Innovative Addiction Treatment Program Promises to Aid Local Artists

GLOUCESTER—Starting in July, concerned Gloucester residents will try out a new program for managing a pervasive and seemingly intractable social ill.

“This addiction is tragic—and it’s a blight on our city,” said Dorothy Pendleton, president of the Rocky Neck Art Colony, one of several local groups supporting the experimental initiative. “But rather than stigmatizing the victims, we’ll give them the help they need.”

Pendleton delivered her remarks on Tuesday at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck, where artists and other representatives from Gloucester’s creative class had gathered to announce their plan.

“I know all too well how easy it is to slide into a fixation on nautical themes and marine imagery in one’s art,” she told the audience, which responded with a chorus of amens.

“It starts with a lighthouse, a lobster trap, or a gaily colored dinghy bobbing in the harbor,” she said, her voice rising to a fever pitch. “And you think, Just this once. Just to score some easy cash.”

ColorfulDinghy[The grim consequences of addiction]

Pendleton trained as a sculptor at Montserrat College of Art, graduating with her BFA in 1977. For years she occupied a studio on Rocky Neck, where she produced sleek, minimalist works in aluminum and epoxy.

But when the market for such conceptual sculpture collapsed in the mid-1980s, things went downhill.

She explained: “On a lark, I used some leftover resin to fashion a stylized anchor. It was hideous—and just so cliché. But I hung it in the window, and a buyer walked in the same afternoon.”

“That was my gateway to homogenous beach art,” Pendleton said, shaking her head at the memory. “Within six months, I had sold off my old materials and begun to churn out whimsical mobiles from driftwood and sea glass.”

DriftwoodMobile[Rock bottom]

According to Daniel Sizemore, a painter and board member of Cape Ann Artisans, stories like hers are common, especially in Gloucester.

“Our city has a long and sordid history as a hotbed of maritime art,” he said, pointing at a framed print of two schooners skimming over a choppy green sea.

“Fitz Henry Lane was the original kingpin,” Sizemore said, his eyes narrowing. “With his rakish frock coat and luminous sunsets.”

Pendleton elaborated: “Lane and his minions established a culture of nautical addiction in this town. So it’s difficult to escape the motifs—coiled rope, billowing sails, mirror-calm coves lit by low-slung crescent moons—that have dominated the vocabulary of the Gloucester artist for almost two hundred years.”

FitzHenryLane[Lane, plotting the consolidation of his artistic cartel]

Others place the blame on the steady stream of money coming across the Piatt Bridge.

“We wouldn’t see this habit-forming behavior if it weren’t so lucrative,” said Dexter Gee, a member of the Gloucester Arts Guild and a recovering photographer of the relentlessly pounding surf.

He explained: “Tourists from New York and Boston generate the demand. They come to Gloucester, waving their platinum cards, clamoring for low contrast images of breakers rolling onto Bass Rocks.

“And if the Twin Lights loom in the background, they’ll pay double or triple,” Gee continued, his shutter finger twitching restlessly. “For a photographer who’s barely getting by, it can be hard to resist.”

According to Pendleton, the cumulative effects on a community can be devastating. “Rocky Neck Avenue is starting to look like the hallway of a Motel 8 in Ocean City,” she said.

Sizemore admitted that for years he and other artist-vigilantes had tried to shame the creators of maritime kitsch into reforming their ways. “We’d drive to their known hangouts—the Back Shore, Eastern Point—and heckle them as they captured the sunlight staining the clouds crimson.”

But it never worked—and now, rather than shunning the nautically obsessed, Pendleton and her partners are extending a sympathetic hand.

“We are inviting all affected artists to come down to the Cultural Center here on Wonson Street,” she said. “And with no judgment whatsoever, we’ll begin the rehabilitation process together.”

That process entails the safe disposal of finished beach art, as well as any associated paraphernalia. Pendleton listed some possibilities: “Watercolor sets, moveable easels, and floppy straw hats for those tawdry plein air sessions.”

