I used to take a measure of pride in saying that Tupelo was my hometown.
Now? I am not so sure, especially since Tupelo has become the Drive-By Elephant Shooting Capitol of the South.
I left Tupelo for good in 1982 and the city appears to be in a state of decline ever since.
In case you missed the news — and I would not put it past Tupelo officials to attempt to bury this incident — an elephant named Carol, whose age is listed suspiciously as “39,” was the victim of a drive-by shooting outside the BancorpSouth Arena around 2 a.m. on Tuesday. Carol is one of the elephants in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that is currently performing at the arena.
Reports say Carol, who was hit in the shoulder by a single shot, is “alert” (I’ll bet) and moving around. She is expected to make a full recovery and likely cannot get out of Tupelo fast enough. She is expected to be transported to Springfield, Mo. – a city noted for its enlightened attitude toward elephants — to convalesce.
That leaves the circus with two elephants, Duchess and Patty, who will continue to perform, although they are likely to a bit jittery when it comes to loud noises, I figure.
BancorpSouth spokesman Kevan Kirkpatrick said it’s the first drive-by elephant shooting incident in the city’s history (as if we’re going to take his word for it).
The Tupelo Police Department is being tight-lipped about the investigation. A worker at the arena was able to provide some information, but police say the leads are few. I suspect they are looking for a Democrat.
Meanwhile, area Tea Party representatives say the incident is proof that gun laws should be relaxed to allow animals to carry weapons under the theory that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is an elephant with a gun.”
Since Tuesday, virtually anyone who has been elected to any public office in Tupelo in the last 40 years climbed over each other to be the first to say that Tupelo people are not a bunch of elephant haters and the city should be judged instead on its many fine attributes, which are all Elvis-related.
Because I have never shied from candor, I am going to tell you my first two reactions when I learned of the shooting. The first reaction was to be genuinely saddened that anyone would shoot an elephant. Only after I was assured that the animal was expected to make a full recovery did my second reaction emerge: “This is so bizarre as to be kind of funny.”
I know that I am going to catch all sorts of grief from this admission and it will probably not matter that I am an avowed animal lover.
You see, I’ve been through this sort of thing before.
Years ago, when I was a columnist in Arizona, one of our crime reporters came into the office one day with a “good story,” good in the sense that it would be of great interest to readers rather than good in the sense that the details of the story were pleasant.
A man in Tempe had found evidence that his wife was cheating on him. After confronting her at her work place, he went home and decided to vent his anger by working out on his punching bag in the back yard. As he was flailing away, his wife’s dog — one of those particularly annoying little breeds — became agitated and tried to bite him.
Incidentally, this is one of the main selling points of having a cat as a pet. A cat doesn’t choose sides. It listens indifferently to the stories of pain and betrayal and concludes, “OK. This has absolutely nothing to do with my dinner, so I’m out of here.”
But we are talking about a dog in this instance. Here was this heart-broken, jealous, angry guy with a yappy little dog nipping at his ankles. He snapped, grabbed the dog and hanged it. Seriously. He hanged his wife’s dog by its collar from the clothes line.
Fortunately, the wife arrived within seconds of the hanging and rescued the dog before it expired. She called the cops, who arrested the man for animal cruelty. The vet who treated the dog said the animal would recover.
The story was quite a buzz in our newsroom, so I figured it would make an interesting column.
In the column, I briefly explained the details of the incident.
“If there was ever a country song just begging to be written, this is it,” I wrote.
So I proposed that would-be songwriters send in their lyrics. I provided two options for working titles: “My Woman Was a Rover, So I Hung Spot,” or “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hung Dog.”
Memory is fuzzy, but I think about five people sent in their lyrics. It turned out to be the most popular column I wrote the whole year. By popular, I mean a couple hundred readers responded that they would like to hang ME. To say they found no humor in the situation is an understatement for the ages.
When I thought about the drive-by elephant shooting in Tupelo, it struck me that this would be an excellent rap song.
Experience has taught me to take it no further than that.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.