When I was visiting my brother in New York back in 2002, he took me to the Six Flags amusement park in New Jersey. After we rode every roller coaster in the park (about nine) we decided we’d go to the game stalls and try to win some stuffed toys.
After my brother made all the stalls re-order stock from winning everything that was on display, my eye caught Animal hanging alongside Kermit and Miss Piggy at a lonely looking stall on the outskirts of the stall boulevard. He was looking longingly at the exit gates behind us, the want of freedom plastered on his stuffed face (and he was probably over Miss Piggy’s tyrannical Kung Fu Hustle). We made eye-contact and I could see that he saw in me his last hope of ever playing the drums again.
“Whatta I gotta do to get Animal?” I asked the vendor in a perfect New Jerseyian accent (why raise suspicions?).
“Knock over at least three cans,” he replied with his ‘don’t-give-a-fuck’ attitude.
“Gimme da ball, Chief,” says I. “And stand back.”
I knocked four cans down with my first shot.
“Release Animal,” I demanded politely.
Animal is my favourite of the Muppets. Not only cause he’s a talented musician (his character is based on Led Zeppelin’s drummer, John ‘Bono’ Bonhom who passed in 1980) who is wild and does whatever he wants, but because Animal just doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him and does his own thing. He simply lives in the moment.
Something I aspire to.
Yeah, I aspire to be like Animal.
When I decided to barter and hitch hike around the world almost 11 years later, I decided I’d need a mascot and Animal was the only choice.
But the events of Zambia’s Oktoberfest weekend will change both our lives forever (or until the Jim Henson Company or Six Flags might be persuaded to help me out).
After 12 years together, Animal was taken by a heartless, ruthless, son of an Ebola affected mother who had no idea the world of pain he or she has now entered.
This is what I remember from a blurry, beer-fueled weekend in Fringilla, Chisamba, 60 K’s north-west of Lusaka:
I awoke to sounds of voices outside of my tent.
What is that pounding? I thought, squinting my eyes. And why is it in my head?
Wait a minute… No.
It can’t be.
Oh but it is, my subconscious said.
No, no, no, I argued. I don’t suffer from these.
Welcome to Oktoberfest, Subby grinned. And welcome to your first ever hangover.
Jesus, the thumping in my head pounded like Vervet monkeys mining for copper but only finding iron. People live through this?
Yup, Subby was enjoying my torture.
I need a drink, I figured, of water, I added before Subby could protest.
I reached out for my backpack but all I found was air.
I sat up.
What a mistake.
I could hear the blood rush to my head like the rapids of the Zambezi.
I looked around my small tent. Guitar, check. Sleeping bag, check. Backpack.
Maybe it’s in Maruis’ trailer.
I unzipped my tent.
Holy shit that zipper is loud. Since when are zippers so loud?
I found my phone and looked at the time.
Zero six and forty-four.
The sun was a torturous investigative light as I scrounged about for my sunnies. Relieving my eyes and brain I crawled out, my calf muscles screaming.
I recalled dancing for what seemed like forever.
“Morning dancing machine” said Jeremy, the technician manager for Paratus
, the company providing free wifi at the event and who Maruis, my host in Lusaka, is the head of (and who sponsored my ticket to the festival).
“Morning,” I grumbled, trying to recall if I had only danced all night.
I’m circled in red
“Have you got a hangover?” Jeremy asked in surprise.
“It appears so,” I groaned.
“I thought you don’t get hangovers.”
“Seems my powers are fading.”
I opened Marius’ trailer and peered inside. There was the cooler box, a few packs but mine wasn’t there.
“Someone stole my shoes last night,” said Andrew, the sales rep. joining us. “I was asleep in the chair and woke up and my shoes were gone and the table was cleared of my cigarettes and lighter.”
I looked to my bare feet.
Hmm. I remember taking my Source-sponsored sandals off at the company’s gazebo to go dancing.
My memory card was an almost blank from last night. I remember drinking with some guys. Then sitting with some other folk and cracking jokes, then being the first to hit the empty dance floor in front of the main stage. And dancing for about seven hours straight.
My Source sandals must still be under the gazebo by the dance floor.
I headed over, waving at people who were calling out, “Hey Jesus!”, some coming up to shake my hand.
“Man, you looked like you were having the best time last night.”
I grinned, thanked the crowd, feeling like a rock star.
Under the gazebo a punter was asleep on top of the sacks of maize that made for seating.
“Sorry, mate,” I said to him, gently disturbing his sleep. “I just wanna check for my sandals under you.”
“Nothing here,” he groaned. “Someone stole my shoes and wallet.” And he returned to sleep.
Fuck, I thought as realisation settled in. Some schmuck stole my backpack.
I mentally listed the items that were in it:
– My 13-year-old multi-tool Leatherman my brother gave me 13 years ago.
– A headlamp that Lillian, a Belgium volunteer with The Book Bus gave me in Livingstone.
– The hand-carved chopsticks Ash had made for me in the Malaysian jungle when I volunteered for MYCAT
I really liked those.
– My 3-liter hydration system sponsored by Source.
So thirsty right now.
– My red hoodie that Mari gave me in South Africa.
Ach, that was a good hoodie.
– Two crocodile teeth Munandi gave me at Lake Kariba.
It took forever to get them out of the dinosaur.
– Two gem stones Veejay gave me as a gift from his family’s mine in Sri Lanka.
There goes my mother’s gift.
– My beard comb.
Shits gonna get messy.
Sigh. The upside is I now have one less pack to carry.
As I walked back to the campsite I felt like I was forgetting something. Hmm, passport and wallet are all at Mauris’ house along with my laptop and hard drive. My phone is with me. What am I forgetting?
I scrolled through the photos on my phone thinking maybe some clue might come up. I smiled at the photos I had taken with Animal around the venue –
Oh fuck no.
Oh fucking fuck no.
He was in the backpack.
“Mother-fucking fuckers!” I groaned, returning to the camp site.
“What happened?” Marius asked.
“Some fucking arsehole stole my backpack and sandals. Animal was in my backpack.”
“That’s kacked,” he said as the guys tried to console me.
Puton de merde.
There was nothing I could do (R & G Events tried with this poster →). I was saddened and even though complete strangers were slapping me on the back for my dancing skills, it wouldn’t bring Animal back.
No point in dwelling on it. What’s done is done. I just hope who ever ends up with my Muppet treats him like he deserves.
And I hope Karma unleashes her fury on the heartless bastard. With all her bitchiness.
We had some good times together, the most traveled of the Muppets.