Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Stingrays & Grizzlies & Crocs, Oh My

After watching Werner Herzog's 2005 biodoc of delusional but fascinating Timothy Treadwell, the self-styled Grizzly Man, I've given serious contemplation to also kicking drugs, changing my name to something more alliterative, affecting a strange effeminate voice, and dropping out of human society to live among the wild squirrels of Central Park, or maybe among the wild ducks. Whatever is less dangerous. Because when you grow up in New York City and live and work among its multitudes of insane denizens, why tempt fate more than you have to? That's why you don't see many native New Yorkers bungee jumping or hang gliding as a rule. Isn't getting home in one piece almost like running a daily deadly gauntlet in its own right?

The movie got me to thinking, who was tougher, the dude who lived among 10-foot grizzly bears and carniverous foxes in the Alaska wilderness, or the crazy Aussie who wrestled giant alligators and crocodiles and such, before being bested by a giant stingray? First of all, we all had pet stingrays growing up, right, and what did our moms always tell us? Do not under any circumstances try to take a bath with little Stingy because they really don't like to be crowded. I mean, isn't that Stingray Raising 101?

In terms of the still unpatented Gruesome-Death-O-Meter, I also have to favor Treadwill. Yes, it's a grotesque way to meet your maker, getting your chest sliced open with a footlong serrated poisonous bull-ray tail, but does it trump becoming a Grizzly Manwich for pissed-off wild bears? I think not. Zoologists don't call 'em ursus horribilis just to show off their Latin.

Of course, Werner Herzog knows mortal danger first-hand, having directed the late Klaus Kinski (www.klauskinski.de) for all those years -- an authentic madman in an industry full of pouting posers. Croc Hunter Steve Irwin, however, probably had the cooler coterie of celebrity friends like phone-throwing Russell Crowe, and he left behind a loving nuclear family. Conversely, Grizzly Dude not only managed to get his girlfriend Happy Mealed by ferocious carnivores, but left behind a set of grieving parental units on Long Island to explain how their once seemingly normal son came to his, ahem, grisly end. (By the way, the interviews Herzog conducts with Treadwell's parents are eerily reminiscent of those conducted with Virgil Starkwell's ashamed parents, minus the phony eyeglass-nose-& moustache disguises, in Woody Allen's brilliant 1969 mockumentary Take The Money and Run.)

So the lesson here, if there is one? You want nature, get some goldfish or a fucking parrot or just turn on Animal Planet. But unless you want to be fodder for Earth's unforgiving food chain, I would strongly advise against naming yourself after some fierce, undomesticated creature and then proceeding to make a big show of living among them. Animals usually get the last laugh.

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