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  • I Hugged Ellen DeGeneres by Jason Smith

    I hugged Ellen DeGeneres this summer.

    My brother and his wife are animal people. Devoted animal people. One might even say they are CRAZY animal people. They volunteer at the local cat shelter. They feed the family of raccoons that live in their neighborhood. They have 7 or 8 cats. My sister-in-law dresses up these cats in various cat costumes and takes pictures of them. They even have a pet rat. Yuck! His name is Martin. He has a Facebook page. He has more friends than I do.

    My brother’s love of animals is one of the many ways we are very much the opposite of each other. He is 5’10’. I was 5’10 in 8th grade. He is straight. I was straight in 8th grade. He loves all animals. I don’t really care for animals at all. That’s not entirely accurate. I love animals, as long as they are a safe distance away. A safe distance is usually 10 feet away with a cage.

    So, while visiting my brother and his wife in Southern California. I was surprised with a trip to a place called The Gentle Barn. The Gentle Barn is an animal sanctuary near Pasadena, California. They rescue farm animals. Horses. Pigs. Chickens. They’re usually taken from some horrible cowshwitz type factory.

    We go with their cat shelter friends. So it’s me in a super cute hat I bought at the renegade craft fair and my new white sunglasses from Target. We are with a group of older, very nice, cat ladies and their husbands. And my mom. My mom, who is over the whole thing, and stays in the car reading her Bible.

    Truthfully, it’s kind of fun. We hug the weird, sad cows that are covered in flies. All these crazy ladies are talking about the energy from the cows and how it appreciates being saved. I go with it. When we feed the horses right out of our hands, I go with it. The horse’s tongue licks my hand, and I totally go with it because, I am a good person. I don’t want this horse to be glue. It’s happy here licking people’s hands. It’s not nasty at all.

    I was pleasant and calm.

    Then we walk to the pig pen. Actually it was the pig AND poultry pen. That was awful. I asked to leave. Please get me out. Please... I have an unhealthy relationship with all fat, feathered, wobbly things. . .

    I hate birds. All birds. Well, I like Big Bird. I mean he is tall and big and yellow and in a homosexual relationship with Snuffaluffagus. He sings, so I like it him. I’m a giant, how could I not like him? My relationship with non-Sesame Street birds came to a screeching halt on my 10th birthday. My entire extended family spent the day at the Minnesota Zoo. It was amazing. We saw the dolphins and the beluga whales.

    Then my whole family entered the tropical bird sanctuary.

    You know that part in a zoo where you walk through strips of plastic and the birds are flying on fake jungle trees? My brother noticed it first. There was a gigantic fake branch hanging over the exit and it was covered. It was completely covered, almost like it was painted on, with bird poop. Lots and lots of bird poop.

    My brother says ­ I hope we don’t get pooped on, and then we all laugh.


    Then it happened. I heard it first.


    I couldn’t see anything. I was wet. Very wet. Covered in smelly, smelly wetness. The gigantic tropical pelican had taken a dump ­ a giant bucket full no less ­ right on my 10 year old head.

    The zoo staff was awesome. They hosed me off in the seal area. At least I think it was the seal area. My brother and cousins were crying, you know, from laughter. I got a free Minnesota Zoo sweat pant outfit and a free lunch.

    Ellie, the woman who runs the Gentle Barn, is an Earth Mother Goddess. She is a Zen animal whisper. She is basically Doctor Doolittle. Ellie sensed that my bird button had been pressed in the pig and poultry pen. It was sense memory. It was the gobbling sound.

    I screamed, TURKYS ARE MEAN!!

    She answered, Yes, the male turkeys are horrible.

    Ellie so kindly grabbed my hand. Jason, have you hugged a turkey?


    Our turkeys here at The Gentle Barn are so sweet, and they just loved being hugged.

    I was bullied in high school just like every other gay kid in the United States and some parts of Canada. But I wasn’t just bullied by the jocks. I was also bullied by WILD TURKEYS.

    These wild turkeys lived in the hills behind our house. My first encounter with these monsters began simply enough. I was watching Leave it to Beaver, and I heard this incredible loud sound coming from all sides of the house. I got up from the couch and looked out the front bay window. Our house was surrounded by wild turkeys.  Thirty or forty wild turkeys were in our yard. I couldn’t leave. And the noise was growing louder and louder. I called for my mom.


    These turkeys were gigantic hideous monsters. They would meander through the town pooping and gobbling wherever they felt like it. It was my job to clean up after these MONSTERS. Their poop was the size of a small dog. The male, the pretty one with the big feathered tale would charge at you.

    I would run screaming. MOOOOOOOOOM

    So here I am 20 years later and Ellie wants me to hug her big white turkey. I’m surrounded by the cat ladies. They’re all like... OOOHH Jason you have to hug a turkey. My sister in law starts to snicker.

    You should totally do it, Ellie explained, this white turkey, her name is Ellen DeGeneres in honor of Ellen’s big donation and support of The Gentle Barn.

    Now I am thinking. Oh my god this turkey is a gay turkey. I can hug a big white gay turkey. If I am every going to the do this it’s going to be with a lesbian turkey. She matches my hat and glasses.


    So, we are in the poultry section. The ground is covered in chicken poop. It’s slathered in it. I am wearing nice jeans and a gingham dress shirt (with my cute hat and glasses). AND SO I AM GOING TO DO IT!! And so I sit. .... JUST BREATHE JASON... I sit right in the middle of the chicken poop covered floor. My hands are now covered in poop. AND I DONT WANT TO GET THE TURKEY COVERED IN CHICKEN POOP. I mean ­ she’s white.

    OH GOD.

    I reach out my arms.

    AND I DO IT.

    I hug Ellen DeGeneres.

    I hug Ellen DeGeneres, the turkey.