Thursday, June 01, 2006

Taming of the Zebra

Ozzie and Harriet have been extremely diligent about preparing the house for a young child. Our domicile is replete with baby gates, cribs, changing tables, diapers, and sufficient clothing for nearly a year. I fret that Ozzie's work has not been completed, but, in the grand scheme of things, the specific date on an article is less important that the health and well-being of a child (not to mention Harriet's sanity).

There is one aspect of household readiness that I fear was overlooked: namely, our zebra infestation. Our humble abode has been inundated with zebras for quite some time. The net result of the collection of feral animals is an impressive cacophony. Harriet attributes her difficulty sleeping to the pregnancy, however I suspect that the neighing, shedding, and destructive members of the horse family who have taken up residence may be a contributing factor. I recognize that standards in child rearing have changed over the years, but I refuse to believe that it is acceptable for newborns to be exposed to feral zebra.

To rectify the situation, I set out to domesticate our zebra house guests. Taming wild animals is not an activity in which I generally find myself engaged. However, I reasoned that training the reckless zebras could be no more difficult than wrestling with the unruly truths of our universe. So I set about my task with the stealy resolve of a person possessed of knowledge.

My first salvo sought to reason with the zebras. I must admit that the zebras struck me as a brutish lot incapable of reasoning, but I did not want to prejudge the analytic capicities of the zebra. Thus I approached the zebra with a cursory description of Hobbes' central argument in Leviathan explaining why we submit to government. Surely the zebras would value the culture and security that derive from submitting to customs, norms, rules, and governance. Unsurprisingy, the zebras remained unpersuaded. However, I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback when a large pile of couch stuffing was thrown at me. Clearly, these zebras were not of a philosophical bent.

My second stratagem attempted to win over the zebras with simple bribery. In nature, zebras prefer to eat short grass. However, I had noticed that in our household the zebras consume high caloric food stuffs such as sugars and complex starches. One wonders whether zebra diabetes would be a problem in the savana were zebras to have access to such fatting items. The weakness for sweets was my entry and I endeavored to curry the favor of the zebras by presenting them with cheesecakes. I must admit that they were excellent New York Style cheesecakes purchased from a local specialty store and would tempt any creature with a sweet tooth. In exchange for consistently good behavior, I would provide one cheesecake a week. As one might expect, the zebras highly discount future benefits and simply trampled me in their rush to the cheesecake. Ultimately, the plan to reward the zebras completely backfired. The zebras overturned a large portion of the kitchen in their sugar induced revelry.

While the zebras were sleeping off their sugar highs, I regrouped and rethought my tactics. My initial assumptions proved unduly optimistic. Clearly I was overestimating the capacities of the zebras. Rather than treating the zebras as reasoning creatures, I would train them like simple animals. If BF Skinner could train pigeons, surely I could meet with some success on zebras. [Note: In no way do I wish to compare my intellect to Skinner's, but the enhanced brain development in mammals should provide better raw material than avian cranial capacity.]

Ideally, an animal trainer relies upon positive and negative reinforcement rather than punishment. Punishment often encourages creatures to avoid detection rather than truly alter behavior, so punishment is merely a short term fix. However, the baby could arrive any day, so time was of the essence and I decided to utilize punishment in my training regime. [Note: I must also sheepishly admit that I was still smarting from having boysenberry cheesecake rubbed into my skin. Revenge is an ugly emotion and I fear I may have succumb.]

I laid out the following set of rules for the zebra. As long as they remained relatively quiet, did not break furniture, and generally wreak havoc, a DVD of Racing Stripes would play. If any furniture were destroyed or the dinn rise to uncontrollable levels, Racing Stripes would be shut off (i.e., negative reinforcement). If the zebra were especially well behaved, then popcorn and caffeine free diet soda would be provided during the movie (i.e., positive reinforcement). However, should the wheels fall off and the house descend into zebra led chaos, then I would turn on Air Supply (i.e., punishment). Goofball complained that hearing Air Supply was punishment for the entire house, and it was difficult to disagree. However, drastic action needed to be taken in order to properly condition the zebra. Furthermore, I was forced to endure countless hours of watching the putrid Racing Stripes and viewed my share of the collective pain as more than fair. Were there other zebra-themed movies available at the movie store, I would have opted for better entertainment.

The effects of the training were swift and dramatic.

Zebras Just Chillin

Notice that the zebras are calmly sitting in one space. There is no hiding, biting, breying, breaking, or vandalism. Two of the zebras are even wearing clothing. I was stunned at the rapid transformation.

Mortified zebras

Apparently the zebras were as well.

I now feel more confident that a child can be properly raised in this household.


Blogger Tales from the bush said...

How did you really train the zebras? We have two bears , a pig and a rhino who rule our lives!

10:04 AM  

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