A Twinkle in My Eye

by George Gauthier

Chapter 2


Our local zoo is located less than half a mile from my apartment building, close enough that in the still of the night we residents occasionally hear the roars of the big cats. More than just animal exhibits, the zoo is a landscaped park. Its paths are leafy venues for an easy stroll on a hot day. Shade trees provide shelter from the sun while crepe myrtles with their blossoms in white or red add color highlights to the green of the trees and bushes lining the paths. Zoo visitors can rest on comfortable benches or quench their thirst at water fountains with dual spigots, one lower down for children.

I liked the big cats and elephants well enough, as did Kyle, but my favorite exhibits were those with the cute animals like ferrets, fennecs, meerkats and river otters. How could anyone not smile at the otters at play as they ran around with that peculiar gait of theirs or slid down a water chute into a pool. The otters could easily escape if they ever had a mind to, but why would they? In the zoo they were safe from predators, and food was so easy to come by, provided by the strange creatures tottering around on only two legs yet somehow never falling over.

Maybe because of their resemblance to us humans I never cared much for monkeys and apes. On this Kyle and I had to disagree since he in fact liked monkeys precisely because they looked so much like little humans. We both liked the bird house which lets you walk thru a sunlit room with uncaged birds free to fly around or perch anywhere.

Now ours is not a world famous zoo so it doesn't house Giant Pandas on loan from China, but the collection does include a specimen of the Lesser or Red Panda, an animal which is much smaller in size and looks like a cross between a red fox and a raccoon, if you can visualize that. Like Giant Pandas Red Pandas eat bamboo though not exclusively. Despite their name Red Pandas are not closely related to their larger namesake species which is a kind of bear. Lesser pandas are actually closer to raccoons, weasels, and skunks.

Our local zoo was the home of Rusty, a male lesser panda who lived up a tree growing in a circular enclosure which sat the middle of a footpath so he could be viewed from every angle. Red pandas are solitary and arboreal creatures and are mostly nocturnal or at least crepuscular, so Rusty was not really active during the heat of the day preferring to sleep up in his tree.

Then came the night when a terrific rainstorm lashed the city. The rain come down especially hard on our side of town. In the zoo the wet branches of the taller trees surrounding Rusty's home tree sagged enough to bridge the gap and provide him a way to escape. So he did.

His escape made the news though without any great hue and cry such as there would have been had a tiger gotten loose. A red panda made for more of a human interest story. Children interviewed on TV were sad that their friend Rusty was nowhere to be found. They worried about what might happen to him in the unfamiliar surroundings of city streets.

Two days later Rusty turned up on the grounds of our spooky old mansion. Kyle spotted the animal up a tree and pointed him out to me. With some reluctance we called the authorities. We appreciated the animal's desire for freedom but knew that he would not be safe, not in the city what with dogs and cars and mean kids. Soon enough Animal Control showed up and went after him.

My heart went out to the plucky little creature as it dodged its pursuers and climbed out of reach. Red pandas are well adapted to their arboreal life style thanks to their flexible joints and curved semi-retractile claws. Despite its agility in the trees, the panda faced humans who were professionals at catching animals. They simply ignored Rusty's threat display when he stood on his hind legs to look larger and extended his claws to look more dangerous. Soon enough Rusty's excellent adventure was at an end, and he was back in custody.

Arborists at the zoo cut back the overhanging limbs of the nearby trees, forever forestalling Rusty from escaping the way he had. Nevertheless, he would not be staying there for very much longer anyway. Rusty was scheduled to relocate to expansive quarters in the wildlife center in the suburbs, there to be enrolled in a captive breeding program to help perpetuate his species.

On a sadder note was the recent loss of one of the zoo's three cheetahs. The trouble started several weeks ago just after dawn when a security guard was drawn to a commotion at the cheetah enclosure. The uproar was not over an escape but just the opposite. It seems that a white tailed deer had jumped over the low fence and moat and landed in the enclosure with the cheetahs.

Now cheetahs are hunters born to race across the savannah and run down their prey, something they could never do in captivity but suddenly here they could. They must have been thrilled to finally be able to fulfill their purpose in life as near apex predators and to hunt and pounce and kill and feed as Mother Nature intended. Predators actually improve the well-being of prey species by taking the weak and the lame. Beside there was no shortage of white tailed deer in the area. Quite the contrary. All too many nuisance deer roamed the woodsy areas in the city to the dismay of homeowners and gardeners. A visit by the deer meant total destruction of flower beds and vegetable gardens.

Alas, the spoil sport keepers, called to the scene by the security guard, quickly separated the cheetahs from the prey they had downed, frustrating the cats beyond measure. A shame really, but there was simply no way the zoo could allow the public to watch the cheetahs consume their prey once the zoo opened for the day. Even adults much less children would never stomach the sight of the cheetahs devouring "Bambi's mother" with such evident savagery and relish.

