In the forest of the night, What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
-- William Blake, "The Tiger"
How tigers come into the conversation between me, Papa-San and the Violent Femme takes a little conversation itself. So bear with me a few paragraphs worth.
The bottles -- Hennessey, Stoli and Makers Mark -- stood flat against the wall in dusty luxury, sadly still and a great distance from celebrating lips.
"I am heartbreakingly thirsty," complained Papa-San.
"Well, you've certainly done nothing to work up a thirst. Or anything else," retorted Violent Femme, who owned the bottles. Then she hissed at me, "Where do you go to meet people? Central Lockup? I swear if it wasn't that you had such trouble making friends, I wouldn't let these people in my home."
Lower Lakeview, which is the part below the railroad tracks, contains the home of Violent Femme, who is my friend who happens to be a girl. In public, she is always like the lady who headed the Partridge family, but I am lucky enough to know that she is verbally violent to all public figures and most of my buddies. Like she'll say, "That Hillary Clinton, a fine woman's leader she is. Stand by your man is one thing, but her song's gotta be 'Stand By Your Worm.'" Or she'll say, "How can we believe anything Tom Benson says? This is a man who left truth on the doorstep of Mike Persia Chevrolet."
And Papa-San? A dear man, but one who has trouble keeping his self-winding watch on the move. He has a bumper sticker that reads, "I majored in Liberal Arts. By the way, will you have that here or to go?" And he means it. When he and Violent Femme got together ... well, I ain't got enough water to put out all them fires.
"I may retire next year," Papa-San, to no one special.
"From what and with what? And don't you have to be alive to retire?" Violent Femme to Papa-San, especially.
"Say, what happened to your dog Sluggo? I heard he was so mean he bit himself. Died of auto-rabies," Papa-San, right back.
It may have been this talk of animal bites that finally led us to this talk of tigers. Panthera tigris, largest of all cats.
"You know Mike Serio, the guy who owns the deli on St. Charles?" I asked. "Well, he's a big LSU fan, and he told someone when he dies, he wants his body to be fed to Mike the Tiger. Wants to be part of the digestive process."
"I'd like for him to get his wish real soon," said Papa-San, who is one of those public-school graduates inexplicably loyal to Tulane.
"I saw in the papers yesterday that the Legislature was requesting $4.5 million to build a new cage for Mike the Tiger and maintain it for a year," Violent Femme supplied in a voice much like a shriek. "Guess how much I paid for this place?"
Me and Papa-San gave this a good think. A nice place, art studio, Jacuzzi, central air, nice yard with Chinese parasol trees, or maybe it was Japanese.
"A hundred and seventy thou," Violent Femme answered for us. "Now what don't I have that a damn tiger would need?"
"I dunno," I answered. "A bunch of antelope?"
"I did this with a pen and paper. Look, I read that Mike the Tiger needs 15,000 square feet ..."
"A wild tiger inhabits a range of 25 square miles, minimum," Papa-San piped up. It's that liberal arts major. He can't help it.
"Whoopee," snorted Violent Femme. "Anyhow, this carnivore castle includes a filtered pond fed by waterfalls and a two-level climate-controlled living area. But according to my math, for the money allotted for this project, Mike the Tiger should also be able to enjoy suede walls, Polonaise carpet, an onyx-and-marble bathtub, several Nantucket sleigh beds, and overstuffed settees. And Haviland china and a gold bidet."
"Well, I think part of the $4.5 million is for food," I countered. "You know, a tiger can eat 12 to 15 pounds of meat a day."
"On that budget, he could eat rump-cut filet mignons. Cooked by Paul Prudhomme on the George Foreman Grillmaster."
"I don't think LSU gets much outta Mike. When they pull his cage around the stadium, he hardly roars any more," I said.
"That's because he is full of thorazine and chloral hydrate," opined Papa-San. "Maybe some placidye, too."
"You know, LSU could use that $4.5 million to study coastal erosion," quipped Violent Femme. "Or sexual dimorphism. Or most anything."
"Well, I think the football program would do better if LSU spent the money on a few better quarterbacks and tight ends," I offered.
"Or put the money in a legal defense fund for quarterbacks and tight ends," suggested Papa-San. "We already know Allan Dershowitz will defend Louisianians possessing both guilt and gold."
"Maybe LSU should consider a new mascot," recommended Violent Femme. "Like the Maryland Terps or the TCU Horned Frogs. Then you wouldn't need a multi-million-buck cage. All you'd need is a box from behind Winn-Dixie and a coupla heads of iceberg lettuce."
"Maybe you could get a job as Mike the Tiger's concierge," I said to Papa-San. "After you retire."
"After I retire, the only job I want is elevator operator in a two-story building," said Papa-San. "That way, none of the passengers would have time to get sick of me. 'Cuz someone once told me that a little of me was better than a lot."
Violent Femme got busy flicking a dust rag at the bottles of Hennessey, Stoli and Makers Mark. "Your mama figured that out in the maternity ward, bub," she noted viciously. Like I said, it's amazing how many people think she's like the Partridge lady.