During my visit to Windy Midwestern City with an Art Institute and at least one Very Tall Building, ArtistFriend insisted on making me walk through Weird Fake Jungle Cafe, a most bizarre place. I am not sure why he inflicted this experience on me, except that he likes to see my horrified reaction to such things. (He tortured me during lunch, for instance, by retelling in graphic detail the story of that time in Hungary when he helped to slaughter a pig -- and drank raw congealed blood.) Chicago Friend, who was walking around the city with us, kept rolling his eyes as ArtistFriend stubbornly led us through the door.
And yes, it was the most bizarre restaurant I've ever been in. The whole place was decorated with an overwhelming amount of plastic greenery that made me think I had shrunk and gone to Woolworth's. Amidst the splendor of trailing fake leaves lived animals that were partially animated in the strangest way. The big elephant, for example, had ears that flapped. But sadly, he could move no other body part. If I were an elephant and I could choose only one body part to move, I don't think it would be my ears.
A waterfall of real water splashed down into a pool that boasted an alligator. Or perhaps it was a crocodile. I sometimes have trouble properly identifying wildlife when it's plastic. Near the entrance a big snake curled down from the ceiling, its tongue flicking out. I jumped when I saw the damned snake, but ArtistFriend, who is much taller and more oblivious than your average customer, strolled by so casually that he nearly got whacked in the head by a fake snake aimed right at his temple. The snake had this tongue that flicked in and out in a way that was oddly hypnotic.
I've been to a real rainforest, a jungle in Puerto Rico filled with green light, frequent rain showers, lush vegetation, waterfalls surging over rock, and a humid earthy smell. The plastic version, which consisted of all kinds of fake plants and animals hanging from the ceiling, was dark and oppressive. I felt like I had stumbled upon the big warehouse of misfit plastic decorations. Surprisingly, it smelled not like plastic but like hamburgers and french fries. As I gazed about, just staring at the weirdness of it all, Woman From London began telling us about her experience watching American television.
"It's a bit overwhelming," she said, "Buy this! Have more sugar! More caffeine! Buy this!"
The one good thing about the Weird Fake Jungle Cafe was that, unlike many of the jazz bars in the city, it was smoke free. Yet, somehow, I still had trouble breathing. After five minutes of gawking, I was more than happy to follow my friends out the door. Of course, we had to walk through a gift shop to get out. That is the American way.