Ralph was a $12 an hour zookeeper who hated his job. In the beginning, he used to love it, but then reality set in. After eight years of bathing, feeding and caring for the captive creatures at the Garden City Zoo on Long Island he was fed up. Ralph saw his career choice as a dead end.
At 32 years of age, the bachelor was discontent. He saw his occupation as a thankless dirty job which required that you work weekends, and holidays, even Christmas. The worst part was that the thought and smell of animal manure stayed with you at all times.
Garden City Zoo is a relatively small zoo. As such, they can’t afford to hire many zookeepers and subsequently Ralph, and his colleagues are continually being asked to work overtime. The schedule became soul-crushing, and his boss was entirely unsympathetic. “If you can’t work the extra you should quit,” is what he told the staff.
The worst part was that Ralph began taking his frustrations out on the animals in his care, especially the naughty monkeys in the primate house. He had become brutal towards them. Ralph would beat them with a yellow Wiffle Ball Bat which he stored in a closet.
Although there was a 400-pound Gorilla named Jambo whom Ralph despised, the monkeys got it the worst. Ralph was afraid of Jambo. He even had nightmares about the young silverback. The disenchanted animal keeper's favorite target was the zoo’s 22-year-old langur monkey, Otta. Most langurs in captivity don’t live more than 25 years, so Otta was nearing the end of his life.
Ralph hated the inmates of the primate house, and the feeling was mutual. Once Ralph had beaten Otta so severely with the plastic bat that he cried for a week whenever Ralph was near him. The apes and monkeys, unlike the birds and reptiles, are cunning and very intelligent. Ralph realized that about them, which made him despise them even more. He correctly discerned that the animals had grown to hate him with a passion.
Realizing that this was potentially a dangerous situation, Ralph decided that it was time to turn the page in his relationship with the simians. From now on he would be kind. The yellow plastic bat would no longer be used to threaten them. Now he wanted to be their friend after four good years of physically abusing them.
The inmates of the “monkey house” didn’t know what to think of the new Ralph. The only one who warmed up to him and seemed to welcome the change was Otta.
One night while Ralph was feeding the sensitive, intelligent captives a snack of sliced apples he noticed Mr. Otta. The old monkey stuck both of his little hairy arms through the bars to embrace Ralph. Ralph thought to himself “Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” Ralph knew that if Otta could forgive him, he would have nothing to fear from the others.
“Otta, how are ya do ‘in old boy?” Ralph asked.
Otta became excited as Ralph approached his cage. Placing the yellow bucket of sliced apples on the floor, Ralph stuck his arms through the bars and gave Otta a warm embrace.
“Do you like that Otta?” Ralph asked in a disingenuous tone which Otta detected, yet he nodded his head “Yes.” He then grabbed the shiny silver pen from the breast pocket of Ralph’s blue coveralls and jammed it into the cruel zookeeper’s left eyeball.
“Netflix and Chill” is a euphemism for a booty call. It implies an invitation to some type of romantic partnership culminating in an intimate sexual encounter. Thus it was not a surprise when Barry received a call from Ava at 10 o’clock at night on a Wednesday to come over to watch “Lala Land.”
Barry, a 32-year-old bank manager, had been exclusively dating Ava, a 27-year-old third-grade public school teacher, for two years already. They met through an online dating app. The couple had done the “Netflix and Chill” thing so often now that they had begun to lose count. It was convenient since Barry lived only a five-minute taxi ride down Columbus Avenue to Ava.
Barry freshened up and headed to the street to hail a cab. Along the way, he was enjoying the relative calm of Manhattan’s Westside on this fall evening. The traffic was light, and he arrived at Ava’s address quicker than the sesame chicken she had ordered for her dinner earlier in the evening from the Chinese restaurant over on Broadway.
Ava’s one-bedroom apartment on West 79th street and Amsterdam was always tidy and clean. Unlike Barry’s apartment which was basically a messy bachelor pad in desperate need of a woman’s touch. None the less Ava liked it when Barry would invite her to his home to “Netflix and Chill.” She never complained about the mess.
When Ava answered the door in a bathrobe, the two embraced and kissed on the lips. It had been two days since they had last seen one another. Barry followed Ava into the living room and took a seat on the burgundy colored cloth covered sofa. He could smell the scent of her favorite fragrance. Closing his eyes and inhaling he indulged in the aroma of this familiar place. Barry anxiously anticipated the sensual moments soon to unfold.
“Barry honey, I’m going to make us some popcorn,” Ava said in her usual sweet soft tone.
Barry nodded to her and smiled as she walked into the narrow “kitchen” and reached into the cupboard for a packet of microwavable popcorn.
The box held three packets, and this was the last of the three. Ava made a mental note to herself to replenish her supply as soon as possible. The final pack of popcorn had sat on the shelf for more than a week. In the flat rectangular pouch, there were precisely 462 kernels of corn. Ava placed the popcorn kernels into the microwave according to the instructions written in blue ink which read “THIS SIDE UP.” What Ava did not know was that one of the 462 kernels of corn was a killer. It had been waiting to snuff the life out of some poor soul from the moment it was packaged.
In three minutes the popping was virtually complete. Ava removed the bag from the microwave and transferred the contents into a large plastic bowl before delivering it to Barrys’ lap, and cuddling up beside him.
“Are we ready sweety?” Barry asked before pressing the button on the remote control to begin the movie.
Ava simply said “Play!” And so Barry pressed the play button.
However, there would be no play tonight. Something unthinkable was about to happen. The calamitous kernel of corn had blossomed into an injurious piece of popcorn, which Barry placed onto his tongue just before Ava turned to kiss him sliding her tongue into his mouth at precisely the moment when he began to swallow. The wrathful piece of popcorn then seized the moment to “go down the wrong way.” The popcorn became lodged in Barry’s throat, and he was unable to speak or to inhale.
Realizing that he was in big trouble. Barry stood up immediately tossing the bowl of popcorn aside. He reached up to his throat with both hands. At first, Ava was surprised by Barry springing to his feet so suddenly. But she recognized in less than a couple of seconds that he was choking.
“Barry? Oh my God!” She screamed and began striking the middle of his back between his shoulder blades. It was not working. So, she grabbed her phone and called 9-1-1. By now Barry was turning blue, and Ava began crying.
The Academy Award-winning movie ”Lala Land” was playing on Ava’s huge flat screen television. Barry’s last thoughts were “Death by popcorn?” as he lost consciousness, and collapsed face first to the plush cream colored carpet, bam. It was the force of the fall that dislodged the popcorn from Barry’s throat and saved his life.
Hi, I'm Lester Patterson,