PleinAirArtist[Image obscured to protect privacy]

Gee elaborated: “The Cultural Center will also pair you with a patron from the community who has agreed to purchase your first piece of clean, cliché-free work.”

“It could be almost anything,” he said. “An abstract canvas. A photo of a squalid gutter. Heck, even a naturalistic portrait.”

“Except no hoary sea captains,” Pendleton interjected.

Gee confirmed that their program is based on other local initiatives, which have used a compassionate approach to successfully address more significant addictions.

“If it can work for black tar heroin,” he said, “then there’s a chance it might work for pastel-tinted nautilus shells.”

Most exciting of all, according to Pendleton, is the potential for growth beyond Gloucester.  Artists’ collectives throughout the region have expressed interest in the plan’s radical, outside-the-box methodology.

“We’re getting calls from lots of seaside towns struggling with the same issue,” Pendleton said. “Apparently, the compass rose is absolutely rampant on Cape Cod.”

Gee described just one disappointment with the plan’s design and execution thus far. “We approached the Rockport Art Association as a potential partner,” he said. “But they insisted their town doesn’t have a problem. In their minds, the addiction is ‘only a Gloucester thing.’”

Imacon Color Scanner[Green and purple regions untarnished in any way]

Fear of a Black Hole: A Starmus Travelogue

By Len Pal, Clamrespondent and Co-Host of MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast

Last week I wrote a piece for the Clam about Ken Lawrence’s MC Hawking project, and how it led to an invitation to perform for Stephen Hawking and over a thousand other delegates, including eleven Nobel laureates, and many of the most brilliant scientists of our time. To recap, while playing around with his computer’s text-to-speech software, Ken realized it sounded a lot like Stephen Hawking, so he used his background in musical composition to make it rap. The resulting songs got pretty popular online, Professor Hawking’s people heard and liked them, and sixteen years or so later, it led to an invitation to perform at Starmus, a prestigious conference celebrating science, music, and the arts.

So, that happened. It was pretty amazing, and I’m back to tell you about it.

The Undisputed King of Theoretical Gangsta-Astrophysics

Artist rendition of MC Hawking

Starmus was founded when Brian May went back to school to complete his PHd in astrophysics, which was on the back burner for about thirty years while he was busy with his own musical side project, a band named Queen. His thesis advisor was Dr. Garik Israelian, who also happened to be a musician. The two struck up a friendship and realized that music and science should be celebrated together. The first Starmus festival took place in 2011 with about 200 attendees. The second, in 2014, hosted nearly a thousand, and the third in 2016 had nearly 1600.

Starmus featured three days of lectures by speakers like Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Kip Thorne, Martin Rees, author and futurist Robert J. Sawyer, cyber-security expert Eugene Kaspersky, Richard Dawkins, and astronaut Chris Hadfield, to name just a few. And I’m going to be honest and admit that at times, the science was a bit over my head. But that doesn’t matter – I came away with enough of a taste for it that now, I want to keep learning more about all of it! More than that, I want to make other people want to learn about this stuff!

Like, maybe you already knew that LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatories operated by Caltech and MIT, use intersecting laser beams two kilometers long to detect alterations in spacetime when gravitational waves pass through them. Just last month, their two observatories, located in different parts of the United States, detected gravitational waves caused by the merging of two black holes. For real, that happened.

You probably also knew that the science in the movie Interstellar was actually accurate. Astrophysicist Kip Thorne came up with the idea behind the movie, and worked closely with director Christopher Nolan (as well as his special effects team) to make a science fiction movie about black holes that actually got it right, both in terms of the plot and in the visualizations. Top of my to-do list now that I’m home is to watch the movie again with a greater appreciation for what I’m looking at.

interstellarblackhole

One of these shows what a black hole really looks like.

