I am eight. I believe in dinosaurs. I love dinosaurs. Dinosaurs, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or extraterrestrials, are huge bulging fantastic green creatures that can squash buildings, eat whole villages, and make a lot of noise. Dinosaurs are cool. Dinosaurs are so cool that I have to know everything there is to know about dinosaurs— all the different kinds, whether they are bipeds or quadrupeds, whether they are herbivores or carnivores, whether or not they had feathers, which ones fly, which geological timescale they come from and especially, when all these values are added up and considered, which dinosaur is the coolest.
Previews for Jurassic Park come out a year before the movie is released in theaters. By that time, I have seen the previews and already filmed several movies about the dinosaurs I grew in my laboratory with saurian DNA from mosquito fossils. I keep these dinosaurs in a huge cardboard box, which is about as long as I am tall and weighs more than me. My most precious specimen is Godzilla, classification Gojira kaiju, and a colossal Brontosaur from a Mattel caveman set. Mattel’s Brontosaur is 1/40th to scale—a fairly accurate representation of the real Brontosaur—the tallest, fattest dinosaur ever discovered by scientists. The caveman accessories I throw away; it is already irritating that Mattel poked a hole in the Brontosaur’s back for the cavemen’s stupid saddle. A Brontosaur is not a Ford Taurus. Approximately eighty-three million years ago, before the comet or super disease or Ice Age killed them all, Brontosaurs walked the earth—not cavemen. This was during the Campanian era, millions of years before boring mammals came along. The fact of the matter is that all of these details are confirmed by the scientific literature, so it is pointless for Mattel to try to deceive learned paleontologists like myself.
My mom and I go all the way to the farthest reaches of Florida to find a special, secluded theater in the middle of Isla Nublar. There we see Jurassic Park on the day it is released. Apparently, every paleontologist on earth knows about this theater because the theater is packed with millions of people. I don’t care that we have to sit in the projection room behind all the theater seats far away from the screen, or that it is incredibly hot with so many people in the room, or that we have to listen to the sound of the Tyrannosaurus Rex through the little speakers overhead. I don’t care because Jurassic Park is undoubtedly the most awesome movie ever made, and Steven Spielberg is the most awesome director who has ever lived.
I don’t remember how or why I end up in Ida’s house so often, but I know my mom is the one who puts me here. I am under the supervision of Ida’s daughter, Maritza. They have a beautiful house thousands of miles away from Deltona, with a lakefront view and a manicured lawn. Everything in Ida’s house is clean, neat, and meticulously organized: the beige carpet is new and smells like lemons, Maritza owns an Atari with Pong, and there are many pictures of Jesus on the walls. Maritza is a Spanish girl, big and round, and her black hair puffs like a cloud above her head. She wears plain dresses with daisies or white flowers. I like Maritza because she is twice my age and enjoys reading.
Maritza and her little brother Isaac are both home-schooled by Ida, although Ida is never home when I am there, so I wonder when Ida and her little brother have school time. Isaac, half my age, is horribly spoiled. Maritza praises all of his malicious accomplishments, but occasionally Maritza smacks him because he is being an intolerable brat, and then he wails dramatically for hours on end. Once, when Maritza gets a hold of him, she laughs and tells me to strike him, because he is being bad and deserves it. I do, of course, and he continues to scream hideously until Ida comes home, after which point I am blamed for his misery.
Distinctly, I remember two important details about Maritza: First, Maritza is responsible for breaking my slinky—it is a glorious, old-fashioned, metal slinky that really climbs down stairs like the commercials advertise; and second, Maritza has never seen Jurassic Park, and never plans on seeing it. Why Maritza refuses to see Jurassic Park confuses me. She explains that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in “idolatry” or entertainment that features sex or violence because it offends God, and that movies like Jurassic Park are a form of idolatry. Moreover, she says, the dinosaurs never existed. God had either planted their bones in the earth to deceive non-believers, or the bones are in fact the remains of giant men who existed in the time of Abraham. This is also why Maritza doesn’t watch TV, or play video games other than Pong on the Atari, or celebrate any “pagan” holidays other than the Lord’s Supper. It is the same reason why Maritza and her evil brother go to church four to five times a week and send monthly reports to the congregation elders detailing the number of hours they spend in the ministry.
For fun, Maritza reads The Watchtower and breaks my slinkies.
My mom and I go to church three times a week. She is in the choir, so that takes up Saturday and Sunday. I am in the Royal Rangers on Wednesdays. I don’t particularly like church because I already have to go to school five times a week, and church cuts into my paleontological studies, as well as Ninja Turtles programming. On top of this, the kids at church are even meaner than the ones in school. Our church is called Trinity Christian Assembly of God and has roughly 2,500 members. Like McDonald’s, it has a white sign outside that displays weekly messages such as “Reason is the greatest enemy that Faith has” and “Faith sees God, Intellect does not.” Trinity itself is a humungous building containing numerous meeting rooms and a vast nave encircled by a single long hallway. The pattern of the hallway carpet is maroon with little repeating diamonds, punctuated periodically by tables draped by white cloths. On top of each of these tables are elaborate platters of silverware and within them are dozens and dozens of tiny tasteless wafers and thimble-sized cups of bittersweet grape juice. I like the grape juice but not the wafers.
The nave of Trinity can easily seat hundreds of people, but only on holidays does it seem to attract a significant crowd. It has sixty or seventy rows of pews and a vacant balcony that looms overhead. This is where I sit, by myself, while the pastor, Charles Evans, spews out passages from the big brown book on his pulpit, himself a gray speck on a luminous stage.