Regardless of the authenticity of such a scene, which is nothing you could not see in a wildlife video anyway, city folk are too squeamish to face the reality that Nature really is Red in Tooth and Claw. Strangely they never seem to blame the supremely benevolent deity they believe in for failing to make the animal world exclusively vegetarian. Surely an omnipotent deity could control fecundity directly rather than through the cruelty of endless predation. The Olympians manage the trick in their pocket dimension of Olympus where there are no predators and no biting or stinging insects for that matter.

Regardless, within week, one of the distraught cheetahs died of a broken heart. That was not the official verdict but the conclusion I myself reached upon learning that the necropsy on the animal revealed no organic cause of death. What else could it have been? The poor creature simply could not endure the crushing disappointment. Fond as he was of cats, Kyle too was distressed at the loss of the cheetah though skeptical about my guess as the reason for its demise.

That experience has finally soured me on zoos. I wondered if we humans really ought to keep wild creatures in captivity for so shallow a purpose as the amusement of a fickle public. Now I appreciate breeding colonies and captive breeding programs to ensure the continuance of endangered species but putting captive animals on exhibit just for amusement? No.

Years ago I visited the Bronx Zoo. In one striking incident a male elephant in an outdoor enclosure was in heat -- or in musth as it is called. I watched awed or really aghast as his gigantic member slid out of its sheath then whipped back a forth horridly like a pink python with a reddish head at the end. Yikes!

At the nearby Lion House I watched the leopards pacing back and forth in their indoor cages, little bigger than a typical bedroom. Their behavior was pathological. They had gone stir crazy, driven mad by the endless boredom of life alone in a featureless cage. And the llamas and camels giving animal rides outdoors on the grounds of the Astor Court outside were not much better off, merely pacing along a track laid out on the pavement, though at least they were outdoors in fresh air.

These days the building houses an innovative exhibit on the fauna of Madagascar, which is the world's fourth largest island and home to many endemic species. The exhibits are constructed to look like the famous wildlife dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan but with live animals instead of mounted specimens. In some exhibits only a railing separates visitors from the animals which could fly or run out but seldom do. They know that they are safe in what passes for their natural habitat rather than among the crowds of humans who watch them so intently.

Our local zoo still operates a Farm in the Zoo which is informative enough as far as it goes but still leaves city folks clueless about how family farms really operate. Sure visitors can watch cows being milked and the hens and ducks fed grain, but what they don't see is meat production. Take the way the flesh on hens winds up as chicken for the pot. Farmers grab the bird by the legs and lay it atop a chopping block. One whack with a hatchet decapitates the chicken. And yes, a headless chicken can sometimes run around for a bit, which is truly bizarre to watch. The next step is plucking feathers by hand which is laborious and messy.

Some farmers will snatch a hen up by the neck and simply whirl it around to snap the neck, which kills the hen before the hatchet cleaves the neck.

Then there are those cute bunny rabbits. A farmer who wants a rabbit dinner reaches into the hutch, drags a rabbit out, holds it out by the hind legs, then whacks the back of its head with a club which scrambles its brains. The skinning with a knife is quicker than plucking a chicken but leaves an even more gruesome skinned corpse to be cut apart.

(Industrial farming of animals is actually far crueler than anything which happens on old-fashioned family farms, but don't get me started.)

It is all enough to turn some folks into vegetarians. I sympathize with this view even though I myself remain an omnivore. Sorry, but I still like a bacon cheeseburger now and then.

Solar Eclipse

Alerted by extensive media coverage of the coming solar eclipse we laid our plans. The weather cooperated and everything went off without a hitch. Even though our city was outside the path of totality the moon here did cover more than eighty percent of the disc of the sun. So while darkness did not descend on our city, and the stars did not come out in mid afternoon, it was still an interesting experiences and not just astronomically.

We stationed ourselves on the bridge over a deep ravine, the better to get away from tall buildings which might block our view. With all three of them still in their twenties, it was not surprising that Kyle, Paolo, and Will had never seen a solar eclipse, and only Will Laurier had ever seen a lunar one.

Our group of four served as the nucleus of a small crowd of enthusiasts who collect around us on the bridge. Some came equipped with special eclipse glasses while others had to make do with pinhole cameras. The makeshift pinhole camera which one guy had made for himself was simplicity itself. This ingenious fellow simply held up two white paper plates a foot or so apart angled so that the image of the eclipse was projected through a pinhole in the upper plate onto the lower plate.

I knew some neighbors who had traveled to Ohio to be in the path of totality. A rather expensive trip for an experience of totality that would last less than five minutes. The newspapers reported that the real enthusiasts had bought expensive seats on a charter flight in a passenger airliner which chased the shadow of the moon across the face of the globe from Arkansas to Michigan. That let the passengers experience totality for much longer than the few minutes it lasted on the ground.