I could write pages and pages about the different amazing lectures, but I won’t. (You’re welcome.) Honestly, there was just too much and I’m sure I’d get the science wrong anyway. Suffice it to say that every speaker made me want to run out and buy ten books about whichever topic they were presenting.

The trip was not without drama. On Wednesday, we arrived at the conference venue several hours early to have a tech rehearsal for Ken’s performance, but security wouldn’t let anyone in the building. We finally managed to text someone with enough clout to come get us. After the rehearsal, we ran into Deborah, Stephen Hawking’s personal assistant (whose idea it was to have Ken bring an MC Hawking performance to Starmus). She informed us that earlier in the day, Stephen’s daughter alerted the police to a number of e-mails and tweets the professor was receiving from a woman who said she was nearby in Tenerife, planning to kill him. Deborah seemed mostly unfazed, telling us that Stephen gets “stuff like that all the time”, but that they still have to take it seriously, which is why security was heightened for the rest of the week. We later found out that the woman, an American who appeared to be both a religious fanatic and mentally ill, really was attending the conference and staying in a nearby hotel. They arrested her and found the professor’s itinerary along with detailed plans for his murder in her possession.

Ken started his performance with a brief speech introducing himself and how he came to be known as “MC Hawking”, and then showed a seven minute mockumentary entitled MC Hawking: A Brief History of Rhyme, narrated by voice actor Dave B. Mitchell. The film provided a fictional biography of Stephen Hawking’s origins as a gangster rapper, until a scientific breakthrough tragically pulled him away from rapping and back into theoretical astrophysics. Within the film, scientists were shown with their faces blurred and their names changed to protect their identity, but the crowd roared with laughter to see Dr. Harick Gisralean, Dr. Feel the Grass Bison, and Dr. Myron Bay (Garik Israelian, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Brian May, respectively) tell stories about Stephen Hawking as a rapper.

Ken, MC Lars, and I were backstage, nervously awaiting the crowd’s reaction while watching the film in reverse on the back of a large projection screen. Ken said “if we get some laughs at the first joke, we’re okay”. Our worst fear was that the crowd would be offended by the idea of the professor as a trash-talking, bling-wearing, gangster rapper. But even just thirty seconds into the mockumentary, the crowd was hysterical.

When the film ended, a backing music video started playing the first verse of the MC Hawking song, a brand-new track entitled Fear of a Black Hole. The “Stephen Hawking” voice sang the first verse, and then Ken and MC Lars went on stage to sing the chorus. Lars sang the next verse, backed up by Ken, followed by another chorus, and then I handed Ken his guitar for a solo.

I need to give Ken props here. Any musician might feel intimidated performing in front of a fairly large audience. Probably even more so performing in front of an audience that included the world’s foremost scientists and astrophysicists, as well as some Nobel Prize winners and at least eight or ten people who have spent time away from Earth. But Ken had to contend with all of that in addition to seeing Brian May, one of the greatest guitarists of all time, staring up at him from the front row. Ken told me later that at one point he looked down and saw Brian smiling at him and bobbing his head to the music, and he had to look away, or else he might forget to keep playing.

After the guitar solo, Ken and MC Lars finished with another chorus, during which Lars shouted “Get your black holes in the air!” The crowd as one all threw up a hand gesture mirroring the one Lars and Ken were doing, of a hole made by thumb and forefinger, pumping to the beat. From behind the stage curtain, I watched Brian May gesturing along with everyone else. Mind blown.

After the performance on Wednesday, all of the pressure was off and we could just have fun. We didn’t have to point at Ken’s conference badge to get into the VIP areas anymore; now everyone knew who we were. The lecture series ended on Wednesday, so we took Thursday off to snorkel with some sea turtles. Around the hotel, we hung out with scientists and celebrities.

