Monday, September 09, 2013


We went to the Seattle zoo. I hadn't been to a zoo for pretty close on 30 years and expected it to be much as it was in the third grade. Soviet-era cement bunkers locking down the whimpering remains of once proud animals. Each going through their own hellish version of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest minus the good friend who's handy with a smothering pillow; plus various attempts to get them to mate with other animals, who, while the same species, are complete strangers.

I don't know if I looked forward to this overmuch. Although there is some magic in seeing an elephant in the flesh; even with the hollowed out stare of someone long past wishing for death, I'm not sure there is enough magic to keep me excited for the 3 hour drive. Mind you, these are all memories added onto my memories as a child. Who knows what I thought back then, now through the tinted glasses of a purportedly sane, responsible, socially conscious adult.

The Seattle Zoo, however, is not the cement zoological gulag I remember of my youth. It's all made exceedingly natural, so where there was once concrete bunkers there's now rolling hills and hidden pools and, quite frankly, far more land than there is animal. It's like a Where's Waldo featuring charismatic megafauna. You get to experience the joy of birding (uncertain identification, natural surroundings, sporadic somewhat embarrassing excitement) and the joy of public events (overpriced concession, the click of numerous SLRs all firing at the same moment, cleverly hidden washrooms) rolled into one!

The various staff and plaques announce the animals are quite happy. Their objectivity isn't to be relied upon, I'd imagine. However, regular feedings without the alarming ritual of predators thinning your herd or poachers trying to provide material for a 3000 year old recipe for Viagra has to be somewhat better? The kids seemed to enjoy it. The animals didn't seem scarringly depressed? I'm not sure.

There didn't seem to be a whole lot of rhyme and reason to which animals they liked. Terrified of giraffes, not at all put out by panthers. A panther that could kill them and then carry their lifeless corpse in its mouth while it cleared a 6 foot fence not that, as a father, I'm hyper aware of every single danger that may or may not happen to my children no matter how slight the chance. Not so scared of tiny green Amazonian frogs which could kill our entire family with a sneeze. Scared of an unidentified sharply coloured jungle snake that... ok, well, that made sense.

There were some exotic things that I was sure were just urban legends perpetuated by a recurring misprint in a reference edition of the Encylopedia Britannica (Tapirs, I mean, really), and then not so exotic things (wolves (which they put on the same field as elks? was this just to keep both of them on their toes? Do elks live more healthy lives when harried by endless anxiety? Are they the Woody Allens of the temperate herbivores?)).

There was even a bear. A great massive hulking bear. Bears, actually. And they were gigantic like what you imagine they'd be if you were three and just saw Omaha's Wild Kingdom, on an IMAX. Volkswagen sized. So massive that the idea of them opening up a mini-van at Yellowstone because someone left a bucket of KFC in there takes no imagination whatsoever.

The zoo designers had a bit of a ball with the bear enclosure. First you see it from a great way off and think, 'Huh, big bear'. Then there's another viewing part, this time under a rock, and it's a bit closer, and you can see the mini-van crushing teeth turning a whole salmon into a pink slurry. And then finally there's a viewing area that's right up against the water where the bear is eating. Close enough that my mind started doing faulty arithmetic and laughably misinformed load bearing calculations with regard to mini-van destroying omnivores and whatever plexiglass grade they use to build the enclosure.

It's a strange thing to trust your life to the whims of an engineer who may or may not have thought of everything when creating a barrier between your family and thousands of pounds of muscle that would eat you as an afterthought on the way to getting a snack.

Are there zoo engineers? Is it terribly rigourous? Do they, at the last second, move the bears to the flamingo sanctuary and the pythons to the duckling alcove because of some marketing head's idea?

I have no idea. There is some charm, it might be said, for concrete gulags.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Owlet is Metal

 For the most part, Owlet is as you would expect any seven year girl to be. Deeply involved in cartoons and their subsequent merchandise. Anthropomorphized animals of various magical qualities; fairies, both the Disney sanctioned and the not so sanctioned; princesses of every sort. She has endless small sets of tiny plastic figurines which don other, much smaller plastic clothes or accessories or some kind of domestic contrivance. She sets them up and plays with them, chatting about what's happening and why and how some discord or other comes about.

It's enough to make any Mattel executive ( pre-teen girls division, TV-tie-in portfolio) get all misty and sentimental.

