*The below is a speech I gave in a Toastmasters Tall Tales competition yesterday. I took second place.*
Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, by a show of hands, how many of you had at least one pet when growing up? Keep your hands up if you had two. Three? Who had five or more?
I had a lot of pets as I was growing up. I had two dogs, a cat, several lizards and frogs, gerbils and snakes. My mom has a love of lizards and frogs. She grew up in the Brainard Lakes Area and her springs and summers were spent catching frogs. Often, she would bring her catch home for us as pets. As you can see, we had many pets in the house I grew up in.
Guess whose responsibility it was to feed the animals? That’s right, it was me. There was a pet store by our house and I would walk to the store to get crickets for the frogs and lizards and mice for the snake. We would get dog and cat food whenever we went to the grocery store.
The pet store I walked to as a kid was no ordinary pet store. This was an exotic pet store. Of course, they had your standard pet store animals: fish, bunnies, puppies and so on, but what really amazed me were some of the exotic animals for sale. There was a terrarium full of Indonesian Draco Volans. These are lizards that fly like dragons and I used to watch them fly around in their terrarium, dive bombing eachother and swooping up crickets to munch on.
Another one of my favorites was the Madagascan Tamamoran. This animal is a cross between a koala bear and a lemur. It is so cute and fuzzy and small, that you could just cup it in your hands and nuzzle it for hours. One thing I will warn you about the Madagascan Tamamoran is that it has sharp teeth and tends to get bitey when angry or startled.
Another great thing about this pet store was that it had a train set lining the ceiling of the store. The trolley would trundle along the tracks, dip into tunnels and roll down behind the register. I would spend a long time watching the train move around the store and, as I followed it, I would always find some new creature for a far away country. Why was there a train set at the pet store? I don’t know. I guess the store used to be a hobby store before it became a pet store and the new owners kept the train. Sometimes I was invited behind the counter to play with the train. Those were fun memories.
One day, in the middle of winter, I had to walk to the pet store to get crickets. When I got there, I saw an animal control truck parked in front of the store. I walked into the store and I could see that the owner was upset. One of the animals had escaped! In fact, it was my favorite: The Madagascan Tamamoran! The monkey had escaped his cage and was somewhere in the building, but no one could find it. The animal control guy and the employees were rummaging all through the store, hoping to find the Tamamoran. At first I got the crickets and stood by the counter, but then I got bored and started playing with the train set.
When I switched the train set on, there was a yelp from one of the tunnels and, wouldn’t you know, the Madagascan Tamamoran came out! The animal control guy tried to get him with his animal leash, but then the Tamamoran did something completely unexpected – it flew! I had never noticed it before, but apparently the Madagascan Tamamoran is a relative of the bat family. With its skin stretched between its toes and its arms, it flew back and forth across the store. Everyone was worried about this cute, flying monkey and his sharp teeth, but I just kept laughing.
Eventually, the Tamamoran recognized me and saw that I was holding a bag of crickets. It swooped down right for my crickets, but I was ready with my jacket. I wrapped him up, handed him to the store owner, and back he went into his cage. I paid for my crickets, went home and told my mother all about my pet store surprise.
Sadly, the pet store isn’t there anymore. The last I checked, it was just a vacant lot in south Minneapolis. I guess the city didn’t want a peddler of exotic animals and put my favorite store out of business. It is sad, but at least I have the memories of the animals, the store, the train set and the beautiful Madagascan Tamamoran. Mr. Toastmaster –