So the fun part first. And it's a lot of fun. Mark Rosenthal runs Animal Magic, the Motor City Furry Con 2016 charity group. The objective was to raise money for a new sloth enclosure. The con raised something like eight thousand dollars, which ought to set him up very well for enclosing sloths.
Rosenthal would run shows on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday's started a bit late. It seemed like the room wasn't quite staged right, but the room had been clear since the start of the fursuit parade so, who knows. Given the name of his sanctuary, Animal Magic, I expected it would be a magic show with animals. Logical guess, although the only bit of real stage magic was at the end, when he made a hedgehog vanish into a collapsible table.
Rosenthal's a great performer. He's got a strong sense of showmanship. He'd pull out a lot of fine routines, with a well-honed comic presence. And he's got a great way of making the audience feel in on a secret. Most all the animals he showed off he emphasized he almost never shows but since the furries are this special group he'll let them see this just this once. How yes, he's got a sloth and nobody but nobody can bring a sloth around to public shows except him, because they normally hate travel and just can't do it. How he's turned down America's Got Talent's request to have him show his animals, because he just can't be away from his sanctuary to drive there, and he won't fly, or make his animals fly. How he's the only person to turn down America's Got Talent. How he keeps rejecting requests from the late-night talk shows to show off animals, again because he won't fly and can't drive that far for a mere talk show. How many times he'd been injured by animals, even killed twice, and brought back by the wonders of good health care, and how he kept at it because of his love for the animals. How, ahead of this stunt --- while there wasn't any particular reason to think it would end with his mauling --- he must ask that no one record this performance, because in the unlikely but still possible event of his death he couldn't bear to have his kids seeing video footage of his death. Isn't that right, daughter in the back of the room?
OK, my text is flat, compared to his performance. Maybe you get some sense of how good it is, though, in inviting the audience in and making us feel like we're getting something special and rare and extraordinary.
He showed off maybe eight animals or so. Some were pretty low-key, easy-to-understand animals like a tarantula or a milk snake. Exciting, especially when you test how sure someone is about that mnemonic rhyme for telling a milk snake from a coral snake. There turn out to be several variants on this mnemonic, although the ones that I didn't know as a kid are all weird and wrong. This progressed into some more exotic and exciting animals, like the ... ah ... I think it was a mouse lemur he said he'd just received and couldn't promise that it would not freak out in front of a crowd and leap into the rafters never to be seen again. The lemur(?) didn't, and was perfectly well-behaved, eating grapes on Rosenthal's shoulder.
They'd get more adorable. He had, as I mentioned in that huge paragraph up there, a sloth. It was kept in a plastic bin, the kind you might put your winter clothes in for storage in the attic. The bin's lid had a little branch hung from it, and the sloth held from that. And he did a stunt --- the one he asked for people not to video lest it go wrong --- of having the sloth eat a peanut out of his mouth.
And the high point of the show, though not the last act, was introduced as a werewolf. He explained how the animal's name was
Peanut Popcorn. He spoke of how the name of the species could not be pronounced because it came from an ancient language no one speaks. And I started to realize what he was talking about. It was a binturong.
See, a weird thing about binturongs is they smell like singed popcorn. It's something about their musk glands. It's pretty distinctive.
Rosenthal explained how he had, some years ago, been attacked by a binturong and been on the brink of death, maybe actually dead and barely recovered. But then he heard of a zoo that needed to get rid of a binturong that had attacked a keeper, and he was willing to keep it, and this was a perfect matching for them. He explained how she was his darling, and of how one time he had stopped at Taco Bell drive-through as an easy way to get a vegetarian meal anywhere, and she was in the cage in the front seat with him, and she took a moment of distraction to snork down his burrito, paper and all.
If you don't know what a binturong is, imagine a ferret. Make it black. now make it huge, like the apocryphal giant ferret monsters of Devilbunnies lore. Now you have it. And he was awesome, playing with it the way anyone might play with their ferrets. Popcorn scampered around the table, leapt on him, got pressed onto her back and given belly-rubs, by him, no one else. Adorable and awesome.
Afterward, in yet another thing he said he was doing just for the furries and just because it was an extraordinary chance, he would allow people to get their photographs taken with the sloth. Not carrying it, of course, or even being actually near it. The sloth would be, its mood permitting, hung on a branch rigged up for it and you could get a photograph taken and printed out by him while you stood about three feet away.
Its mood was permitting, and I lined up for it, and gave my $20 for a real printed-out photograph of me standing in front of the coat room, near a sloth who had little reason to ponder my existence.
I feel dumb about it now.
Trivia: X-15 Auxiliary Power Units, for supplying hydraulic and electric power, were started twelve minutes prior to the plane's launch. Before that the B-52 carrying the craft to altitude provided power. Source: At The Edge Of Space: The X-15 Flight Program, Milton O Thompson.
Currently Reading: Ain't That A Knee-Slapper: Rural Comedy in the 20th Century, Tom Hollis.
PS: How, Arguably, Very Slightly Less Well April 2016 Treated My Mathematics Blog, a readership report thing.