Thursday, January 7, 2016

Penguin confessions

The day a Beacon Journal reporter dropped his glasses into the penguin encounter at the Akron Zoo

By Craig Webb
Beacon Journal staff writer

If you go ...
What: Penguin Palooza.
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in January.
Where: Akron Zoo, 500 Edgewood Ave.
Bonus: Free hot chocolate while kids create a penguin craft.
Cost: Nonmembers pay $7 for zoo admission; $3 for parking.
Sure, they are cute.

Heck, the Akron Zoo has even set aside a whole month to celebrate their penguin cuteness.
But those members of the Humboldt gang have a dark side — and I have seen it up close. Trust me, they are not to be trifled with.

zoo07cut_01Like many of you, I too was once entranced by these cute guys and gals who frolic at the zoo’s entrance.

They waddle for attention and swim playfully to show off, but the day I lost my penguin innocence came on a lazy fall morning a couple of years ago.

It was a rainy, chilly day, so visitors to the zoo were sparse.

These attention-seeking penguins were doing their “thing” to boost their egos and draw a crowd.
I was perched atop the exhibit, holding my then-toddler son, Luke, who was taking in all the penguin antics in the pool.

My wife, Jennifer, and son, Ethan, were down below, looking through the exhibits’ clear glass as the penguins glided by.

Luke yelled, “Hey, Mom!” and reached out his arm to point at one of the buggers, but his hand instead struck my noggin and knocked my glasses into the air.

With sloth-like reflexes and a fatherly instinct not to drop poor Luke into the penguin pool, I gingerly reached out over the exhibit’s edge and for a nanosecond held the glasses in my fingertips.

Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught the cold, dark stares of the beady black eyes of all the penguins turning in unison toward me. And then it happened.


My flex-steel eyeglasses were drifting slowly toward the bottom of the penguin pool.

Before I could even utter a single word or expletive, this precision squad of mischief makers leapt into action.
In what could only be described as a scene reminiscent of a Pixar movie, these birds of eyeglass prey jumped into the water like synchronized swimmers and began to snatch at my glasses.

They swam like Olympians taking laps and even mixed in a few underwater acrobatic maneuvers with my glasses firmly clinched in their beaks.

I can’t prove it, but I suspect one of them tweeted out the underwater mayhem that was ensuing because a flash mob of zoo visitors quickly gathered.

To further show off to the crowd, two of the penguins decided to play tug of war with my glasses underwater. I’m not sure who won, but I can attest flex-steel frames can withstand a penguin pull.
Most of what happened next is pretty much a blur — at least for me as I was witnessing it all without glasses.

zoo07cut_04The crowd soon began grumbling about what kind of idiot would “drop a pair of glasses into the penguins’ pool?” I murmured in agreement and declared the fiend must be some kind of monster as I slinked my way to the back of the angry mob.

A zoo worker soon appeared from behind the faux rocks and the penguins waddled innocently away as if nothing had happened. My glasses were now resting on the bottom of the pool.

zoo07cut_05With a giant grasping hook, the worker fished my glasses out — scraping them across the pool’s bottom a couple times for good measure as the penguins nodded their approval.

I did get back my glasses — now covered in penguin goop and a faint scent of fish.

The flex-steel frame held up through the penguin onslaught. The lens, not so much. They resembled those glacier grooves on display on the Lake Erie islands and had distinct markings of penguin beaks.

While I do not consider myself a conspiracy theorist — although I am an avid watcher of Homeland — what has become known as “The Incident” in our house had the distinct fingerprint of a coordinated attack.

If you are still beguiled by their penguin charm, go ahead and check out the Akron Zoo’s Penguin Palooza every Saturday and Sunday in January — just be sure to keep a firm grasp of your eyeglasses.

As for me, I will be hanging out with my buddy Zheng, the zoo’s cute and trustworthy red panda, a safe distance away.






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