It's also strange how she expects me to somehow be into this, and to know the various backstories of characters, their names, their likes, their failings. If I was at all interested in memorizing names and arcane stats about things which have, at best, imaginary importance I'd get into spectator sports. (Not that Owl Jr. is any better, no I do not know the episode of Rescue Bots where Bumblebee makes a brief, and apparently memorable, appearance).

In any case, we went to a street fair in June. One of those torrid affairs which is far too well funded by the local merchants to have that charm that only hand tossed patchouli and questionable crafts can bring. Lots of engaging of brands going on down that 4 or 5 block stretch. They did let some, I'd assume, smaller and more independent retailers sell their wares. Balloon animals and mini-donuts and other things that seem so very much worth their over-inflated price at the time.

We told her she can get one necklace.She chose a stall which honestly looked like it just knocked over a Hello Kitty bead factory. Lots of bright colours. I wasn't sure how she'd ever pick one, there being so much choice. Was she going to pick the pink and yellow sunshine thing.. happy.. type bauble, or the aqua-marine doo-dad which had either a mermaid or a trout with a penchant for wigs. There was always the rainbow option. So many rainbows.

Instead, she chose a skull, and crossbones. On a black necklace.

There are layers there already, I see. I was delighted, but try to stay neutral as to whatever choice she makes. But delighted I was. I mean, it was kind of a cute skull and crossbones, but it was still the universal symbol for death or for piracy. That was pretty metal.

She confirmed this underlying current of PURE METAL a few weeks later. She was going through the detailed history of a My Little Pony, Princess Luna, blah blah 'saves the world' something or other 'moon' something something, and then, "but she turned bad, and was called Nightmare Moon, so I like to call her Nightmare Moon. It sounds cooler".

That'll leave the Mattel executives scratching their head, I"m sure.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Marketing On Ice

It's funny the things you save up for the massive, magnanimous gifts or tickets you hem and haw over and finally  bite the bullet and get them for your kids. And then they invariably give you a blank look, and, depending on how old they are, give you a smile that may or may not be convincing. Nothing gives you a glimpse better into the moment when your kids send you to a retirement home more than your child trying hard not to hurt your feelings. The vast chasm of  your own frailty/humanity set against the invincibility of youth.

Anyways, so we tell Owlet we are going to "Disney On Ice", and she gives us a 'oh good' smile which is more bewildered than blank, but I think she gets that she's supposed to be excited, so she attempts a small clap or something.

My parents were 1st generation immigrants, and they were... Well. I went to IceCapades as a kid, and I swear to god the concession workers who sold wares at my seat level look suspiciously like Himalayan sherpas. Indistinguishable dots moving in pretty patterns with a flutter of detail which may or may not have been a reference to Star Wars figure in my memory. This is also, more or less, my memory of any sporting event we were taken to.

What I'm saying is goddamn those tickets were pricey and I can understand why my parents might have gotten the seats at the treeline and damned  be the altitude sickness. And with these hefty tickets in our wallets you can imagine my chagrin at being treated with a 6-year-old's version of a polite shrug as a response.

But that's all understandable because how is she to know wtf a "Disney On Ice" actually is? We tell Owl Jr. but good luck if any of that even remotely registers. He doesn't even give us a polite smile.

We get there and it's just a phalanax of marketing. Over-priced dolls and programs and commemorative plastic cups (apparently the plastic cups with a drink in them were 12 bucks. Jaw. Dropping.), and  keychains and my god it just goes on forever. This is on top of the mindless spinning glowy things that are really going to be amusing for exactly as long as the show if not shorter. It's like a Fast Track To Global Warming By Using Quickly Disposable Petroleum Products, while we show you an show that's ironically ON ICE.

Even over loud speaker they are pimping out their wares. Duplo + Disney + Another Faceless Multi-national + Child Development Advantage == sales, I think. The wording is pretty slick 'Something something Disney something is now being offered!'. Or some equally egregious weasel word which is better than "COME BUY OUR STUFF, OUR SHAREHOLDERS DEMAND MORE VALUE!" . So there's the audio, and the stalls, and the fact that Owlet and a bunch of girls her age are all dressed as some sort of Disney Princess and long story short both our kids have some outrageously overpriced plushies now.

Disney on Ice is really about Princesses on Ice. When you look at how everything is structured, that's what it's aimed at. Owlet got a choice of five or six different princesses(she chose Belle), and Owl Jr. got to pick Flounder or The Beast (he chose Flounder (although I did make it clear to him that he could pick a princess if he wanted)). I'm just glad they have newer princesses, with better values. The Princess and Frog had a line about 'I got this curse because I wished upon a star instead of relying on hard work', which was pretty great.