It is the first day of summer, which reminds me of my late teenage years, when I worked for the Roger Williams Park Zoo. I spent my summer days stocking elephant-themed restaurants, emptying garbage, and cleaning toilets. Among my coworkers were many of Providence’s finest, such as Lumumba. He was a tall, thin, black man with a voice much deeper than his frame suggested it should be. On his right arm, there was a tattoo of a black panther – barely visible on his dark, wiry arm. I could never quite determine how old ‘Mumba was. He was a veteran of some war or another, but I could never figure out which. He could pass for 30, but I know he was far older.
How I Met Lumumba
I met Lumumba during my 2nd summer at the Zoo. We both wore Maroon Shirts, which meant that we had no say in anything other than which garbage cans to clean first. We were bossed around by the Green Shirts who, in turn, answered to the office people in Polo Shirts.
If we had to deliver a large order to the restaurant by the elephants, we would usually go in teams of two. One person to stand in the freezer to hand out the burgers and hot dogs, another to receive the goods and Tetris-stack them on the handcart. One person to read off the order list, another to check that everything was there. One person to steer 700lbs of frozen foods, another to stop the handcart from careening into pedestrians.
Early in the season, I was partnered with Lumumba.
‘Mumba was an intimidating guy. You could tell he had seen some things that stayed with him. Even though I had no doubt that he could completely disembowel me at a moment’s notice, Lumumba was nice to me and easy to talk to. Sometimes Mumba was a little too willing to talk.
The restaurant by the elephants was also next to the pond that housed the huge snapping turtle. Across the pond was the Wet Lands exhibit. During a regular delivery, Lumumba pulled me aside and took me to the edge of the pond. He looked out across the green pond scum, through the trees, and told me that if he had a sniper rifle, he could drop that entire family of 5 across the pond before they even knew he fired a shot. He then pointed out each and every optimal sniper position he could see. There were about ten. I watched as he pantomimed adjusting the scope, aimed at a group of 3, and fired off three imaginary head shots.
Then we unloaded the cart of frozen pizza dough and hot dogs and went on our way.
Join me next week when I tell you about the time a guy tried to kill Lumumba.