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Curiosity and campus tours: Students on display at the King Library zoo

By Graham von Carlowitz, Columnist

We've all heard the tall tale about that one cat that got itself killed because of curiosity. Maybe the cat was curious as to how long it could nap on the street, or maybe curiosity drove the cat to drive drunk during a rainstorm.

We don't know. The audience is left, ironically, curious as to how that one cat met its fate. Of course, cats do not speak English; the axiom is directed instead at we curious humans, lest we let our curiosity drive us to madness and death.

I'm still alive and quite curious myself, as evidenced by random questions like, "how did that get there?" or "what's that smell?"

A journey to Nuremberg with my friend Todd further proves my unbounded curiosity - which equals that of a cat who wanders a historic German city with its friend, Todd.

Being our snooping selves, the two of us ignored the un-mesmerizing museums and insisted on leading our own impromptu tour of the city.

I recall going to a grocery store (Aldi), a German bookstore (visited twice without any purchases), a toy store showcasing mini plastic penguins (I bought one) and the strip district. Well, we actually never discovered what to call this part of town, so I decided to call it the strip district because, you know, strippers.

After traversing the archaic moat bridge of the inner city, Todd and I stumbled upon this strange area. Not surprisingly, neither of us were prepared for the showcased prostitute and her friends at the brothel, promiscuously waving in our general direction. Expecting that would be like expecting ice cream in church instead of Communion. It was startling.

Having lost our way and, of course, our cool, we bolted for the bus stop and failed to make sense of the nauseating nonsense. To my dismay, we had also lost any chance of re-revisiting the German bookstore.

I still wonder what those women in the brothel were thinking as Todd and I sprinted off into the distance. Then again, I'd have to translate those thoughts, too, so the activity bores me.

Instead, I imagine myself in a similar situation, which is not the least bit difficult with a library on campus. I frequent the library on weekends, a time when campus tours spike and the library becomes a zoo. Literally.

At the big book building, I'll be reading or writing or breathing away with my pen in my ear for hours. Then, almost as if my time there was conditional, I notice the tour groups and their expectant eyes enter my home.

What are they expecting? You can never be too sure, but I hope they never expect me to strip for them. Maybe in Nuremberg, but not in a library in America. Gross.

So, with the tour guide spouting off his spiel about the library's free laptops (paid for by tuition), the tour group's collective eye begins to wander about the temporary zoo.

Noticing a shared sense of curiosity, I try my best to let them know I'm there. Sure, staring at an audience member is effective, but ultimately all too creepy given the setting. Knowing my role as a quasi-animal in an academic zoo, I force myself to act as such.

I could easily be another animal and continue typing. I could just as easily throw a fit and flip the many tables and desks which encage me. But that would be out of character.

I like to find a middle ground. For me, that means demonstrating to the crowds how one shoves a fist into his mouth. If I'm lucky enough, a few of the extremely curious will look back, wondering if I could please do it again.

On one of these occasions, I truly do make eye contact. The recipient, to my dismay, comes no closer, but rather stares on with an expression that seems to cry out "I have something to tell you!!" But silence captures his words.

"Cat got your tongue?" I craved to say, but I was held back for a few reasons.

First, as an animal, I had to stick to the script. Animals don't talk. Dogs bark, parrots mimic (and sometimes bark), but they never talk.

Second, and more importantly, I know that a person doesn't hold back questions because a crafty cat has successfully anchored itself to their tongue. Although that would be a wonderful excuse.

Eventually the charade concludes and the zoo closes; the tour groups vanish with the passing weekends; and time and again I find myself, a curious zoo attraction, unscathed and pulsing with more curiosity. Kills the cat? Sure, but satisfaction brought it back.