Take my Elephant, Please

I like big trunks and I cannot lie. All you other brothers might deny. Etc.

I looked up the lyrics to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s song. It isn’t about trunks. I was going to rewrite the whole thing to be about elephants. But then I didn’t. I stopped after two lines. Got bored.

What’s the deal with elephants? No, that’s not the setup to a Seinfeld joke. It’s just me trying to capture your thoughts. You’re three short paragraphs in. You’ve been accosted by a picture of an elephant. And a title about elephants. And a rewrite of the first two lines of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s bawdy classic. So I have to imagine you, like Jerry Seinfeld whenever he sees anything, are thinking “what’s the deal?”

The deal is this:

We went to the Pittsburgh Zoo last week. And I saw an elephant. That’s the deal.


A trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo! This was the most dramatic journey the Tanner family has been on in fourteen months. You know. Because of a global pandemic.

We packed into the car at 7:00am on a Wednesday. Started heading west. I stopped to use the bathroom fourteen times between State College and the steel city.

“What is wrong with you?” my wife Katie asked after the second time.

I downed another gulp of coffee. “I’ve got a small bladder!”

Katie was ready to murder me after the thirteenth stop. Thankfully, murder is a crime. And a sin.

Incidentally, I was a pro at urinating when I was a high school teacher. The bell would ring. I’d dart into the hallway. Swerve through oncoming students. Hit the faculty bathroom and return before the next class started. Down another gulp of coffee. Do it again next period. The called me the flash. No they didn’t. But they could have.

Anyway, we made it to Pittsburgh by 9:30, bathroom stops and all. Pulled into the parking lot.

“What the hell is this?” I raged. There was a line of cars as far as the eye could see. Hordes of people. Maskless people, I might add.

“Calm down,” Katie told me. Then she looked around. And admitted that it was kind of busy.

“Kind of busy?”

It was all kinds of busy. Already. 9:30am on a Wednesday morning, and the Pittsburgh Zoo was packed. We waited in line. Got tickets. I used the bathroom for the fifteenth time, and we entered the zoo.

What a delight. Solomon and Samson have only been to one zoo in their lives. The Como Zoo in my hometown of St. Paul, MN. I love the Como Zoo, but the Pittsburgh Zoo was much bigger. More animals to leer at. And leer we did.

Solomon and Samson raced from exhibit to exhibit. They swerved through crowds of maskless people, coughing Covid on each other in great waves of germy droplets. Raced up to the ropes. Or glass. And leered.

We saw lions, tigers, and bears. And anteaters. And sloths. And stingrays.

The elephants were my favorite. I watched the Zoo staff spray down the elephants with a hose. I was amazed that one of the elephants knew to lift its leg during its shower. How intelligent.

Solomon’s favorite animals were all the cats. Samson liked the sloth. Because he has a toy sloth. The sloth we saw in Pittsburgh was very furry. It hung there lazily. Like a sloth would.

We got back on the road around 1:00pm. Made it home by 4:00pm, and collapsed on the couch. Walking around Zoo’s on hot summer days is hard work.

“Dad?” Samson whispered later, as I was putting him to bed.


“Can we go to the Pittsburgh Zoo on Saturday?”

I told him no. But we’d go back again soon.


Being at the Pittsburgh Zoo was a shock to the system. Largest crowed I’ve been around in a year.

Look, I’m vaccinated. So is Katie. I’m not really concerned about us being around other people. Masks or no. But my boys don’t have access to the vaccine yet. And I’ve just spent fourteen months being careful. It is as psychological as it is anything else, but I’m still getting comfortable with moving around the world again. It’s been such a strange year.

Samson is five. Solomon is seven. They are the perfect age to begin exploring the area around us. State College is a short drive from D.C. From New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, etc. Lots of cool cities to go see when we aren’t on lockdown. I’d love to see a game at PNC park. Or go to the Smithsonian. We’re getting in there. The first step? Watching an elephant eat an orange at the Pittsburgh Zoo. And poop. I watched elephants poop too. A whole bunch.

So that’s the deal with elephants.

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