Sunburn sucks, but there has been one nice perk: because Wifey is singed on the upper shoulders, it is painful for her to wear shirts. So whenever possible she’s been going topless.
“I’m sorry to everybody that I’m walking around without a shirt on,” Wifey apologized to us this morning.
“That’s okay, mommy, your bra is beautiful,” said the girl. You can always count on the girl for support.
“You want me to shoot it?” Little Davey was still walking around in cap and toting his rifle. I was taking great pains to make sure he didn’t smash a mirror or TV during one of his many bear fights.
“I dunno,” I said. “Those bra straps look awfully painful. Are you sure you wanna keep that thing on?”
In addition to all the other vacationing I’ve been doing, for the past several days I took a vacation from shaving. It’s a pain and I don’t like doing it, nor do I like having razor-face first thing in the morning.
Ladies, spare me your angry comments about razor-pit. I didn’t start the patrimonial oppression that considers smooth pits and legs sexy. I do continue it, but only to fit in.
I used to have a beard back in college. Unlike every other hair on my body, my beard is red, and I think when it’s fully grown out I look like a Viking. I love my beard. But when I got my first job I had to shave it off (safety reasons), and I’ve kept it off ever since for a combination of safety and office politics reasons.
Wifey, knowing that it’s generally unacceptable for me to have a beard, has always told me that I’m welcome to grow one. It’s like the wife who tells her mechanically inept husband he can build a hot-rod; she gets to look magnanimous, he gets to pretend like he’s a real man, and everybody knows that the status quo will go unchanged.
But this vacation, I’m striking a blow for freedom. I’m growing back my Viking beard.
Anyhow, at breakfast today, somebody in my family finally commented on it. I know Wifey realized what I was doing, but was afraid to mention it. She didn’t want me to call her on her promise and hoped I’d just forgotten and that I’d get back to shaving.
It was the girl that brought it up. “Daddy, haven’t you forgotten to shave the last few days?”
“I’m growing back my beard,” I said.
“I don’t like it,” the boy said. He never minces words. “You look bad. Shave it off.”
“It does make you look like a hobo,” Wifey chimed in.
“Does not,” I said. “It makes me look dangerous. Don’t you think so, honey?”
Everybody looked at the girl, and she began to wilt under the pressure. “Not really,” she admitted. “It’s gray here, and here, and here, and I think it makes you look funny. You really should shave it off.”
“But with the cowboy hat, don’t I look rugged?” I put on the hat for effect. “What do you think, pilgrims?”
Wifey frowned at me. “What did I tell you about that accent?”
“You look like the man in the park who peed on the bench,” the boy said. “I liked him. He’s funny when he falls down.”
“I don’t care what you all say,” I insisted. “I’m keeping my Viking beard.”
“Hobo,” corrected Wifey. “It’s a hobo beard.”
After a quick trip to Wal-Mart (our Official Vacation Sponsor) we had picked up some new sunburn cream and some SPF 30 stuff. Let me tell you: in addition to smelling like menthol, the sunburn stuff didn’t work all that well.
(Quick digression: did you know that if you spray menthol shaving cream on your balls then it burns like the fire of a million suns? Just thought I’d give any men out there planning on doing manscaping that advice.)
(At least, that’s what I hear.)
We started our morning by having breakfast in the hotel. I headed down there first, to get started, while Wifey and the kids came behind. As I sat down with my cup of coffee, the breakfast watcher stopped me.
“I’m sorry, sir, but this is for hotel guests only,” she said.
“I am a hotel guest,” I said. “Here’s my key.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, sir,” she apologized. “Sometimes the indigent sneak in and try to steal food.”
Does no one show proper respect for the pillagers of the sea?
Once we’d eaten (or, in the children’s case, smashed up food in an eating-like display), we were off to pick up Uncle G. His house is nice, and located in a really nice suburb in Memphis. Personally, this makes me nervous. I’d rather that Wifey not realize that Uncle G represents a significant step up from me. And he doesn’t have a blog where he makes fun of her.