Be that as it may, I myself once had an even better experience observing a solar eclipse while in flight, though this happened fifteen centuries ago, long before airplanes, when I got to ride with Helios, the tutelary deity of the Sun in the Olympian pantheon. No conveyance was necessary, since the space aliens who had long ago adopted the role of the ancient Greek gods are able to fly into the stratosphere simply by manipulating the local gravitational field. What a thrill that was!

Despite total nudity, I experienced no distress whatsoever from lack of air or the subzero cold and wind chill since I flew within an environmental bubble which the Olympian maintained inside a force field which also dimmed the light from the sun to safe levels. I had an unobstructed view of the eclipse up in the sky and a spectacular view of a goodly part of the globe of the earth far below. Say what you will about them, but the perks of service with these space aliens was well worth the occasional instances of high handedness they sometimes employed toward us earthlings.

Much less successful were the plans our foursome made for dinner that night which fell through because of an incident of vandalism bordering on domestic terrorism.

I and my boyfriends, Paolo Franco, Kyle Kavanaugh, and Will had made reservations at Lapis Lazuli, the Afghan restaurant in the neighborhood. Unfortunately that fine establishment was forced to close temporarily after an attack by religious extremists.

They came by in the middle of the night and threw bricks through the glass front and followed up with a Molotov cocktail. The restaurant might well have burned down except a fire truck happened to be passing by right afterwards returning to the firehouse from a minor incident a few blocks away at a trash fire. Arriving on the scene before a genuine conflagration took hold, the crew of the fire engine quickly knocked the fire down. The place was expected to reopen in a couple of days.

The trouble had started the day before at Sunday brunch. A pair of pious Muslims with full beards had showed up and demanded of the manager Adnan Malik that he close down the following day, Monday, which was the final day of Ramadan, the monthly fast observed annually by Muslims. They argued that staying open during the final day of the fast would be discourteous to and disrespectful of the local Muslim community, many of whom were offended anyway by the weekly sybaritic brunch offered on Saturdays and Sundays.

Malik refused. An Arab though a Maronite Christian from Lebanon, Malik said that while he himself was circumspect about taking meals during the fast, his customers were under no obligation to do so, being mostly Christians, Jews, or unbelievers.

As for courtesy, that worked both ways. Muslims living in the West had to learn to live with Western ways and not seek to impose their own customs on the locals. Respect too was something which worked both ways. The faithful had no grounds for insisting that the locals, infidels that they mostly were, should do things the Muslim way out of respect anymore than the infidels could expect observant Muslims or Jews for that matter to eat pork out of respect for Christian traditions.

Evidently the concept of live and let live was too Western for the zealots. They held to their intolerant medieval ways despite having lived in the States for over a decade. Things can only get worse thanks to identity politics and woke multiculturalism which celebrate what divides us rather than what should unite us.


Life at our spooky old mansion soon returned to normal, though the building management did have to call an exterminator to deal with a large hornets nest. Unlike with wasps which build their nest under the eaves, hornets preferred to build underground where anyone might step on their nest and disturb them. The stings of hornets are much worse than those bees. I once had a hornet sting the back of my right hand. The venom made it swell up so bad I could not close my fingers. Good thing I am ambidextrous.

Kyle was especially leery of hornets. As a kid he had stepped on a nest of yellow jackets The aroused insects inflicted a dozen stings as he ran down the street as fast as his eight year old legs could carry him. He had to run nearly half a mile before the angry swarm gave up the chase. No sense jumping into a swimming pool or pond either. The insects would just wait you out.

I am still doing my pole dance act at the gay bar and an occasional modeling gig. Now modeling requires little preparation other than hygienic but my pole dance act requires me to stretch several times a day to keep me limber. I could do that upstairs in my apartment, but my neighbors prefer me to do it out back. Shameless showoff that I am, I accommodate them and stretch where can all watch.

I may be rich these days, but the vice of sloth is not in my nature. I am no lotus eater existing only for pleasure and diversion though my finances these days could easily support such an idle existence. Instead I have always worked at a job and contributed to any society of which I am a member, however temporarily. So despite being born millennia before the Reformation of the sixteenth century, I am no stranger to the Protestant Work Ethic. Though the East Asian Worth Ethic could give Protestants a run for their money.

Before Zeus put me on a stipend I had to support myself but I never took menial jobs which paid what we today would call chump change. I was always better than that. I had real skills and a sharp mind. Before mass literacy I could always make a decent living as a scrivener or amanuensis, a clerk who wrote out letters or other documents for illiterate clients. Mostly I worked as a merchant, a gentleman farmer, a sailor and ship owner, a carpenter or shipwright, but only by necessity a soldier or by compulsion a sex slave.

