Late last month at the Saint Louis Zoo something wild happened: A Somali wild ass was born. A subspecies of African wild ass, Equus africanus somalicus, as more prudish professors would call it, is a critically endangered breed of horse that looks like a cross between a donkey and a zebra. While Unreal personally prefers its cousin, the Nubian wild ass, we were thrilled to hear that the rare beast (less than a 1,000 remain in the wild) was able to live up to its name and reproduce.
So delighted, in fact, that we began to envision an entire wing of the zoo devoted to animals that put the wild in wildlife. Unreal can see it now: a naughty Noah's Ark where red-knobbed coots and horned puffins live together in harmony, and where Eurasian beavers and American woodcocks enjoy the juxtaposition that God (no doubt) intended.
The most crowded exhibit would feature boobies. The rare blue-footed booby lives only in subtropical Pacific Islands such as the Galápagos and is notable for its monogamous relationships with other boobies, leading the Peruvian booby, which breeds several times throughout the year, to condemn its colorful cousin as uptight. The largest booby is the masked variety of the species, while the title of smallest booby belongs to the red 'un.
With nearly 180 species worldwide, visitors would also be able to sneak a peeks at a plethora of 'peckers, including bearded woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, fulvous-breasted woodpeckers and red-rumped woodpeckers. Next, one could take a gander at the flock of knob-nosed geese. Filling out the foul aviary are the yellow-bellied sapsucker, long-billed cockatoo, Clark's nutcracker and, finally, the life of the birdhouse, the sociable weaver.
Guests would be missing out on the tour if they didn't catch the herpetarium. The attraction would feature the giant-girdled lizard and a variety of Florida turtle commonly known as the cooter. While trouser snakes and horny toads are mythical creatures, milk snakes, garter snakes, and Missouri's favorite giant salamander, the Ozark hellbender, actually exist.
Of course, the exhibit would be incomplete without furries. The hoary marmot, the largest North American ground squirrel, earned its name thanks to the silver-gray fur on its back, which offsets its otherwise reddish-brown coat. The bonobo, while innocuously named, is legendary for the prominent role sexuality plays in its society. And, finally, Kirk's dik-dik, a small species of African antelope, is named not for a Freudian faunal scientist but after an east African word for animal.
The Devil Made Unreal Do It
When Unreal received an invitation to meet William Bradshaw, North America's foremost expert in demonology, we hoped for a grand adventure: a trip to a dungeon, perhaps, or maybe some wild dancing around a Walpurgis Night bonfire. Instead we find ourself in a Ladue living room shaking hands with a tall, gray-haired man in a navy-blue suit who tells us in an Ozark twang that it's very nice to meet us.
Did we mention that we are also surrounded by a dozen members of the Saint Louis Priory School's Alumni Mothers Group, a reporter from the Post-Dispatch and former Priory headmaster Father Timothy Horner, nattily attired in priestly collar and scarlet socks? Did we also mention that this is a school fundraiser?
These things never turn out the way we hope they will.
It turns out that no American universities grant Ph.D.s in demonology, the study of demons. Bradshaw obtained his at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where his mentor, Matthew Black, ordered him to study the Old and New Testaments and the apocryphal and rabbinic literature for mentions of demons. Black had a theory that evil spirits may have, in part, caused World War II.
Bradshaw never proved Black's theory, though he concedes that Adolf Hitler did show some of the signs of demonic possession. These include abrupt mood swings, an uncanny knowledge of future events, displays of superhuman strength, an ability to speak in tongues or other foreign languages and an unnaturally unwrinkled face. (The alumni mothers examine one another's faces and sigh with relief. No demonic possession here!)
Horner, it develops during the Q&A period, knows a few things about demons, too. This is because the Catholics, more than any other denomination, put great stock in demonology. Pope John Paul II actually decreed that each diocese must have a certified exorcist on hand.
It's hard to spot a demon, though. You can't experience it with any of your senses, and some "possessed" people may actually just be crazy. Not to worry, though, Bradshaw tells us: Every exorcism team includes a psychologist or psychiatrist who can tell the difference.
Does Bradshaw actually believe in demons? He is cagey. "There are some things," he says, "that are so absolutely, magnificently beautiful you can't attribute them to anything but God and the angels, and some things are so detestable you can't believe man is capable of them and have to find another source. You recognize spirits by the impact they have on your life.
"Demonology," he continues, "is a subject I thrive on and enjoy. Some of my childhood friends, knowing my orneriness and short temper, say it's a natural choice."
Somebody Buy My Crap
Item: Inflatable Bounce Castle
Condition: Lightly used
Location: University City
Issue: April 30
Unreal: Why are you selling your bounce castle?
Ellen: We blew it up last summer. The kids loved it. But for the last six months it's been folded up in the laundry room. I don't want to schlep it outside again. It's just so heavy. It's a real pain to move.
How heavy is it?
At least a hundred pounds. Probably more.
And you're asking $250?
Yes, or best offer.
So, how much bounce for the ounce is that?
Good question. Let's see. There are 16 ounces per pound, and let's say it weighs 100 pounds. That's 1,600 ounces divided by $250, which comes out to, um, 15 cents per ounce.
Wow! That's a lot of bounce for a little coin!
I'll say. It's a great bargain. I paid $400 for it last year. It's commercial-quality, just like the kind you see at fairs and carnivals.
Won't your kiddies miss the bounce castle?
Maybe, but I hope they won't notice. We just got a new swing set for the back yard, and the castle is going bye-bye.
From time to time Unreal trolls the St. Louis Post-Dispatch classified section's "Bargain Box." We cannot guarantee any item remains available for purchase at press time.