Sunday, November 03, 2002

Tonight’s Malcolm in the Middle reminded me of the time my family and I got attacked by a tiger at the zoo. No kidding. This is, sadly, a true story.

We were at the Columbus Zoo. There’s this huge structure, with a ramp, so that you can overlook the tiger cage. We went up to watch. Being as four of us were small children, I imagine we were rather loud. This seemed to get on the tiger’s nerves. He walked sort of under the view of the ramp so that we couldn’t see him. We wanted to get closer, so we climbed over the bar that you’re not supposed to cross. Don’t ask why we were allowed to do this. We had three adults with us, and not one of them said a word; I was a minor, I take no responsibillity for the fact. We screamed for the tiger to come back. We waited a few minutes and were getting ready to leave when he didn’t return.

Just then, GROWL! The tiger had jumped well over 20 feet, grabbed the bars with one paw and was slashing at us with the other. It’s hard to explain how it feels to have a tiger inches from you trying to slash you to bits. But there’s a certain unbelievable horror about it that’s almost quite funny. I can only describe it as feeling pale, then excited, then doubling over with laughter. It may not sound like the tiger was that close to us, but I swear to God, in separate swipes, he managed to rip through my shirt and my nephew’s. He really could’ve gutted us.

He dropped back down; we climbed over the bar quickly. We were all laughing because, what else can you do when a tiger tries to snag your innards? Then someone asks: Where’s Jimmy? Panic. Where’s the boy? Could he have been pulled through the bars? Panic. Someone runs to the other end of the lookout. Jimmy’s already halfway across the park. You can see his little red head bobbing through the crowd.

My niece Brittany is deaf. She couldn’t have been any more than four at the time. But my sister tells me that, while the rest of us had been looking where the tiger jumped, Brittany had been trying to sign something to her mom, so she was turned away. She was signing away when she noticed the horror on her mom’s face and turned around. She started madly signing cat. For weeks after, I’d catch Brittany staring off into space. You’d tap her shoulder and she’d get excited and sign “cat! BIG cat!”

You know, you may think the zoo makes rules just for the sake of making rules. You may think they’re authoritarians and just exercising whatever authority over you that they can. But you’d be wrong. Take it from me, man, I’ve lived it.