"Suddenly, like a streaking yellow meteor,
the cat leaped from the roof
onto the pack of fighting dogs
to rescue me." (from What would Tatiana do?)
The cat was 'Ben,' my 8-pound domesticated (?) yellow tabby,
and he thought I was in
trouble and jumped to almost certain death to save me.
Til now, it was the greatest display of love for me that any
creature has ever shown. Not that I haven't loved and been loved
as much and most likely more than other humans, it was just that
this act came from nowhere and was so unexpected that it carries
over into my hall of 'best life experiences,' and always will.
This morning I sat and wept before his painting (done by Paul
Albertson), and photo, in the shrine I've fashioned for him in
the corner across from my desk. He sits there frozen in time and
gazes at me pecking away on my keyboard. Sometimes something like
Tatiana, or even a bit of music drifting in from U.N. Plaza, will
send me into those dreams and that's when I miss his purr most.
He died 7 years ago and the hole he left in my life can never
be filled. Only animals give complete love. Humans want pre-nuptials.
He was a cat jumping 'into' an enclosure full of mortal enemies.
There were 13 dogs and they ranged from 90 pounds on down to around
10, and things were out of control, but the little Tom cat
I'll tell you that story some other time. It's included in a
work I wrote but never published called 'Do they all have names?'
about the time my last wife and I spent volunteering with a group
called 'Operation Stray Cat' at Clemson University . Suffice to
say that while most would have thought him an ordinary house cat,
Ben saw himself as a Siberian tiger and I agreed. We camped our
way from South Carolina to San Francisco after my last divorce,
and then all the way up the coast, across Canada, the Yukon and
finally all the way through Anchorage and to the foot of the mighty
Denali and on down to Homer, Alaska.
Then, we made our way back across the Al-Can Highway, on down
through the Great Northwest and to Chicago and St. Louis and to
Dodge City and onto Vegas and on back to San Francisco.
Ben, he liked to travel and so do I. Indulge me while I tell
one more story awakened in my memory bank by the death of Tatiana,
the magnificent tigress.
"In my country, those animals kill you." (Von Choy Sae Chao)
Von Choy was a Mien Chinese immigrant from the jungles of Laos
who ended up in San Francisco because the victorious Vietnamese
wanted to kill all of his people for helping the Americans during
the Viet Nam War. It was the early 80's and he was my assistant
manager at the Kirkham Heights Apartments (an 11-building complex
housing mostly medical staff from the adjoining UC Medical complex
on Mt. Parnassus). Von Choy and his family had just made their
first trip to a zoo and he found what he'd seen to be hard to
"Is nothing for that tiger!!" (Commenting on big cat grotto)
He'd know. Once we were talking about our families and I told
him that my grandfather had been a hunter and a trapper (humane,
even then) and that he hunted on horseback with a pack of dogs.
Von Choy asked if my grandpa had had a gun and I replied that
of course he did and he asked what he hunted and I told him that
the favored game was raccoon and how they could get up to 20 lbs
and even a bit over, and he looked at me strangely and I asked
what he'd hunted in Laos.
With sharp sticks. Yeah, I shit you not. He explained how that
for a thousand years his people who had been forced from China
in some kind of religious dispute had settled in the jungles of
Laos and had had to hunt the huge cats who sometimes included
the villagers in their food chain.
Imagine that. A thousand years of fighting tigers with
They had no choice. He said they nearly always lost a couple
of hunters or more in the final assault but that you couldn't
allow the arch-predators to go unchallenged, or they would eventually
eat everyone in the village.
It's no wonder he was amazed that Americans looked upon the tigers
and pythons as toys and he was the first to alert me to the fact
that the outdoor enclosures were far too small. He never took
his family back (an American friend had taken them in the first
place or they'd have never gone). Turns out he was right, huh?
Ben, Tatiana, the Sae Chaos
I can be a gruff nasty bastard. Ask just about anyone. But, I
have some tender spots in my heart and if you go after my family,
friends or any animal, you'll find out. That's why I've agonized
over these last several weeks since Tatiana finally found peace
and freedom. What to do? What to do?
Close the Zoo down in stages
How can an otherwise perfectly rational "5th generation
San Franciscan" grandmother argue with all sincerity that
no matter what the cost in misery and humiliation and poor health
caused to the animals, that her grandchildren have a right to
see these beasts up close and to taunt them all they want?
Zoos are an anachronism of the colonial era and there is no place
for them in a civilized society. I'm not against nature preserves.
Due to the catastrophic rape of the natural habitat of most living
creatures, it is incumbent upon man to insure the survival of
endangered native species. But, under the same conditions, these
animals have lived throughout the histories of their individual
Keeping an elephant in the SF Zoo was like running fully loaded
semi-truck around in circles in a baseball stadium.
Matt Gonzalez gave us a start there (no, spinmeisters, it was
not a Bevan Dufty project). Unfortunately, by the time Matt could
get the last elephants transferred, 3 out of 4 of them died from
having their feet rot off because they didn't have enough room
to walk around.
And it was these same people from AZA (American Zoo and Aquarium)
who threatened to stop trading endangered species with the SF
Zoo if they moved the elephants. They didn't give a shit about
the elephants. Only whether their wealthy donors (yes, there are
groups of Swells in pretty much every city who feel entitled to
walk up and pet dangerous beasts) they care only about
their access to these animals and not whether, not only are conditions
passable for the animals, but even, survivable.
Mollinedo a poster boy for cruelty to animals
It was Mollinedo (then at the L. A. Zoo) who let Sharon Stone
and Phil Bronstein into the cage with the Komodo dragon that tried
to have one of Phil's feet for a snack (I understand the animal
is now affectionately called 'Clint' - after Clint Reilly - nowadays).
