Sunday, July 18, 2010

The View from Tiger Mountain: Life at the Zoo

First off, I have never actually been to the Tiger Mountain exhibit. I have only walked by it a handful of times. But it makes for a nifty title and it does have its significance. Tiger Mountain is the zoo equivalent of hell. Those who are assigned there for the day have the pleasure of standing in the sun in an isolated exhibit that is purgatory for a seasonal worker. And the only task you have is to ask people to park their strollers. Well, that doesn't sound SO bad now, does it? But have you ever dealt with suburban moms and their 6k strollers? Yes, one of them did claim to have a 6k stroller. And if they did- why? And more importantly, why bring it to the zoo? On a regular basis at Tiger Mountain, you are yelled at for asking people to park their strollers. You are insulted. You are given nasty looks. All while baking in the sun, in the middle of nowhere and not really being able to say anything but, "I'm sorry, ma'am, it's park policy." Well, that's what you're SUPPOSED to say. I think some of the employees have been a bit more creative in their answers.

Therefore, it's no surprise that if you find yourself on the roster for this attraction in the morning, you groan and try to figure out what you must have done to anger the Zoo gods to put you in this space. The rumor is that it's a punishment zone. As I said, I have never been there but was assigned to it once, only to find myself spared at the last moment when a cashier called out. Score one for me.

But you know, all in all, the zoo has been okay. Sure, I can complain and all-who doesn't complain about their jobs- and really, the only thing keeping me from fully loving it is the pay. But I knew of that situation going into the position.

And to think I thought I wouldn't have to work there. I was told by the third-party recruiter that I would never be hired as they would see me as a "flight risk." I still got an offer. I was having several interviews around the same time and naively assumed at least one of them would make me an offer. In fact, a recruiter called me my second day of training at the zoo and I assumed it would be to tell me that the company wanted me. But then he said the news was "bittersweet" and that they went with somebody else. (Note to recruiters: there is NOTHING bittersweet about not getting a job. It is just bitter.)

And here are a few things I've learned about myself and others so far this season:

- I am old. I mean, really old. You laugh, but when some of the people you work with are 16 through 21 and have never heard of the Mary Tyler Moore show or All in the Family and you cannot connect on a lot of levels, it's odd. I like these people a lot and- while I wouldn't broadcast it- I always have this desperate need to be liked. But I also know that I need to set boundaries because if I try to suggest hanging out, I don't want to be that creepy older guy.

- On the flip side, most people there are surprised when I tell them how old I am. And I get some kind of kick out of saying, "I'm turning 40 next year" and being told I look younger. Score!

- Gorillas are awesome.

- I think there are a lot more gay guys in my department than even they know. But I'd never, ever call any of them on it. Unless they tell me, I won't confront them. I'm rarely wrong but - again, here is the age thing - I don't want to be seen as some creepy older guy. I'm not hitting on them, I'd just like friends and if they needed to talk about it, would be willing to be there for them. But I can volunteer on a hot line as well. I'd love to have them be honest, as I am. But nobody needs to be rushed into facing things about themselves that they are not ready for.

- I can wear shorts above the knee and get over my shame that my legs look like pipe cleaners.

- I haven't yet gotten tired of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. It's all I can afford. I'd love to go to McDonald's once in a while but I don't dare.

And just this past Friday, I saw a great sight. I was working at an attraction across from the giraffe lawn. The zoo hadn't opened yet and the giraffes had just been let out. One of the younger giraffes was running in circles around the field in that beautiful, loping gait they have. He was probably happy that he didn't have to be at Tiger Mountain either.