ADIOS, Lonesome George. The Pinta Island giant tortoise has shuffled off his mortal shell at the youthful age of 100, leaving behind not a solitary sprog.
George could have lived to a ripe old 200, according to the scientists watching over him at the Galapagos Islands’ Charles Darwin Research Station, but he wasn’t much of a one for meeting expectations.
Discovered in the Galapagos in 1972, George is thought to have been the last of his species, which is why the death of a big, sedentary tortoise caused such fanfare around the world.
Apparently, though, George couldn’t have cared less about his procreational responsibilities or even his routine physical needs. He remained ungratefully oblivious to the fact that his ancestors were among the creatures that inspired the mighty Charles Darwin to form his theory of evolution, and ought to live on.
George’s lack of sexual interest confounded conservationists and conversationalists alike. According to Reuters news in its post-mortem last week, he even got a sympathetic visit from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie – though evidently, their dual ripeness didn’t rub off.
Attempts to seduce the homely fellow reached Hefnerian proportions at the end, when his keepers provided George with the companionship of two females from a tortoise population that was genetically close, if not identical, to his. Perhaps these vixens tried to tempt him with the Ogden Nash phrase “A little coitus never hoitus.” We’ll never know. My guess is he was into hares.
All kinds of females were thrown George’s way, but none of them stuck. At one point, the Guardian online reports, a zealous Swiss zoology graduate even smeared herself with female tortoise hormones and tried to get George sufficiently interested that she could harvest his life force. (I’m so glad I chose the arts.) I picture George – who looked like Don Knotts, with gravitas -- rolling his eyes at her contortions, then fixing his gaze on whatever passes for TV in a Galapagos tortoise park.
“I don’t like her,” he may have said to his keeper, quoting character actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree. “But don’t misunderstand me: my dislike is purely platonic.”
Needless to say, I never met George. But in my mind, he must have been a bit like your average comedian – physically repulsive, overtly misogynistic, but nevertheless, a card. I imagine he was pestered a lot about his love life by random acquaintances and would offer up excuses whenever closely quizzed. He probably pulled the odd Garry Shandling, stating blandly, “I’m dating a woman now who, evidently, is unaware of it.”
Or maybe he dug deep and came up with comedian Lizz Winstead’s retort: “I think – therefore, I’m single.”
Surely George was not a total loner. The Galapagos Islands are famously teeming with natural life, some 9,000 species in all. If he’d wanted isolation, he could have settled a lot further north. I think his aversion to tortoise tail probably began when, at cocktail parties, he started listening to the guys who quote Rodney Dangerfield. “My wife and I were happy for 20 years. Then we met,” some finch probably cackled to him over cracked seeds. Dawn would break slowly over George’s unfortunate face and he’d wheeze with soft tortoise laughter.
Maybe George, one too many times, overheard a penguin regurgitating the classic “My wife says I never listen to her. At least, I think that’s what she said.”
Or maybe, quoting Steve Martin, one albatross said to another as George toddled by, “Don’t have sex, man. It leads to kissing, and pretty soon you’ll have to start talking to them.”
No wonder George got turned off – sex gets a nasty rap, when you think about it. “I read so many bad things about sex that I had to give up reading,” Groucho Marx once announced.
At any rate, George appears to have been the consummate tortoise, forever retreating into his shell. There, I assume he kept a generous supply of books, because once sex and child-rearing are eliminated, what else is there to do for an entire century?
I can only hope his library included The Snark Handbook Sex Edition: Innuendo, Irony, and Ill-Advised Insults on Intimacy (Skyhorse Publishing). This book by Lawrence Dorfman is one in a series of small, old-fashioned-looking Dorfman tomes that specialize in snide remarks, and it seems to me that a tortoise who’s constantly being nagged to get after it would have needed a few of those. I hope that George plundered them at will, just as I have done here.
I have my favourites, of course, like this one from Fran Lebowitz.
“Don’t bother discussing sex with small children,” she wrote. “They rarely have anything to add.”
This joke might not have appealed to perennial bachelor George, who in 100 years never craved a picket fence, a horde of kids or found the girl of his dreams.