stroke the curling plume of their tails. He did this only once or twice and then placed them at his feet so they could either scurry away with a nut or hang around for more. Tourists oohed and ahhed as if watching gentle fireworks. It was impressive. Tourists loved the creatures and marveled at their perceived domestication. The squirrels were emboldened by this love and would just as easily sit up and beg for food at the feet of any passerby. Many of them would impatiently run right up a pant leg if the patrons were too slow in dropping the peanuts or popcorn. These antics were met with gales of laughter.
Another, less visible
, resident of the park was the common rat. Rattus Norvegicus. He saw them often but they were trying not to be seen. This place was perfect for them. Garbage cans were constantly full to the brim with old fries, popcorn, fruit and delicious condensed soda pop syrup. Other animals provided carrion, eggs and hatchlings for them to feast on and it was much better to sleep in the natural loam of the earth than in the attics of the West End condos. Leave that to the skunks and raccoons. If a tourist, or even a local, spied a rat their sensibilities were immediately offended. They were incredulous that, here on the edge of a giant sweaty city in a lush green park, rats might be lurking about. Wasn’t that just a given? What were these idiots thinking? What was the difference between these creatures and the seagulls, pigeons, crows and squirrels? All of them carried potential diseases. All could be potential pets. He bet that there were more pet rats than there were pet squirrels. He thought of his place in the order of things and realized he was not much different than the scavengers of the park. He was tied to the organism of the city but used his theoretical independence to give more meaning to his life. He understood that this was a conceit. He was no freer than the rat. The park’s visitors seemed to take their top of the food chain arrogance to heart. They were running their own shows. The yard could be well groomed and the pesticides and fumigators could make things just the way they should be in a civilized world. They were on holiday in a holiday destination and they were ready to rank this acreage out a scale of one to five stars. They would report back to their clubs and clans and cliques. Fuck them. He began to take umbrage. The anarchist spirit at the root of his malaise began to stir his guts. How could he be of use? How could he punch the Buddha in the face when he saw him on the road?
That night he went into the park at a time even the squirrels were not expecting. He brought plenty of nuts, a Mountain Equipment Co-op battery powered headlamp and a mint blue Phillips “Phillishave” HQ 6863 electric razor with sideburn trimmer. The creatures were happy to see him, as he had made sure not to feed them during the daytime. Any extra inconvenience on their part was easier to overlook in the face of hunger.
The next morning he approached his park bench with a permanent smile and some nervous excitement. He sat slowly and his animal friends began to arrive. As the tourists started to filter in the reaction began to build. At first one blood curdling scream and then a hailstorm of rhythmic shrieks and wails from all directions. It appeared just as he hoped it would appear. A man covered in huge black rats with legions of rat followers waiting at his feet. A few rogue rats begged at the feet of the visitors and all hell broke loose when the first one ran up a pant leg. They had needed the balance of the bushy tail to climb and to leap but they didn’t need that balance for the easy pickings handed out by the Squirrel Man. Dr. Dolittle indeed.