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A Pack of Pandas

Matt Thomson

Zoo-kept pandas inspire musings on civilization-kept humans' sexual behavior.

It's been quite a long time since I got to have sex. I mean around three years � and I'm 21-years-old. Which makes things worse I guess, that I'm as young and as empty as all this. I should be very involved in getting to know women and spreading their legs for the experience of it all. Because I have hands. Yes. And the smile of a toothy Midwestern man.

Though if you ask me, I'd say that our genitals are not at all worth trusting. Genuinely dangerous creatures they are, that for one reason or another get treated as pets, which makes sense, as they seem dumb as dogs, even if only half as charming. What worries me more about this analogy is that if it is accurate, then our sex organs must age at the same rate as dogs. That is, seven animal years to every human year, I figure. Which means that I've only got about five more months before my sex drive starts vomiting up behind the sofa and some half-trained animal doctor works wrist-deep in my libido, but alas, eventually, has to put it all to sleep.

When you are younger and always having sex, everything feels quite healthy, as if the energy can never shut off, as if . . . like a dog on a summer day, given enough water, you could run laps around the lawn for days at a time. But even then, there is a failure of behavior in how fumbly and awkward everything is under the covers. Both partners like excited dogs in heat, stuffing friction between the beats of a very loud Ramones' song in order to muffle up their moans and keep away the parents. Of course I now know that employing loud music while having sex is not nearly as clever a cover-up as I thought it to be. You can really only smoke dope or fuck to music that loud anyways, and in either case it's fooling no one.

And it wasn't even good sex to begin with; just shitty teenage sex. That music, which I thought was a way to keep us safe from others, was really a way to keep our minds off of what we were doing in the first place. Because sound fills up air, and can help diminish the embarrassment when you both open your eyes and accidentally catch each other, and then you feel confused as all hell and backed into a corner. If you both open your eyes at the same time you're suddenly confronted by this big, uncomfortable expression in some teenage stranger's face. Neither of you has any idea as to who the other is outside of the bedroom. But at that moment you both have just realized this -- while looking at each other.

It becomes clear then, that we are all just mimics at this point in our lives. We're at the same level as chimpanzees when they mimic smokers, since neither of us really know why we're doing what we're doing, but we're still desperately try to make the face, the sounds, and the seemingly well-received hand gestures that, truthfully, indicate otherwise. We do all this precisely so we do not appear frightened. We want to feel as tough as wild animals, literally free in our own environment, and clever as well; more clever than children because they aren't sexually active, yet, and more sharp than the saggy adults who have no sex life left to speak of.

But most importantly, while having sex we want to appear to be smarter than a panda. Pandas, in case you've never noticed, look baffled when they have sex. These are creatures that are notorious for their sexual apathy. The panda is an animal so disinterested in the bureaucratic pleasantries of screwing each other that their existence may very well disappear on account of not wanting to bother with sex at all. What's interesting though, is that this behavior occurs almost exclusively in the domesticated zoo pandas; the ones yanked from their homes and forced into tourist attractions. These animals live in a limbo between some simulated "natural environment" of glued cardboard props, and the drone of a congested shopping center rumbling of a quarter mile away. They live in limbo that they are perfectly aware of, too. It's the absurdity of their modern situation then, that drives these pandas crazy: the awareness of being an animal but with a tamed mind. Which makes them begin to watch each other as pets, and so during the sex act, they see what you see when you really take a look at it: bafflement.

I realize I no longer have the dog in this pet/sex analogy, but a domesticated panda bear, instead. Perhaps that's because in some distant, past life I was a panda myself. Yes . . . I can see myself . . . scratching my nails in synthetic bamboo, using some strange prison panda speak to anyone that would listen as I wrote these words down with Eucalyptus gum, the only real amenity that I'm allowed to have. As a domesticated panda, I would have been gawky and furry-faced, plumped softly in the tree branch farthest from the bars, and mumbling on and on about nothing in particular except that it seemed strange nowadays, to do all this work, sex work, that is, for 10 minutes of panicked pleasure which, the more you thought about it, wasn't really that enjoyable to begin with. It is not like it has any relevance here, in a circus in front of spectators and zookeepers and cars. Oh I shuure can see myself now, all patch-holed and yawning, with eyes as crushed as dried tea leaves, leaning over to the young male panda prisoner beside me and saying, "You know, I don't think I want to do this anymore. How about you can have all the female pandas, and I get to eat all your rice grass and we just call it even?"

It is difficult to say if we are all genuinely free at a younger age; sexually active in a delirious bliss that does not, for a even a second, suggest anything as suffocating as being trapped in zoos. This realization seems to appear only in hindsight, as our vision retracts from the singularity of manic, heat-driven dogs and into the diurnal complicity of pandas; that is, into perspective and contemplation. And like the pandas we, too, begin drifting inbetween two worlds: one, which uses sex for survival, and the other, which uses it for pass-the-time entertainment. Thus, we are trapped into a modern dilemma and we become the proverbial zoo animal. Such is my dilemma. Because I have hands. Yes. And the smile of a toothy Midwestern man who cannot help but stare back on everything behind him and wonder if maybe it wasn't a spontaneous expression he directly experienced in his youth, but instead a confused and aging domesticated performance that he watched passively through bars. Much like a fellow panda watches as the animal doctor works frantically to save the sex life of another panda, a sex life that was strangely in vain to begin with.

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