Awards season is upon us, that time of year when we stave off the winter blues by watching befrocked Best Actress winners weep and neglect to thank their husbands.Since the line between movies and real life has become so blurry—as D-listers everywhere vie to keep up with the Kardashians, and cable channels and tabloid magazines swim with celebrity spawn—it’s high time we recognize the famous and flawed moms who make us mortals feel better about our own parenting.

INTRODUCTION:

 

David Shields has talked extensively about Reality Hunger over the past year. This February the paperback will be released. Also forthcoming this month, The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death, edited by David Shields and Bradford Morrow, with essays from Geoff Dyer, Jonathan Safran Zoer, and Joyce Carol Oates, among others. But what else, besides death and reality, does David Shields think about?  David confided over dinner at Seattle icon, Restaurant Zoe, that Tracy Morgan’s recent comment about Sarah Palin being great “masturbation material” provided the chuckle of the week. He was obviously distracted and transfixed by the culinary displays…the small plates, the olive tapenade amuse-bouche, and the root of celery crème fraîche, and who wouldn’t be? But I wanted to probe deeper. Using questions often directed at jocks, specifically Charles Barkley, we did a quick Q&A. I substituted “work of art” for “basketball team”, “Jonathan Franzen” for “Lebron James”, and “literary game” for “the NBA game”.    

Angelina Jolie has everything—a successful career, a romance with Brad Pitt, a crew of cute kids and millions in the bank—except for the one thing she really needs: friends. “Angelia is hungry for normal moms to be around,” a source close to the star, 34, tells Hot Stuff. “She feels like she lives in a bubble.” She’s also having trouble managing stress, says a second insider, who notes that Jolie “has been overwhelmed lately with the children. She has nannies, but she likes to do it all herself. She’s very hands-on—but she’s exhausted!”

Us Weekly, January 4, 2010

 

Dear Angelina,

I’m writing today in response to the above-referenced piece in Us Weekly’s “Hot Stuff” section, which I read as a cry for help.

Let me begin by saying that, as a “co-parent” to two lovely children, Dominick, 5, and Prudence, 3, I totally understand what you’re going through. It’s hard enough making friends with other mommies and daddies, but for someone as in the public eye as you are? Wowsers.

Put it this way: if my only option for parental peerage consisted of Katie Holmes and Victoria Beckham, I’d live in semi-isolation, too. Who wants to go to all those soccer games?

The truth is, other than your choice of profession—and the movie-star good looks—you have little in common with most Hollywood moms (Kendra and Kourtney? Kome on). Your slender physique and great beauty belie the fact that you are quite the heavy. You’ve got gravitas, girl. And that must take its toll. Between the visits to Third World countries, the U.N. Goodwill Ambassadorship, Beyond Borders, and Notes From My Travels—not to mention a slate of roles in particularly downer films (A Mighty Heart, Changeling)—you, my dear, are desperately in need of a little sunshine.

And I know just the person to provide that sunshine, not to mention the sororial bonding you need from another in-the-trenches mommy: my wife, Stephanie.

I think you and Steph would, like, totally hit it off. I mean, you have a lot in common: You both had reluctant C-sections. You both lost your mother to cancer. You’re both of French-Canadian/Native American stock. You both like Atlas Shrugged. You’re married to two of the sexiest bohunks alive, both of whom are repped by the same film agency. You’re the same age (OK, Steph is a tiny bit older than you, but she’s still way younger than Brad). And you know how you’re a political lefty but your dad voted for McCain? Same with Stephanie!

Because she lived in the East Village for fifteen years, my wife won’t be wowed by your enormous celebrity. She went to school with Taye Diggs, she has friends who write for SNL, her best friend played Marius in Les Mis on Broadway. (Plus, not to toot my own horn here, but she shares a bed with the author of Totally Killer and the senior editor of the hottest literary site on the Web). In fact, other than the time she accosted Matthew Broderick in the health food store and told him she thought he was “the best comedic actor ever” before turning tail and fleeing in shame, Steph is totally chill when it comes to hobnobbing with the rich and famous. She knows that what Us Weekly says about stars is bang-on true—they’re just like us!

What else you might like to know is that Steph is both a talented musician and a graduate student pursuing a masters in mental health counseling. So not only can she serve as a sounding board/therapist and help you manage the stress we read about in said magazine—and frankly, it’s refreshing to hear that movie stars feel stress about their children that doesn’t involve finding discreet babysitters so they can stay out all night with other movie stars—she can also belt out a killer rendition of “Wheels on the Bus.” Plus, she’s really funny, and she does a top notch Scarlett Johansson impression.

