"Nice little trees you got there. Be too bad if something were to happen to them." — Nicky "Big Panda" Flacco, Memphis Zoo press secretary
After years of simmering unrest, tension has been racheted to a fever pitch in Memphis' Midtown district, specifically in the long-troubled region known as Overton Park. The natural areas of the park are controlled by the Overton Park Conservancy, but the park is also home to the Levitt Shell, the Memphis College of Art, the Brooks Museum of Art, and the Memphis Zoo.
In recent years, the Zoo has been flexing its muscle, annexing portions of the OPC-controlled zone known as the Greensward for overflow parking, and doubling down by charging money to its customers to park there. The OPC has filed several complaints with local authorities against the Zoo's actions, and has gone so far as to put picket lines of volunteers at its border to stop the invasion of foreign vehicles. This has led to minor skirmishes: cars bumping protestors, angry complaints to local police, etc.
There had been an uneasy peace in recent weeks, but in the waning days of the Wharton administration, the Zoo obtained a letter from city council attorney Allan "Wood Chips" Wade that it claims gives it the right to annex the Greensward for parking. Then, without warning, the Zoo removed 27 trees that had been planted near the Zoo border in 2012 by the OPC.
A local faction supporting OPC called Get Off Our Lawn (GOOL) reacted vociferously, staging a plant-in, complete with a marching band, signs, and flags. Emotions were at a boiling point. There was open talk of war.
Then things really got out of hand ...
Secret Zoo documents obtained by GOOL leaders were released showing that the Zoo had designs on annexing Rainbow Lake for a proposed "AutoZone Crocodiles of the Nile" exhibit, and also had plans to take over portions of the Old Forest for an interactive "Jack Links Messin' With Sasquatch" diorama.
The Zoo responded by saying it had uncovered evidence that GOOL operatives had infiltrated its Northwest Passage exhibit via the Lick Creek aqueduct and planted kudzu, privet, and poison oak. GOOL denied the charge but did not rule out the possibility of future guerrilla planting raids. "We have thousands of seedlings," said a GOOL spokesperson. "We would hate to have to use them, but the Zoo may force our hand."
Then, on Monday, 87-year-old golfer Myron "Stroky" Teitlebaum was taken hostage by the Zoo after he bladed a 7-iron across the "Geezer Strip" into Zoo property and tried to retrieve his ball. An anonymous GOOL spokesperson told a WMC Action News 5 reporter that "getting a few meerkats out of there wouldn't be that difficult," and that such an action might be necessary in order to arrange a prisoner exchange. "Stroky is not in good health," she added. "He needs his fiber pills."
The Zoo then announced that it would begin a program called "Free Tank Parking Tuesdays" on the Greensward, and that it had made a deal with Sunrise Pontiac GMC to open a dealership on the land now occupied by the Overton Bark dog area.
"We get a million visitors a year," said Zoo president Chuck "You and the Horse You Rode In On" Brady. "We'll do whatever we have to do to keep them happy, if you get my drift."
Alertly sensing that there just might possibly be a problem in Overton Park, the new Strickland administration announced that Secretary of State John Kerry would arrive in Memphis this week to try to bring all parties to the table for peace talks.
That's where things stand as of this writing. We can only hope that cooler heads will prevail and that lasting peace can somehow be achieved in this turbulent region. Our children's futures depend on it.