In a historically significant moment for otters everywhere, the Seneca Park Zoo, located in Rochester, NY, decided to import one lone otter to inhabit the zoo’s meager confines sometime in the early 1990s. I was in high school then, and wasn’t particularly intrigued by the arrival of “Admiral,” who was flown in from Louisiana to break Rochester’s otter-barrier. Despite my initial lack of enthusiasm, I was in love the moment I visited the zoo and laid eyes on Admiral. He was an incredibly exciting creature, full of life and energy, swimming all over the place and drawing large flocks of people to him. Admiral was the Jackie Robinson of otters, and the entire city loved him. Last year he passed away, at age 21, and went to otter heaven which, I would guess, is a lot like a river.
The otter has been my favorite animal since then. I wonder, though, if things would be different if the Rochester zoo imported a different otter other than Admiral. What if the first otter they brought in was lethargic? What if they acquired a depressed otter who only wanted to sleep and bite itself all day? One could say that my love of otters is directly related to the positive experience I had with my first one. If Admiral had less personality, if he was more of an introverted, cerebral otter, perhaps today my favorite animal would be something different, like a cow.
Call this the “Otter Theory,” if you will. It states that a person’s perspective on something is largely relative to the first encounter they’ve had with that being. For example, what if an alien came down to earth? Well, let’s say the alien had a good sense of humor, was well mannered, and planned to vote Obama. Then everyone would not only love that alien, but possibly all aliens. On the other hand, if the alien didn’t support gay marriage, made offensive rape jokes, and slept around on Robert Pattinson, everyone would think aliens suck.
This past weekend, I had an experience that relates. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, and I was walking down the street with my girlfriend. About ten paces in front of us was some Korean girl, probably around 20 years old, wearing a nice plum-colored purple dress.
“Ooh,” my girlfriend cooed. “What a nice dress she’s wearing.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I like it too. I should ask her where she got it.”
“Go ahead,” my girlfriend taunted me, knowing I would be too shy. “Go up to her and ask her.”
Neither of us took this idea seriously, and I playfully shouted out, “Hey, girl!” The chick in the purple dress kept walking. “Yo!” I quietly yelled, while my girlfriend laughed at me.
“Clearly she’s deaf,” I said. About a minute later the girl made a turn and, knowing she would soon disappear from our field of vision, I shouted out, “Hey girl in the purple dress!”
The girl turned around.
“Oh shit!” I said. “She heard me! She’s not deaf!”
The girl didn’t shout anything back. Her facial expression showed deep anger and she raised her hand and gave me the middle finger.
“She gave me the finger!” I said in shock. “Let’s get out of here!” And my girlfriend and I ran off like giggling little grade-schoolers.
Now, here’s the thing: What if, and this is conceivable, I was the first foreigner that girl had ever come across on the street? Sure, she’s likely had foreign teachers at her school, but I might have been the first real-life experience she had with a white dude. What kind of impression had I set? Maybe later on that night some poor lost foreigner would try to ask that same girl for directions. “Hey!” he’d shout desperately to her. And, thanks to me, what would happen? She would likely give him the finger and run away and hide in a jinibang.
“I was a terrible otter,” I said to myself later that night. When living in another country, your actions carry more weight than they do normally. But then another thought occurred to me. “Maybe I was the second guy, and she was overly angry because her first foreigner encounter was a nightmare. That must be why she was so quick to give me the finger!”
I liked that thought better. It’s so much more comforting to believe that you’re not the problem, and that everything is the fault of the stupid bastards that preceded you.