IMG_5488

Ken and me with Dr. Feel the Grass Bison (wearing Ken’s E=mch bling)

On Friday, the conference moved to an auditorium about an hour north for the six-hour Sonic Universe concert. For the first hour or so, Hans Zimmer conducted an orchestra while Sarah Brightman sang. Rick Wakeman played piano while astronaut Chris Hadfield played guitar and sang David Bowie’s Space Oddity, just like he did on the International Space Station. Rick Wakeman then played Bowie’s Life on Mars on piano. Anathema played about an hour-long set, with Stephen Hawking on stage with them to provide narration during their first song, and eventually ending with Queen’s Who Wants to Live Forever. A pretty ballsy song choice actually, with Brian May sitting in the front row. During the intermission, Ken got to spend a few minutes with Professor Hawking.

 

kenhawking

Are you serious? That’s tight!

At the start of the final segment of the concert, astrophysicist Kip Thorne took the stage and briefly explained how he came up with the idea for the movie Interstellar, and how he worked closely with director Christopher Nolan and his team to create a science fiction movie that actually got the science part right. Effects artists Paul Franklin and Oliver James then explained how they took Kip’s direction and created visualizations for the film that showed what a black hole really would look like up close. This would have felt out-of-place in any other concert, but especially after a week of scientific lectures, nobody fidgeted in their seats.

The point of the lecture was to explain the visualizations that were shown next. Hans Zimmer returned to the stage with a couple of guitarists, a violinist, and a string quartet. He played a keyboard along with the musicians in a band he called “Kip Thorne and the Black Holes” while beautiful (and scientifically accurate) visualizations of black holes and neutron stars played on the screen behind them.

Nothing I’ve written or could write would do justice to the amazing experience I’ve had over the last week. I’m at nearly 1600 words and I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface. Back here in the “real world”, there are people who don’t believe in climate change or vaccinating their kids, let alone show any real interest in the science that is all around us. I’m starved for it now, and you should be too.

I’ll leave you with this challenge. This summer, go to the Museum of Science. Read Bang! The Complete History of the Universe or A Brief History of Time. Watch Cosmos: A Spacetime Oddessy, and also watch Interstellar. You see where I’m going with this, right? Get out there and learn something.

 

— Len Pal, July 5, 2016

Gloucester’s Ken Lawrence, AKA “MC Hawking”, to Perform for Stephen Hawking

By Len Pal, Clamrespondent and Co-Host of MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast

We here at Clammedia Towers have some pretty nerdy friends. (We’re drawn to others of our own kind.) And just as communities cheer on the success stories of local athletes, musicians, or businesspeople when they achieve national or global recognition, we must do the same for our local nerds.

Take Ken Lawrence, for example. On the exterior, one might not even notice what a gigantic nerd he is. (Sure, he’s a software engineer, but these days, who the hell isn’t?) Most folks from Gloucester just know him as a guitarist in the heavy metal band F-Bomb, which plays at bars on the North Shore about ten times a year. How nerdy can you be when you’re banging out guitar solos to songs by bands like AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Tool?

hawking

Ken Lawrence performing with F-Bomb

But beneath that badass rocker façade lies a nerdy underbelly the likes of which have not been seen since Lewis, Gilbert, Poindexter, and the rest of the Lamdas went up against the Alpha Betas back in ’84. About sixteen years ago, Ken discovered that his computer at work had a text-to-speech program, and he noticed that when it read what he typed, it sounded a lot like Stephen Hawking. For fun, he keyed in some rhymes and made it rap.

That got a lot of laughs out of his co-workers. He could have just stopped there. Instead, he went home and wrote a few rap songs and put them on the Internet, purporting to be “lost tracks” uncovered from Stephen Hawking’s “largely unknown career as a gangsta rapper”. He created an MC Hawking website that included the songs, lyrics, some brilliantly photoshopped images of Professor Hawking alongside rap legends like Run DMC, NWA, and the Beastie Boys, and a fictional biography of Hawking’s path to rapping.

hawking 2

MC Hawking and Coolio Dropping Science

And people dug it. I mean, like, a lot. Think about it: who was using the Internet for more than e-mail in the late nineties? Mostly nerds. Hey, even the real Stephen Hawking heard it, and found it flattering, likening it to Spitting Image. And right around that time, a couple of other nerdy rappers were putting songs up there too. It became a whole thing. A rapper named MC Frontalot coined the term “nerdcore hip-hop”, and it stuck.

