9.25.2004

capers, dolphins & morals

I've been directly and indirectly involved in several capers. Capers can't really be planned. They land in your lap in the course of everyday life and present you with two roads. One caper's final destination was my name on a goverment black list that bans me from joining any branch of the United States Military and another precepitated a small change in California law by the insurance industry on my behalf. No one caper shaped the morals of my adult life so much as an evening in my Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of my early twenties.

I lived in a studio apartment on the corner of Haight and Clayton - across the street from the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical clinic and a bar that changed hands and names too many times to remember.

I had a new neighbor, an adventureous Chinese American Frech High Shool teacher who was two studios away, five years older and leagues ahead of me in maturity. I spent much of my time observing her and trying to be as cool as she was. We often went to the ever-name-changing bar to have drinks. This is where this caper began.

A leather-clad, higene-challenged cap-wearing man who seemed to know the Chinese American French High Shcool teacher from a previous life approaced us.

"Would you like to see dolphins?"

I studied the speaker for signs of drug-induced alterations to his behavior, speech and manner.

"I know a way," he continued "into the dolphin tank of the aquarium in Golden Gate Park."

The Chinese American French High Shcool teacher and I leaned a little closer.

Ten minutes later we were at at the end of Haight Street at the Cala Foods fish counter filling our rusting red shopping cart with discounted fish.

"The more the better, " said the leather-clad, higene-challenged cap-wearing man.

We checked out by a preplexed and amused clerk at inubriated people buying three bags of seafood at 1 am Sunday moring. The clerk turned and his eyes followed across the parking lot until, enveloped by a dense bank trees, at the park entrance we obscured.

We approached the aquarium and used a security fence that butted against the building as a ladder to hoist us onto the roof. The moonlight lit our path. We arrived at a large rectangular cut-out: the doplin tank. A climb down a metal conduit and a foot on the fire alarm box had us on a walkway at the water's level.

Everything looked blue but the security lights illuminated long black shapes zipping back, forth, alarmingly quickly in the water. Fish in a barrel with absolutely nowhere to go the dolpins were furiously swimming from one end of the tank to the other. Three dophins in pefectly coordinated panic managed to miss eachother in their flight of terror.

This moment was beautiful and ugly.

My consipirotors undressed and jumped in the tank. I refused to join.

"I cannot," I said. I gripped my chest and stepped back against the wall for support, hitting my head on the fire alarm box stepping stone. A burst of fear from the dolphins hit me.

"Don't be afraid, they won't hurt you", said the no longer leather-clad, higene-challenged cap-wearing man buoying in and out of the water doing back strokes.

"I am not afraid. They are." I pointed to the water. I retracted my blue-white trembling finger to my pocket- lest it be noticed. No one esle was privy or struck by this wave of emotion.

"Oh, they're OK. We do this all the time," said the no longer leather-clad, higene-challenged cap-wearing man buoying in and out of the water.

I cried inside, and laughed outside. Time slithered slowly. Finally, one by one we to grabbed the electrical conduit to hoist ourselves back onto the fire box, up to the roof, down the security fence and back into the park.

On our way home the Chinese American French High Shcool teacher was ringing her hair out and excitedly chattering while I looked back toward the aquarium.

I confessed my misadventure to my co-worker. As I spoke, her face became increasingly distorted, pailing, odd. She hadn't taken a breath for at least a minute...

"What's wrong?"

... she volunteered at the aquarium once a month and knew the director. The dolphins were getting sick often lately. On Mondays they always needed to clean out garbage and codom wrappers from the dolphin tank. One dolphin had to be operated on and they found that a plastic shopping bag was entagled in it's intestines.

They couldn't figure out how the vandals were getting in.

I knew.

An anonymous letter appeared in my co-worker's hand with instructions for hand delivery to the director of the aquarium.

The next weekend the Chinese American French High Shcool teacher said that she couldn't wait to go see the dolphins and wanted me join. No way.

"Don't go," I urged. It's not safe. She went.

I ran into the Chinese American French High Shcool in the hall.

"Oh, it was crazy. All of a sudden we heard voices, there were flashlights, sirens police. We were all taken to the police station. We weren't arrested but we were pretty shaken up good thing you didn't come because... hey... waitaminute... did you know something about it? is that why you urged me not to go?"

I inserted my key in my apartment door, shrugged, and before disappearing behind the door I managed to lie a faint "no."

The Chinese American French High Shcool teacher moved on to motorcycle lessons and a Greek boyfriend.

I wasn't as "cool" as her, afterall.

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