Monday, November 3, 2014


Why do I blame this review on The Bloggess? Anyone who follows Jenny knows she gets some "unusual" suggested purchases at Amazon. All well-earned, mind you. Bless her heart, she often shares the more amusing and far-out items, of which this book was one. I took one look at the title and knew I had to have it. I didn't care what was inside, anyone who has the...well, balls, to put balls front and center on their book cover is worthy of a spot on my shelf.

Fittingly, it was a bizarre ride. Although never fully explained, author Melissa Haynes volunteered at a conservation preserve in South Africa, overseen by a ranger she refers to as Drill Sergeant. I spent the better part of the book thinking the two of them were the worst volunteer and ranger duo to ever grace a conservation preserve and survive (barely).

I cut the author some slack, as she had recently lost her mother to cancer (I'm guessing as to the timing; again, this is never explained) and her siblings are complete asshats, showing up at their mother's death bed only to clean out her house and leave town the day before Christmas, deserting Haynes to deal with their dying mother alone. Oh, and on the way out the door they tell her she has to get a life. Ah, family.

My feelings of empathy were sorely tested, as Haynes seemed to go out of her way to portray herself as a difficult, spoiled nitwit.

Some of her more questionable behavior included:
  • Bringing food back to her tent against direct instruction, only to spend the night in fear of the creature lured by said food (brownies, no less. What are leftover brownies? Leftover brownies are rarer in my house than any animal at that preserve.);
  • Bitching about the lack of a radio in the safari truck (because who wants to hear an elephant trumpet when they could get The Biebs on the radio instead?);
  • Dealing with an incorrigible elephant by mixing dung into its food (it takes a special breed of maroon to do this to an animal);
  • Complaining about every task she's given (apparently expecting she would be lying on a divan in a Snuggie bottle-feeding adorable newborn cheetahs while watching Oprah);
  • Bemoaning her inability to understand Drill Sergeant's local dialect, which she refers to as "jibber jabber" (Hello, ugly American!)(But really, how can you blame her when one of the brain-twisters of an examples she cites is that in Africaans they use "100%" to mean "that's excellent" or "utter perfection" -- those damn foreigners and their pesky cultural jargon!);
  • Fearing she is going to be raped by every local man who crosses her path (I don't even have words for this level of jackassery);
  • Showing an utter inability to use a machete to cut a tree limb (anyone who has read internet comments or tried to shop at Costco during free sample hour knows how to use a machete, amiright?). 
Show of hands - who's ready to give her a pork loin necklace and send her into the lion enclosure?

Speaking of the lion enclosure, Drill Sergeant is not depicted as a threat to the local Mensa chapter. To get into the enclosure requires driving through two locked gates, the "neutral" area between them ensuring no escape. Which would be a great system if Drill Sergeant hadn't explained early on that the lions can jump the enclosure fence. Now I'm no Marlin Perkins, but you're never going to convince me those lions simply sit around super pissed they can't figure out the gates when they know they can leave the enclosure in a single bound.

The scene that put the icing on the cake of stupidity was the feeding of the lions. Drill Sergeant loads an antelope carcass in the back of the truck and drives through the two (apparently useless) gates into the enclosure. Lions smell dinner, want dinner, start chasing truck. Failing to outrun the lions, Drill Sergeant instructs Haynes to take the wheel, speed ahead as far as she can, then slam on the brakes. Drill Sergeant jumps out, runs to the back of the truck, lowers the tailgate and sprints back inside just as the pursuing lions arrive. With the tailgate now down they drive really fast up an incline so the carcass slides out the back and the Circle of Life Buffet is open for business.

Prizes for anyone who can explain why this mastermind would go through that rigmarole and risk failing to outrun hungry, carcass-smelling lions rather than simply lowering the damn tailgate before entering the enclosure. I fully expect to see this story in next year's Darwin Award nominees.

In the end, Haynes comes to terms with her fear of death and the loss of her mother, and somewhat redeems herself by performing her chores without griping and taking the initiative to start a vegetable garden for the locals. Drill Sergeant, who has obviously eaten too many spiked brownies, tells her she's the hardest working volunteer he's ever had. All of which tells me her less than stellar portrayal of herself that came before was likely exaggerated for the sake of story-telling. Overall, the book entertained me almost as much as it torqued my shorts, which is saying something.

STREET SENSE: You're on your own with this one.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: "Have you ever seen a lion rip the spine out of a fleeing zebra?"

Note: Not the usual quotation fare, but I dare you to read that sentence without a flashback to the movie "Airplane!" and a trip down a wonderful quote tangent with the likes of "Ever seen a grown man naked?" "Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue," "There's a sale at Penny's!" and "Don't call me Shirley."

COVER NERD SAYS: Just look at that thing of beauty. The title alone got me to buy the damn book without even knowing what was inside. And is it just a happy accident the bush (no pun intended) is hiding the area of the titular lion's testicles? Just what kind of learning is going on here? The imagination runs. I'd say this one is marketing genius. At least with respect to those who have a penchant for lion balls.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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