Death and New Life

“Look, honey! The Gorilla has gray hair so he must be old like Nana!” a very old woman said to a kid I assumed was her grandchild while pointing to her hair. The woman looked like she was a hundred years old.

As an amateur expert on the Western Lowland Gorilla, I stand in front of their habitat at the Dallas zoo and speak to zoo guests about them. “He’s actually not old,” I said, “he’s 13 which is about 18, 19 in human years. And, he’s not gray he’s silver. He’s a silverback gorilla which means a mature adult. But he’s a young adult.” Nana wasn’t looking at me or hearing me and just kept saying to her grandchild how old this gorilla must be.

“Nana!” a woman of about 38 asserted. “She’s saying he’s not old, you’re not listening to her.” I realized that this was her grandchild and the young one was her great grandchild. “Nana, listen to what the woman is saying!”

Nana looked at me and narrowed her eyes as if trying to focus. “He’s not old?” she asked suspiciously.

“No,” I said, “just silver from maturity.” Nana went on to ask me several questions and as other people gathered around to see the magnificent silverback, Juba, I noticed her flowy shirt had been accidently tucked into her underwear which were showing well above the top of her pants on one side. I was the one to run to the front of the class in junior high to tell the teacher his fly was down before he got eaten alive by a bunch of hormone raging maniacs and I wasn’t going to let Nana continue walking around the zoo like this. I simply reached forward, grabbed her shirt and tugged upward. She realized what was happening, never took her eyes off Juba while she reached back and completed the task. We never said a word about it.

“Where are the chimpanzees?” she finally asked excitedly. I told her how to get to them and told her to look for our one year old baby chimp.

“A baby? Yipeeee!” she exclaimed as she staggered away. “I gotta go find my kids!” Oddly, the granddaughter with the child in the stroller had moved on and left this incredibly old lady by herself. It didn’t seem to bother Nana but it bothered me. This woman wasn’t moving well.

An hour or two later I was leaving the gorilla research station when suddenly Nana appeared. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to drive you crazy with so many questions today,” she said. “But, where are the elephants?” She was alone again.

“I will walk you to the elephants, Nana,” she seemed unstable and it was hot. “Now, up ahead do you want to take the stairs or the stroller ramp?” I asked.

“I know, I look drunk!” she exclaimed with a laugh, “I’ll take the stroller ramp.”

“You don’t look drunk, you just look kinda old,” I said.

“Kinda old,” she giggled under her breath. “I’m on morphine,” she said, “I have cancer.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “Wow, morphine, are you dying?”

“Yes,” she said as she hung onto the railing teetering as she walked, “but it’s fine. I’m 85, I smoked from the time I was 16 until I was 66! I should have gotten cancer when I was 21!” she exclaimed as she gave me a friendly slap on the shoulder. “Oh, I see the kids! I’ll just catch up with them. Thank you for your help.”

“Nana,” I said, “just past the elephants are the giraffes and there are two babies in there.”

Two babies! Yipeeeee!” she said as she waved her arms.


Rockin’ and Rollin’ in Texas

My dogs suddenly looked disturbed as I sat at my desk writing. I looked up and wondered if they had to go pee. I just took them out an hour ago, I thought. Then, I heard a familiar jingling sound. I don’t know how else to describe it. I knew what was next; I was born and raised in California.

Earthquake, I said to myself. The house began to moan and then it started to slightly shake. Then there were two jolts among the shakes. The dogs started barking and looked alarmed. I have been trained from a young age to get under a door jam during an earthquake. I’ve never quite bought that because if the house falls down will the door jam really save you? And, when the dogs are totally freaked out how in heck do I get a 100 pound boy and 65 pound girl to stay under a door jam with me??

I’m the Accidental Texan, really I am, and I knew there would be lots of new things when I moved here. Many Texans told me about Tornedos, but no one mentioned earthquakes and I just assumed we didn’t have them here.

On jolt number one it occurred to me that this could be like something I’ve experienced in my past so I jumped from my office chair to an earthquake ready position. Unless you are from earthquake country, you probably have no idea what that is. That position is something like a quarterback ready to receive a hike. (You know, “HIKE, HIKE, GO!” and that one guy throws the football under his butt to the waaaay toooo cute quarterback who is married to a waaaaay toooo gorgeous skinny model.)

In an earthquake, just like with a quarterback who catches the ball in a hike, the next question that pops in your mind is what the hell do I do now?!? So, as I stood in earthquake ready position I asked myself that question. I have a “safe room” in a closet under the stairwell for tornedoes so that’s where I decided to go. The dogs love it in there because I have trained them that it’s a fun place and there are treats! The earthquake never took on California proportions and was over quickly. It took the dogs a while to settle down and I finally continued to write.

Over the next couple days, what utterly amazed me was what a big deal Texas made over an earthquake that measured 3.5 on the Richter Scale! It was on the front page of the newspaper, on the morning shows, on talk shows and Texans talked about it at the grocery store. They talked about the emotional devastation, the fear and the beloved trinkets lost to the natural disaster. In California, this wouldn’t have made the last page of personal ads. (Do personal ads still exist? Am I dating myself on my on blog? One of the reasons I’m blogging is to stay current, sniff. Is it all now?? I was married long before electronic dating started!)

I’ve been in 4 major earthquakes in my life. The first one was in 1971 and I was 12 years old. My whole family was sleeping at 6:01 am. First the jingling and then suddenly utter chaos as the force built.  In these huge earthquakes, everything shakes so dramatically you think the planet is being thrown off its axis. The end of the world occurs to you. It’s all you can do to crawl to a door jam hoping you don’t get hit from the things flying across the room as you hear dishes and glasses crashing to the floor from the cupboards in the kitchen. You find yourself screaming for your loved ones in other parts of the house. It is utterly terrifying. The 1971 earthquake measured 6.7 on the Richter Scale. Here are a few photos of the devastation.

CAoverpass1971     image-2 1971-san-fernando-earthquake-collapsed-everett            images

I hope to God no one was in that Chevrolet.  Obviously with earthquakes of that magnitude, electricity goes out, entire towns and cities are shut down for days or weeks and it takes a tremendous toll on emotions, costs and industry.

I hope I’m not messing with Texas, but these Texan 3.5’s are calves while California 6.7’s are Longhorns.