This article is part of the The Tiger King and I series.
Read the first part here.
Disclaimer: Names have been changed mostly because I forgot them and partially because they might sue me for putting them on blast
I packed a red duffle bag full of clothes and toiletries, said my goodbyes, and headed back to Wynnewood the next week. When I arrived I met with Kyle, who gave me 3 neon green shirts and told me to settle in. I asked where I would be lodging, and he informed me that I would have the swankiest digs at the park: The backseat of my own fucking car. I should have left then. I should have known. I was 18 and dumb. That is my excuse and I will die with it.
The next morning, I awoke to a man smacking the back window of my car. I emerged and he introduced himself as Robert and told me he was Joe's brother. He was rail thin, wearing full camo, and something that I came to realize was extremely common for "upper management" at the park: A revolver. He told me to get my green shirt on and follow him. We walked to a shantytown of sorts near the back of the park, there were tents and small trailers, open firepits and the smell of food cooking. These were the quarters of the park workers. The non-tour people.
I was pushed into a crowd of men and Robert yelled something in broken Spanish at them and walked away. They eyed me suspiciously. I said hello and asked what we were doing. A man stepped forward and removed a small curved knife from his back pocket. I stepped back and put up my hands. I was no slouch at 18. I had taken up boxing and though I wanted to have a good first day at the park I wasn't going to get stabbed without a fight. The group of men burst out laughing at me. The one with the knife pushed it towards me in his open palm. "Take. Take."
This was my knife now I figured. I put it in my back pocket. "Lonny", he said to me and then pointed towards himself. That's how I met Lonny. He explained in broken English that it was time to work. I asked him where the bus was, and told him that I needed to get my duffel. He laughed at me. I was confused. Kyle was power-walking up to us, looking like the piece of shit he was and probably still is. Fuck you Kyle. I asked him where the bus was, and when we were departing.
"The tour doesn't start for two weeks", he said. "Stick with Lonny, he'll show you what to do". I was flabbergasted. I was supposed to be on tour, with exotic animals, making 800 dollars a week. The tour doesn't start for two weeks? What? I wanted to leave, but didn't. I'm not a smart man.
I followed Lonny to a shed where we collected 2 wheelbarrows and 2 shovels. We then headed out into the park proper. Along the way we met up with our third man, Ignacio. Ignacio had a shovel and a wheelbarrow as well, but his wheelbarrow was full of clear bags of gore. Just unidentifiable meat and blood. Lonny explained that we would go to each tiger cage, lure the tigers into a smaller holding cage, shovel their shit, dump the bags of gore (tiger food!), and then let them back into their main area.
Have you ever smelled tiger shit? Tiger shit smells fucking awful. It's like... acidic almost. It burns the nostrils. We scooped tiger shit, and then each collected a bag o' gore. I was struggling to untie mine when Lonny smacked me in the back of the head with his open palm. "Knife". Ah, yeah, fuck, that was what the knife was for. I was taught to hold the bag high, and use the curved knife to slit the bag open and let the contents dump on the ground. Tigers don't care if their food is on the ground. After 12 hours of this, I retired to my car. I'll admit it now: I cried. I was 18 years old, 100 miles from home, and I wasn't on a glamorous tour bus. I was sunburned already, and I considered going home again (spoiler: I considered going home many times but it only stuck once, way on down the line).
I settled into my backseat, focusing on the golden sunset colors throughout my car, when the screaming started...
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