There were times when I found myself in a financial pinch but no problem. I would get a job as a rent boy, preferably in a brothel, which was safer than the working the streets where I might be targeted by cheats, thieves, bullies, or slavers or run the gantlet of neighborhood youths delighted to find a bent boy they could beat up. Brothels had bouncers, and management paid protection money to the authorities. So I worked as a brothel boy or a call boy but never as a boy of the stews.

Many including my own customers might scorn me for selling my body, but I shrugged off their contempt. First off they were simply wrong. I never sold my body. Lent it, rented it out, or leased it, yes, but I was never sold my body. When employed in a boy brothel my body was never for sale, only for rent, and then only very briefly, twenty minutes at a time, to a succession of clients. So no sale at all. The same as a kept boy where the terms of employment were established not by sale but by a long-term lease, as it were. True, I have been sold into slavery a number of times but none of that was my own doing.

Please don't look down on me for selling my favors for coin. Needs must, and sometimes that is what I had to do. After all that is how I started out, in the first bloom of my true youth, when my father, the king of Troy, passed me around as a reward to successful generals, courtiers, or ambassadors. Then Zeus set the mold when he dragooned me into working as his cupbearer, really a naked wine boy cum sex toy always conveniently at hand for whenever he got the itch but wanted a change of pace from female lovers.

Hence I have no shame over my current employment as a nude pole dancer cum acrobat cum contortionist and an (often naked) fashion and photo model. It's all harmless fun, so why not? I make a decent living, work with congenial people, and inspire or at least titillate a devoted public. Nothing wrong with that.

One thing I never cared for was working with animals whether dogs, cattle, and especially horses. I have nothing against dogs generally though I am leery of certain breeds which literally intimidate me by their size or savage appearance. So while I am genuinely fond of golden retrievers and terriers and such friendly breeds, I steer well clear of Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, and Doberman Pinschers. Besides I am basically a cat person.

I am a decent rider and occasionally even enjoy a ride, but I don't much like horses and have never understood their appeal. First off it is hard for a little guy like me to get my short legs around the barrel of a horse or even a pony. More generally horses smell bad, they sweat too much, and they are both stupid and headstrong. They might bite or kick or throw you, and they are all too easily spooked, all too likely to take the bit in their teeth and go haring off down the road with their hapless rider holding on for dear life.

And look how long it took for some unsung genius to finally invent stirrups, a vast improvement over the saddles of antiquity where you wedged your hips between four horns which offered only a precarious perch at best with your feet dangling loose. Back in the day horses were a regrettable necessity for transport or for warfare or for herding, but they have long since been superseded by mechanical transport. And not before time.

And don't get me started on horse-drawn conveyances like wagons, buggies, and especially chariots where you drive standing up. If you ever watched that old movie "Ben Hur" you know how badly things can go wrong with a chariot and a team of four. And those old buckboards you see in westerns? No tires, just iron hoops around wooden wheels and no springs on the undercarriage so you are forever lurching back and forth and bouncing around. No thanks. As soon as bicycles and automobiles became available I switched and have never looked back.

And yes, I do know how to drive. I have a current license, but I don't own a car; I just rent at need. Sometimes I take refresher courses to keep up my skills in evasive driving -- not to be confounded with ordinary defensive driving. Any fan of car chases in the movies will be familiar with the difference. I am quite the wheelman, even if I say so myself.

As for herding cattle or tending to sheep or hogs, forget it. Herd animals inevitably remind me that cattle will pass through abattoirs and wind up as beef. Mutton and lamb shows up in supermarkets the same way. And have you ever thought of how hogs are strung up and bled out with a cut throat, alive till the end so that their hearts can keep pumping the blood out? I sometimes wonder why I am not a vegetarian after all.

Though I have the necessary skills, I am too honest to make a living as a card sharp. I use my skills only defensively against cheats. However I am not above forging documents, hacking data bases, picking locks, or disabling alarms, tasks at which I am rather good at. If I had to get a mundane job, I could make a decent living as a handyman, carpenter, plumber, bricklayer, or electrician. My tripled strength makes me equal to the physical challenge of the building trades, but it can be hard to convince a construction boss to take a chance on me.

Sometimes though my small physique can be to my advantage. No one is likely to hire me for work with a shovel or a pick or draft me into a labor gang. Also I just don't look like I have the makings of a soldier, so if the local ruler raises levies among his people, I was almost always to be found among the camp followers. No, not that way, but as a carpenter, or medical orderly, or set to repairing tack.

Only recently could I write about these things, choosing, out of caution, to cast them as fiction, a series of fanciful tales of an immortal youth written under a pseudonym. My secret is safe for no one in these days of modern science will believe it. In this tale, everything except the names is real. The events described really did happen just as I have written.

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