Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Monkey Paw Wish 

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On my morning walk with the dogs I have been catching up on episodes of This American Life, the excellent weekly radio program on public radio. The other day I listened to an episode entitled Reunited, which contains a remarkable, haunting and true story about a beautiful white Brahman bull named Chance.

The story features extensive interviews with Ralph Fisher, an animal trainer, who once owned Chance. Fisher is a rancher who had a business that would hire Chance out for corporate events and birthday parties, during which attendees would ride the bull and have their picture taken on or next to him. Chance wasn't just working livestock, though, he was more like a beloved pet. Because of his unusually gentle nature, he was so trusted that he was allowed to roam freely in the Fisher’s front yard. He would lope up to the Fishers and their children like a big dog and lick them on the hand. He had a favorite spot in the front yard where he like to curl up and nap, and when the wife would look out her kitchen window and see him her heart would swell with love and affection and this incredible feeling of peace. So beloved was this bull that when the wife would gaze upon that animal resting in her front yard in the shade, all felt right in the world. One day he found Chance dead in the pasture at the ripe old age of 21, and the family was devastated. Then they heard a program at Texas A&M that was cloning animals, and they jumped at the chance to have Chance cloned. The cloning was successful, and they brought the result, whom they named Second Chance, home at seventh months old. Immediately they were struck by eerie similarities between the two animals. Not only did Second Chance look just like Chance, but they also shared many characteristics and mannerisms. When Second Chance trotted off the trailer he went right to Chance’s favorite spot in the front yard and curled up to rest. He also would eat just like Chance, by bringing his head back to chew with his eyes closed in pleasure, something that Ralph had never seen another animal do, ever. It was like Chance had been reborn, resurrected.

One day Ralph was leading Second Chance back to his pen when, out of the blue, Second Chance knocked him to the ground and tried to gore him. There were holes gouged, 5 inch tunnels, into the earth, where Second Chance had just missed his target, Ralph's abdomen. Second Chance did manage to break some of Ralph’s ribs and Ralph was hospitalized. Amazingly, Ralph and his family so desperately wanted him to be Chance, to have Chance back, that they made excuses for his unpredictably murderous behavior. Ralph told the interviewers that he didn’t get Chance until he was seven, and that a lot of young bulls do aggressive, terrible things. It was his fault that he let his guard down. He was going to give the bull until he was seven to 'become' Chance.

Remarkably, a few months later, while the This American Life crew was there, Second Chance attacked Ralph again. His injuries were gruesome and severe (suffice it to say Second Chance attempted to make Ralph a 'steer'). But when interviewed at the hospital, in a voice thick with painkillers, Ralph still insisted that he was going to give Second Chance until seven to be as trustworthy as Chance, and insisted that it had been his carelessness that precipitated the attack. I think the words he managed to get out were, "Not...seven...yet."

I have remained fascinated by this story, which is like a cross between the Flannery O’Connor story Greenleaf, the Europa myth, Pet Semetary and the terrifying short story The Monkey's Paw.

In this story, the wife, begging her husband to wish their dead son, the victim of a grisly factory accident, alive again by using the cursed monkey paw, demands,

"Bring him back," cried the old woman, and dragged him toward the door. "Do you think I fear the child I have nursed?"

Oh, but you should fear! After the wish, something comes slouching to the door, knocking, and... Brrrr, scary!

Here's a link to the Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror spoof.

As stupid as it may be, I'm sympathetic to the Fishers' stubborn, clinging belief that this bull is the same animal as their beloved pet, that they could miss a creature so terribly that they would seize upon any chance and would risk defying the laws of nature (not to mention their own lives) to have him back.

Read (or read again) the Flannery O’Connor story if you have a chance. She really had it out for a certain type of silly, self righteous, sanctimonious, middle class farm woman, didn’t she? She was always making them pay by being the butt of some kind of terrible, grotesque joke. These women could probably do with a good comeuppance, but Jesus! These characters sound suspiciously like her mother, a bourgeois, widow farm owner upon whom O'Connor had to depend and be nursed by after she was rendered helpless by Lupus.

Pictures of Chance and Second Chance. Looks like Second Chance doesn't have much longer to get his act together.

wow, that's intense. by contrast, i just listened to TAL's "americans in paris", where ira glass hangs out with david sedaris, who is kinda happy to spot catherine deneuve on the street, but ECSTATIC when he sees Judge Judy in a market.
I totally remember that TAL about Chance and Second Chance. So fascinating...
Found your blog entry in a Google search, as I was trying to find out if Second Chance has "settled down"...
I cried big tears when I heard this story & saw the Netflix video, but I fear that the bull's gonna kill poor Ralph. [I had a pet STEER but we never succeeded in breaking him to saddle.]
Ralph seemed convinced that he had 95% of his beloved animal back, 5% maybe missing in a way that could be found over time.

Could it be possible he only got back 5%, but is missing 95% which made up the kind heart and soul of Chance?

Or, it could just be a young bull exerting dominance in his environment, and he will mellow.

Time will tell.

I wonder how many other cloned animals might have shown themselves to be more aggressive than the original? I'd bet the numbers would be interesting.
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