Scat Mask Replica V

Turtle Porn. We’ve all read reports from conservation biologists detailing the trials and errors involved in saving a “critically endangered species like the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle”. Some of us might view such a chore as thankless and not very rewarding financially, but for these people it’s a passion. Most passionate people have, at least, one or two stories to tell about moments they’ve experienced in their field that define their reason for being, what the French would call their raison d’être. Others spend their careers chasing such moments. For a conservation biologist, zoologist or anyone else involved in the field, the idea that they might one day play some role in saving a species would be that raison d’être. Reading the note in the accompanying photo, even the most casual observer can’t help but feel that passion coming off the plaque.

Courtesy Henry Doorly Zoo

Perhaps no story better illustrates the frustrations of working with animals in this manner better than the tale of Lonesome George. Lonesome George was a “Pinta Island giant tortoise who lived in captivity in the Galápagos for 41 years, as biologists tried to coax him into copulating with a female of a closely related species. His caretakers tried just about everything—they even considered showing him videos of tortoise pornography (though it’s not clear if that ever happened). But the 100-plus-year-old George just wasn’t in the mood. He died in 2012, taking his species with him.”{1}

Numerous testimonials from conservation biologists inform us that as common as these captive breeding programs are, they don’t work near as often as some might think. The frustrations of years of such failures probably lead to feelings of such hopelessness that end when the male Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle finally violates the sanctity and purity of the female. When that moment happens with a critically endangered species, one can only imagine the euphoria that must occur in those observation rooms. Those involved probably lose all sense of professional decorum, as they begin unleashing all of that frustration by using crass words to describe the moment of truth. We can also imagine that they try to abide by a self-imposed governor placed on any displays of jubilation, as a viral video of such a celebration might cast the entire profession in an awkward light. We can also guess that colleagues in these fields try to hold one other in check by mocking and ridiculing those who get a little too excited. “Did you see Darren when the pandas started going at it? He was out of control. I bet he doesn’t get that excited in his own situations.” 

Baseball is boring. Anyone who has any appreciation of the history of baseball can’t help but feel nostalgic when they enter an old Major League baseball stadium. When we smell the peanuts, the hotdogs, and something we can only guess is the smell of age-old soda drying on the ground, associations between game and country come to mind. When we hear the crack of the bat, as the players take batting practice, we think of all of the great players who stood astride home plate waiting for their pitch. When the warmth of the summer sun hits us, we think of the associations most Americans have with summer and baseball, and it makes me feel a part of something larger. When the players take the field, we take some pride in knowing their names and a little bit about their history. We also know that every team has a scouting report on their tendencies, and that this will dictate how the opposing team pitches to them and plays them in the field. “It’s a chess match,” we tell our friends.  

In that first inning, we watch the best players in the game do battle, and we understand what the sportswriters are talking about when they write about the historic lore of the game. It’s an experience that anyone who hasn’t been to one of the older ballparks must experience for themselves. Those of us who have been to a number of them know this magical feeling. We see it, we feel it, and we get it. By the time the third inning rolls around, however, these qualities begin to wear thin. We’re not short-attention span types, but the game just isn’t one that can captivate an audience for three hours. It might have something to do with the uncomfortable seats, the pace of the game, or the awful concessions most baseball stadiums provide, but by the fourth inning most of us want to be anywhere else. By the time the sixth inning rolls around, the children around us are so bored that they’re screaming and few adults are still paying attention to the game. I’ve witnessed a grand slam to win a ballgame with two outs in the bottom of the night, and I saw an extra-inning, game winning home run to complete the cycle on another night, and I almost failed to calculate how historic those moments were, because by the time they occurred I was so bored I almost missed them. The baseball purists might not be, but anytime I think of hard-core fans, I remember something a hard-core race car fan said, “We watch the first five laps and the last five. No one I know watches all of them from the edge of their seat.”  

Eating your appetite. When we are younger, we eat anything and everything, all the time. Eating is just something we do when we’re young. Ask a teenager their favorite places to eat, and they will inevitably list off the top five fast food restaurants. They don’t appreciate the quality of food they eat. They just eat. They’re not especially hungry when they grab a sandwich en route to a meal. They just eat it. They eat while they watch TV, when they drive, and so they have something to do with their hands. When we’re young, we eat because we’re bored, because it’s there, and because everyone else is doing it, but we offset all of this eating with rigorous physical activity.

