Posts Tagged ‘roger williams park zoo’

Lumumba, My Casual Acquaintance

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

The third, but not necessarily last installment of the Lumumba series.

I’ve never been big into mixing work and real life – whether the “work” be school, a summer job, or my current one. Despite their invitations, I only hung out with the crew from Roger Williams Park Zoo once. One summer’s evening, Tone, my Samoan supervisor, pulled up to my house in her little car. I hopped into the back seat with Lumumba, while Tone’s boyfriend, Chris, sat up front. We were going to head out to one of the many, many Italian festivals that appear in Rhode Island on a nightly basis.

Lumumba & the Hamster

Before heading out to the festivities, we stopped by Tone’s apartment. We all sat down on the couch for a moment and Tone let her tiny hamster run around on the coffee table. He scurried about while Chris rolled a blunt, which I politely declined. The little tan hamster would play with the stems and seeds left on the table. Lumumba had a little trouble sitting at first, mainly due to the hand cannon he had tucked in his jeans. He pulled a glock out and placed it on the coffee table. Tone demanded that gun not be loaded, so Lumumba dropped the clip out. I sat around like a moron the entire time.

I’m not sure if I can give this visual justice, but I will try. Chris and ‘Mumba leaned back on a plush, white couch, blowing smoke into the air. On a small, wood grain coffee table, there was a little hamster running about. He would stand on his hind legs as he nibbled on pot seeds. Then the puff ball, a little bigger than a cellphone circa 2003, was using the pistol like a jungle gym. He would crawl over the trigger, hop over the clip, and slide down the barrel.

The rest of the evening wasn’t terribly eventful, but the image of that little hamster will stick with me.

Lumumba, My Supervisor

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Last week, we talked about when I met Lumumba.

My final year at the Zoo, Lumumba had risen to the rank of Green Shirt. In his over-sized, dull-green shirt, Lumumba was now a Supervisor. “Supervising” at the Zoo boiled down to smoking a cigarette under the tree in the employee area, telling Maroon Shirts to continue circling the garbage cans until they filled up enough to justify removing the bag.

On a particularly slow day, the sun was beating down on the Warehouse and Maintenance team. While we sat under the tree, ‘Mumba decided to tell us the story about one of the guys who tried to kill him.

One of the Guys Who Tried to Kill Lumumba in New York

Lumumba was living in New York City. What he was doing there, he never said. How long he was there, he didn’t mention. At some point, Lumumba might have owed a Guy some money. Lumumba insisted that the Guy was mistaken. Or perhaps Lumumba slept with the Guy’s girlfriend, wife, sister, or daughter? The details were a little fuzzy, but they didn’t matter. All that matters is that in the end, the Guy was pounding on Lumumba’s front door with a pistol strapped to his waistline. The Guy was now a Guy with a gun.

Lumumba lived on the 2nd floor of an apartment, his living room window overlooking the front door. Being the charming fellow he is, Mumba threw out a couple insults, likely about the Guy’s mother. This kept the Guy with a gun pounding at the front door. The Guy wasn’t the only one packing heat, as Lumumba had the stove running. On top of the stove was a pot of Vaseline. Lumumba stalled the Guy with a gun long enough to bring the Vaseline to a boil. When it began to bubble, he casually took the pot off of the stove, through the living room, and poured it out the window.

The Guy with a gun is now know as the Buddy in the burn ward.

Lumumba, My Coworker

Monday, June 20th, 2011

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.

One.

Two.

Three.

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.

One of the Guys Who Tried to Kill Lumumba

One of the Times I Almost Killed Myself

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Prior to graduating from college I had a fair number of pretty cruddy jobs. I’ve worked on farms, in food banks, for K-Mart, convenience stores, and the Roger Williams Park Zoo. I was a seasonal worker at the Zoo, a veteran of 3 summers. There are probably a number of stories I could tell about this job, but today’s tale is about one of the times I almost killed myself.

As a member of the Warehouse & Maintenance crew, one of my duties was to help wash up the restaurants by the elephants. One warm, summer day, there was a particular nasty spill that needed tidying. I filled my mop bucket with warm water and poured in a bit of bleach (for that extra shine). I figured the “more the merrier,” so I also grabbed a bottle of industrial strength cleaner to pour into the concoction.

The small plume of smoke rising from the bubbling bucket was my first indication that I screwed up. The burning sensation in my eyes and throat was another. I quickly realized that I had forgotten to check to see if the industrial strength cleaner had ammonia in it. As you may have ascertained, it did.

With haste, I lifted the mop bucket, held my breath, and waddled out the back of the restaurant. Thankfully, the only thing between me and the back door was a small, slippery hallway and a few wayward sleeves of plastic cups. I kicked the half-propped door open, leading me to the small fenced patch of dirt that housed the AC unit, a few trash cans, and a wasp’s nest. I poured the smoking bucket into the dirt and watched as the Earth absorbed the smoking liquid. Then I left.

Sitting on the dust coated picnic table under the big gnarled tree where the employees hang out, I was trying to remember the name of the gas I had just created. I asked my husky Samoan manager, Tone, if she knew the name.

“Death,” she said as she shrugged.

My coworker, Carter, thought for a moment and replied, “Death.”

As Carter sat pondering, our tall, rail-thin, black manager walked through the gate. Tone turned to him and shouted, “Hey ‘Mumba, what’s it called when you mix ammonia and bleach?”

Lumumba thought for a second, raising his brow as he wiped sweat from his mahogany skin. He took his hat off and replied:

“Death.”