Friday, September 18, 2009

All the Animals in the Jungle

Amazing how one's viewpoint changes over a lifetime. What was once considered appropriate -- water fountains for "Colored," everybody onscreen in a movie or on TV with a cigarette lit up --no longer is acceptable.

Today, after spending a couple hundred bucks on getting the cat another round of injections against cat diseases, and while out walking my high-maintainence dogs, I thought about how we considered animals when I was a small boy.

I have a younger brother, by two years, and he and I used to get shipped off to Grandma's house every summer for a couple weeks. Grandma moved around a bit, since Granddaddy was a petroleum engineer. He worked oil wells on land, the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and when he was younger, all over South America.

My brother and I were typical boys in a lot of respects, other than I was a bookworm. We played ball, kick-the-can, and all manner of violent pretend games -- cowboys and Indians; cops and robbers; War -- and in those days, against either the Japs or the Nazis. And there was another game that we thought we came up with: All the Animals in the Jungle.

At Grandma's house, in Tyler, Texas, (she had a split-level) there was an upstairs porch of sorts. My brother, Rickie, and I (Stevie) would lay out all our toy guns, the Mattel Fanners and cap pistols and rifles and shotgun. Then, as Hitchcock would have the birds do a decade later, all of the animals in the local jungle, which was distinctly African bush to our minds, would take it upon themselves to charge across the back yard with the intent of ripping us limb-from-limb and eating the bloody remains.

We never came up with a reason why this sudden kill-the-Perry-boys solidarity happened amongst the lions, tigers, rhinos, water buffalo, et al, but it was sufficient that it did, and as we saw the horde charging us, we would pick up our hardware and cheerfully slaughter them all.
(And even though as a reader I already knew at the age of eight that there were no tigers in Africa, they somehow found their way into our charging menagerie. Our fantasy, we could populate it as we wanted.)

At the end of such a session, the back yard would be heaped with imaginary corpses, all of our ammo would be expended, and it was only the last shot in the last gun that saved us from the final leaping leopard ...

"A lion, there! Bam! Got him!"

"Look out, it's a rhino -- blam, blam! Got him!"

Elephants, zebras, gnus, hippos, giraffes, all met their ends at the hand of dead-eye Stevie and Rickie. It was like that Johnny Cash song -- we shot 'em just to watch 'em die ...

When I played Tarzan, I was less violent. Only the occasional lion or crocodile, with my knife. And the poachers and evil white hunters, of course. I particularly liked leading the elephant herd to tromp the evil white hunters.

Uuuuuha-ahhh-uhhhhh-ahhh-uhhh! Stomp 'im, Jumbo! (We taught the bad guys their first and last lesson in sex education: You better not fuck with Tar-zan. Oongawa.)

Grisly to think about, both from the notion of how blood-thirsty we little heathens were -- well, no, technically, we were Methodists -- and how even though we had dogs and now and then a cat or a bird, we never made the connection that the wild animals might have the same kind of feelings the dogs did.

Kill 'em all, God'll know his own ...

I find this particularly interesting in light of the bedtime prayer that I said each night before dropping off when I was eight: "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."

Followed quickly by the God Bless roster:

"God bless Mama and Daddy and Rickie and Becky, and me ..." (later my sister Gigi would be added here, but not for a couple years, and with her given name, Georgiana.) "Grandma, Grandaddy, Mother Ella, Ken, Queen, Tex, Lassie, the White Collie with the Brown on Its Nose, and all the Collies in the World. Amen."

Loved dogs even then, even though I didn't have a clue about how to treat them.

Article in the paper today about people feeding their dogs vegetarian diets. I'm not quite ready to go that far, though ...


Anonymous said...

I grew up saying that same prayer. I changed it up over the years, but still say something somewhat similar every night. Figure the sentiments are still pretty important.

And Steve, I could've sworn this entry was inspired by this jaw-dropping story.

Brad said...

Was just talking to someone today about vegetarians feeding their pets the same fare. I figure, if one of these people were to pass away in the middle of the night, whoever found the remains, would find just that. Remains. Because Fido would have been feasting on the flesh to make up for the crappy diet he'd been fed for so many years.

Travis said...

I don't know why precisly but I laughed a lot reading that post. Thanks!

J. Steven York said...

I happened to notice your Tarzan comments. I too grew up on these movies. For a while when I was a kid, one of the local TV stations (I think WJHJ out of Panama City, FL) ran a "Jungle Theater" every Saturday afternoon.

As it happens, yesterday I stumbled on a fascinating web-site about "40 Acres," a rather obscure studio lot in LA, now-gone, where countless iconic movie and TV things were filmed, from "Gone with the Wind" to "Hogan's Heroes." Perhaps most famously, it was the home of all the "Mayberry" exteriors from the Andy Griffith Show. (Curiously a number of Star Trek episodes were filmed there too, and the "virtural tour" includes a surreal shot of Kirk and Edith Keeler standing in front of Floyd's Barbershop, and later Opey riding his bike in front of Keeler's 21st Street Mission.)

Anyway, the point of this is the shockingly tiny "jungle," really just a triangular sliver of land around a puddle of a lake, where most of the RKO Tarzan films were done. You can find it all here:

Thought you might find it interesting.

Steve Perry said...

Steve --

You know what's funny? I've been there, to the old Desilu studios. I lived in L.A. in the late sixties, and was, for a time, a private eye. Buddy of mine was a real movie nut, and we hopped walls or conned our way into several of the studio lots to look around.

I once stood in front of Andy's office in Mayberry. Saw the Bates' Mansion, too, before there were tours at Universal.

Hopped the fence at Hollyhock House, as it was being refurbished as a museum (built by Frank Lloyd Wright.)

I was a ne'ver-do-well, sure enough ...