Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bedtime for Bonzo

Chimp Exam
“If at anytime, we yell ‘get out’, get out!”

“Don’t worry’, I told the zookeeper as I squeezed into a pair of coveralls two sizes too small. “ I’ll be vapor by then.”

The lady grunted behind her surgical mask and turned, leaving me on the loading dock to wiggle into wardrobe. Why is it every time I get to go deep, I gotta do so lookin’ like a mental patient? I once toured the world’s most humid aspirin factory wrapped head to toe in protective gauze. I rode along with forest rangers as they lobbed fireballs into acres of bone-dry woodland. They made me dress like the grown-up from Curious George. And now I was gonna get clinical with a somewhat sedated chimpanzee, but only after a certain inseam cut my package in half.

“Mask. Gloves. Let’s go.”

Inside, no fewer than eight anxious young humans gathered over an examining table. Once I wedged an opening in the wall of overalls, I finally laid eyes on the patient, and got more than a nose-full. Sprawled out on his back, the adult chimpanzee looked to be sleeping off a bender. All around him, masked figures poked and prodded. One smeared gel across his furry chest, another studied the grooves on his fingertips. Me, I settled into my viewfinder and free-rolled. Letting the time-code spin, I zoomed in, held a shot for ten seconds and found another one. A pungent funk fell over the room and I couldn't decide whether it was the inert simian before me or my own stinking breath beneath the surgical mask.

That’s when the monkey moved.

Okay, so a chimp isn’t a monkey, but taxonomy goes out the window when the sleeping beast before you starts to stir. The vets and zookeepers (hard to know who was who behind those masks) reacted calmly, shsshing in his ear the way a parent might do with a murmuring baby. It wasn’t the first time I witnessed the conviction of the zoo’s caring staff. Nor was it the first time I eyeballed the exit that day, just in case our not so little friend woke up with a sudden thirst for cameraman throat. The chimp was no threat, of course. Any of the masked staffers around me would have gladly garroted me to a pulp had I so much as bled on their majestic beast.

I tried to remember that as I rotated around the table, taking careful note not to trip over any electrical cords and plunge the room into some kind of post-apocalyptic abyss. With my luck, I’d come to in the grizzly pit as a strangely sentient pack of black bears argued over who got to nosh on photog liver. Just as that daydream got really weird, a throaty rumble snapped me back to reality.

Every human in that small room suddenly stepped up their movements, except the one zookeeper who’d been leaning against the wall the whole time, cradling a shotgun. That dude never moved, but the hirsute hominid on the table sure did, raising his powerful arm and growling deeply as the coverall crew pushed equipment out of the way and closed in around him. Sensing a closing shot in the making, I backed up to the wall and fished my wide angle lens out of its pouch. If they were gonna manhandle the animal out of the room and into a cage before he started singing show tunes, I was gonna be there to record it. Or so I thought.


‘Wonder who that could be?’, I thought as I tightened my wide angle into place. That’s when one of the female keepers reached over and damn near pushed me off balance.


I half-stumbled out of the room, wondering what ever happened to “get out!” By the time I did get out, I was laughing from behind my mask. I hadn’t meant to wear out my welcome, but I was one shot away from a perfect ending and the lure of said resolution held me in place, no matter how many testy veterinarians or waking apes there were in the room.

At least I know my place on the food chain.

1 comment:

FlutePrayer said...

Thank you for this. I was having withdrawal issues.