Location Bronx Zoo
Rent $0 (complimentary housing)
Square feet 1750
Occupants Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen (reindeer)
I have to whisper. [Cupid] Come closer.
Some animal people would be so mad if they knew I was interviewing you. I waited until Jim Breheny, the special animal exhibits director, left to give a talk on the changing role of the modern zoo. I told him I’m not some anthropomorphist, but Jim said we all are. I hear you arrived December 2; you stay until January. So it’s like you’re on a Columbia fellowship or something, though you’re not at Columbia, you’re at the zoo. This is a spacious corral. Our quiet area is in the back with the hay. That’s where we reflect.
What’s Lapland like? We’re from Milltown, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin?! We like it. We live on a nice reindeer farm. We’re a subspecies of caribou.
You’re very polite. All of us reindeer are.
You’re so short! Three feet. But our antlers are tall.
You have the most of any reindeer here. It’s like a tree growing out of your head. [He clears his throat.] It’s quite a rack. I’m the only male here. We usually have more elaborate antlers than the females. Only the reindeer with the best antlers are picked to come here. If you break your antlers, forget it. Though if we break our antlers once we’re at the zoo, they don’t send us back. They’re not that ruthless. See, the antlers itch a lot once they finish growing; outer skin dries up, blood supply stops. I’m not a doctor or anything—I learned all this from Jim. We rub our itchy antlers against branches for relief.
You’re doing that right now—banging your head like crazy. You don’t want to end up like my friend’s grandmother’s husband, who itched so much he jumped off a building. He owned a tie factory in the Bronx. Jim said you look like cows without your antlers. What’s it like to fly? You’re so earthbound with your hooves. We do not look like cows. Anyway, flying’s only one night a year. Rudolph’s in just for that. Boy, what an experience flying is. One time, I saw the Little Prince. I’ve seen the Man in the Moon.
Do you ever see any airplanes? Please, I’ll never forget that morning. Santa was making us new harnesses. He was watching CNN in the other room. He came in and told us what happened—we have lateral vision, so it’s hard for us to watch TV. I thought Dasher was going to have a breakdown. And poor Prancer. Never in my years as a reindeer . . . Well, I don’t want to get emotional in public. But let’s face it, things will never be the same.
This is the most beautiful zoo. Have you seen that Congo exhibit with the bird soundtrack and the gorilla that sucks her thumb? Are you kidding?! We’re working until nine at night. I’ve been wanting to get over to the gift shop. I’d like to get a leopard-print scarf for my aunt. We have to stay here and listen to the children sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”—over and over. They sing in those high, screaming little voices. They’ve had no life experience. They have no idea what they’re singing about. I don’t know if you should print that. Oh, go ahead, what’s free expression if not this?
I like how you just stand there and breathe heavily. How old are you? Old enough.
I’ve been wanting to tell you that I’d like to leap over the corral and bury my face in your soft, tawny fur and give you a big hug and yes and yes and yes . . . I’m a gelding.
That’s OK. We can just be friends. So, is New York different for you this visit? No, actually, it’s got the same magical twinkle. They can’t take that away.