Me, you’ve obviously heard of, because of my affiliation with this fine online magazine and because I drew a standing-room-only crowd at my reading with Duke Haney at Book Soup in West Hollywood a few weeks back. What you may not know is, I’ve spent the last five years as a sort-of stay-at-home dad, eking out a living doing freelance work. Sort of like you with Kung Fu Panda, but with a much smaller paycheck. Also, I’m an astrologer, so I can do your chart (assuming the birth time on IMDB is accurate, I already know that you’re a Cancer Rising and that Venus conjuncts your Ascendant, which means, if you will forgive a technical horoscopy term, that you’re hot).


Brangelina, meet Grephanie

Brangelina, meet Grephanie

We live in New Paltz, a charming and crunchy college town in New York’s Hudson Valley. I know you spent time in Albany while filming your upcoming blockbuster Salt. Let me assure you: this ain’t Albany. Unlike the state capital, New Paltz is a place that tourists actually want to visit. Mohonk Mountain House is here—many movies have been shot there, as you are no doubt aware—plus we have Huguenot Street, the oldest residential street in North America. Brad will like that, because he’s an architecture buff.

You know who else is an architecture buff? Our son, Dominick. He just turned five, and he spent all afternoon reading A Field Guide to American Houses, which American Libraries cleverly calls “the definitive field guide to American homes.” He knows the subtle differences between the Beaux Arts and Second Empire styles, and he really wants to visit Cleveland because of all the lovely historic homes there. More to the point, there’s a girl in his dance class who sort of looks like Zahara, and he really likes her. This bodes well for playdates.

As for our daughter, Prudence and Shiloh are the same age, and they both have awesome names. (Let me take a moment to compliment you on your good taste in that department. Maddox, Zahara, Pax, Shiloh, Knox, Vivienne…not a clunker in the bunch. No Apples, no Moseses, and no Olives, because Olive Pitt doesn’t quite work.) If Shiloh enjoys riding tricycles, belting out tunes at the top of her lungs, and playing non-competitive games of hide-and-seek, she’ll get along with Prue just fine.

While it’s true that New Paltz is quite a distance from Los Angeles, New Orleans, Paris, Berlin, Phnom Penh, Namibia, and other places where we think you might maintain residences—and, while we’re on the topic, might I suggest that, exhilarating as globe-trotting must be, especially under the imprimatur of the United Nations, it might be easier for both you and your children to make friends if you commit to a single locale—we are right down the road from Woodstock, so it’s not like we’ve never seen celebrities before (although so many of our citizens support a mandatory death sentence for television that it’s entirely possible that you could accompany Stephanie to Bacchus for a few Fin du Mondes and TMZ would never be the wiser).

Another thing: Stephanie already has a really great circle of mommy friends. These are ladies you would really dig. Liz, who has four kids—including twins, like you—is really funny and down to earth and has great taste in music. S.L., like you, has lots of tattoos and tastes that run Goth; I don’t think she’d wear her husband’s blood in a vial around her neck, but the idea wouldn’t repulse her. And check this: Elizabeth and her husband Tim have two adoptive children from Guatemala, and next month, they’re getting two more, this time from Rwanda. That’s right—Rwanda. Plus, Tim’s car runs on vegetable oil. I bet even Leo’s car doesn’t do that.

Oh, and there’s this. I’ve heard the rumors that you and Brad occasionally run into conflict because from time to time you like to—how shall I put this?—put the “XX” in sex. (I’m guessing that’s what you meant when you told Das Neue last week that you “doubt that fidelity is absolutely essential for a relationship.”) Assuming these rumors are legit, and not a feeble attempt by your Foxfire co-star Jenny Shimizu to resuscitate her career, let’s just say that in these parts, we tend to be quite liberal when it comes to that sort of thing. We’re down with bisexual OPP.

True, Stephanie and I have never broached the subject. But say you guys were hanging out, availing yourselves of the drink specials while grooving to the Big Shoe show at Oasis, and one thing led to another…who am I to deny the happiness of the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency?

The point is, you’ll find my wife and I very supportive of your lifestyle choices. Like, we think it’s really cool that you guys won’t get married until marriage is a universal right. In fact, one of the reasons we moved to New Paltz is because our then-mayor, Jason West, performed gay marriages at Village Hall. Like I said, this ain’t Albany.

