They're Waving Their Testicles Around?
Not a political story :)
Many years ago in 1987 I shared my home with a roommate who worked as a collection manager for the Smithsonian Museum’s National Zoo. Don’t jump to conclusions about what this story is about until you read the rest of the story.
An incredible new exhibit was opening at the National Zoo in Washington DC that I was not only excited to visit but sincerely wanted to do volunteer work for. The Smithsonian had created a groundbreaking experience that allowed visitors to view invertebrates—creatures without backbones, displayed in large beautiful habitats on a scale not seen by amateur enthusiasts before. The exhibit contained many types of invertebrates including sea stars, anemones, leaf-cutter ants, brittle stars, cuttlefish, and a giant octopus.
The part of the floor plan I enjoyed the most were the many saltwater aquaria, a hobby I had enthusiastically taken up in my home in Sterling Virginia. I joined the "Friends of the National Zoo" and began volunteering in the Invertebrate Exhibit every Sunday.
I volunteered there for almost two years, enjoying my time there so much that I spent all day, every Sunday helping out in the exhibit. Most volunteers give a few hours of service a couple of times a month. I admit I was a little bit obsessed by the place.
One of my most interesting visitor interactions from working there was one day while I was doing a feeding demonstration to about 15 or 20 guests over at the sea star exhibit. The tank contained brittle stars, which have very long articulated arms which they use to move surprisingly fast, especially if they are moving toward food.
One of the highlights of visitors experiences in the exhibit was getting to interact with the volunteers during public demonstrations. I used a long slender hollow glass tube with some fresh shrimp squished into the bottom of the tube to introduce the food into the sea star tank. I then asked the assembled crowd if anyone could tell me what was happening in the tank that might lead them to believe the sea stars knew there was now food in the tank.
No one responded. Something that happens quite often. I tried again.
“Can anyone tell me what the sea stars are doing to locate their dinner?”
Still no one wanted to hazard a guess. This is normally when I would give them the answer and continue with the demonstration, but to my surprise, an Asian woman whom I noticed had been in the exhibit for several hours already, quietly said:
“Yes, ma’am? What are they doing?” I asked. It’s always more interactive to get an answer from the audience than to give in and tell them.
“Yes?” I agreed encouragingly...
“They’re waving their testicles around.”
A shocked quiet fell over the group.
Now I could have just sidestepped that and moved on, but I said, “That’s almost right, but I think you meant they are waving their TENTACLES around.”
She nodded vigorously and said “Yes!”
Then, as it slowly dawned on her what she had actually said, she turned the brightest shade of red I’ve ever seen produced in nature. The only sound now coming from her was:
“oh! OH!! OH!!!”
She vanished from the group at a speed only matched by one of the cheetahs housed a few buildings over. Her embarrassment didn’t overcome her curiosity and love of the exhibit though, as I saw her back studying the habitats an hour or so later. I think she spent all day in the Invertebrate House, and I felt a little spineless myself for not handling the situation better, but you get very few chances in life to deliver such a well-timed response and I couldn’t help myself. I knew that someday, well MANY days, I would enjoy retelling this story. I hope you all have enjoyed hearing it as much as I did reliving the experience.
Be careful what you wave in public, my friends.