People wanted more MC Hawking tracks, and eventually Brash Records signed Ken to create a full-length album, A Brief History of Rhyme: MC Hawking’s Greatest Hits, released in 2004. It featured staple braggadocio rap tracks like The Mighty Stephen Hawking and E=MC Hawking, gang-style tracks like All My Shootings Be Drive-Bys, and most notably, the science tracks. UFT for the MC explains the concept of a unified field theory, and why it is so important. The Big Bizang describes the birth of our universe. And Entropy uses the melody of Naughty by Nature’s O.P.P. to explain the principles of entropy in such plain English that science teachers started using it in classrooms.

The album also included a few skits voiced by a voice actor named Dave B. Mitchell. You probably don’t recognize his name, but if you play a fair amount of video games, or watch the National Geographic channel, or for some reason you like the San Jose Sharks, you’ve probably heard Dave’s voice. Oh, and did I mention that the album cover art was done by Tony Moore, one of the creators of The Walking Dead?

hawking 3

Album Cover: A Brief History of Rhyme

Great stuff, right? You can listen to it on Youtube or buy it on iTunes (Warning: explicit lyrics and dope rhymes). “Wow, Len!” you’re probably saying. “You’re right! These songs are great. Ken must have gone on to become super rich and famous! And hey, have you lost weight?” Well, maybe a few pounds. It’s a struggle; I mostly work at a desk, and I really like brie, pasta, and Oreos. As for Ken, real life happened. Ken slacked off because like all of us, he has a job, other hobbies, and ten cats. Well, I don’t have ten cats, but Ken tells me that it’s totally normal to have ten, and that having ten cats doesn’t make him weird at all.

So the follow-up album sat on the back-burner for a really long time. A few years ago, Ken said “Hey, I got an idea for an MC Hawking podcast, and maybe that will motivate me to get going on more songs and stuff.” And so we did that, and maybe the effort level on new MC Hawking tracks went from about 5% to about 15%. But then one night when we were about to record an episode of the podcast, Ken said “Check out this e-mail I just got…”

It was from Deborah, Stephen Hawking’s personal assistant. She was writing because this year’s Starmus Festival in Spain’s Canary Islands was going to honor Stephen. The festival’s founder, Garik Israelian, hoped that MC Hawking could come to the festival to perform for the professor.

Um, what?

That’s right, they want MC Hawking to perform live on stage for the real Stephen Hawking (along with all of the other attendees and delegates, including eleven Nobel laureates, a handful of famous musicians and composers, and a whole bunch of scientists and astronauts. They’re nerds, but will they get it? We hope so. But how the heck do you perform an MC Hawking track live? They know the voice comes out of a computer, right?

The festival was hoping Ken would write a new song, and figure out a way to make it work on stage. They also hoped he’d allow a guest on the track, and spent a lot of time trying to get RZA from the Wu, but there were communication issues, and so Ken reached out to MC Lars, a nerdcore rapper most known for rapping about literature. (I wrote about him for the Clam a while back.)

The finished product is a track called Fear of a Black Hole. Inspired by Stephen Hawking’s recent discovery that energy isn’t destroyed in a black hole, but instead is simply changed, the track applies that as a metaphor for dealing with adversity or depression: “No matter how low you go, energy can never be destroyed.” To make the song work for a live performance, it includes verses using the regular “MC Hawking” voice (as well as a verse by MC Lars), and Ken’s and MC Lars’ voices on the chorus. Ken will also perform the guitar solo live.

And so on Sunday, Ken will be arriving in Tenerife. (And me too, because I weaseled my way into the trip.) On Wednesday, he’ll perform.

