Thursday, August 3, 2000

Thanks to the Republican Convention, the Philadelphia Zoo has nearly doubled its population of exotic animals—and those ingrates are complaining!

Yes, if it wasn't for the Republicans and the way they have of inspiring truly innovative ideas for disruption and sabotage among their detractors, the Philly Zoo would not be enjoying a windfall of nearly 2,000 assorted reptiles, arthropods, small mammals and icky bugs.

The other night, in the midst of some rowdy street protests, two people were arrested by Philly police. The big red school bus they were driving turned out to be packing a hazardous cargo—a host of vermin which, police say, were to be unleashed on the streets of Philadelphia. Traffic-snarling was reportedly the main goal, and we presume that any poisonous scorpion attacks on Dick Armey would just be gravy.

But the plan was foiled by the keen work of the Philly PD's intelligence division. The story was big news in Philly—for about a minute and a half. Then, this town's lapdog media fell completely silent on the subject and moved on to pursue other, less pest-based bits of information.

"We're totally overwhelmed with other stories," said Jen Brown, the Associated Press's official "protest reporter," before hopping on her bike, no doubt in a hurry to totally cover the 1:30 "Vegetarians for Tofu Subsidies" rally.

So Pseudonymous jumped into the breach and set out to find the truth (or, at least, a snack). I headed for the police department's daily briefing at the African-American Museum. Yes, the Police Department's briefing—the one in which they tell how professionally, politely and, let's face it, studly-ly they've bashed heads—is really held at the city's African-American museum.

There John Timoney, the city's affable police commissioner, stood at a podium a few steps from a mural depicting centuries of various forms of white oppression of blacks and blasted my hopes for any cheap irony based on this unfortunate juxtaposition by making it clear that the 300 arrested protesters were mostly white, mostly unwashed "anarchists" who (I'm paraphrasing here) just get really pissy about free trade.

But I parsed Timoney's words closely. It's only when you're at a press conference to discuss the mysterious appearance of 2,000 exotic animals that you start to notice that the English language is a veritable menagerie of metaphors.

For instance, Timoney began his statement complaining of the "cat and mouse" games that the protesters were playing. He waxed further about how the rallies really "tick off" Philadelphians. He described how he personally "tailed" a protester and then "plucked" him from the crowd. And even described one of the arrest sites as "the corner of 16th and Locust."

Despite these oblique references to the case I was investigating, the question of the big red schoolbus remained unasked—until your faithful correspondent pounced.

"Commissioner," I asked. "Is there any update on the big red schoolbus? The protest groups say that the police are lying and that they didn't have anything to do with it."

"What do you expect them to say?" Timoney retorted.

"I expect them to say, 'You can kiss my hairy ass, you donut-eating pig!'" I nearly replied, but realized in time that Timoney was using that old interrogation gambit—the rhetorical question.

Timoney then almost seemed to violate the separation of church and state by reading an extremely Biblical-sounding list of the beasts that were found on the magic bus, a plague that included poisonous snakes, poisonous toads, tarantulas, scorpions, mice, reptiles and at least one dead skunk. It is undetermined whether there were any plans for slaying of the firstborn, unless you count the demise of Jeb's presidential hopes.

The animals were taken to the Philly Zoo (the nation's first!), but spokeswoman Leigh Rende told me that no one at the institution is happy about the new guests (as Ben Franklin might have said: "Abandoned animals are like fish; after three days, they stink.")

"This is no joke. Everyone at the zoo is upset about this blatant cruelty to animals," Rende said. If they're that upset, they should let their own animals out of their cages and free them, in the GOP spirit, from a cycle of dependency that involves regular handouts and no incentive to work.

Rende was too distraught to hook me up with Karl Kranz, the zoo's animal affairs expert (would somebody please elevate that to a cabinet position!), so I called the San Diego Zoo, which, in addition to being one of the foremost zoological institutions in the world, is also located in a time zone three hours before Philadelphia and is therefore open long after Rende and Kranz went home for the night.

I needed to know just what kind of disruption Timoney's "anarchists" could have possibly planned to create with a menagerie of crickets, some lethargic snakes and a poisonous toad or two.

"I don't know what kind of disruption they were trying to cause with crickets," said spokeswoman Christina Simmons. "And all toads are, technically, poisonous, although some emit toxins that are not hazardous to humans—unless they are, literally, kissing the toad."

Hey, leave Lynne Cheney out of this.

[ 100% True ]

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