Monday, August 19, 2013

Hanging the Elephant

In September of 1916, circus owner Charlie Sparks made a ghoulish spectacle of his main attraction, Big Mary, a five ton Asian elephant.

Sparks had bought Mary despite warnings that she'd already killed two people working with her, but his desperation to be able to compete on the same level as his rivals forced safety concerns to the back of his mind.

Despite being clever and talented, the elephant, while usually docile, could go on rampages that would leave people fleeing in terror. The final straw came after she publicly trampled a young man who had only recently been brought on as her trainer. (A former bellhop who had remarked to Sparks that he'd always wanted to work with animals.) He'd been riding atop her head in a parade and poked her behind the ear with a stick when she tried to reach for a watermelon rind on the ground. The elephant lifted him off of her head, slammed him to the ground and stepped on his head before flinging his lifeless body into the crowd.

Two days after the incident, public outcry to destroy the creature reached such a fever pitch that Sparks had Mary driven to the rail yard in Erwin, Tennessee in order to conduct a pubic execution by hanging.

During the first attempt, the chain broke, sending the elephant crashing to the ground and breaking her hip. Perhaps mercifully, the severely wounded animal died during the second attempt. It was discovered during an autopsy that she had a grossly infected molar precisely where the inexperienced trainer had prodded her. Though many who witnessed at the time felt that justice had been done, it's clear with the passage of time that she was just an animal in pain, lashing out.

I've been thinking about Mary a lot today. Let's just say there seem to be a whole elephant's worth of stuff that I need to get out from under. A resurgence of a painful, old medical condition that laid waste to my late teens through my early 30's. Money worries. The fear of failing my children due to money worries. So, it should come as no surprise that this morning, while doing the shopping, I was probably a lot shorter with my youngest than I should have been.

Don't get me wrong; she was being a Grade A butt-hole at the time. I noticed the "oh honey, I hear you" looks out of the corners of my eye from other women out with their children every time I lowered my voice to chastise the whining creature in my cart. Finally, after 15 straight minutes of begging and whining and hissing (this is a new, fun thing she's learned from somewhere) I pretty much lost my shit. My voice was NOT lowered when I said, "WHY CAN'T YOU BEHAVE?"

This earned me a look from a nicely dressed, middle aged woman in the aisle next to me that lacked any sort of understanding or sympathy but was pretty clear on its judgement. (Obviously, the woman had never set foot in a WalMart before, because I'm pretty sure I've seen people in there without pants before and I don't think I've ever made a judgey-face quite like the one I got.)

She couldn't see any of it. Any of the things that are threatening to make me cry today. Perhaps she thought they might be well deserved, all things considering, if she considered them at all. But most likely, I was hung in the court of her opinion for raising my voice to my cherubic (albeit satanic) 3 year old.

All I'm saying is don't hang the elephant. Because you just never know.

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