His Excellency, Don Diego

By Marc Dion

January 20, 2020 5 min read

I tried. I swear I tried.

Like any columnist, I combed the week's news, looking for that thing from which a newspaper column could be built.

Iran. Nukes. Impeachment. The British royal family. Drugs. Tariffs. Heartbreak and fear and the sense that standards are slipping everywhere.

Scared hell out of me, is what happened.

And then, it struck.

I fell across the story of Diego the tortoise, who is from the Galapagos island of Espanola, who is probably 130 years old and who, wrinkled neck and all, saved his species by siring 800 turtle-ish children while working(?) in a breeding program designed to bring Diego's kind of tortoise back from the very edge of extinction.

Diego has retired, but where once there were only 15 of his kind in the world, there are now around 2,000, and about 40% of them are descended from Diego.

Without writing anything that can't be printed in what used to be called "a family newspaper," let us say that, among shell-dwellers, Diego was known for his love of the ladies, a love enthusiastically returned, even though it's hard to imagine a tortoise getting enthused about anything.

Still, while I was working at a newspaper, making myself a grilled cheese sandwich, sleeping or standing in line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Diego, the papers say, was quietly, doggedly making sure hundreds of female tortoises were impregnated during his 30-year reign as a star breeder.

Makes me feel inadequate.

Like Pres. Donald Trump, Diego may have been bald, he may have had a wrinkly neck, and he may have lacked some social graces, yet he cast his seed far and wide, and, as far as anyone knows, never once paid a porn star to help reinvigorate his aging tortoise flesh.

Of course, we don't know that Diego lacks charm. Perhaps, among tortoises, he is a bit of a shark, a lounge lizard, a dreamy-eyed seducer.

Not that looks are everything. I know guys, unattractive guys who belch during meals, who are currently paying child support to three different "baby mamas," as we say in reality show America. If these guys were deprived of sports, video games and beer, and if enough women would volunteer, quite a few of them could produce hundreds of children in any given 30-year span. Don't worry about it, though. "Call of Duty" and "Grand Theft Auto" will continue to keep many men from reaching their full daddy potential.

But humans are not tortoises, and tortoises are not human, and humans are in no danger of going extinct. We are a plague upon the planet, and our numbers grow every day. We are the reason wild animals need tortoises like Diego. Any bumblebee dudes want to step up to the plate?

When I was a boy, middle-aged men who worked in the auto plant and wore no jewelry except a wedding ring often expressed an envy of the stray dogs that roamed the streets more freely in those days.

The principal cause of that envy was a snickered jealousy of the homeless hound's imagined access to females, it's lack of a wedding ring, and the fact that it did not stick around to raise it's own pups. After a long shift spent putting lug nuts on truck tires, it was a pretty good fantasy over a glass of cold beer.

Some men tried that life, but they tended to drop down the social ladder rung by rung, and sometimes lost the job at the auto plant.

We got past that, and, today, huge numbers of American men live the stray dog's life. We impregnate and we move on, and the statistics tell us that increasing numbers of us commit suicide, get addicted to drugs and find other ways to take the shortcut home to death.

Only Diego ever made that life work without cost, and only because a tortoise has a brain the size of a pingpong. There is no place in his brain for regret, and if tortoises have a secret language, maybe there is no word in it for "despair."

To find our more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, a collection of his best columns, is called "The Land of Trumpin'," is available in paperback from Amazon.com, and for Nook, Kindle, iBooks and GooglePlay.

Photo credit: skeeze at Pixabay

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