It’s been a long time coming, so go on: Cheer for your local nerd hero.

hAWKING4

Sure, let’s send a bunch of pale nerds to a subtropical island.

Beauport Hotel Opens Doors to Birdseye, Frozen Food Pioneer

15gloucester(2)-14A

[The Beauport Hotel, open for business]

GLOUCESTER— On Saturday evening, visitors to Gloucester’s brand new Beauport Hotel found themselves gawking at more than just glorious views of the city’s outer harbor.

Propped up on a chic striped chair in the hotel’s lobby was none other than Clarence F. Birdseye, the 70-year-old founder of General Seafood Corporation.

Originally occupying the hotel’s 2-acre footprint on Pavilion Beach, the General Seafood factory processed locally-caught fish using a flash-freezing technique pioneered by Birdseye himself. The factory iced its final fillets in 2003 but stood neglected—a monument to Gloucester’s declining fishing industry—until August 2014, when a wrecking ball made way for the Beauport.

gloucester-1

[Birdseye’s old stomping grounds, Pavilion Beach]

Allison Hartwell, a hotel guest from Peoria, Illinois, spotted Birdseye as she and her husband passed through the lobby on their way to the elevator.

“At first I thought he was just another stinking rich old guy,” she said. “You know, sneaking a nap after a long day on the water.”

“Rich and stinking, turns out,” said her husband, Ron.

Birdseye, whose company was eventually sold for $22 million to Post Cereals, suffered a heart attack and died in October 1956.

Clarence Birdseye

[Clarence Birdseye, prior to fatal heart attack]

Per instructions in his will, Birdseye’s remains were sent to the Gloucester factory, where he was treated to the same flash-freezing that had preserved so many a cod.

Birdseye’s technique, designed to cause less damage to frozen tissue than slow-freezing methods, was eventually applied to fruits and vegetables as well, revolutionizing the business of convenience food.

“I’m in auto sales,” said Ron Hartwell. “So I don’t know much about tissue damage at the cellular level. But this guy looked a little worse for wear.”

Birdseye’s defrosted remains had been dressed in smart linen trousers and a ‘Viva!’ tee-shirt from the Beauport’s gift shop. Yet, according to Allison Hartwell and other guests, these efforts were insufficient.

“His color was off,” she said. “It screamed ‘meat locker,’ rather than a sun-kissed Gloucester afternoon.”

“Plus, there was the puddle at his feet,” her husband added. Called “leakage” in food industry parlance, this liquid can be indicative of improper storage.

“I’m not sure if the hotel was going for a kitschy Weekend at Bernie’s vibe or what,” said Hartwell. “But to me the guy was creepy.”

11eb8babec9938640be1dc8640eb0a86

[Same deal, minus the mob subplot]

Asked to comment on their half-thawed guest of honor, hotel general manager David Conti explained: “Look, the idea was part of our commitment to honor Gloucester’s traditions.”

“We already wanted to display old-timey photos of Mr. Birdseye and the factory, plus a microscope he owned,” Conti said. “So when we discovered his cadaver had been sold along with the property, it seemed like a logical extension.”

The hotel’s other nods to local history include the name of its restaurant, 1606, the year Samuel de Champlain sailed into the harbor and named the area “Le Beau Port.”

Still, Conti admitted that the staging of Birdseye’s corpse had not been well received. “Good idea,” he said. “But poor execution.”

“If it had been up to me,” Conti continued, “we’d have dressed him in period attire—say, the double-breasted suit and Trilby cap of Birdseye’s heyday.”

Speaking under condition of anonymity, another Beauport employee elaborated on the hotel’s motivations: “Let’s just say the investors have been pretty desperate to get locals onboard.”

The anonymous source seemed to be referring to the contentious debate surrounding the sale and development of the waterfront parcel in Gloucester’s Fort Square neighborhood. In 2013, many residents fiercely protested the City Council’s decision to approve the hotel.

Despite the boost to the local economy, including nearly 200 full and part-time jobs, objections persist.

