Thursday, March 20, 2008

French Kissed by a Giraffe

So, wait... you went to South Beach and West Palm, and this was the highlight of your Florida trip?

Well, shucks, yes it was.

Let me begin by saying there are volumes I could write about what a uniquely American cultural experience my stay in South Beach was, but it's probably all been said before, and I promised myself one post, one photo only when I returned from vacation. So before I take you on Safari, let me sum up my South Beach impressions. It was not nearly the meat market I was expecting --- steroids, silicon, etc. Ethnically very diverse, mostly Hispanics (I assume from Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands), African-Americans (I assume from both the islands and mainland U.S.) and a lot of European whites. A lot of obese black men on motor scooters. I was definitely part of the smallest minority, and in better shape than the average pedestrian (YES!). There were hundreds of restaurants, all outdoor dining, excellent food and people watching, and they (the restaurants) compete intensely --- every host and hostess makes a hard sell the second they see you even glance at their menu, always displayed prominently. The art deco, neon lights and palm trees made me feel like I was on a movie set. The mannequins had abnormally large breasts. And the ocean had virtually no waves (though the water temperature was sublime).

Now then. On the way back to my parents in Vero Beach, from Miami, I stopped in West Palm Beach, and more specifically checked out the Lion Country Safari. It was fun but on the whole, I didn't find it to have any advantage over a regular zoo. With one big, tall, exception.

After the car trip the park features a walk-around area with additional animal pens, a petting zoo, some kid shit, etc. There's also a path that leads you back, on foot, to the giraffe grounds. After ascending a set of stairs to a "booster deck" (my term), you find yourself at head level with these creatures. For five dollars, you can buy two specially-formulated giraffe biscuits, which the giraffe inhales as if they were M&M's.

Still, you get to feed the giraffe, which seemed cool, so I made the investment. When I gently extended the first biscuit half, I was astounded, a bit nauseated, by the length and dexterity of his massive tongue --- it protruded easily a foot out of his mouth, and grabbed at the biscuit, in near reach, like a "come hither" finger.

"Wow. You're pretty gross for a such a beautiful animal," I chuckled nervously, feeling like Sigourney Weaver, with the inner mandible of the Alien hissing in her face.

I paced myself, wishing to make my biscuits last. When I had only one half left, the attendant who kept watch whispered to me:

"If you hold the biscuit in your mouth he'll take it."

I had mixed feelings about this prospect. But then I turned around and saw that a small group of spectators had formed behind me, staring expectantly. Where had they come from? How had they heard the attendant's quiet tip (which I thought was meant only for me)? It's as if they intuitively knew that I was about to be violated by the African Savannah, and by God, they were going to witness the spectacle.

What was I to do? I pushed my doubts aside, and placed the biscuit between my teeth. I'd barely released my hand when my face was wrapped, from chin to forehead, by a warm, slimy eel of a tongue.

Perhaps to avoid dropping it, the giraffe conducted a rapid but excruciating full face sweep --- eyes, ears, nose, cheeks, lips, teeth --- in order to ensure the biscuit's safe arrival into his mouth.

I don't believe I've ever experienced such revulsion and joy, in perfect synchrony, before.

If you dare (if you care), I put together this brief and hopefully funny slideshow in Shutterfly, highlighting both South Beach and Lion Country Safari. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

Charming!! Although I've no desire to be "French Kissed by a Giraffe", I was in the crowd that formed behind you and could almost smell that kiss!! WHOAA!!! You bring me into a moment, the way Richard Russo does.

Manic Mom said...

When I was little we went to Lion Safari and my parents and their friends kept laughing and pointing to two lions who were doing it!!!!

I didn't think there were other kinds of animals there at the time!

Anonymous said...

I LOVE Lion Country Safari! We used to go there all the time when I was a kid! Kristin V