The Wizard of Oz

One of the less than lovely things about Texas is tornedos. Apparently we don’t get as many as places like Oklahoma and Kansas but we do get them. Take the day after Christmas for example. 11 people in the Dallas area died in tornedos and a house 15 miles from ours was demolished. I’ve learned that when people die in tornedos it’s usually either a traffic related incident caused by the tornedo or they are hit with flying debris. So, If you are out and about, you have to quickly figure out a way to get out of the car and somehow take cover.

I’ve only been in Texas just over two years and the only other places I’ve lived are California and Arizona. In California we worried about earthquakes, landslides, houses sliding down hillsides and wildfires. In Arizona we obsessed over rattlesnakes, scorpions and a particularly threatening cactus called “Jumping Cholla”.

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The cholla (pronounced choy-a) is perhaps the most feared and hated cacti in the southwest desert. If you brush up against one, you will know why. The plant has pads that separate easily from the main stem. The spines easily attach to your clothing, your skin and your shoes. Since the plant is covered with spines, it’s difficult to grab and dislodge the pad that has found a new home with you. Why are they so difficult to remove? Unlike other varieties of cacti with solid spines, cholla’s actually have hollow spines. Because they are hollow they can easily attach to whatever they touch with their needle like sharpness. If there is moisture, such as with skin, the tips actually curve once they have made contact, locking their spines in place just underneath the skins top layer. OUCH! But, I digress….

When the tornedo sirens blared the other night, my husband and I and our two golden retrievers hunkered down in the inner most room of the house, which is my husband’s closet. If you have followed my blog for some length of time, you might recall that I have that closet well stocked for an event such as this one.

Here are the contents of our shelter in Steve’s closet:

  • water for humans and water/water bowl for dogs
  • snacks for humans and treats/chew sticks for dogs
  • a battery powered American Red Cross emergency weather radio
  • a battery powered, super mini flashlight
  • a battery powered lantern
  • two battery powered personal spray bottle/fan contraptions in case it gets really hot
  • back up batteries for all that battery operated crap
  • a blanket
  • a little nightgown for me in case it gets really hot
  • reading glasses in case I have to run in there without mine
  • 2 bottles of wine, a wine opener and doggie Xanax
  • a deck of cards for gin rummy in case Steve or Tim are in there with me and paper/pencil to keep score since we’ll be drinking all that wine and would no way remember the score

I’m not kidding. All that junk is beautifully organized in Steve’s closet.

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So, while Steve was fumbling with the tornedo radio, I was texting my sister in California. My sister Lisa always has and always will live in California. We were born there and she is a beach girl.

The tornedo radio is saying we are in a life threatening situation and to take cover immediately, I texted. So we are in the safest place in the house, a closet, with the dogs.

That must be freaky, she responded, are you scared?

I am kind of scared, I went on, the radio just said the tornedo touched down about 15 miles from our house.

Ooooh, she replied, I didn’t realize they touched down.

I chuckled to myself. Just like me two years ago, she knows nothing about tornedos. I think she was thinking of hurricanes.

Think “twister”, Lisa, I texted back, like The Wizard of Oz. 

Oh! she exclaimed, Is Toto with you?

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Fig Newtons and Dead Squirrels

“Oh, here’s someone you can ask, honey,” a woman at the zoo said to her kid. He looked away shyly.

“She’s a volunteer here, honey, she is here to answer questions”. The boy flushed. I stopped talking about the gorillas and smiled gently at him. He still wouldn’t say a word.

“Do the chimpanzee’s have a toy squirrel that they play with and throw around?” the woman finally asked me.

“No,” I said, “at the Dallas zoo you will never find anything unnatural in the habitats, no toys, blankets or anything like that. The apes play with hay, sticks, rocks and stuff like that.”

“Well then, the one they are flinging around up there must be real,” she looked a little queasy.

“What?” I almost shrieked. “They are throwing around a squirrel? Is it alive?”

“I don’t think it is anymore,” she replied.

“What time is it?” I said as I turned in the direction of the chimpanzees, “there is a keeper talk up there at 11:30 and zoo guest probably won’t want to witness that!”

“It’s 11:30,” she said.  I started to run as fast as I could which isn’t very fast because I have weird hips and my foot hurts today.

I got to the chimps just as one of my favorite great ape keepers Will was starting his presentation in front of the glass viewing windows.  “I’m sorry to interrupt, Will, can I have a quick word with you?” I asked.  He stepped over and I whispered in his ear.  He started laughing which was a relief to me because I didn’t know if there was a concern of health issues spreading from a dead squirrel to a chimp.

“Well,” Will announced to the crowd with a grin, “this could be an interesting keeper talk as I have just been informed the chimps may be playing with a dead squirrel!”

Will then went on to point to the different chimps sharing their names and ages.  We have a baby chimp named Mashindi whom the zoo guests love to see and Will was a little frustrated that he couldn’t spot him.  Suddenly I saw him.  “There’s Mashindi, Will!” I said with a smile.

Will and I then looked at each other horrified.  Mashindi was rushing right toward the glass and the crowd with a dead squirrel dangling from his mouth who was about half the size he is.  There were gasps from the zoo guests.  As he arrived in front of the glass, his 6 year old brother Kona grabbed the squirrel out of his mouth and flung it about 10 feet straight up into the air.  It landed with a splat.

During the keeper talk there are large metal doors that open to a very heavy mesh fencing and the keepers interact with the animals through that mesh.  Will asked another keeper to go get some medical gloves and some fig newtons.  Chimps are highly intelligent, highly food motivated and they love fig newtons and rarely get them.  They also understand the concept of “trading”.  Kona is probably one of the most intelligent chimps in there.

Will put on the gloves and then showed Kona the fig newton which he immediately reached for.  Will pulled it back and said, “Trade for the toy.” Kona clapped his hands.  “No, Kona, trade for the toy.”  Kona opened his mouth so Will could see his teeth.  Kona was trying any behavior that might be rewarded.  “Trade for the toy, Kona.”  And suddenly he understood.  He went over and got the dead squirrel and then he and Will together negotiated how to squish the squirrel through the mesh.  I couldn’t watch that part.  Then the crowd cheered so I opened my eyes just in time to see Kona delight in his treat.


Only in Dallas, part 2

“Ya’ll ready for the Cowboys game?!” my neighbor Jim shouted through the fence between our houses as his two little yappy dogs scampered around nervously.

“Ready and waiting!” I yelled back enthusiastically and cynically.

Yeah, right. Where are my San Francisco 49er’s!!

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