A white man of medium height with fine silver hair and lake-blue eyes, Evans always appears before his congregation in crisp gray suits with hands sheathed in heavy golden rings. His favorite topics are gays, marriage, and mothers who murder their babies before they are born. He often features guest speakers, especially on Halloween. Whenever Charles Evans opens his mouth, however, all I can think about is Batman swinging off the giant cross behind the pulpit and into the rafters, to stop Catwoman from electrocuting herself and the Mayor of Gotham on the stage.
Royal Rangers, I believe, is really Boy Scouts in disguise. In Royal Rangers, we are called “Discovery Rangers” because of our age group. I don’t have any patches or headgear like some of the highest-ranking rangers, so I have no idea what the four red points on the compass rose mean when my Camp Leader asks me. Every Wednesday, we memorize Bible verses and learn how to drive nails through pieces of wood, or start fires.
I am dragging my Jurassic park across the red hallway. I’ve done this once before, when I dragged it down Evergreen Street and into the bus to bring my specimens to school. That day it was rainy and my box got wet, which was unfortunate.
I reach the door of the classroom and my Camp Leader helps me get the box inside. He’s asked me to bring my dinosaurs to class. Two of the rangers call him Dad. He is tall with weathered skin and his tanned jaw reveals slender wrinkles when he smiles. I notice, plastered on the wall, a small poster depicting six Neanderthals who walk forward in procession, entitled The Ascent of Man.
“The Garden of Eden,” he says, “was a paradise. God made it so that Adam and Eve could live in harmony with all the animals, which He created on the Sixth Day, including the dinosaurs.”
He lifts one of my ash-colored specimens, a replica of the Allosaurus. Allosaurus means “different lizard” because the Allosaurus had special vertebrae that transformed its massive body into a swift, predatory machine. This vicious theropod had rows of sharp incisors that could leave tooth-marks even on the hearty bones of the thick-skinned Apatosaurus.
“As you can see, this dinosaur has no teeth.”
He is right; the replica has a square knob on its forehead that makes it so that you can flap its jaw open with your thumb. This is only possible because the teeth are painted on the jaw.
“In Genesis, the Bible teaches us that the original animals were herbivores, which means they ate plants. Adam and Eve ate plants too. The dinosaurs did exist, but they were plant eaters, like this one.”
The Camp Leader looks directly at me. Richie Evans, the pastor’s nephew, raises his hand and asks, “How did the dinosaurs fit on Noah’s Ark?”
Putting away my Allosaurus, the Camp Leader smiles broadly at Richie’s question.
“Noah took two of every animal with him on the Ark, as God commanded, so yes, they were on the Ark.”
“But how did they fit on the Ark? Were they all babies?” Richie asks.
“And what happened to the rest of the dinosaurs?”
“Well, they drowned. In Job, we have the mention of the Behemoth. Most likely one of the dinosaurs Noah saved from the Flood.”
A flood of white heat issues forth into the alcove from a gigantic spotlight. Several hundred faces peer up at me and I am suddenly underwater, in the arms of a man in a shining gray suit, behind a stall with a procession of people who are putting on white robes, ascending the steps, walking through the aisle. Then, it is ten-thirty and the sermon is over. We are leaving Trinity. I am walking in the parking lot with my mom and grandma and it’s raining.
A woman stops us in the street and hugs them.
“He is amazing, isn’t he,” she says, sighing. “It feels so alive in there.”
She looks down at me, then runs her hand through my wet hair.
“Do you feel warm inside?” she asks.
I shake my head, “No, I feel cold.”
The woman smiles at my ignorance.
REUTERS, MARCH 11, 1997. ORLANDO, Fl. – A popular Florida minister was in jail without bond Tuesday, charged with kidnapping and pistol whipping a man during an argument over money. Last month, Orlando television stations began showing a videotape purportedly of Evans in a Daytona Beach strip club, fondling a stripper and slipping money into her garter. Evans denied he was the man on the tape, but strippers at the club said Evans was such a frequent customer he was nicknamed “Furniture.” Evans stepped down from his position as head pastor while his denomination’s governing body investigated the tape. But one of those who identified Evans from the videotape was Jason Wheeler, 25, who told police that Evans was the man he had known as Chad and who pistol-whipped him five months before. Evans was arrested after investigators corroborated Wheeler’s statement, said Orlando police spokeswoman, Cheryl Degroff-Berry. “He’s our preacher and he’s a good man,” said Wanda Simpson. “He’s a man of God and it’s going to take more than this to bring him down.”
My mom is picking me up from Royal Ranger camp. When I get into her blue Chevrolet, there is a maroon duffle bag sitting on the passenger seat.
“I found this in the parking lot,” she says, unzipping the bag. Inside are piles of Nintendo games. I myself own two Nintendo games: my favorite is Mario 3. When I flip the cartridges over, I see the words “Richie Evans” written in permanent marker on the back.
I am cleaning out my closet. All of my old toys are piled in two large, plastic tubs beneath a clothes rack. I peel off the blue top and see a pink tail poking out of a pile of McFarlane figurines. Digging through the plastic bodies, I unearth a huge, plastic Brontosaurus excelsus, world-famous herbivore.
Brontosaur means “thunder-lizard.” These poor dinosaurs poured down that canyon in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong movie. Two of them were featured on postage stamps in 1989, which caused a brouhaha among paleontologists, because Brontosaurs don’t actually exist. In 1879, Othniel Charles Marsh chalked together mixed dinosaur remains and put a phony skeleton of a Camarasaurus and an Apatosaurus in the Peabody Museum. Pop culture kept the Brontosaurus alive.
I don’t wonder anymore what the woman in the parking lot meant. Although he is a fake, the Brontosaurus is still my favorite dinosaur.