If you’d rather not relocate from sunny Los Angeles to a place where the winters are cold and slush-filled and the Subarus outnumber the Porsches just to cultivate a friendship with a woman you met by reading a letter her husband wrote on a Web site whose influence, while mighty, was insufficient to convince Janeane Garofalo to boink a handsome and debonair Aussie fifteen years her junior…hey, I understand. I won’t take it personally. But if you’re willing to give it a shot, have “your people” call “our people,” and let’s set up a playdate. You won’t be disappointed.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Best regards,

Greg Olear

PS

We have a jumpy castle.

Outfoxed

By Slade Ham

Rants

Is it possible that we give some people too much credit? I understand the concept of “celebrity”, and I understand some people’s fascination with other people. I can grasp how you could become enthralled with an actor or musician’s body of work, or even when someone has a simply superficial attraction to somebody else.

But I do not get Megan Fox.

I’m sure this will generate a slew of replies that 1) will be from women that jealously agree with me, or 2) will be from guys calling me gay. Either way, that’s fine. I refuse to jump on the bandwagon though. I won’t spend five hundred words listing actresses that I think are more attractive either. That would be boring. Instead, I am more interested in how she hit the top to begin with.

First off, I don’t want to pretend that I don’t think Megan is beautiful. Stevie Wonder thinks Megan Fox is hot, and I only use Stevie here because there aren’t any other really well known blind people anymore. Who else knows Andrea Bocelli is blind? Exactly. He would find her amazingly attractive as well though, I’m sure. Still, the hottest person on the planet? I passed a girl in the aisle at Kroger earlier this week that made Megan Fox look like Snuffleupagus. THAT girl needs to co-star in a movie or a have TV show or be plastered on the cover of Maxim magazine.

At the very least, she needs a webcam.

Still, Megan Fox is “The Sexiest Woman in the World” according to FHM. And I’m sure she deserves to be up there… somewhere. She has to lose points though for having “”there once was a little girl who never knew love until a boy broke her HEART,”” tattooed on her rib cage. That’s not something you get inked on your body, that’s something that belongs in glitter letters on your MySpace page. She also has a yin-yang tattoo on her wrist and the Chinese word for “strength” on the back of her neck. I love tattoos on women, but seriously… she, and pretty much every other twenty year old girl with thirty disposable dollars, has an Asian symbol on her back.

That’s not sexy.

It’s obvious to me though that we needed her. That’s the only explanation. Let’s face it; Angelina Jolie fell off the haystack a while ago. I think it was somewhere between Kid One and Kid Six though I can’t pinpoint it exactly. As a people, we needed another “her”. Another Angelina. Someone that guys could lose their minds over and women could claim to be in love with as well. If I could seriously get a dollar for every time I heard a girl say, “I would totally go lesbian for Angelina Jolie” I would actually have enough money to buy both Megan Fox and Annalynne McCord.

But Angelina is thirty-four now and married and has a gaggle of Benetton children. It’s time for a newer model…

And before you try to sway me on this, I’m sure Megan is brilliant and charming and funny and all of that other crap. I’ve read an interview or two with her and she does have some attitude. I like it. I’m just sick of hearing about it. Nobody is THAT hot.

But Slade, she is the PERFECT woman. Why? Let me take a stab at it.

Is it because she claims to be bisexual and says she fell in love with a stripper when she was eighteen? Is it because she supports the legalization of marijuana? And she loves comic books? And Wikipedia says she named her dog after Sid Vicious? Is anybody really buying this? It sounds a little manufactured to me.

But it works, so good for you Megan.

You have taken over the world with bullshit. In ten years she too will have grown up. You can’t take seriously the words of a twenty-three year old actress. Whatever she’s selling is most likely a lie. That’s what twenty-three year old girls sell. It’s not even her fault; it’s just what’s in the inventory.

She’ll grow out of it.

If you’re like me and you’re waiting for the crash, just stay patient until she marries Shia LaBeouf. Give her a decade and watch what happens when Transformers 6 doesn’t do so well because she has popped out triplets, put on a little weight, and adopted her own herd of Malaysian kids.

Life is funny. I mean, just when you think that you’ll never get a newborn Kenyan cow named after you, WHAM!, you hear the sweet pitter patter of little hooves. As I type this, Rob the Cow (who, by the way, is quite the looker) is happily grazing in the Kenyan village of Sauri (population: 4,214 cows and nearly that many people). When I first met the future Rob, he was approximately three hours old, just a newborn, naked and nameless. We were introduced to one another towards the end of the two-week African safari that I took with my wife Julie and her parents.

