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Monkey See, Monkey Doo

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Every year at this time, people start acting real antsy around me. I'm half Jewish and half Christian -- what biblical scholars refer to as a "mulatto" -- and as a result, people don't know whether to greet me by exclaiming, "A most fecund Jesus harvest to you, kind brother. Care to join us in the flaying of this Moor?" or earnestly inquiring, "What scripts will you green-light this year, you hook-nosed Jew mogul?"

I can sympathize with their dilemma, which is why I will now solve it for them. Instead of clumsily struggling with my anthro-theological makeup to create their greeting, they can just look me right in the face and scream "Happy Monkey Day, What's So Funny!" and then tongue-kiss me till I blush.

Because December 14 is officially Monkey Day. I could bore you with the background of the holiday -- how some friend scribbled it as a joke on another friend's calendar and how now, thanks to the website www.monkeyday.com, people celebrate it in a variety of ways -- but nobody really cares about that. All anyone really wants out of Monkey Day is stories about monkeys.


Monkey Day

The bulk of my monkey stories come from my mother, a volunteer at the Denver Zoo for the past eighteen years. For starters, there was Bungee, an adorable spider monkey who was rejected by his mother -- Bungee and I have that in common -- and had to be raised by the keepers, to whom he assigned different roles. One keeper was his snuggle buddy, another the target of his high-pitched, irate shrieking, and then there was my mother, the source of his monkey erections. Anytime my mom walked by, Bungee was suddenly at full salute. Maybe it was her red hair. When they moved Bungee back in with the other spider monkeys in the outdoor exhibit, he'd still show his affection -- sticking his lanky arms in the air and running toward her at half-mast every time she passed. School groups loved this. He's calmed down as he's aged, but every now and then, when the wind is right in the Primate Panorama and Bungee is feeling frisky, you can see him turning into a man as my mom strolls by.

The outdoor capuchin exhibit, Monkey Island, has cages in front where you can watch the monkeys play, and behind that is an island where monkeys frolic in the grass and brush, harassing the passing geese. An underground tunnel connects the cage to the island, and the capuchins can pass through it at their leisure, unseen by the public. Every now and again, some unfortunate keeper has to clean that tunnel -- and between gobs of monkey shit, they find all sorts of crazy stuff. One keeper found thousands of miniature plastic cocktail-drink swords and a disposable camera. I have no idea where those capuchins got the mini-swords; I just hope someone developed that film.

My mother has poignant monkey stories, too. Katie the capuchin was a hand-raised sweetheart, and after she was put back in the exhibit with the other monkeys, they picked on her because they resented her star status. Eventually my mom and the others realized that Katie would be safer if they did not pay attention to her -- so did Katie -- and every time they passed the exhibit, studiously ignoring Katie, she'd do the same. But one time when my mom walked by, Katie furtively reached through the bars and handed her a strip of paper she'd ripped off a bag she'd been playing with -- a prized possession secretly smuggled out of the capuchin cage as an appreciative gift for a friend. My mom still has it. Another time, she walked into the old monkey house and saw that Lil, a baboon who was quite fond of making murals on the walls with her own shit, had gone all out -- a real "Guernica." When my mom spotted her, Lil was sitting at the back, like any artist, appraising her work. Lil then walked up to the wall, slightly adjusted one small piece of shit, and retired to the back cages. Masterpiece complete.

Monkey Day conjures all sorts of marvelous memories for me, and it should for you, too. I encourage you and your loved ones to gather on this special holiday and share your favorite monkey stories. I got to kick off the festivities this past weekend when I visited my cousin Molly, who works at a zoo in Richmond; she's currently hand-raising Janice, the ring-tailed lemur pictured here, at her house. I only spent a few days with Janice, but in that time we became fast friends. Because we both enjoyed fresh collard greens.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Adam, ring-tailed lemurs are prosimians, not monkeys." And while that thought is accurate, it's also petty.

You really have a lot to learn about the spirit of Monkey Day.

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