By Greg Clark, July 14, 1934
“How humdrum,” breathed Jimmie Frise, “our lives are!”
“Ho, hum,” I yawned.
“The world fairly pulsing with adventure, danger, thrill,” said Jimmie, tilting back his chair, “and we dozing our lives away, year in, year out, with never an adventure, never a cold chill of fear.”
“Billions of men,” I said, “have sacrificed their lives, Jimmie, to make the world safe and humdrum for us.”
“They might have spared their pains,” said Jim. “Life without thrills is no life at all. Thank goodness there are a few places left in the world where a man can really live. Africa, for instance. Gordon Sinclair says that the dark continent is still an absolutely closed book to all white men, that any white man who says he knows the inside of Africa is a liar. Filled with unearthly and devilish rites, its vast jungles vibrating with poisonous and menacing life, with black mambas, orange leopards, tawny Lions, fiendish natives.”
“Not for me,” said I.
“India,” went on Jimmie, “teeming with bewildered, strange, superstitious millions. South America with white men lost twenty years in utterly unexplored fastnesses. The arctic. The south sea islands.”
“Ah,” said I. “The south sea islands. Soft and languorous seas, beauteous maidens in grass pinnies, breadfruit filling off the trees …”
“Tibet,” cried Jim, “rockbound, bitter, mountainous, guarded, secret, where poisoned arrows fly from precipice to precipice.”
“Spain,” I added, “where you can either be a bull fighter or sit and watch bull fights. I like a country with a little choice of thrills.”
“Afghanistan,” said Jim, “where they will cut off your head just to get your rifle.”
“Switzerland,” I countered, “where you can either go ski-ing down Mont Blanc or sit on the veranda of a chalet and watch somebody else ski down Mont Blanc.”
“Personally,” said Jim. “I think the essence of adventure is wild animals. Where there are man-caters, there is adventure. There are tigers in Tibet and Burma, lions in Africa, jaguars in South America. Conquer the wild beasts and you have conquered adventure.”
“I once saw a bear when we were out picking blueberries,” I admitted.
“Pah, a black bear,” scoffed Jim, “a little scared fat dog.”
“It was scared,” I agreed. “We saw it first. It was sitting down, like a baby, eating blueberries, with its back to us. Then it got a whiff of us. You should have seen it skedaddle.”
“There you are,” cried Jim. “Canada.”
Longing for Danger
“As for me,” I stated, “I rather imagine I would be a big game hunter, if I had been born in a different land under other circumstances. I do not like animals. And I imagine I would make a good hunter of tigers or lions. I am cautious and careful and cold. I would stalk a tiger and it would never know what hit it. I’m that way.”
Jim studied me curiously.
“I can imagine you,” said he, “pushing through the tall jungle grass of India stalking a tiger.”
“With a little practice,” I said, “I think I would be pretty clever at tigers. Lions. too. I have read a good deal about lion hunting, and it always strikes me, as I read the accounts, that the hunters do exactly what I would have done under the same circumstances.”
“Indeed,” said Jim. “Do animals like you?”
“As a matter of fact,” I said, “they don’t. Horses don’t care for me. I found that out in the army when my rank got so high I had to ride a horse. I could have been a general if horses had been fonder of me. And as for dogs, well, it is mutual.”
“Yet you own a lot of dogs,” said Jim.
“Hunting dogs,” I said. “Rabbit dogs. You don’t have to feel affection for hunting dogs.”
“I wish,” said Jim, “that there were some dangerous animals to hunt in this part of the world. Rabbits. Deer. Big stupid moose. You might as well go out and shoot sheep and horses in the pastures.”
“There are one ton Kodiak grizzlies in Alaska,” I suggested.
“If we had the money or the time,” muttered Jim. “I get so weary of this dull business of living.”
“You should be grateful to all the billions of your forebears who have died to make the world safe for you,” I concluded.
“I wish I had been one of my forebears,” growled Jimmie, “about 1000 B.C.”
“Take your turn,” I counselled. “Think of the sensation of going out of the Star Building, and hundred yards away, a sabre-toothed tiger leaping with a snarl like a freight engine on your back.”
“Swell,” said Jim.
“Brrr, I shudder to think,” I said, “of what the animal kingdom would have done to me three thousand years ago. They just hate me. I am an escaped meal, that’s all I am. Gordon Sinclair says that an African black-maned lion will creep up on a herd of two thousand zebras, and out of that whole vast herd the lion will elect one particular zebra and stalk him, and chase him and pursue him furiously through the entire herd of two thousand stampeding zebras, and take no one but that very one he has singled out. I believe that I am one of those that was intended to be eaten by a dinosaur but got away by some fluke. I feel I was intended to be consumed.”
“Let’s run out to the zoo some afternoon,” cut in Jim. “I’d like to see the effect you have on animals. I’ve heard of that sort of thing. I’d like to see it.”
“Any time,” I agreed. “It will give us a mild thrill just to have the tigers and lions snarling at us, even if iron bars are between us.”
Raspberrying the Lions
We went out to the zoo Thursday. It was a hot, heavy day. That pungent odor of wild animals that causes all my ancestors, for several thousand years, to roll over in their graves every time I smell it, and to clutch, with ghostly fingers at my garments, was floating in invisible clouds across Riverdale Park.
“Phew,” I said, “think, Jimmie, that once upon a time, before man learned to stand upright and throw rocks, the whole world smelt like this!”
“You knew where you were at,” argued Jimmie. “A man could tell when danger threatened. Nowadays, danger has no smell.”
We walked down along past the cages, saw the polar bears, the brown bears, the monkeys.
“Polar bears don’t seem to mind you.” suggested Jim.
“They eat fish,” I pointed out.
“Well?” said Jim.