You’re probably wondering, “How the heck did you get a cow named after him?!? Are you, like, a Cow Whisperer or something?” The answer to the second question is NO. Believe it or not, I’m not even that good with animals. This probably stems from the fact that, before this trip, the only time I’d encountered wild animals was while riding The Jungle Cruise at Disney World (oh, and diving away from an angry stampede of senior citizens en route to the General Tso tray at the all-you-can-eat China King buffet in Ft. Lauderdale). Soooo when Julie asked me if I wanted to go to Kenya with her family, naturally I was excited. And not just because her parents were paying.

Julie’s parents are soil scientists whose jobs require them to live in Kenya about six months of the year. This qualifies them as official Kenyan residents, which is a pretty big deal because, in addition to receiving junk mail (“You might already be a winner! Return this card and win a free cow!”), they get to participate in the traditional Kenyan Welcoming Ceremony where each new resident, upon receiving their pair of complimentary running sneakers, is asked to recite the Kenyan Creed. I’m paraphrasing: “I vow to face each day with strength and bravery, taking on all challenges, laughing in the face of danger, doing my best to seek out dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations, under strict accordance with the Fear Nothing Principle.”

The Fear Nothing Principle, as explained by The Idiot’s Guide to Avoid Getting Eaten by a Lion, has only one rule: fear nothing. Allow me to clarify. Nothing, in this case, includes everything that might worry someone (me) who’s traveling to Africa for the first time (again, me). My father-in-law, who has lived in Kenya for over fifteen years and is the only man I know that has caught a shark WITH HIS BARE HANDS, then placed it (still alive) into a household bathtub, is diehard follower of the Fear Nothing Principle. That’s bad news for me.

You see, when it comes to things like disease, infection, and wild animals that could remove all the flesh from my body in 0.2 seconds, I prefer to follow the somewhat safer, yet no doubt less manly, Fear Everything Principle. Sure, I understand this mindset might make some men feel weenie-like, but personally, I’ve grown pretty accustomed to the Fear Everything Principle over the years—really ever since 1988 when I became the talk of Camp Coleman for being “the kid who got the funky purplish rash over his entire body from playing in the woods and had to spend three weeks quarantined in an empty cabin that smelled like socks and warm cheese.”

So there you have it. A Fear Nothinger and a Fear Everythinger going on a safari to deepest, darkest Africa. Man, this has TV magic written all over it! So if you’re a TV exec looking for your next ratings hit, I’ve got just the thing for you! It’s called “Nothing to Fear but Everything” (it’s a working title) and it follows the wacky adventures of a modern-day odd couple as they trek through the jungles of Africa. It’s your classic fish out of water story meets Cinderella story meets swashbuckling blockbuster meets any other popular cliché that would help get the show on the air. And best of all, it’s based on real life so the scripts practically write themselves! For example, here’s an unedited transcript of an actual phone call I had with my father-in-law prior to the trip. As you’ll see, like any good sitcom, hijinks ensued.

ME: How many different travel vaccines do I need?
HIM: Why would you need vaccines?
ME: What about Malaria pills? Don’t I need those?
HIM: What for?
ME: What happens if we’re viciously attacked by a pride of hungry lions?
HIM: There’s nothing to worry about as long as you have your running shoes. And a change of underwear.

But don’t get me wrong; it’s not that my father-in-law didn’t care about my fears. He just didn’t think there was anything to be afraid of! Take our first day in Kenya, for example. When our jeep’s engine overheated and we were stranded on the side on the highway—and by “highway” I mean “dirt path in the middle of nowhere with nothing around us but 50,000 acres of dust and rocks”—he simply shouted out: “Everything’s fine; I’ve got it all under control!” Now keep in mind that he had to shout if he wanted us to hear him over the sizzle of the radiator and the hissing from the snake that was just five feet from my door. Seriously.

But despite this being a situation that some (read: sane) people would find to be unnerving, both my in-laws remained true to the principle and, amazingly, feared nothing. Impressive? Yes. But the real test was still to come. About four days later, in fact, when we traveled to Masai Mara, the wondrous savannah that Disney animators visited to collect research for “The Lion King,” a film that, looking back, was mostly accurate detail-wise, but quite frankly, we spent a few days in the savannah and I didn’t hear ANY animals singing. Not a one.

