My most attention-grabbing banner headline to date! Who doesn’t like pizza? That delicious and simple combination of mozzarella cheese, marinara and dough. We celebrate with it. It comforts us in low times. It is a quick and convenient dinner option. Fold it up, New Yorkers. Cut it up, Chicagoans. Load it up, America. Wedge or rectangle, florentine or Hawaiian, meat-lover, veggie-lover, plain or packed, pizza is the great Epicurean contribution of western civilization. Even better when it is free.
Here is where the reader may feel a bit tricked. This is not about the Italian gourmet staple. It is, in fact, about the plight of a polar bear in China named “Pizza” who lives in a tiny glass box in the middle of a shopping mall in Guangzhou Province. There he sits day in and day out while kids bang on the glass all around him and take pictures. Pizza is a big draw for shoppers who stop to admire the huge animal as he sits inside a painted replica of ice floes and snow, because there is no better way to acclimate a living creature to an artificial habitat than to remind it of the natural expanse of freedom that it has been robbed of. That is why the happiest inmates in any penitentiary system are the ones with landscapes of beaches painted on the walls. It is the quickest way to joy and rehabilitation.
I can hardly stand being in a mall for ten minutes, much less all day every day. That is a fate worse than death. The music and the rabble alone are enough to drive anything crazy, be it animal, vegetable or mineral. Usually when I emerge from a mall, after a brief and determined swoop for an item I desperately need, I stand outside gulping in the fresh air, thankful that I made it out alive. I tend to “shop” in malls like Seal Team Six assassinates Osama Bin Laden. Careful planning for the quickest possible route in and out. A fast and furtive entry and exit. Get done what needs to be done and get the fuck out of there.
These days I rely on mail delivery. There is no better way to acquire goods than to have it sitting in front of the door when I get home. I save on gas. I avoid crowds. There is no awkward banter with an eagerly inept sales associate. The lighting in my house is more flattering to my physique than the deadening fluorescence of a department store and I can’t beat the prices of the bar in my living room, open all day and all night, no such thing as being over-served. It is all a seamless transaction.
My habits, though, may be partly to blame for what is dooming poor Pizza in his little glass igloo over on the other side of the world. Because internet shopping is on the rise, marketing officials feel they need something as exotic as a giant polar bear in the middle of all that commerce to encourage people to get out of their houses and shop the old-fashioned way. Animal rights groups condemn the practice. When a person is put in a tiny enclosure it is called prison. When an animal is thusly held captive, it is called an educational exhibit. The difference is semantic and minimal. A creature that is conditioned to have the whole top end of the earth to roam around on might feel a bit cramped in a box, with hundreds of gawking teenagers staring in, all dopey and fascinated. I’m not sure what a polar bear eats, probably fish, but let’s say it eats humans too, why not, we’re made of meat, what torture it would be to have this human feast just out of reach on the other side of the glass. It would be an interesting experiment to take a person, put them in a glass cage and parade hamburgers, french fries, and ice cream back and forth all day, just beyond their grasp. See how adjusted and happy they are after two weeks sitting in the same spot, watching food they can’t eat circle them for hours on end. Sounds fun.
The owners of the mall have defended Pizza’s incarceration. They say he is well taken care of and has a bigger house than most Chinese factory workers have. In fact, they released a statement saying, “Pizza is the happiest bear in the world. He feels a sense of pride at knowing that Rolex watches and Swarovski figurines are ten percent off, and designer footwear from the fashion houses of Milan are strutting their stuff, so to speak, on the third-floor mezzanine. It is two-for-one at the fragrance counter, which always makes Pizza frolic in delight. The only time Pizza shows signs of distress is when he sees shoppers ignoring the fire sale in the “everything must go” closing at the Shack of Radios. He knows that the holidays are right around the corner, and nothing pleases him more than to hear the incessant announcements that the Amazon Firestick is now available for streaming all your, and Pizza’s, favorite shows.”
People of Guangzhou, listen up! You want to see a polar bear? Get your lazy ass onto a boat heading for the North Pole. Too much travel? Buy a stuffed animal or open a picture book. Turn on the National Geographic channel. Artificial living is a killer for people and bears alike. If malls in China need rare and interesting exhibits the United States can help. They can stage the “American Felon” exhibit. We can farm out psychotic killers to Chinese malls where people can ponder some of the world’s most notorious murderers. We’ve got Charlie Manson. We’ve got Paul Runge. We’ve got Dennis Rader. We’ve got Gary Ridgway. Take a selfie with a strangler. Leave the animals to the wild. They are aware. They are self-interested. They are the perfect work of a creator upon a fitting habitat.
It would be poetic justice for Pizza to escape his interminable confinement and turn the mall into a “maul.” Then he can flee to the Arctic waters where extradition is tricky and he holds the supreme advantage.
More Alembics to come.