Alright, it's time for the lion story. You asked for it.
This tale takes place back in the late 1980s, when I was a young reporter with one of Waco's three television stations. I was a general assignments reporter, meaning that I could be covering City Hall or a car accident one day, and doing a feature story on a woman's collection of dolls made from corncobs the next day.
One blustery winter day, I was assigned to take my photographer and do a story about the Waco Zoo. Apparently, there were some new additions that were being contemplated. I must set this story by saying that while Waco now has a beautiful, natural habitat zoo along the Brazos River, the zoo at the time I was a reporter was a pretty shabby affair. It was located on a flat, tiny piece of land near the airport, and was far from a "natural habitat." The animals were crowded in small cages which were lined up next to each other.
I felt good going out to the zoo that day. It was cold but sunny, and I was nice and warm inside my new leather jacket, which I had been saving for out of my measly reporter's salary for quite some time. I must say, I looked good in it, and I knew I would look good on air as well.
We went through the basics of getting the story by interviewing the zoo director and a few visitors, then shooting "B-roll," pretty shots of the zoo and its animals which we'd slap over my narration of the piece before it aired. So far, so good.
There was one final thing we had to do before leaving -- shooting the "stand up." This is the part of a TV news story where you actually see the reporter on camera, holding his or her microphone and making some serious and hopefully intelligent-sounding observation.
After looking the place over, my photographer decided that the most photogenic place to shoot the standup would be in front of the lion cage. There were two lions in there -- a male and a female -- and we would position the shot so that you'd see me backed up near the cage on one side of the TV screen, while over my shoulder you'd see the lions on the other side.
From what I remember, the lions that day were taking a nap when we arrived. Like many animals in zoo cages, they looked as though they spent a lot of their time each day snoozing.
We set up the shot, and there I stood in my new leather jacket, my script improvised on the spot. We did a few run-throughs to let me practice first, and then we were ready to tape.
I did a few takes, but for some reason I can't remember I wasn't happy with them. Maybe I flubbed a word, maybe the wind was blowing hair in my eyes. Anyway, I started the third take with confidence that this would be the one that nailed it.
Soon into my speech, I felt what I thought might have been a light mist blowing against my neck -- sort of like when there's a sprinkler turned on next door, and the wind wafts over some of the spray. It didn't bother me, though, and I kept on talking.
A few seconds later, I felt the mist become a strong stream of liquid hitting me square on the neck and back, as if some kid had one of those Super Soaker water cannons pointed at me, unloading at full power. Not a little angered at my perfect take being disrupted, I jumped back and turned around to see where the offending stream was coming from.
Imagine my shock (and disgust) when I looked at the lion cage, and noticed that Mr. Lion was no longer napping. He had gotten up and backed himself up against the bars, butt first. His tail was lifted high, and a stream of urine was still flying in a high arc toward me. I had no idea a lion could pee like that! If I had been judging for form and distance, I would have held up the card reading "9.8."
Of course, I quickly realized what had happened. I had interrupted Mr. Lion's snooze, so he had decided to give a new definition to the term "mainstream media" and shut me down. When he finally finished his task, he gave me what I swear was a sleepy grin, turned around and then laid back down to sleep.
It was so bizarre that I had to laugh. And even though the photographer was laughing as well, he didn't stop rolling tape the whole time. I soon stopped laughing to turn toward the lion and give him a piece of my mind into the microphone. I'm not happy to confess that I used a few words that would get bleeped if they ever showed up on television.
We eventually calmed down and I ended up completing the standup, albeit a little farther away from the cage. We couldn't wait to get the tape back to the office and see the whole thing again.
When we popped the tape in the machine, we were instantly disappointed. The ancient TV cameras we used back then had tubes in them instead of computer chips -- a blue tube, a red tube and a green tube. If they were correctly aligned, you got natural color. If the tubes were misaligned -- which could be caused by as little as a slight bump to the camera -- then any tape that was recorded ended up looking like a series of red and blue shadows, something like how a 3-D cartoon looks if you don't wear the 3-D glasses. We could still make out me and the lion, and hear every word I said, but the picture was un-airable. Our hopes of submitting it to "America's Funniest Videos" were dashed.
I got some more bad news. Remember my brand-new leather jacket? Well, it was covered in lion pee. Have any of you ever had something urinated on by a little house cat? Remember how acrid (and how hard to deodorize) that stuff is? Well, multiply house cat urine by about 50 and you have lion urine. I could have taken that jacket, dumped it in benzene and then dangled it over Niagra Falls for an hour or so, and the smell still wouldn't have come out. Sadly, I threw my reeking jacket in the trash. My station being the cheap place it was, the management refused to buy me a new one, even though I had been hosed in the line of duty. It was awhile before I could afford another.
So, there's my lion story. I still have the tape of that event, and every now and then I get it out and play it. I'm not sure if I will ever play it for my kids, since it will show them what colorful, descriptive language Daddy used back in his TV days. But Mrs. Muley and I get a kick out of it.
And the lion? Oh, he's probably enjoying strolling through his new, natural habitat home in the Central Texas Zoo. And laughing when he remembers me.
I hope he has fleas and mange.