Hey, buddy, got a tiger?
Only thing more frightening than an over-regulated tiger is an unregulated child
Ever since Antoine Yates, the 31-year-old Harlem roommate of a 350-pound Bengal tiger and an alligator named “Al” was arrested, my wife’s had her heart set on a cuddly tiger cub. And why not? A Chihuahua seems like a chirping little knock-knock joke next to the thrill of owning a jungle predator that might go off and maul either one of us on the slightest whim. Owning a pet should be an exciting, perhaps tragic experience. Besides, the orange, striped coat of a tiger would go perfectly with our couch.
A few days later, we were following a guy with a sharp limp down a dark, narrow staircase into the bowels of a Chinatown apartment building in search of a trophy pet of our own. We had met him in a dive bar on Mott Street. Darker and darker, we made it to a door with a bowl of either fresh urine or stale fish oil laying out beside it. The guy could hardly speak but kind of grunted and pointed to a cage full of what we later found out were “caracal” cubs, a spiteful-looking, tawny-brown native of Africa with long black ears like a dog. It looked like a genetic mistake. The place smelled like a mixture of rotting flesh and talcum powder. We watched as one of the cats stood up against the side of the cage, made a satisfied moan and started pissing at us. A stream of clear white cat urine soaked and puddled on the cement floor. There was no drain in sight. It was a failure of human dynamics. We wanted a loving, growling companion, not some half-menacing dog-cat.
“Um,” I told the man. “Is there an ATM around here? We’ll be right back …”
On the Internet, we found Gambian giant rats, baby chimpanzees for $50,000, zebras for $8,000, even skunks for $400. There were flying squirrels, arctic wolves, black bears and enough chinchillas to make a fine coat. But why not a giraffe, an elephant? Something rideable. There was a sale on blackbuck antelope—we’re talking premium African hoofstock here. Also, something called a “Chinese Bearded Silkie,” a really useless type of chicken with a super-soft, overgrown coat.
Finally, we found our tiger cubs. An animal farm in Indiana had some available for $1,500 a piece. They were cute and made my wife swoon and go, “Awwwwwww! Can we get one? Can we get one? Pleeeeasseee?”
Two males and a female, just a few weeks old. I called to see if they delivered.
The lady on the phone was a little skeptical. There were laws and regulations to consider. The Yates incident was throwing all kinds of bright-light scrutiny on the exotic animal industry. She refused to say yes or no right away. She wanted to know what kind of habitat the animal would be living in, whether we were decent, responsible people, etc. Whether we had any idea what it was like to raise a 400-pound carnivore. She told me a tiger eats a mixture of raw meat, liver, kidney and bone meal, up to 50 pounds a day.
“But we have cable,” I insisted. “He can watch the Discovery channel whenever he gets lonely.” The other end of the phone was silent. This was obviously a dead end. This lady was some kind of tiger-hog. I growled at her and hung up.
My wife was sitting on the couch, miserable and disappointed. Her bottom lip was in full-pout. She really, really, really wanted a tiger cub. Exactly what kind of irresponsible, over-regulated industry was this when two people sharing a cramped studio apartment in Brooklyn can’t get a damned tiger cub? You can never trust the media. It’s the same thing with the whole Rush Limbaugh episode. They’ll have you believe buying a bottle of Oxycontin is as easy as buying a pair of Nikes. But, no! Trying to score a script is like trying to get a box of cereal to talk to you. I was just about to give up.
“Maybe we should have a baby,” said my wife, eyes searching for an answer.
A baby? Talk about an unregulated industry! I decided to go for a long walk and do some serious Lifetime-movie-style soul-searching. A kid? Somehow I ended up back on the crowded streets of Chinatown. A kid?
I hoped it wasn’t too late to get one of those cute little caracals. I went into the bar and asked for the man with the limp.