Saturday, October 22, 2011

Night of Terror in Zanesville – or, Lions and tigers and bears, O hi (o)!

October 18th, 2011
Somewhere near Zanesville, Ohio

911. What’s your emergency?
I just saw a lion crossing the highway!
Excuse me sir, did you say a lion?
Yes, a lion.  Crossing highway 75. You need to get somebody out here, and I mean pronto!
Sir, can you describe the lion?
Describe the lion? Uh, well, he was big and brown…and he had a black mane, and I just saw him cross south of milepost 129.  I’m not kidding, someone’s gonna have a serious problem soon if they don’t get that animal.
Sir, are you sure it was a lion?
Trust me, I know it sounds weird, but it was definitely a lion.  We need the police, or game and fish, or Barnum and Bailey's, or somebody, quick.
Sir, how do you know it was a lion?
How do I know it was a lion?! Because I saw The Lion King, and @#%*&$! Mufasa just ran in front of my car!

Sir, please refrain from using expletives when reporting an emergency. 
Well, what do you want me to do?!  Stop the @#%*&$! car, get out, and stick my @#%*&$! head in his mouth?
Sir, I'm warning you...
Sorry... I just saw a freakin’ lion!
Sir, try to remain calm. You wish to report a full-grown male lion crossing highway 75 south of milepost 129.  Is that correct?
Huh? Yes, that’s correct.
Sir, where was this lion going?
Where was this lion going?!  What kind of questions are these?  I don’t know, to the airport, maybe, to catch a @#%*&$! plane back to Africa.  ‘Where is the lion going?!’  Maybe he and his lion friends are having a guys’ night out.  Maybe they’re going to Sizzler for the buffet.  Word's probably out that the waitresses there are plump and juicy.
Sir, are you presently under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substances?
No, I am not!  C’mon, seriously, how am I supposed to know where the lion is going? It didn’t occur to me to stop and ask him.
Sir, I meant in which direction was the lion headed when you saw it?
Um, well, it was heading east when it crossed the road in front of me. It walked along the side of the highway for a little bit, and then as I was about to pass it, it disappeared into the trees.
Yes, disappeared.
Sir, so you’re saying that you can no longer see the lion?
Of course not, man.  I’m nowhere near that lion.  I’m no lion tamer, and I ain't no hero.  Especially when it’s dark out, and there’s no one else around, and Mr. MGM mascot turns his head and those glowing yellow eyes are reflecting in your headlights. Man, the way he just stared at the car!  I started to feel like a great big can of Starkist, you know? I floored it.  I’m still doing 95.”
Slow down, sir.
I know, I know.  I always talk too fast when I'm upset.
No, slow the car down.  You're speeding.
Okay, sir.  Thank you for the information.
Well, what are you going to do?
I will refer this to the proper authorities.
And who would that be?
Sir, if you’re done…
Sir, you can go ahead and hang up now…
I don’t want to.
Sir, do you have anything else of any emergency nature to report?
I guess not.
Then you must clear this line by disconnecting now. I need to contact the authorities.
Why don’t you hang up?
I can’t, sir.  It’s a rule. The caller has to hang up.
I didn’t know that.
Okay, you’re gonna make me say it, aren’t you?  Fine.  I’m scared. Alright? I said it. Can’t you just stay on the line until I get home?  It’s only about twelve more miles. Please?
No, sir.  Sir, if you’re not currently reporting an emergency, you must hang up.  You could hinder my ability to respond to someone else’s emergency call.
Do you have anybody waiting?
Not at the moment, sir.  You’re the only call I’ve had tonight.
So why can’t you just stay on the line with me?  If you get another call, you can put me on hold.  I trust you.
Sir, that’s not possible. I need to report your lion sighting to the proper authorities.  Sir, everything will be okay.
Well, I guess…wait a minute…what is that?  Is that…OH MY GOD!!!
Sir, what is it?
Uh, well, I don’t know how to say this so you won’t think I’m crazy, but I swear I just saw a tiger and a bear fighting over a piece of roadkill!
Goodbye, sir.

Earlier this week, a despondent man by the name of Terry Thompson committed suicide at his home in Zanesville, Ohio.  Before taking his own life, he released 56 wild and exotic animals from the cages he was keeping them in.  18 tigers, 17 lions, 8 bears, some wolves, jaguars, monkeys and other assorted creatures suddenly found themselves free to roam the rural Ohio countryside. This led to the night of terror imagined above, as people began to discover that their neck of the woods contained more than the usual deer, raccoons and skunks. They alerted local police, who mounted a furious effort to locate and kill the animals before they could unionize.

The first interesting point this raises is exactly what aren’t people allowed to keep as pets in Ohio?  Apparently, Ohio residents can put just about anything they want in their backyard.  In Arizona, an exotic pet is something like a cockatoo or a sugar glider.  In Ohio, they’re Bengal tigers and grizzly bears.  I once looked into buying a hedgehog as a pet.  Don’t laugh.  According to my Russian teacher in college, hedgehogs are commonly kept in Russia, and make great family pets.  But you can’t have one in Arizona.  Too exotic.  Too many hedgehog attacks on unsuspecting civilians, I guess.  What I didn’t know is that all I had to do was move to Ohio, and I could have set my sights higher.  Much higher.