When we came up past the outside cages of the tigers, lions and leopards, they were all inside. The tropic heat of Toronto was too much for their tender hides accustomed to the cool damp of the jungles.
“Wait till we get inside,” I warned Jim. “You’ll hear an uproar within one minute. They smell me and they start roaring.”
Inside, the jungle odor was richer, but the only sound, as we entered, was the idle yelling, shouting and squawking of a cage full of parrots. It was cool and dim.
We walked past a little animal called the Tasmanian devil, and all it did was run back and forth anxiously, and even when we stopped and bent down to it, it seemed utterly unaware of us.
Back and forth it ran, anxious, weary.
“Whoa,” said Jimmie, tenderly, “whoa, little feller, just stop a minute and speak to us. Where are you going? What do you want? Is it off to Tasmania you would like to be?”
But tenderness was nothing. And the little Tasmanian devil kept right on its eternal, frightened trot, back, forth, back.
Large chimpanzees and orang-outangs rolled over and thumped with their paws, caught their heads in their arms in gestures of utter despair and boredom.
We went farther, into the lion house.
“Now,” I said, “in a minute, listen to the uproar. Animals hate me. Excuse me if I leave shortly.”
The tiger was asleep.
“Boo,” I said.
The tiger continued to sleep.
Not even the end of its tail twitched.
Jim was chewing a burnt match. He threw the little stick in and it fell on the tiger’s cheek. The cheek twitched, but the tiger did not wake.
Two cages farther down were three lions, a black-maned beauty and two lionesses.
The lion looked right through us with huge yellow luminous eyes as big as a hen’s egg. The two lionesses were turned aside, and they did not move their heads as I came by.
“Psst!” hissed Jim at them. “Sick ’em! Here, boy, here’s your meat!”
But the lion was staring right through us and past us.
“Well, that’s funny,” I said. “I certainly don’t understand this.”
“They see so many,” surmised Jim. “Step close to him.”
I leaned forward. I stretched over the bars and put my head as close as I could. I raspberried him. But the lion did not budge. Jim caught me from behind and shoved me closer, much to my concern.
But the lion merely blinked, as if he had been thinking of something else, and turned his head disdainfully away.
“Tigers,” I said, “are meaner. Let’s wake the tiger.”
We scratched on his bars. We raspberried, hooted, hissed. The tiger might have been dead.
Several scattered people were in the lion house watching us curiously. One was an elderly lady with spectacles and a lot of frills on her dress. And in her arms she held a little fuzzy dog, one of those Pekingese with bug eyes looking out in two different directions.
“Here, you,” said the old lady, “it says on the sign, ‘Do not annoy or feed the Animals’.”
“It also says,” I retorted, coldly polite, “no dogs allowed in this area.”
The old lady glared at me and the little dog barked a nasty little bark at me.
“Fifft!” said I to the doglet.
The little beast wriggled and the old lady made a flying catch and missed and before you could say “fffft” the little beast was down on the floor and snapping at my trouser cuffs.
“Here,” yelled, stepping back.
But the little beast, a regular machine gun of nasty small barks, was yipping and snapping at my ankles and I was backing away, all three lions were up and backing to the rear of their cages, spitting and growling in a frightened way: the tiger scrambled clumsily to its feet and leaped to a ledge in its cage, where it flattened itself against the wall with an expression of wide terror in its eyes.
“Baby, Baby!” shouted the old lady in a strong voice.
But Baby was backing me up and backing me up, and everything was in confusion, especially as Jimmie was laughing and doubling up and slapping his leg loudly.
“Aw,” I said, and turned and ran from the lion house. And out came Jimmie staggering and bellowing, with six or seven other people all having a fit, and I walked quickly away down a little used path where there were bushes. Jim followed.
“Oh, ho, ho!” he roared. “Ah, ha, ha!”
Finally he got quiet and we stood among the bushes, recovering ourselves.
“It was the kind of dog you can’t kick,” I explained.
“Animals,” said Jim. “sure hate you. Especially small animals.”
“Lions.” I said, “are dumb. Anybody could creep up on a lion and kill it, while it stared solemnly into space. As for tigers, they’re sleepy. If I were tiger hunter. I wouldn’t ride an elephant. I’d wear my bedroom slippers and sneak up on it and it would never wake up. Big game? Wild beasts? Pooh!”
“Pooh,” echoed Jimmy. “Shoo!”
A large, lazy bumble bee had wandered down the bushy aisle of the walk where we were resting. It bumbled and buzzed around. I never knew Jimmie was queer about bumble bees.
“Scat,” said Jim, anxiously, batting with his hat.
“Nznznznznzn,” said the bumble bee, coming back to investigate, with a very haughty manner.
Jim backed away.
“Whoosh!” he exclaimed excitedly, waving his hat.
The bee went right at his face.
Jim turned and galloped. The bee was after him. I followed. We chased out the bushy walk and few yards ahead was the side gate of Riverdale Park. Jim streaked through the gate and across the road for the cemetery.
“Ho, ho, ho,” I bellowed.
“I can’t help it,” gasped Jimmie, still ducking and staring about for the bee, which had left. “Once when I was a small child on the farm, I was stung by several bees…”
“Ho, ho, ho!” said I.
Which means that you don’t have to go to Tibet.
Editor’s Notes: Gordon Sinclair was a Canadian reporter, who, at the time of this article, was an international reporter for the Toronto Star. Greg and Jim would have known him. He was famous for travelling to remote and exotic locations and reporting back.
In the 1930s, there was still a sense of mystery about the world, and people in the Western world craved stories about unknown or little known locations. The newspapers of the time were filled with these features, and this period was the height of the “adventure” comic strip. Unfortunately, as indicated in this story, there was a tendency for the narratives to portray white society as “civilized” and non-white society as “savage” or “uncivilized.”