A Few Meditations from Celeste The Harbor Seal

by Alison O’Connor

Guys, I’m sick and tired of all the stress I face on this job! I sometimes feel like I can’t continue work under these conditions! I know, I know, you’re all probably thinking that Celeste has no right to complain because everyone loves her so much, she gets her own swimming pool, the crowds all gather about her, shower her with such praise and adulation, etc. But you know what? It’s hard trying to please everyone, and sometimes it gets real tough trying to live up to all the hype these crowds have come to see about you. And since some of you, heck, all of you, really don’t know how hard the life of a Harbor seal can be, I’ll clue you in.  

First of all, you primates, lions, antelopes, flamingoes and others of your non-water born ilk really shouldn’t envy my vast aquatic habitat. It’s nice, having a large swimming pool that connects to both an indoor and outdoor area, to have ample wiggle room, but do you know that I have to share it with Delilah, who constantly hogs up space and food and the most affection from our adoring crowds? I don[‘t care if she hears this or not! She’s a big old water-hog and only gets the most attention because of how innocent and stupid she looks! And she does nothing but gossip about me behind my back! And the way she winks at those humans, as if to boast and brag about how much prettier and sleeker she is than myself! Well, I always say brains over beauty, and Delilah would be wise to remember that as well, the daft old thing. I mean, you all have roommates and buddies, but none of you would ever have to put up with a little old fool like Delilah to steal your thunder and space in your abode! I mean, our abode, I suppose. Anyway, as I divulge the deets of my day, keep Delilah hogging up my space in mind.

First off, Teresa, our general feeder and care-giver, feeds Delilah and me in the mornings, early, before the crowds arrive first at the zoo (you know Teresa, the sweet-faced human, right?). Well, Teresa is a kind soul, and generous with the portions she doles our to Delilah and I in the mornings our first meal, a nice selection of herring, bass and cod. But Stupid Delilah has to get the lion’s share of the fish! She gets to the blasted bucket of breakfast fish before I, since she was gifted with more agile flippers and doesn’t even bother to let Celeste reach some of the better fish! The stupid inconsiderate brute. So when I do eat my breakfast, I’m bitterly digesting as fast as I have to mentally and physically prepare for the crowds that will inevitably flock in droves to our habitat. We, the Harbor seals, are one of the most popular exhibits at the zoo, after all. And I have to put my best foot forward and my game face on. I prepare by doing my laps around the pool, practicing my flapping, speed, graceful gamboling and all the important routine any beauty queen should. I mean, beauty is important after all, and I was always a beauty, don’t get me wrong. Delilah isn’t the “beautiful one”, I’m more than just brains, you know. So, I do all I can to be at my peak. My laps, my warm-ups, my mental preparation. What really helps is when Teresa, as she feeds and monitors in the mornings, plays some Beyonce on her radio. ‘Single Ladies’ is my very favorite, it puts me in my groove.

This may not seem like much to complain about, but I haven’t gotten to the late morning yet. When the gates open and the crowds, the children, the families, the classes on field trips, the practicing artists, the tourists, all the typical bunches we’ve all come to know and expect, appear. And since I’m so popular, the Seal’s Habitat is one of the most popular exhibits at this zoo, you know, the crowds head right on over. And it has a lot to do with the fact that my habitat is right at the front of the zoo, more immediate than the habitats of you lot, even. But with all these crowds comes the biggest stressors of my day. You have to keep the public interested at all times, so they don’t get bored and leave to see one of you before they’re done with me, er, Delilah and I. My favorite people are the elderly folks and the older children, or the native Chicago families who’ve come to know and love me, who can respectfully view and admire me as I flaunt all I’ve got and give them a wonderful and majestic show. But it’s the tourists and the very little, noisy brats that really grind my gears!

