Playing Zoo

When I was growing up, relatives would come to the house over the holidays.  They would stay for a couple days.  In my family I have three younger siblings and when my cousins would come over that added two more to the clan.  Needless to say there were games to be played amongst us.  We’d play mushroom ball, tag, twenty-one, wave tag, basketball, video games.  If it was winter we’d have a snow ball fight or build a snow fort and if it was summer we’d play kickball at the park or light small animals on fire.

Most of these games I later found out were really a plot by the parents to get us out of their hair for a while.  They would send all the kids to the basement or out to the backyard, throw some lawn darts and BB guns at us and tell us not to come inside until dark.  BB gun tag is harder than it looks in the dark.  One of the games we played in the basement that was especially pleasing to the parents was when they made us play zoo.

The whole point of playing zoo is that each kid is a different animal and each animal has his or her own cage.  I think the reason that the parents liked it so much was that the kids would pretend to be locked up animals for hours on end, giving the parents plenty of time to take egg nog shots and pass out for most of the afternoon.  Meanwhile the kids are safely locked up in their imaginary cages pretending to be taken care of the Zoo Keeper who was always the youngest kid because he is the easiest to boss around.  The Panther would yell out in a roar from her cage that she needed water.  So the Zoo Keeper would go get imaginary water bowl.  The Gorilla would pound his chest demanding some bananas, so the Zoo Keeper would go get bananas.  Then the Elephant would trumpet an alarm that he had just taken a big dump on the rug.  The Zoo Keeper would use his shovel to extract the Elephant dropping from between the couch cushions and the back of the piano that was the elephant cage.

Often there was a fight to be the lion.  Among the oldest would be the biggest fight for this top honor.  It was a point of tension because even though the oldest would win the battle, the losing party would always try to find a way to show why the species of cat that she picked would be better than the lion.  A panther was the most popular choice to compete with the lion.  That or a jaguar.  I have no idea why it was a panther or jaguar and not a tiger or a cheetah.  Maybe because those cats were more rare and exotic.  “Anybody can be a lion.  There’s like a million of those.”  The Panther cousin would say.  “A panther is scarier, faster, stronger, and can beat up a lion any day of the week!”  And so it went.  The oldest would be the lion on one end of the basement zoo with the old couch as the main wall of his cage and the Panther cousin would be on the other end of the zoo in the “panther” section with folding chairs holding up a cloths pin quilt for its cage.  Both kings of their own jungle peering at each other as if ever left together in the same cage the Zoo Keeper would have a bloody battle on his hands.

The middle siblings would pick up the scraps of the other species to fill out the zoo.  There was our A.D.D. Monkey who only had one chair and a coffee table tipped on its side for a cage.  Having A.D.D. made keeping this monkey in a cage very difficult and kept the Zoo Keeper very busy.

Then there was the Zebra/Horse/Unicorn sister section of the zoo.  Much debate was done about whether a zoo could have a Unicorn since most of us seemed to know that they were fictional, but then again some of us thought we were lions.  Much of the Unicorns realism came when this sister would call out her closest unicorn sound she could make.  This unicorn sound was more like a cross between a owl and a wolf that was dying from strep throat.  The Lion, Monkey and Panther were happy though that we weren’t playing guns because the Unicorn’s sound effect for guns was even more pathetic and could snap you out of your imaginative state by hearing her shoot.

The final animal was always a wild card.  This middle sibling was left with the scraps of animal kingdom.  After all its no fun being a ant eater or a beaver.  There is no heroism or coolness in being those.  Being another big cat would be voted down by the oldest.  Another kind of goofy ape?  Already taken.  A big shark?  No water and might get rug burn trying to swim.  Giraffe?  Rhino?  Alligator?  No, these aren’t cool enough.  Can’t be a bird or an insect.  Had to be a mammal.  So he turns the animal he knows the best!  His dog.  Yep!  We had a dog in our zoo.  Not even a wolf or a coyote or a fox.  A domestic dog.  And being a domestic dog meant he got to be outside the cages and wonder around with the Zoo Keeper.

So to fill out this basement zoo we had a lion, a panther, a monkey, a unicorn, a dog, and a Zoo Keeper.  Looking back that was the worst zoo there ever was!  Who would pay to see that?

Inevitably the Zoo Keeper being the youngest would get tired of being bossed around while the older animals hung out in their cool “cages” and would quit.  From that point forward “playing zoo” was over.  A zoo without a keeper can not stand.  It was time to go wake up the parents from their egg nog hangover and ask for the bb guns.

2 Responses to Playing Zoo

  1. Shirley December 23, 2008 at 10:33 pm #

    well done. I had a vivid image in my mind of a Wall family get together, it may help that I know most of the parties involved, but regardless, I think this is really well done. I LOL’ed (please don’t say “LOL’d”) several times as a read it. Especially picturing you trying to convince “the unicorn” that throwing tiny balls of tin foil at her brothers would be the same as shooting them with a bb-gun during the night time game of tag…I of course added that image to what you described, but knowing the brothers involved I have no doubt this attempt was made.

  2. Fritz December 30, 2008 at 1:20 pm #

    Thanks. I’m surprised that more members of my family have not been permanently injured or killed through the course of growing up. I remember throwing ice cubs off of the roof of our house at cars. That was really dangerous. Why am I not in jail come to think of it.

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