San Francisco Zoo Director Manual Mollinedo
It was Mollinedo who let the feet rot off of the elephants until
a majority of the SF Board of Supes forced him to move them. And,
of course, it was Mollinedo who is 'improving' the enclosures
for the big cats at our zoo rather then challenge the 19th Century
presupposition that it is OK to enslave animals and people if
you have the power to do so, and if it increases your wealth or
He does not put the animals first
Weren't you shocked to learn that the Zoological Society is giving
this serial-idiot well over $300k a year to run our zoo?
That's because he'll let the wealthy people who pay him do anything
they want with the animals. The very fact that they hired him
after the Stone/Bronstein/Komodo dragon fiasco says it all. Any
manager who'd let a socialite into a cage with a wild animal,
shouldn't be allowed to run a pet store, let alone a major zoo.
McGoldrick should call for hearing
Not to assign responsibility for what happened to Tatiana, but
to investigate the entire idea as to whether an urban zoo holding
such a wide variety of free-range creatures is even feasible in
a city that claims to have a heart. In short, does the City of
St. Francis practice animal cruelty to please the rich? Let's
be the first to conduct a serious study on this issue. It would
be a nice final legacy for the soon-to-depart 'Class of 2000'.
Let your theme be from that great Jack Lemmon movie, 'Save the
Can a writer survive in an SRO room?
Yeah, sure. True, if the writer was used to more space, or a
bathroom, or a kitchen beforehand you need to get them
out occasionally and into settings where there are potential mates
from the same (or, closely-related) species. I always go to Ross
Mirkarimi's monthly art parties with just that in mind.
This month's party was particularly, shall we say, 'well-stacked'.
Honest to Jeehocipher, you never seen such a bevy of beauties.
At one point, Luke Thomas of Fog City Journal fame took a photo
of four such lovelies flanking the Abyssinian stud supervisor
and I just hope it turned out. I'm not saying that looks count
for everything you understand? No, certainly not. Only for around
90% of everything.
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi is flanked by debutantes Charlotte Mayang,
Sue Vaughan and Sasaneh Solaimani.
There was a tall and shapely lady named Christina Marie who came
with a smaller brunette beauty named Mary and it turned out that
Christina buys, rehabs and turns over Victorians. To me, that's
like telling a drunk that your daddy owns a whiskey still. Other
than animals and politics and girls, there's nothing I love to
put my hands on more than a vintage Victorian structure. Put on
a mask and protective goggles, grab a crowbar. Well, they were
smart as they were gorgeous and not having anything to do with
me but I got my picture taken with them and it was a thrill.
h. brown's new found loves, Christina Marie and Mary.
Hope Johnson sat on my knee for a second and I'll never wash
that knee again. I invited Faye Chan who is a Tatiana fan whom
I met at the Zoo hearing and promptly forgot her name while introducing
her to Mirkarimi. Oh well, show 'em the 'true' you early and you
don't disappoint 'em further down the line.
I flirted with Ahimsa Sumchai as I always do and kept trying
to get information out of Colleen Crowley of Gavin's staff who
is very gracious and must have been there subbing for Michael
Colleen can be so deadly serious when she's working, then, at
one of these gatherings, she'll suddenly get amused and flash
an open, dimpled bright smile like you'd see on a 4-year-old seeing
a pretty butterfly.
We work on my 'pad'
Looks like I'm gonna stay in this SRO room for awhile. Got turned
down for latest application to manage a local apartment building
(about all I'm good for now - certainly no one's gonna pay me
for writing) got rejection and Luke suggested I work with
the room I actually have and continue the theme of hanging political
poster from campaigns I've worked for and against on the walls,
and supplement them with a little art and make my room not so,
So, I invited Charlie Lennon, the sign painter/muralist/poet
by with Patrick Cassidy the poet/novelist/wall painter and Luke,
and we drank heavily while watching games of American football
and drew all between the posters with that window kind of sign
paint you can wash off. Luke got some shots of the results and
I hope he posts 'em on FCJ cause the difference in energy in the
room between the 'after the paint party' and before is certainly
h. brown's SRO gets a face-lift.
Now, I need a bed. One of the ladies offered me an inflatable
mattress she's kept boxed and on a shelf for several years and
that would be really, really nice. I told Luke that if the thing
will hold air, we should get lady friends to pose with me reclined
upon it will all the art in the background cause, even though
we aren't lovers, it will drive my enemies crazy. You know, kinda
like, 'How can an old hippie on social security live this well
when I "
Maybe we can photo-shop in a deck and hot tub to really piss
I house-sit for lots of people (still need more, gimme a call)
and virtually every single one of them has something in common.
That would be the ever-present shrine to a deceased animal. These
animals became and remain a part of our lives forever. I remember
listening to the phrase in 'Mr. Bojangles' long ago. You know
the one "the dog up and died and after 20 years, he
Mr. Bojangles by John Holt
I remember thinking at the time (must be 40 years ago) that only
an old black tap dancer in a county jail could miss an animal
so much. Well, it's not true. Ben's been gone for the better part
of a decade now and I weep as I write this. And, resolve to try
and get McGoldrick to hold hearings on freeing Ben's big brothers
and sisters, the wild lions and tigers and leopards in zoos everywhere.
I love you, Ben. And, I'll never, ever forget you.
Ben's portrait by Paul Albertson adorns the wall
of h. brown's humble Tenderloin abode.
h. brown is a 62 year-old keeper of sfbulldog.com,
an eclectic site featuring a half dozen City Hall denizens. h
is a former sailor, firefighter, teacher, nightclub owner, and
a hard-living satirical muckraker. Email
h at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists
published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of
Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms
and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.