First off, the tourists take too many pictures, pictures with flash photography, mind you. So it often gets all in my eyes and distracts from my swimming and gamboling routine. I love being captured in photos, I love it when people take pictures of me, it’s quite flattering. But when it’s done so much and so repetitively by the same four people with flashing lights and phones, it gets nauseating. And it messes with my mind and makes things less clear. It’s disorienting. People think it doesn’t bother me, but it does! And to hear the clueless and loud confusion of the packs from Missouri or Mississippi or Alabama or Pennsylvania is even more infuriating! As if they all have to congregate in front of my home, in front of me and Delilah, voicing their confusion and indecisions over which exhibits and which other tourist hot spots to visit next. Enjoy me while I’m right in front of you! Don’t distract me with your pitiful itineraries! Their newbie voices and loud declarations and constant cameras of the exact same shot of me are enough to drive me up a wall! And the fact that they don’t even, in the midst of all the chaos they inspire, voice any kind of admiration or appreciation for me, is even more degrading and embarrassing than anything else.

And don’t get me started on the really abominable children! The ones that pick their nose and wipe the snot off on my tank, and who happen to prick their fingers or stub their toes near me and feel the need to erupt in a volcano of tears and sniveling! Those little brats make me want to break down and give up! But I still have to keep the show going and the mindless people happy and placated. Even as those same little brutes whine to their mommies and daddies about wanting popcorn or a stuffed animal, or fruit punch or to go to see another animal since apparently I’m so boring! Those kids make me want to break out of my tank and crush them with all my girth and rage! But that wouldn’t be prudent, and I would obviously not fare well in such a scenario. But the truth is, I just really hate children. Even the likeable ones. The ones that at least have the sense and decorum to stand still and admire me like respectable humans should. But even they bore me, with their wide and unchanging eyes and lack of understanding or appreciation for my beauty since I’m not The Little Mermaid or whichever unrealistic standard of mass-marketed Disney beauty they mentally compare me to!

Lunch break helps me, even though the masses have to watch me eat and erupt with amusement and even amused giggles as I eat my next portion of sea bass, herring and cod and other fish like them, the meager scraps of what bloated Delilah left me with, of course. But I pick my tired self back up, continue my laps and my flappings about my home, taking care not to bump into Delilah, and putting on a fresh expression for the new crops of people. Those wretched tourists and brats and babies. I even prefer teenagers, with their trendy tee shirts and pimple-riddled faces, to those other types of humans, but they also disgust me, with their nonsense talk and slack, bored expressions. It’s more insulting, the bored faces and even yawns I will hear from the crowds in front of me. I’m not to be snoozed before! I’m exciting, aren’t I? And my job is the draining one, I mean, you don’t catch me sleeping in front of humans, do you? So they have no right to, especially since they are just standing in place and in the afternoon, not at all a late time, at that!

The later afternoon, though, is more relaxing, since the crowds have died down just a small tad. And the older folks appear, with the proper admiration and kind respect, with the proper photography and smiles and amusement, the right kind of awe of my beauty. This, in addition to those mornings where I get to hear Beyonce as I swim, is probably my favorite time of day, just because the adulation is the perfect kind, and since the old folks don’t have any real hurry or real place to be, they can sit, stand and stare for as long as they desire. And the fact that they really do desire me warms the very cockles of my heart, it really does. My favorite, consistent visitor, though, is an old woman named Rosamond who has come to see me for the past six years now, and who has a big, warm smile and always goes over to my corner and remarks on how beautiful my shiny, grey, black-speckled body is. She makes my days, she really does. I took to her right away, and I still feel her positive vibes giving me support and the strength to go on even under the great pressures of my job, the unpleasantness these crowds of mine can take on. I love her so, and I even give her little playful splashes about in the water from where I am as little salutes of ‘hello!’

As the day progresses, as dusk and then closing time approaches, I watch the other zookeepers walk about the premises, and observe the tired and resilient looks in their faces and steps in their walks. When I see them moving about, I remind myself that there are other creatures, humans, no less, who have it much harder and more stressful than I do. But still, I would consider myself just as tired and pressured as they. I’m near worn out, as closing time approaches, and I just flop back into the water so that I don’t get even more burned out watching the others walk and work as tiredly as I had. After Teresa, of course, provides Delilah and I with our fish-dinner, it’s finally time to hit the hay and prepare for rest until the next day for the same peanut-crunching faces in their same places. It’s all fun, in a way, but it’s still a yawn, at the end of the day. I’m done and done, till I have to regroup and get my body back together for another day in front of the public. Being famous can be quite a toll, after all. So, fellow creatures of the zoo, and any humans, any of my adoring public, who read this, now you know! Being a mega-popular, beloved Harbor seal is not all it’s cracked up to be!

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