Jon Alexander / Saturday, April 18 @ 7 a.m. / Angels and Desperados
ANGELS and DESPERADOES: Joe Exotic, Tiger King or: Bengal Tigers Meet Very Sick Puppies...
Like many of you out there, the death and devastating destruction the novel corona/virus and COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked upon our world, seems to be all encompassing and, indeed, may portend of an existence that will be inalterably changed forevermore in our lives.
The great journalist, satirist and professor, Norman Cousins, after theroizing that ten minutes of laughter would yield two hours of restful sleep, coined the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine.” And so, it is with Dr. Cousins’ legacy of mirth, that this article is dedicated, such that, for just one shining moment, we might forget COVID-19 and laugh.
It was just two weeks ago, that I heard Sports Radio Talk Show Host Jim Rome, during his 9:00 to 12:00 slot on CBS Sports Radio, talking about the cultural phenomenon that seems to have swept the country, namely NETFLIX’ “Tiger King” show and its’ protagonist, self-glossed, Joe Exotic. A caller and contributor to Jim’s show for the past 30 years and hearing about the show from friends and family, I decided to listen to just a bit of the first episode and chat up some of those friends and family about the show.
A former member of the Del Norte Humane Society Board of Directors and lifetime animal lover that at one time was blessed to vigorously prosecute criminals for animal cruelty, I have to say, that pretty much straight outta the box, the show and Joe, pretty much nauseated me. It deals with a guy who years ago, developed a 16 acre parcel of barren, nasty land in Wyndomme, Oklahoma and turned it into a wild animal zoo and tiger breeding place. Surrounded by miscreants, drug addicts and scofflaws of various stripe, it took off in this ratings and cultural event starved time we live in.
Without getting into Joe Exotic or Tiger King too much, one of the main thems of the show is his alleged contract hit on an animal rights activist named Carol Baskin who allegedly runs a tiger recovery shelter in Tampa, Florida. Of course, Carol once allegedly whacked her husband and fed him to one of her tigers, which is now allegedly a “cold case” (as if Gov. Rick Scott’s AG has nothing better to do). Also, after seeing Carol on the show and her relative absence of savoir faire, someone needs to clue in the devil may dare Carol that that script’s already been written for Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and frankly, with all due respect, Carol and her crowd probably couldn’t find Broadway with a Sherpa guide with a GPS up his ass. Just sayin’.
Which brings me to my own tale of mirth, mayhem and long ago levity, which just might bring a smile, even a chuckle, which displaces COVID-19 for just a moment.
As stated above, I’ve never watched the show, except for a brief segment 30 minutes ago, having too much else on my hands, dealing with a scrap with Stage IV metastatic prostate cancer. But I do have some real life experience with money, guns, lawyers, kilo cowboys, and tigers in the high desert up above Victorville. California.
I was a young gun trial lawyer in the OC, back in the 80’s, and received a referral from some EME clients I’d walked on a bad border search, involving major kilo of pure blow. The case involved a 187 up in the High Desert area of San Bernardino County, up above Victorville. Hoteled up there for weeks on end, prepping for a preliminary hearing, then for jury trial, I banked up some time on my hands, which actually included killing lunches at the Roy Rogers Museum down the street from the courthouse.
Killing one weekend, I ended up in an alleged wild animal zoo, miles out in the desert past the courthouse in the desert, and eventually representing the owner on a conspiracy to distribute, an ADW and some other charges. He had 9 tigers and 5 timber wolves he mated with malamute bitches for the puppies. He also had this entourage of 5 guys who lived up there, mostly ex-cons or parole violators, who helped care for the animals, when they weren’t blowing up targets with whatever ordinance or weapons they were packing or shouldering. Basically, a lot like I expected the Manson scum to have been, years before, just miles away at Spahn Ranch.
Just like Joe Exotic, this guy would put on shows on the week-end for families, many coming up from L.A.. The guy raised these poor animals out there in the High Desert and had this twisted belief that these poor beasts loved him just because hie fed, slept and played with them. As for the guys that helped him in exchange for food, tents and probably a place to hide from their Parole Officers, some low rent pond scum who thought they were bad most likely because they’d done a minor jolt at the Q, Susanville or Corcoran on dope cases.