“Morning,” Uncle G said. “You gonna start riding the rails or something?”
“Why?” I asked.
“You look like a hobo,” he said.
“Don’t you remember my beard from college?” I asked. “It looks great, like a Viking.”
“No,” he said. “The Vikings used to live on their ships.”
“I don’t care,” I said to four sets of eyes starting at me. “I’m keeping my Viking beard.”
Uncle G had planned our day’s activities, with the caveat that he doesn’t know much about planning family fun, so he took no responsibility if it turned out not to be a good time. We assured him that his agenda (morning at the zoo, riverboat cruise in the afternoon, evening at a famous fried chicken restaurant) sounded great.
First stop: the Memphis Zoo.
In retrospect, the protestors should have signaled that all was not well with the zoo. There were dozens of them at each road leading to the entrance, shaggy-faced granola-crunchers handing out flyers protesting the zoo’s lavish spending on Chinese Pandas. They are also angry that the zoo has cut down some “ancient forest” to make way for a new attraction.
The only thing that makes me mad is that the new attraction wasn’t ready. I mean, really, what’s the use of building new attractions if they’re not open for the Summer season?
The other thing the group is mad about is Zoo admission, which is 13 bucks. I’ve paid 13 bucks to park at other zoos, so I was pretty happy. I couldn’t see what all the complaining was about, personally.
The papers were signed by The White Rose.
“Does Memphis have some kind of super hero,” I asked Uncle G, “like Batman with a social conscience?”
“No,” said Uncle G. “Memphis has a bunch of carping assholes.”
“We have those in Europe!” I said.
“You want some more?”
If there’s one less thing we need in Europe, it’s assholes carping about the environment. We’re pretty much full up on those.
I confidently strode up to the ticket window. “Hello,” said the elderly lady behind the window. “If you want to speak to the head keeper about getting a sweeper’s job, you’ll have to come back during the week.”
“I have a job,” I said, “I-”
She frowned at me. “Why don’t you just use the employee’s entrance?”
“I don’t work here,” I said. “I want to come visit the zoo.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought you were one of the homeless trying to get a job as a pooper-scooper.”
“VIKING!” I yelled. “I look like a Viking!”
“Excuse me,” Uncle G said. “My family and I would like to visit the zoo sometime today, sir.”
Everybody’s a comedian.
My overall impression of the Memphis Zoo is that it is a well-built, well-maintained zoo that has a wide variety of animal species. Nice place. But I will note that there is a hodge-podge of themes that confuse the guest. Egyptian entryways give way to a more standard zoo décor, until you get to the inaptly-named “Asian Hills” which are little more than a place to put the Pandas.
The rest of it is pretty much “zoo standard” and nothing to write home about.
“Everybody pick your favorite animal,” I said. “And we’ll be sure to go see it.”
“Cats,” the girl said. “I like the big cats.”
“River otters,” Wifey said.
“Monkeys!” cried the boy.
“My second favorite animal is the bears,” said Uncle G.
“What’s your favorite?” I asked.
“How about I take him back to Wild River Country?” I asked Wifey. “We don’t want to disappoint him, after all.”
“Just go,” said Wifey. “Hobo face.”
As luck had it, we could go in order of preference: cats, then otters, then monkeys, then bears. So that is what we did.
One thing the Memphis Zoo does is that when an animal has a birthday, they have a table manned by volunteers where they give out prizes, you can write a card, and you get a little noisemaker. So at the lions, they were giving out horns that you blow into and the sound like bicycle horns.
I hate those things, and from the look of things, the lions hate them, too. I thought Wifey was going to berserk and start ramming those down people’s throats. We did not allow our children to have them, but plenty of parents handed them to two-year-olds and let them blow almost continually in them.
Wifey managed to find a compromise that pleased almost everyone: whenever any noisemakers hit the ground, she stomped them to pieces. If the child cried, Wifey would apologize, then the parents would have to go back to get another noisemaker and we’d escape.
I love that woman more every day.
