Monday, June 4, 2012

Monkey Business

I learned a really important lesson this last week.

My wife and I were vacationing in Bali. We were there for seven whole days! Life can be pretty great, eh?

On Wednesday, we went to the Bali Zoo. It's this rainforest-safari wonderland, where they let you ride elephants, pet tigers, hold pythons, feed lions and practice falconry all in the same place. Oh, and they've got the best animal enclosures I've ever seen. They let you get super close to the animals. Where there are bars, they're easy to see through (and take pictures through). Where there is glass, it's clean and so clear that you might actually become afraid for your life if you stand staring at the tigers for too long.

They've also got some pretty great primates. I spent about 15 minutes holding hands with a very gentle, lonely monkey, who didn't want to let go when my wife and I wanted to move on. We ended up going back to see her again, and though she wouldn't hold hands with many of the others who tried, she still didn't want to let go of ours.

There also happens to be an evil orangutan named Jacky. If Jacky and I had been in grade school together, he definitely would have shoved me against the lockers, stolen my lunch money and then gone on to invade France.

There's a sign near Jacky's paddock (I learned that word from Jurassic Park), that says something to the effect of, "this evil bully-monkey has, from time-to-time, been known to fling his food and other thing at guests." Despite the less than perfect English grammar, we all know what was meant by "other thing", don't we?

The first time we crossed paths with this Orangu-Stalin, we witnessed him throwing his feed at shocked onlookers. One woman got beaned with a watermelon rind. I laughed inside. I'm a horrible person sometimes.

We passed Jacky's enclosure later that day as well. This time there were fewer gawkers, so we stepped in closer, took some photos and attempted to feed Jacky a few bananas. He was uninterested and pissy. I don't know what it is about me and large primates, but they don't really like me. Perhaps they find my massive stock-piles of testosterone intimidating or maybe I just have "bully me, you big dumb ape" written across my forehead...that would explain much of my middle school experience, anyway.

Whether it was offended by my manliness or not, Jacky decided he didn't like me. He looked scornfully at the banana I tossed in his direction, and spit at me as I leaned over the wall to take his photo. I wasn't going to stand for his bullying, so I did what any guy would do in my place - I started talking trash. I mean, let's be honest, he probably doesn't speak English anyway.

I guess he intuited aggression in my mocking tone of voice, though, because as I walked a few yards around the other sided his paddock, he followed after me. Not to be run off by a monkey whose face looks very much like a large burnt pancake, I stopped and stared him down.

He looked at me.
I looked at him.
Hate filled both our eyes.

He had a banana in his left hand, and a mouthful of cucumber. He looked like a doofus. So, I told him so, and assumed that he had a banana peel or a bit of cucumber in the right hand, which was raised erect over his head.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

I taunted him, challenging him to throw whatever he had in his outstretched hand. I raised my arm above my own head, planning to swat whatever he threw back at him.

It happened in an instant. Jacky launched his projectile, and all my hard years of training paid off. Decades of video-game-honed hand/eye coordination had all been in preparation for this moment. I was going to show this monkey who the higher mammal really was. As his ammunition sailed through the air toward its target, my defenses kicked into high gear. My own hand came down and made perfect contact with the large hunk of fruit handful of feces Jacky had flung at me. It splattered, and flew in all directions. I immediately realized the significance of the event that had just transpired. I'd just been bested by an ape.

My next words were both a description of what now covered my hand and an exclamation communicating my anger and embarrassment.

I looked back at Jacky, a with a gaze of both exasperation and admiration. He had humiliated me with finesse, if not with class. He looked back at me, not with hate in his eyes, this time, but pride. Haughty monkey pride. Our eyes met, and slowly his mouth started to widen, his lips parted slightly, exposing an endearing toothy grin.

We had a moment, there, he and I, and I came away with a very important lesson:

When you go toe-to-toe with an ape, you can end up looking like a monkey.

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