My formed beliefs of cons who keep tigers as pets or show pieces—are total scum bags, usually guys with no self-esteem, like the ones who mount trophy heads in their dens to impress their trophy gals on the depleted size of their humanity. As for the hangers-on, like the entourage I ran into up in the San Berdoo desert, even bigger scumbags, who think packing a piece makes you a bad man.
And so, my revulsion growing over this “Zoo,” the name of which will remain anonymous, I see one of this guy’s full grown , female tigers, laying there in the sand, obviously sick, but still pretty deadly, sporting those 3 1/2” choppers, that Bram Stoker must have imagined when he came up with his Count. Guy tells me he suspects a blood infection. I inquire why he’s not attending to it and get an answer that only suggests he guy wants nothing to do with people, places, things or the man, ‘down the hill.’
We talk and, sucker that I am, I shave off 10K from my fees to liberate the poor beast and get her to some place in L.A. that will care for her. Deal done, it’s arranged that I’ll get a helper the next day and I’ll make every attempt to get her to the L.A. Zoo for treatment and a better home.
I cajole my recent homicide, second-chair into driving my pick-up up the Cajon Pass the next day. The Zoo owner tells me we’re going to put the tiger into a bigger pen, where we’re going to transfer her into the bed of my pick-up. I take one look at those teeth, flashing in the desert sun and, no way am I etting into that pen. New client takes aim, letss a tranquilizer dart fly and moments later, the big cat is laying in the sand, saliva flowing from her mouth. The Zoo owner goes over and bridles her teeth. He waves me in, I hesitate, so he whacks the poor cat in the head with what looks to be a kid’s baseball bat. No movement, only my desire to take the bat to V-Ville’s Joe Exotic, we back the pick-up into the bigger pen, where the guy and 3 of his AB tatted-up clowns place a belt under her and then gently, to their credit, load her into the bed of my truck and onto the large tarp that had been provided.
I inquire and Joe V-Ville assures me that he’s tranqued the cat up enough for me to get her to the place that’s been arranged in L.A. for her treatment and possible future possession. I asked my pal, who’d driven up to hop in the bed and hold the cat’s head, which I’m told needs to be done for the ride back to ‘civilization.’ Nope, not even the 5K I offered him, was gonna get his jeans near those bicuspids/eye teeth or whatever you call that kind of ivory, getting slashed behind 400 lbs. of carnivorial bad intent.
And so, yours truly swings up into the bed of the truck and sits down, holding the poor gal’s head in my lap, bucket or two of the frothy saliva blanketing my crotch to my knees. Yeah, quite a sight and, please, hold the ribald, tiger jokes on the optic.
We did reach our destination ‘down the hill,’ where the big cat was accepted and allegedly did OK. But the last visual, courtesy of Norman Cousins, actually, my, tortured attempt at mirth here in our COVID-19 pandemic, occurred just as we passed the West Valley Detention center, a future client visitation facility, I’d come to know well my coming decades as an older, and much wiser, trial lawyer in SoCal.
We’d slowed to avoid bouncing the tiger’s head around in the truck bed and upon my froth slopped lap, but not slowed enough to get us rapidly to ‘our appointed rounds.’
An 18 wheeler, with a guy riding shotgun goes to pass us, when I see the guy do a double take, eyes bugging at first, then howling with laughter as his head diverts to the driver. They slow, and for just a moment, I see the driver look over in disbelief, then dart back as both have the howl of their lives, looking down at a young lawyer, who’d just spent over ten grand to spend a San Berdoo, Sunday afternoon in 102 degree heat in a pick-up truck bed with a lap full of tiger saliva and a couple truckers getting the laugh of their lives.
So, nope Ferris, wasn’t a great dividend from ditching a day of school, but it came pretty close. As for “one shining moment,” would give you anything to deliver March Madness to y’all, so you’re just gonna have to settle for a wet behind the ears (and elsewhere) young, trial lawyer’s moment of madness, up the Cajon Pass, somewhere out into the badlands of the San Bernardino High Desert over 40 years ago.
R.I.P. Brian Manion Dennehy, Actor and Director, among great performances: Beckett, Miller, Shakespeare and the greatest interpreter of Eugene O’Neill.
As for COVID-19 – Del Norte, Curry and Humboldt Strong!