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  • Gary Gruber

Camel Sex in Pittsburgh

While I didn’t understand its significance at the time, watching two camels having sex in Pittsburgh has had a profound effect on my life. It has served as a metaphor for complacency so many times that it has driven me towards a sharper, more distinct understanding of the human condition. The highly evocative statement Jesus made when he said: “Be in the world, not of the world”, drives home this point, because we see both sides every day if we look closely enough.


I had gone to the zoo with my friend John to look for photographs. The female camel was just blithely sitting there, chewing her cud and watching the day go by. She must have been in estrous, because the male was sniffing her backside like they were having a sale on wheat and oats.


It didn’t take more than a few seconds for him to whip himself into a frenzy. (Lost track of the number of times that’s happened to me). The most fascinating aspect of these two camels getting it on was the lack of participation by the female. (Again, lost count there also). He’s huffing and puffing and groaning in a manner only male camels are capable of, and she’s lost in thought, chewing, turning her head from side to side occasionally.


Two minutes later (no wisecracks here) he literally falls off of her onto his side, completely spent with the ever so slightest of grins on his face. “Got her done” I’m sure he was saying in CamelSpeak. She just continues to chew and chew and chew like nothing has happened.


The metaphor here is a sad one. It has to do with pride in your work regardless of your level of employment. Phyllis and I are super excellent at reading people, and we rarely get fooled, but I doubt this is an extraordinary skill. I would hope (let’s emphasize that word: hope) that by the time anyone reaches their seventies that they can easily read people, and do it well, without the need for a cue card or teleprompter.


I’m trying to score some Swiss cheese at the Deli counter of our local supermarket yesterday, and for reasons way above my pay grade, the guy waiting in me really truly did not want to be there that day. Maybe he was missing a soccer game, I dunno…


It was a stupid little thing that can become quite irritating if you juice it. Phyllis has been my mentor for over 50 years on gnats like this that buzz aimlessly around your head trying their best to annoy you. I didn’t get upset, I didn’t jump over the counter and slice up my own Swiss cheese. I didn’t really want to. It appears as if Phyllis finally got through to me, and I, probably for the first time in my life, practiced ‘being in the world.’


I did not let it go. As I was checking out, I asked to see the manager. He was standing not more than 6 yards away but would not make the effort to walk over to a customer in distress. He summoned me with his hand to approach and kneel. I pegged him right away as a completely disinterested sort of chap, the kind that punches in and then punches out immediately, hoping to be completely invisible for the next eight hours.


I explained to him how rude and unhelpful the guy in the deli had been. Clearly, I was bothering him as he continued to stare at the empty automated checkout stand. The picture of that female camel starting dancing around in my head. Unfulfilled, I left, chalking it up to the ennui that pervades the lives of many younger people today.


The most interesting thing happened when the other guy standing near me at the deli counter approached me as he was waiting in the checkout and told me about his experience with Mr. Meat&Cheese. Apparently, he was treated even worse than me. The cretin behind the counter actually threatened him when he said “Mind your own business.”

I digress.


I was once fired from a job for treating a customer poorly. I have thought about it many times over the years and consider it to have been a formative event. I cannot speak for other businesses, but when I see signs like the ones plastered all over McDonald’s these days “$15/hr. for employees, $17/hr. for managers”, I wonder if the difference between a worker and manager is only measured in dollars; where does that leave us as an upwardly mobile society. Is that all it takes, two dollars?


I undigress.


I’m approaching my car when I see the other guy who was with me at the deli counter was parked not two cars from me. He told me his tale of woe and I tried to help calm him down. He too spoke to the “manager”, probably eliciting the same mumbled response I received.


I miss those camels. While anthropomorphizing about the life of camels may bring a chuckle now and then, at least each one knew their role, and lived it to the fullest capacity they could under the circumstances.


With a little reflection, perhaps those so enamored with being ‘of the world’, may find a teachable moment in their own lives, that can help to form a conduit to something much bigger than themselves.


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