As we age, and our rigorous physical activity begins to slow as much as our digestive system does, we limit our eating. Some of us start by eliminating snacks, or we change our snacks to healthier fare. Some of us even go so far as to eliminate entire meals, so that we’re only eating once, or twice a day. By doing so, we make mealtime an eventful moment of our day, and for some it becomes the most memorable moment in a given day. Then we talk about past meals, and we labor over deciding future ones. “What are we going to eat?” “Where are going to go?” and “When are we going to eat?” We don’t know what we want to eat yet, but we want it to be tastier than the meal we had yesterday. We want something that might help make today even more special. Once we finish that meal, we are often disappointed, because it wasn’t as great as the other meals we’ve had.

We still talk about french dip we had the other day at the corner deli, and we use all of our creative skills to describe it, “I was literally and actively walking down the sidewalk, and I just happened to literally look up and see the sign Corner Deli. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but then I literally ordered the french dip sandwich. You haven’t tried it? Oh, you simply must,” we say to the uninitiated. “The meat is so tender, and the au jus is to die for there.” Some of the young people at the table might listen to such observations, if they have nothing else to distract them. Some of them might even begin to mimic them, but no matter how they might react, they don’t care as much as we do. They just want this whole dining experience over, so they can do whatever it is they do to make their day eventful. For us, the meal is the event. “You don’t know how to eat,” we say to them to try to establish some level of appreciation in them. They might want steak, but it’s only because we place so much value on it.

If we grill the most beautiful, tasty filet mignon, a cow has ever produced for their nourishment, they might say, “It’s good,” after they search for a suitable response between shrugs, but they say it with the same emotions they say things like, “The grass is green, sky is blue, and I love you.” They may not even look at us when they answer, and they might not answer us at all, if we fail to inform them how rude it is if they don’t. To us, this is such a delicious slab of meat that we will remember it for weeks. We also think that, at the very least, people our age should treat it the same way, until we witness one of them eat a sandwich on the fly. I can appreciate it when Seinfeld says adults don’t lose appetites, but when one of my peers eats an apple on the way to the restaurant I don’t think that they’re ruining their appetite by doing so, but I can’t help but think they’re diminishing the event status of our meal tonight.

Literally and actively. The next generation has probably been twisting and turning the language to have others take them serious for as long as humans have been alive. The next generation is insecure and they don’t think anyone will take them seriously, or find their stories funny, because few people do at this point in their lives. I empathize with their plight for when I was a member of the next generation I always thought I was missing something. I didn’t know what it was, of course, but I thought I needed to add something extra to generate interest and/or laughter. For my generation, it was all about cussing. We relied on swear words, delivered in a confident rhythm, to give our stories provocative punctuation. I don’t know if the comparative prevalence of swearing in movies and TV shows makes it passé to cuss now, or if young people don’t cuss around me now that I’m old, but the young people I know don’t swear as often as we did.

The problem for them, as I see it, is how does one punctuate a story without swear words if they want to provoke a response from an audience? If they tell us a relatively common story about how they noticed that the stop sign of at the end of their block was upside down the other day, for example, they know that they won’t receive quality reactions if they tell such a story flat. They know they need to spruce it up a little. When my generation told such a story, we said, “I was walking down the street the other day, when I noticed the [insert the popular swear word of the moment] stop sign was upside down.” I don’t know if we felt compelled to add the swear words to acquiesce to the rhythms to which our peers were accustomed, or if we thought adding them would attach some gravitas to our stories, but we added them whenever and wherever we could. The special ingredients this next generation adds to their stories now are the infamous –ly words. Thus, the new way to add provocative import to one’s otherwise banal experiences is to add an adverb. “I was actively walking down the street when I literally noticed that the stop sign at the end of our block is now upside down.” I might pay too much attention to linguistic trends in the popular culture, but I’m curious about how such trends start, and what the user hopes to accomplish with them. The next generation obviously uses the –ly words to affect the rhythm of their stories, but I don’t think the words provide the provocative punctuation they seek. The only rationale I can find for adding these –ly words as often as they do, is that they seek to add gravitas to their stories in a way they might not otherwise achieve. When I listen to them, however, I hear the effort more than the story, and it distracts me so much that I can’t take them seriously.