So we’re in Masai Mara on our fifth or ninth day of safari (it’s hard to keep track when you’re dehydrated), and everyone is actively playing the “spotting game.” This is where you spend several hours driving around the savannah in a jeep, trying to spot animals by peering through binoculars, which incidentally is something that I’ve neverbeen able to do very well because when I look through the eyepieces, all I ever wind up seeing are my eyelashes. My in-laws, on the other hand, are exceptionally skilled at spotting which is great for them because they’re also avid bird watchers, a hobby that involves squinting through binoculars, seemingly staring at nothing for long periods at a time, then saying things like: “Is that a blue-chested fartwallop?” “No, I think it’s the pepper-speckled hasselhoffer.”

I tried hard to be good at spotting, I really did, but unfortunately I just couldn’t contribute much to the game.

“Oh, oh! I’ve found an elephant,” I’d shout with pride.

“That’s a tree,” my in-laws would say in unison.

As you can see, spotting is a true measure of one’s patience, visual scanning techniques, and most importantly, the ability to tell the difference between a living, breathing animal and a stump of wood. Thankfully though, every once in a while, you get tipped off on where to look for animals. The rule of thumb is that if you’re driving around and spot a parked jeep filled with people, chances are, these folks have stopped because they’ve found something good. Or a lion has eaten their tires. Either way, it’s a National Geographic moment.

And that’s what happened to us. My mother-in-law (again, an expert spotter) saw a jeep in the distance and sprung into action. “Drive over there! Fast!” she yelled with the trademark enthusiasm of a Fear Nothinger. “I bet it’s something good!”

“I hope it’s dangerous!” my father-in-law yelled back, licking his lips in anticipation.

We sped ahead, racing through the grass at record speeds with almost-but-not-quite as much concern for safety as a city cab driver. When we got closer, we noticed there was something beside the parked jeep: another jeep. And there was another jeep beside it. And another. Turned out there were eleven jeeps in total, all filled with people, arranged side by side in a semi-circle. Whatever these people were looking at, it HAD to be good.

We pulled up alongside the other jeeps and I couldn’t believe what I saw: a pride of five lions gorging on the carcass of a buffalo. Right there. Less than 30 feet from us. It was surreal to observe these awesome creatures in their natural habitat. We watched for several minutes, staring in awe as the lions devoured the buffalo. The scene was so amazing that I (momentarily) ignored my Fear Everything instincts and instead, reveled in the excitement of the moment. And that’s when I noticed all the other jeeps had turned off their engines while ours was still roaring away—a definite safari no-no. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed this glaring violation of safari etiquette. At that moment, mama lion looked up from her feast and let out a mighty roar. Directed right at us.

Now when placed in a situation like this, there’s two clear choices one can make: stay or leave. Actually, there’s a third choice, but “wet your pants” would require way too much coordination under this kind of pressure. Clearly, a Fear Everythinger, valuing their limbs over a good photo op, would choose to leave, which leads you to assume that a Fear Nothinger would stay, right? Right? Not my in-laws. No; THEY decided on a fourth option: to drive closer to the lions.

Hold up. For dramatic purposes, that needs to be repeated.

There was (Percussionist begins banging on drum) a pride of five lions (drumming gets louder and faster) feasting on a buffalo right in front of us (drumming is super fast and crazy loud) and WE DROVE CLOSER!!! (Big finale: drums, cymbals, horror movie scream, chicken squawking, et al.)

It turned out that driving closer was a very, very, very bad move. All five of the lions stopped eating to stare at the insolent fools who had the audacity to interrupt their buffalo banquet. Hell, even the other people, all of whom were professional Fear Nothingers (you could tell because their pants were completely dry), were shocked at this display of stupidi…er bravery.

So there we were. And there were the lions. With less than ten feet between us. Course my in-laws were in Fear Nothing heaven, enjoying every second of this. Meanwhile in the backseat, I was enjoying it as well, much in the way I enjoy getting a tooth pulled.

“Turn off the engine so we can hear them chewing,” my mother-in-law suggested.

“Wow, look at the size of those teeth!” my father-in-law said as he turned off the car. “Betcha those babies could tear right through human bone!”

“Can we get any closer?” asked a familiar voice. Noooo, it couldn’t be! Surely it wasn’t! I looked in the direction of the voice and saw…my wife! What?!? Did my wife Julie, a tried and true Fear Everythinger, seriously just ask if we could drive closer to the lions? This coming from a woman who slipcovers public toilets with four rolls of Charmin before sitting down? What was going on here?!?