“Trampling on our history is what it is,” said Leo Palmieri, who owns a home adjacent to the hotel and obtained his first job at the General Seafood factory in 1951. “I remember Mr. Birdseye,” Palmieri continued. “Hard as nails and bald as a badger’s ass.”

Having learned that Birdseye was on-site, the former employee stopped by the Beauport lobby on Saturday evening. “Looked like he needed a drink,” Palmieri said.

Palmieri explained that he’d tried to shuffle Birdseye up to the hotel’s rooftop bar, named Bird’s Eye Lounge in honor of the frozen food tycoon.

“We were turned away,” Palmieri said. “Overnight guests only.”

Conti, the Beauport’s manager, admitted that the hotel had enforced the policy, notwithstanding Birdseye’s status as the bar’s namesake. “Really, it was more of a health code thing,” he said.

Reflecting on the tensions between Gloucester’s past, present, and future, Palmieri offered this final assessment: “Mark my words. The fishing industry will be back and better than ever.”  He raised his eyes to the outer harbor, empty aside from the merry bobbing of a few pleasure boats.  “Just like ol’ Birdseye.”

beauportroof

[Serving Corpse Revivers, but not to actual corpses]

No Snark Sunday: I’m a Bad Parent Too By Len Pal, Clamrespondent and Co-Host of MC Hawking’s Podcore Nerdcast

I’m a Bad Parent Too

So this one time when Tiffany was little, her mom and I took her to the playroom in the downstairs section of the North Shore Mall in Peabody, MA. Her mom and I were talking (or maybe bickering a little) and we looked away for maybe a second. (That’s what it felt like, anyway.)

“Where’s Tiff?” one of us said.

“She was just right over there.”

(Okay, but she wasn’t right over there anymore.)

We searched the whole playroom quickly and she wasn’t there. I ran out and spotted her wandering onto the escalator about fifty meters away. I ran — this was before I smoked, so I could run fifty meters without collapsing, especially with all that panic-fueled adrenaline — and I caught up to her right before the top of the escalator. Panic turned into crazy relief that a close call was over; my little girl was safe. I felt pretty good about myself; I had saved the day. #BigDamnHero

This past weekend at the Cincinnati Zoo, a three-year-old boy somehow managed to get into the enclosure of a 450-pound gorilla named Harambe. The gorilla grabbed the boy and started dragging him around the enclosure. (You may have seen the video; it was pretty scary.) The zoo’s response team eventually determined that the only way to ensure the boy’s safety would be to kill Harambe. The boy was recovered with minor injuries, but Harambe wasn’t as lucky.

The internet loves this kind of tragedy, because everyone knows how it could have been prevented. We blame the mother, because if mom kept better watch of her kid, Harambe would be alive. We blame the zoo, because if they had better enclosures, Harambe would be alive. We blame the response team, because if they had used tranquilizers instead of bullets*, Harambe would be alive. We blame the very concept of zoos, because if we didn’t put animals behind bars, Harambe would be alive. We blame the kid’s dad, who wasn’t even with them at the zoo, because somehow if he didn’t have a criminal record, Harambe would be alive.

What happened to Harembe sucks. What that kid went through sucks. What the parents are going through sucks. And what the zoo is going through sucks. Nobody walked away with a smile on their face.

But I digress…

Look, people. It’s easy to blame the parent, but I’m betting that she and I aren’t the only two parents in the world that looked away for a second or two. (Really I’m betting nearly every parent has at one time or another, whether their kid did something dangerous in that time or not.) But we learn from our mistakes, and we keep loving our kids and try to keep them safe, despite how crafty the little buggers are.

So if that mom is a bad parent, I suppose I am, as well.

Len Pal – #ImABadParentToo

* Experts have agreed that using tranquilizers would have likely resulted in the child’s death. They’re not instantaneous like they are in the movies, and would probably have enraged the gorilla for a short time before he went unconscious – long enough for him to do serious harm.