Most of us have an unusual animal encounter story – maybe one not so exotic and dangerous that it’ll be featured on the former Fox TV show “When Animals Attack” – but something peculiar or cute enough that it’s worthy of sharing. I recently met author and blogger L.L. Reynolds who is a chiroptophobic. In layman’s terms, L.L. is frightened of bats, those winged rodentlike creatures that do a lot of good but also carry deadly diseases such as rabies. And if you read about L.L.’s encounters with bats and talk to others you’ll see her fear is not so uncommon or irrational. She’s actually been bitten by a bat in a place I’ll let her tell you about. Now, I’m not saying go out and kill every bat you see. Bats have enough problems as it is. They accidentally fly into your college dorm one evening and some knucklehead gets out his tennis racquet and starts playing “bat-minton” with the poor thing. And in addition to the human threat, some species of bats are on the verge of being wiped out by a fungus. So let’s take it easy on these little flying mice and move on to something bigger: my elephant story!
Let’s call it 1976. I was just a wee little boy on a school field trip to either the Bronx or Beardsley Zoo. Hey, it was a long time ago, what do you want total recall? At the elephant exhibit, I wanted to get closer to the African elephant so I leaned over the first of two fences and stared in wonder at the massive pachyderm. It was a hot day, probably late May, and I’d taken off my windbreaker and was holding it in my arms. Try to get inside the mind of that eight-year-old boy that day: Uh, oh, the elephant is staring back, and, oh no, here comes the trunk and it’s seized my favorite windbreaker with all the Major League Baseball team logos on it. No way! Pull! The elephant pulled back. Pull! And the little muscles in my eight-year-old arms pulled. The elephant tugged back steadily and was perhaps more determined that the jacket was hers than I was that it was mine.
“Let go!” a man shouted.
Still gripping the arm of my jacket, I saw a guy in safari type clothing hurrying toward me and the elephant. Oh, no. I’m in trouble now.
I released my beloved jacket and the elephant curled its trunk toward its mouth and stuffed my jacket inside … and chewed.
The zoo worker got inside the elephant’s pen and after some careful manipulation removed the soggy bolus that was my jacket and unwrapped it for inspection. The thing was shredded and pocked, like a big piece of slimy, nylon, navy-blue Swiss cheese.
“You don’t want this anymore, do you?” the elephant handler said.
I stared at the masticated jacket covered in elephant spit and shook my head.
He tossed it into a nearby trash can and walked away shaking his head as if little boys were the world’s greatest evil. Shocked I turned around and for the first time noticed that some of my fellow students had watched the spectacle and were now laughing at me. I think I cried then, and years later, I might be walking down some street in Norwalk, Connecticut, and I’d hear my name called and some kid would ask me if I remembered when the elephant ate my jacket. I’d remember and shake my head with a polite grin, recalling another absurd and humiliating experience in a sad and unremarkable life.
Nowadays, I am one of the few people who remember the incident. I’ve asked a few Fox Run Elementary School alumni if they remember the elephant encounter and none of them seem to. My mom, who received calls from the school about the incident, has now moved on to the spirit world so I no longer have her to help me verify the incident. But it happened. It really did. I had a tug-of-war with some poor imprisoned behemoth and while I lost my jacket that day, I learned a valuable lesson: Hyper-curious, hyperactive boys need to stay behind the fence. To quote from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park: “Be thankful that fence is there, senhor.”