Reading the stories about the night of terror in Zanesville, it almost sounds like exotic pets have become a form of social competition in Ohio, the way luxury SUV’s used to be around here, before the Obama administration ruined it for everybody.  I can imagine the conversation around the dinner table of a typical suburban Ohio family…

Mother:  “You’ll never believe what I saw at the Flabershams today, honey.”
Father:  “What are our neighbors up to now, dear?”
Mother:  “I saw a delivery truck in their driveway this morning while I was watering the azaleas.  They unloaded four crates. I read the sides as they were rolling them into the garage.  Two were wildebeest…”
Father:  “Ha! Finally replacing the ones that got eaten by the crocodiles.”
Mother:  “Uh-huh.  One was a rhinoceros…”
Father:  “Black or white?”
Mother: “The crate didn’t say…”
Father:  “Must be black then.  Those Flabershams, trying so hard to keep up.  We’ve had ours for what, about two years now?  Hey, son, how long have we had that breeding pair of black rhinoceroses?”
Son:  “I think it’s three years, Dad.”
Father:  “Three years, right. (laughs and shakes his head) Flabershams.”
Son:  “Hey, Dad, can we get a dog next?  I’ve always wanted a dog.”
Father:  “Dog?  Son, how many times do I have to tell you:  dogs are for saps. We go big, or we go to Texas (laughs again).  Forget about the dog, son.”
Son:  “But Daaaaaad…”
Father:  “Go outside and play with your hyenas or something, kid.  This imaginary conversation is already too long as it is.”
Son: “Aww, alright.”
Mother:  “Don’t you want to know what was in the fourth crate, honey?”
Father:  “If it’s the Flabershams, it was probably a tapir, or a capybara, or some oversized rodent like that. (Pause)  Alright, I’ll bite.  What was in the fourth crate, dear?”
Mother:  “Well…(nervous hesitation) They got a snow leopard.”
Father:  “What?! A snow leopard?!  The Flabershams? Are you sure it wasn’t just a regular leopard?”
Mother:  “It was very clearly printed on the crate.  In fact, someone had circled the word “snow” with a marker, and added the word “Extreme” where it said “Handle with care.”
Father:  “That’s impossible!  Who do those Flabershams think they are?  They can’t afford a snow leopard.”
Mother:  “Well, Shirley did get that promotion at the bank, if you remember.”
Father:  “So when are you going to get a promotion?  I’ll tell you this, if those Flabershams think they going to one-up us, they’ve got another think coming!  I’ll have five snow leopards here by Saturday if I have to!  God-@#%&! Flabershams!”

Another thing, where are these people in Ohio getting these animals? What do the pet stores look like there?  Do they sell anacondas along with guinea pigs?  Do they sell lion cubs in the windows next to the Persian blues? 

Can you get them on Craigslist?

Craigslist ad:
One moose.  Adult male, full shots and records.  Will sell for $500 obo.  Will consider trades for laptop computer or a pool table.

Here in Arizona, we have big gun and ammo shows throughout the year.  In Ohio, do they have big game shows?  If only somebody could just put the two together… every night could be like the night of terror.

But that was my topic, wasn’t it?  The night of terror.  What initially interested me about this story wasn’t all the nonsense you just got done reading.  Originally, I wanted to write about how much this story seemed like a great premise for a movie, and how there are probably twenty producers in Hollywood right now who are kicking their creative teams for not coming up with this concept.  Imagine the horror movie you could make: a disturbed and desperate man turns a collection of large, wild predators he’s been hoarding for years loose on a small, unsuspecting, Midwest American town.  Imagine the fear and terror of the townspeople on an otherwise average day as they are suddenly beset by wild beasts intent on avenging the mistreatment suffered by every mammal in the greater Columbus area.  We see scenes of normal life gone horribly tragic:  kids coming home from school attacked by vicious tigers, workers leaving the office mauled by rampaging bears in the parking lot, couples taking a romantic stroll in the moonlight surrounded by snarling wolves, lions roaming through shopping malls, eating shoppers and checking out the Kate Spade handbags.  Imagine the mayhem, the gore, and the computer generated special effects.  Imagine the pyrotechnic displays you could concoct as the beleaguered citizens begin to band together and fight for their very survival against the untamed horde of animals.  The movie ends with their inevitable but hard won victory, as the last rabid monkey is blown away with a shotgun as it tries to tear out the throat of the heroine, probably in front of a Starbucks.  The remaining townspeople come together in the street and begin laughing in exhausted relief, and hug, and slap each other’s backs.  They have learned something about themselves, and about each other, this night.  They have survived the night of terror.

Great premise for a suspenseful horror movie, right?  Except the reality was that nobody was killed, maimed, decapitated, eaten, or in any way injured by any of the 56 animals that were on the loose Tuesday night.  From news reports, there were only two documented incidents of violence perpetrated by any of the animals.  In one case, one of the animals was killed by another one of the animals (isn’t that always the case? animal on animal violence in this country is an absolute epidemic), and in the other, either a lion or a tiger apparently bit Mr. Thompson’s head after he had shot himself.  I’d like to think it was a mercy killing, finally putting poor Mr. Thompson out of his misery.

Here’s the problem with fear.  It seems so natural, so logical to assume that these animals would want to attack people.  After all, they’re wild animals.  That’s what wild animals do, isn’t it?  They attack people.  We must protect ourselves from this danger, so out go the men with the guns, and down go the animals. 

I’m not suggesting that the police and wildlife officials acted improperly, or that they didn’t have to kill the animals.  I’m just saying we should take a moment and notice how big the discrepancy is sometimes between our fears and reality.  The reality is that some of those animals were on the loose, had complete freedom, for a full 24 hours or more, including overnight, and not one single human being was hurt by them during that time.  Turn 56 drunken frat boys loose in the same vicinity and see what happens.  The reality is that fear influences our actions far more than we sometimes suspect.  Our fearful fantasies reach deeper into our rational minds than most of us are willing to admit. The reality is that, if you think about it, in the end it was only the animals who suffered on this night of terror.


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