• Russell Jaffe

Our Trip to the Zoo


We took a family trip to the Brookfield Zoo today.

The thing is never actually about the thing, that's why you're here.

That's why I'm here!

Being here makes me feel so, so bad for that mother whose child fell into the gorilla enclosure. Celestine will run off from us in seconds. It happens so quickly, and often it happens with no precipitating action. We'll be standing looking at something, or Celestine will be wiggling around, and suddenly she makes a break and begins to climb a barrier. And she isn't even two yet!

Those cases about the kid in the gorilla enclosure and the kid killed by an alligator are both so sad, and both are about fear, mostly fear related to race. You never heard a peep about responsibility with the child attacked by an alligator. Fear of black parents and kids. Black bodies, black lives, black anything. Even arguments about gun control or responsibility, or even the UK leaving the European Union they depend so much on symbiotically are about fear related to difference and the line between where fear of others dictates laws and borders

imposed upon them.

Living in Chicago, you never hear a word about terrorism. That's because the terrorism is "gang related," as if this is a kind of choice certain individuals make, like setting out willingly on a trip from which you will not return. That these are somehow not our kids.

They are our kids.

A woman with two very young children keeps saying "FUCK!" and "sheeeeit!" "I don't want to be no penguin, sheeeit!" she says, having pushed next to Carleen and I. We notice her gun tattoo on her leg. Ideologies are so much harder to change than talking, let alone commenting, let alone reading online. They're literally etched on the skin.

Looking at the named and sequestered animals in the zoo makes me think about how the urge to classify, maybe, is the worst human quality. It's the quality that gives way to colonialism and to contain and control. It's the cold logic that runs under our feet as an economy. Even running a journal of creative writing is about classification as part of--what? Competency? Tradition?

The status quo? The way things were dictating always, as a standard, the way things are,

despite it all?

In the gift shop, a kid runs up to her parent, tugging her khaki shorts. "Mommy, the octopus like in Dory! We saw the eel in Dory!" What even is real? I am standing there with Celestine, who is holding and hugging a stuffed narwhal. "I love you!" she says to it. Employees go, "awwww!" Things are sold that way, like on the backs of emotion, right? It's easy to write about and ask, what is the real world? Where do we produce or maintain or establish fertile ground for the imagination?

Stuffed animals, I'd like to think. I like the stuffed animals, the actual products, in the zoo more than the actual animals. I would like the zoo more if it was just colorful gift shops of animals, and we could say to our kid, "animals--real animals--are precious and living and wondering just like you. There is no real classifying them, and no containing. They are the wonder of the world, just like you. And we never, ever hurt of capture them.

We look and wonder.

Actually, that's probably also the problem.

We tell Celestine not to climb the rails. "In the zoo, we just look."

Carleen says, "I wonder who the Trump supporters are." I am wondering too. The thick, bald guy in the American eagle emboldened shirt and an American flag hat. Was that hat for a truck company? The parents barking at their kids? The woman who said to her kid, in that Midwestern accent closing in on Chicago, "This is Chicaaago, you WILL get kidnapped! Get over here and stay here!"

I want to write something about the flightless bird squawking--which isn't even the right word. There is no word. It's this repetitive, greedy, throaty honking--at people outside one snack and gift shop area, picking up scraps, marauding, obnoxiously bleating,

watching out for and thinking about itself, itself alone at all costs.

Is this a prescient image for our direction? What do you think?

Even playing into this feeling of identifying who's hateful plays into being hateful and judgmental. We are trying to classify what feels like a shadowy periphery closing in on us. Carleen says, "the Trump supporters must feel that way, too." The feeling we are all being closed in on, and we are handling it differently.

It's been a record hot Spring. There's no way off the earth. No real one, anyway, you know?

Celestine falls asleep on her new stuffed narwhal.

In the car, I think, maybe I say--I say a lot, I don't remember now--about being educated not making a difference, it being more a kind of glass enclosure out of which you can see the problematic elements of the past guiding the future, and you can juxtapose them with the voices or histories you've read about or discussed, but most people remain afraid, or that knowledge isn't really a historical tool of change, just a coating for justifying the selfish urges of what people think they need and the answers to changing questions they feel they deserve. This is while we're merging onto the highway, you know, that hot blur of exhaust, as if we're then, as if on cue, gone.

-Celestine falls asleep on her new stuffed narwhal

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