The importation of exotic animals into the US is having a queer effect upon the wildlife. The Everglades are like a stretch of the Congo now. Released pet snakes have bred and grown to prehistoric size. Last year, police found the remains of a boa that had split in two attempting to consume an alligator. The worrying thing is that this is the first recorded case of a snake winning a fight against an animal of that size. Something in the water is making them grow beyond their natural dimensions. It is the stuff of countless horror movies, but it warms the heart in one regard. It proves that evolution hasn’t stopped, that man’s relationship with the wild is still being negotiated. And while nature is winning in one part of the world, it is losing in many others. Having made so many friends among liberal activists, I'm now on a lot of animals rights mailing lists. Recently, I was sent pictures of a bizarre coming-of-age ritual in Denmark whereby young men go out into shallow waters and - to prove their masculinity - stab dolphins to death. It made me determined to boycott everything Danish, which amounts to ... Lurpak butter and Seventies child pornography.
So the thought of nature getting its revenge and goosing mankind pleases me greatly. And who can resist the potential for hilarity that a baboon swinging free in The Garden State presents? I hope it steals things from washing-lines and gets up to all sorts of shenanigans. This has been a week of thinking about animals. On Friday, I interviewed the Sheinbaum family for my project on Hollywood politics. Stanley and Betty Sheinbaum are the king and queen of Hollywood liberalism; ageing maybe, still capable of throwing a fundraiser that can bring down a president. They have counted among their friends George McGovern, Warren Beatty, Shirley MacLaine, and Yasser Arafat (what a party!). At 91, Betty is incredibly full of vim but Stanley is confined to a chair and very deaf. They plied me with cookies as we discussed the state of the country. I sat between them, asking Betty a question on my left and then shouting it again at Stanley on my right. I was amazed to discover that Stanley still goes to the cinema twice a week. I agreed with Betty that there was little point. The advent of superheroes has rendered a trip to the flicks an unmitigated bore. “Do you think the superheroes with all their powers are a metaphor for Obama?” Betty asked innocently. “We certainly need someone to rescue us.”
The Sheinbaums are disillusioned with the administration, but then so is everyone else here in Los Angeles. It is odd, considering how Obama is often portrayed as the candidate of the liberal elite, just how much the liberal elite now dislike him. They hate him all the more for the fact that they once loved him; they feel cheated, conned – like a lover who married a stunning blonde heiress only to discover that her hair comes from a bottle and the only thing she’s inheriting is the trailer. The liberal elite suspended their usually high critical faculties (these people are not easily pleased) and got behind Obama in 2008, only to be appalled when he turned out to be as human and corrupt as all the rest. “I cried when Obama was elected,” said Betty sadly. For them, the election of a black man fulfilled the promise of all their years of activism in the Civil Rights movement – only for it to be dashed when they discovered he was the wrong black man. But the Sheinbaums have the comfort of nostalgia. Jane Fonda showed up at Stanley’s birthday last month and kissed him on the cheek.
The Sheinbaums must be exceptional people because they own a beautiful brown standard poodle. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, so too did Richard Nixon – and you have to be rather special to tame one of these brilliant creatures (they are so guilefully intelligent that the French used to teach them to play poker). When I was a child, my family tried to break a poodle and failed: he bullied his way to top of our pack and made my life a living Hell. Every night he would stroll into my bedroom, leap up onto the bed, push me out, and fall asleep. If I tried to get back in, he would growl without opening his eyes until I backed away. I named him Dino after the pet dinosaur in The Flintstones. The name turned out to suit him in a way that none of us predicted, for it’s also the moniker of many a small-time Italian crook. Dino was like one of those unstable psychopaths you see in gangster movies – the life and soul of the party one scene, a switchblade wielding lunatic the next.
The Sheinbaum’s poodle is a finer class of pooch and introduced herself to me in the manner of a lady – with outstretched paw and fluttering brown eyes. As I ran my fingers through her cotton wool hair I was thrown back to my youth. Just as Proust would go wild at the smell of an orchid for the memory that it invoked, the hair of a poodle transports me back (rather more prosaically) twenty years to when we drove Dino home for the first time: a terrified puppy in a cardboard box. We were taking him away from his mother. I remember sitting on the backseat of the car trying to reassure him, feeding his thick ears between my fingers and waggling a tennis ball before his eyes. Poor Dino wept and wailed all three hours home. When we arrived, he vomited on my trousers and then passed out beneath an apple tree. Perhaps the memory of being snatched from his mother is why he hated us. I wonder if all dogs can remember that moment in the same way that humans remember a divorce or a parental slap – a scar on the memory that never heals.
Now many hours later and lying awake on my bed sweating in the interminable Los Angeles heat, I am hankering for the attentions of a dog. Meeting the Sheinbaum’s poodle reminded me of all the pleasures of canine company: the loopy, pointless grin of a Labrador, the mischievous yap of a sausage dog, the feminine wiles of a weimaraner with its silky grey skin. I would be old enough now to cultivate Dino’s respect if he were still alive. Dogs instantly defer to an adult man, if only for a pause before devouring him. They elevate their master, when contact with other humans so often lowers him.
Just one month left in the US before my visa expires and all I can think about is those giant boas crawling through the Everglades. I wonder, what if one is split open and they find a half-consumed Sasquatch inside? Then we will know that nature really is winning and those bastard Danes on the beach will be next.