Monday, January 15, 2007


The rain was blowing almost sideways while I sat in the parking lot at the zoo waiting for Grace and her friend Eleanor. They came out the exit, their look alike heads bent against the rain,although Grace was several inches taller. Eleanor's hair a little redder, but the haircuts the same with a curtain of bangs pushed to the side ending along their cheekbones and the rest stretching in choppy layers to their shoulders. They were dressed alike too in their khaki pants and khaki zoo shirt with the green logo. And they were smiling. Tonight was the Girl Scout sleepover at the Holiday Inn across the street from the University. No parents, just two leaders -- three doors away.
They opened the rear door and blew into the car with some rain.
"Hmmm, bagels," Grace said, spotting the open Panera box. She started spreading cream cheese on a cinnamon crunch while I started driving. I still had to drop the girls off at the scout leader's house, along with the leader's son who was in the way back of my car, and get my sons to swim team. Five kids in the car, 13 bagels eaten or fading fast.
"How was the zoo?" I asked. The girls had complained that their volunteer time at the zoo often resulted in a lot of dish washing. They were constantly washing the bowls that hold the animals' food. One held pinkies, which are some sort of embryo mice or something.
Why doesn't the zoo have a dishwasher -- you know, a machine like GE or Kenmore? Grace wasn't certain, but she said the washing machine sits in the middle of the hallway, so they may be lagging on some essentials.
"Good," Grace said, her mouth full of bagel while she answered my question about her day. "We got to feed the chicken."
"Chicken? Why does the zoo have a chicken?" And why isn't the chicken fed to the tigers, was what I wondered silently.
We were zooming down the highway by this point, having evaded the stop and go traffic that led us back to the highway.
"I don't know, but it's name is Gracie," she said, chewing.
"Yeah, we fed it meal worms," Eleanor said.
"Grace touched the meal worms?" I asked in surprise. I knew that Grace's contribution when it came to worms, snakes or bugs in general would be minimal. When the girls were told to clean the Hissing Cockroach cage, Grace's participation was limited to trying to scare the cockroach away from the opening while Eleanor took care of the cleaning and feeding. I'm not certain what her tactic was for scaring it -- perhaps she hissed back.
"Well, I didn't exactly touch them," she hedges with a shake of her shoulders as if disgusted at the thought of touching the meal worms. "I kind of turned the can sideways and dropped some out."
"Yeah, and we were supposed to do them one at a time," Eleanor protested. "After that, the chicken wouldn't leave Grace. It just stayed with her hoping for another worm bonanza."
They both laughed, showing mouths full of bagel and cream cheese and braces.
"Yeah," she turned in the seat toward her 10-year-old brother, "the chicken kind of reminded me of Tucker."
"Hey," he protested.
"Why," I asked, "did the chicken remind you of Tucker?"
"Well," she said tilting her head to the side as if trying to find the best way to explain it, "I think it was the facial expressions."
I spent the rest of the drive pondering what sort of facial expressions the chicken could possibly have, but afraid to ask for more details. Sometimes, with teenagers, it's best not to know.

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