Past the cats there’s a little aquarium. I don’t actually approve of having aquariums in zoos, as it seems like you’re mixing two things that, while good, should be kept separate. It’s like serving fish tacos: there’s just something wrong about it on a fundamental level.
Inside the aquarium, we got to see two turtles trying to procreate the species.
“Why does that turtle have two tails?” asked the girl.
I pointed back to the entrance. “Look! Ice cream!”
After that we saw the laziest group of River Otters ever. I threw a rock at them just to see if they were alive. Turns out the zoo frowns on this, but since it was hot and I’d been sweating and I had my Viking beard I just rambled enough that everybody was afraid to make eye contact with me.
Past the otters we entered Primate Canyon. At least, we would have, if it’d been open. It was closed. So we settled on viewing the Bonobos (which are apparently the zoo name for Chimpanzees now).
We stood at the glass, the five of us alone. One bonobo was chasing another one, who was baring its teeth at the pursuer.
“Looks like those two are going to have a fight,” I said.
“We should go,” Wifey said. “Now.”
“I want to see them fight!” I said.
“Me too!” said the boy.
Finally the chaser caught up to his prey, right in front of the glass. He (the pursuer) pressed her (the pursued) up against the glass and then started screwing her.
Right in front of the boy.
Oops. Why haven’t I learned to just immediately do what Wifey says?
“Look, they’re dancing!” said the boy.
The male had his face scrunched up and was really going at her, despite the fact that a baby monkey was now crawling all over them. Frankly, I was glad to see that somebody else’s kids mess with them while they’re trying to get their groove on. I didn’t want to be the only one.
“Let’s go,” I said.
“I want to watch the monkeys dance!” the boy said.
“You know what I think?” the girl said. “They’re either dancing or they’re having sex. I think they’re having sex. They’re having sex, aren’t they, daddy? That was monkey sex. He was sticking his-”
“What a crazy DANCE!” I said. Then I leaned close to the girl. “You’re correct, but quiet. I don’t want to explain the birds and the bees here in the zoo.”
She swung her head around. “There are birds and bees having sex? Where?”
“No fair!” the boy yelled. “I want to see the sexy birds!”
“Let’s go see the bears!” I said. “Now, without any further discussion!”
“Are they dancing, too?” the boy asked.
“I hope not.”
After the zoo, we had a nice lunch and a rest before going to the riverboat. If you’ve never had a riverboat cruise, then I suggest you take one, but not for an hour and a half. And I hope your boat historian is actually funny, as opposed to ours, who thought he was funny but really wasn’t so much.
But we did learn a lot about Memphis, like that it built a pyramid as a venue, then immediately built another arena and abandoned it. They could at least bury mayors in it or something.
For dinner we went to Gus’s, a famous fried chicken restaurant in downtown Memphis. Great place. It serves this deep-fried, super-spicy chicken that’ll clear your sinuses out. I loved it.
Wifey, who uses salt sparingly because “it’s got a lot of kick,” was somewhat less enthusiastic. She took one bite and had tears streaming down her face with flames shooting out her ears. She had to drink four glasses of soda just to wash down each bite, accompanied by enough cursing that even the Memphis natives were embarrassed.
A good time was had by all.
As we left, I swung by the counter to pay the bill. “Oh, it’s no charge for you, sir.”
“Why not?” I asked the woman.
“Because Gus cares about everyone, so we always feed one homeless person a night for free,”
“I’M NOT HOMELESS!” I said. “I’m here with them!”
“Oh, please excuse me,” she said. “I’ll just add on the required 15% gratuity for a group this large.”
“Don’t you care about me at all?” I asked. “I’m going to be shivering on a grate at midnight when you’re back in your luxurious house.”
“Nice try,” she said. “That’ll be $154.40.”
“Your wife did drink forty-two sodas,” she said. “Free refills don’t count if you abuse the system.”
In retrospect, I’m glad I queued up MacArthur Park on the juke box before we left.
Tomorrow: Another Uncle, with a side of Aunt