I thought I knew my wife pretty well. But the gentle woman I married was suddenly several continents away from the wild-eyed adventurer sitting beside me. Julie had gone from a Fear Everythinger to a Fear Nothinger in less time than it takes me to clean the lint from my belly button. I was shocked. Especially when she climbed into the front seat of the jeep, joining her parents for the traditional Fear Nothinger snack (beef jerky) and a classic Fear Nothinger discussion that involved questions like “Do you’d think the papa lion would mind if we pet his mane?” and “How long do you think it’d take one of these bad boys to digest a human body?”

I was feeling lightheaded, which probably had as much to do with the stench of Slim Jims filling the air as it did with my shock of Julie going over to the ‘dark side.’ Meanwhile, the lions had yet to return to their feast. Something about our presence (maybe it was the smell of fear from the backseat) had fascinated them and they were too distracted to eat. SO distracted, in fact, that they abandoned the carcass lying in front of them and starting walking towards us.

“Hey look,” my father-in-law said as he turned off the car. “That one’s licking its lips!”

All five lions were now directly in front of the jeep, staring at us through the windshield and drooling. After taking a moment to survey the situation, I knew we were in trouble, and not just because the mama lion was tying a napkin around her neck and setting out the good china. We were in trouble because the jeep was parked, the cameras were out, and the lion-human staring contest was entering the second quarter. Clearly, my wife and in-laws had no intentions of leaving anytime soon.

“What do you suppose the big one’s thinking?” my mother-in-law called to me in the backseat.

“Mmphmwmb,” I said. (Though I had lost the ability to produce intelligible speech, I was still quite capable of whimpering.)

I didn’t know how much more of this I could take and yet, my in-laws and wife were only getting started. I knew it would take some amazing, miraculous act of a higher power to persuade my father-in-law to drive away.

“I gotta pee,” my father-in-law announced. “Let’s get out of here.”

And with that, my father-in-law went to start the jeep. But nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing. The battery was “dead” as in “gone” as in “finished” as in “holy crap, we’re gonna be lion kibble!” Now you won’t believe what happened next, mainly because it’s pretty unbelievable, but ‘believability’ never stopped Jerry Springer from reporting a story, and it won’t stop me! Besides, I promised myself that if we ever made it out of this situation with all limbs intact, I’d write about it. So here goes.

It was at that moment, that exact moment, that the lions, all five lions, began, get ready, to circle the jeep!

(Percussionist throws his drumsticks in the air, screams like a eight-year-old girl, and runs away.)

Let’s recap: we’re stuck in Masai Mara with a dead car battery and a pride of five lions circling our car. It was anyone’s guess as to what would happen next. Would my father-in-law continue to laugh in the face of danger? Would my mother-in-law, expert spotter, notice the two vultures flying in circles above our jeep? Would Julie ever return to being the person I married (“There’s a bug 400 feet away! Kill it! Kill it!”)? Would I ever resume a normal breathing pattern?

All jokes aside, this was very bad. C’mon, LIONS CIRCLING THE JEEP?!? Surely, THIS would be grounds for a Fear Nothinger to cry out “Principles Schminciples!” and start Fearing! Think again. Amazingly, my father-in-law remained calm and tried to reassure us (“I’ve got it all under control”) while my mother-in-law attempted to get our minds off the situation with some light conversation (“Look in that tree! Is that a black-billed sniffle sniveler?”). Even Julie kept her cool and showed a familiar softer side (“I think we could cut back on the Charmin”).

Amazing. Here’s a situation that would send Crocodile Dundee back to his trailer for a Scotch and Dasani and yet my insanely brave family members continued to fear nothing. I was impressed. And I wasn’t the only one. The lions also seemed impressed, or just bored, because they walked away from the jeep and returned to their buffalo buffet. And then, another miracle happened: my father-in-law turned the key and the jeep came back to life.

“Now wasn’t that fun,” my father-in-law asked as we drove away from the lions and back to the lodge.

I’m happy to report that was the last lion encounter we had in Kenya. In fact, the wildlife we saw thereafter was an assortment of giraffe, monkeys, zebras and other animals that, while exotic and beautiful, don’t send your pulse shooting to triple digits. No question about it, these animals were much more my speed. Like Rob the Cow, for example, which brings me back to the matter of how one goes about getting a cow named after them.

Truth is, it’s all who you know. The villagers in Sauri are extremely grateful to my in-laws for the countless resources (food, electricity, Coca-Cola) they’ve introduced to the village. And rather than giving a Hallmark card, the villagers show their appreciation by naming animals after you and your loved ones. So, long story short, the villagers named the cow “Rob” out of gratitude to my in-laws for their hard work, assistance, and for passing on valuable knowledge about soil science. Plus, they know better than to tick off the guy who caught a shark with his bare hands.