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The Observer Feb. 9 

As a supporter of the Little Rock Zoo, The Observer receives the zoo’s newsletter, the Jungle Express. We saw in the latest issue a “wish list” of things the zoo would like for people to donate. We were intrigued by some of the items:

“13-inch color TV and rabbit ears (for primates) … Old silverware (forks, knives and spoons) … Towels … Sheets … Listerine mouthwash…”

They watch television? They sleep on sheets? They worry about their breath?

Zoo spokesperson Susan Altrui responded to our questions. The apes and the monkeys do indeed watch TV, she said. They like fast-action sports, such as basketball. They are largely uninterested in football, with its slower pace. (We can assume then that they eschew baseball, which hardly moves at all.) They also enjoy animal programs and cartoons.

The silverware is not for the animals, but for use in their keepers’ break room. The towels also are for the keepers, who use them in cleaning up cages and such. Some of the animals, particularly orangutans, like to wrap themselves up in sheets. The Listerine is used in animal-enrichment programs in the small-carnivore areas, Altrui said. Small carnivores include ocelots, otters and red pandas, and “animal enrichment” means giving these inmates something to play with, such as a ferret ball, which is a ball with small holes in it. The keepers put Listerine on the balls so that the animals can smell the antiseptic and find the balls more easily. They also sprinkle Listerine around the exhibit area; the scent encourages the animals to explore.

The Observer had rather hoped to find that the mouthwash was being applied orally to the large carnivores at the zoo. Having known small dogs that were greatly in need of Listerine, we can imagine what the breath of a bear or a tiger must be like. “A tiger’s breath/is worse than death,” Ogden Nash might have written. Administering the ’wash would be a delicate operation, admittedly.

In the interest of research, The Observer suggests exposing the TV-watching apes to “The O’Reilly Factor.” They might burst into applause for one of their own.



For the last couple of weekends, The Observer has been ripping out the paneling-and-fiberboard walls of our dining room and putting up drywall, crown molding, built-in bookshelves and the window seat we and Spouse have wanted since we were young’uns — a little place in the sun to read a book.

Though we fancy ourselves the handy type, that’s mostly in our cluttered mind. The Observer is better at thinking about swinging a hammer than actually swinging a hammer. We usually manage to hit our thumb.

As such, the process of tearing out walls and putting up drywall and mudding the joints and sanding and mudding the joints again and sanding and painting and doing cabinetwork on the bookshelves and window seat has taken around twice as long as we had expected. It hasn’t been a complete hell, though there was a time in the middle of the process when Spouse, covered head to foot in plaster dust so that she looked like the ghost of a woman who killed herself rather than face another day of home repair, said, “You know, I heard that home improvement is the number two cause of divorce.” Her voice was so calm and steady when she said it that we couldn’t bring ourselves to ask what number one was — afraid, maybe, that it might be “dropping a hammer on your wife’s foot,” which we had already done at least once that day.

Still, we’re getting close (to finishing … we hope not to divorce). Baseboard is going down this weekend, maybe molding going up. We’re excited about completing the project, and not just because we’re afraid Spouse is going to make the 400th run to Home Depot for nails and just never come back.

Sometimes, we can’t help but get up in the middle of the night and go into the unfinished room and stand there in the dark, imagining how it will look when the uprights finally meet the horizontals in all the right places. It’s still a modest room — a walk-in closet by megalomansion standards. After awhile, we’ll walk through and not see it anymore — the places where the paint didn’t quite match, where the joints didn’t quite work, the crooked places. And someday, we’re sure, we’ll pack our things and move on. For awhile, however, it will good to sit down to eat dinner and say: We did this. This is home.






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