Pet a Penguin

NEW ORLEANS — Dinner on Friday followed a bit of planned silliness. Columnists gathered outside the Hotel Monteleone where the Storyville Stompers were waiting. They comprised a dancing drum major, bass drummer, snare drummer, saxophonist, trumpeter, trombonist and sousaphone player. They played long versions of about three Dixieland classics and we were their “second-line,” sashaying a mile to the Aquarium of the Americas.

A number of columnists knew to bring kazoos. One friend came with packets of combs and strips of wax paper, and I used that while My Beloved strutted. Actually, we both spent most of the parade in conversation with our fellows.

Dinner at the Aquarium was the treat of the Times-Picayune. The main speaker was Tom Dyer, senior aviculturist. The aquarium’s take on The Storm was as expected devastating: Thousands of animals died. The staff like the rest of the city was forced to leave. Tom and the others returned as soon as allowed and began a simultaneous clean-up of dead animals and rescue of the surviving fish and related creatures, such as penguins. Other aquariums, Monterey’s was Dyer’s example, stood ready to house the animals until the New Orleans facility could be set right, with companies like FedEx donating transportation and so forth.

The Storm was different. Dyer was not the first Friday to say residents handled hurricanes by packing a pair of shorts, two T-shirts, toothbrush and a pair of flip-flops, and drive to a relative’s house a hundred or so miles away. In a couple of days you returned and hoped your home and those of friends weren’t too badly hurt. After The Storm, it wasn’t just two days and hoping your home is mostly there.

Dyer brought out Millicent, one of the penguins. Some animal lovers question the purpose of zoos — alleging exploitation and harm to various species by them — but when he held this unusual bird and offered we five dozen grown-ups a moment to gather and touch its back, MB and I got in line. A unique opportunity. Warm, rippled thick skin. Confined critters are the best spokesmen for the rest of the animal kingdom. Are they caged? Yes, and big biologically correct cages are still cages. Yet these guys will have regular meals and so forth for far longer than their average lifespan in the wild.

Unless, of course, their building gets hit by a wall of water.

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