All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies. —Book of Bokonon; Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
The North American jackalope is among the most elusive of all native fauna. Speculated1 to have numbered in the tens of millions prior to colonization of the Desert Southwest, they are apparently destined to follow in the footsteps of the dodo, the golden toad and the jabberwock. Despite the warnings on the sign pictured above, I didn’t see one damned jackalope on that entire stretch of road, nor indeed for several days afterwards.2
Nor is the life of an exotic animal always easy. You are a curiosity. People constantly point at you, sometimes whispering, other times shouting to make sure everyone else knows that you are the one who made the Epic Discovery. Strangers poke and prod at you. Camera-wielding thrill seekers try to pretend that they are taking a picture of something very interesting behind you, but you know they will display your image like a trophy to their friends later over craft beers. Herding with other exotics only amplifies the effect. Crowds gather and text messages start flying like hippogriffs and pegasi. No small wonder, therefore, that many jackalope prefer to remain hidden in the crannies of the forest.
Which brings me to lunch…
Surgeon: Would you like company as you eat?
Fabulous transgender ER doctor (F-TERD): Sure
Surgeon: Um, are you a girl?
F-TERD: I’m a transgender female.
F-TERD: It happens.
Surgeon: I see. Just so you know, I’m not interested in anything else.
F-TERD: Thanks for the tip.
Having spent my entire life with one amazing woman, I lack recent experience with the complex mating, or in this case, explicitly non-mating rituals of the human animal. I hear that humans develop an elegant fluency for this sort of interaction, but alas, I am entirely unpracticed. Honest to Bob I thought it was a bit awkward. No matter–he was fibbing a bit regarding his disinterest. The next hour consisted of two ships passing in the daylight–me asking him about his hometown, medical practice and hobbies and he peppering me with a series of incredulous questions about how I managed to navigate the world, “seeming like a rational”3 professional attending the same conference that he was. Guess I fooled him.
Most days I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but this time I chose amusement instead of indignation. All in all, it turned out to be a decent conversation. I’m pretty sure I saw him squirm a little when I described the freedom inherent in living a life without secrets. I wasn’t just any old jackalope today. I was a jackalope rockstar.
Human beings love exotica. Witness how children love dinosaurs. Big children (aka young Earth Creationists) love them even more. Ken Ham’s Creation Museum postulates that extensive human contact with dinosaurs led to proliferation of dragon legends throughout the world. “Prepare to Believe”, signs suggest helpfully. I’m not making fun of them.4 My point is that whatever else we might disagree upon, the coolness of dinosaurs is beyond question.
Still, I think that they got it wrong. We invent ogres, dragons, demons and unicorns because we need them. They inhabit the darkened edges on the spectrum of possibility. Tossed about in a world where no rule of thumb long remains unbroken, we cling to our superlatives: the strongest, the most terrifying, the surreal and the mythical. We embrace fantasy because most of the time reality feels far more absurd. As GK Chesterton said:
Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.
Chuck Shepherd’s News of the Weird circulates in more than 250 newspapers and has spawned both friendly and competitive clone sites. Would millions of people bother to read News of the Tedious and Mundane? I think not.5 Shepherd sates our nearly unquenchable appetite for the bizarre, simultaneous providing us with something quasi-respectable to tell people that we are reading when we are actually looking at Dear Abby. Or so I have heard…
At the risk of alienating the folks who probably comprise the vast majority of the page hits on this site, you didn’t find me nearly so fascinating in 2005. I get it. I suppose that I wasn’t. Except that I was, and I was terrified to tell you. We nearly missed the opportunity to know and love each other. That’s the message: somewhere out there, someone you know has an absolutely mesmerizing story to tell but is afraid to tell it. If you can, try to project the sort of presence that makes others believe that you will listen to them, even or especially when the chain derails.
- Just now, by me
- That I claimed to have seen several while my children were asleep in the back seat and produced this photo as evidence is another matter entirely.
- I kid you not. He said it.
- Well ok, I am. See Vonnegut, above.
- Nevertheless, if you disagree and turn it into a money maker, copyright still applies under federal law.