I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

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June 22, 2007

I've had this news excerpt sitting around since last August.

(news) NEW DELHI - In an effort to keep monkeys out of the New Delhi subways, authorities have called in one of the few animals known to scare the creatures - a fierce-looking primate called the langur, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported Wednesday.

The decision to hire a langurwallah - a man who trains and controls the langurs - came after a monkey got into a metro car in June, the newspaper reported.

On June 9, a monkey reportedly crawled through some pipes and ended up aboard a train, scowling at passengers and jumping around a car.

Passengers had to be moved to another car while staff chased the dexterous creature, causing delays.

The langur handler was being employed to prevent more such problems.

"There are too many monkeys," Dayal was quoted as saying.

It's "cellar door" for some; for others, "too many monkeys" is the most beautiful combination of words in the English language. Admittedly, I was on the subway today, on my way back from buying some pants, and it was extremely crowded; I am not sure that monkeys would have improved the situation, so fair enough to the New Delhi subway riders and their langurs.

Do you see how understanding I have become in my old age?

The monkey's viewpoint?

I am ashamed to say that I wrote about the monkey painting on MySpace before I did so here. There is no good excuse; expectations are low on MySpace, so when you post something there, you're not really under any obligation to make it good. As long as it's OMG - or, ideally, OMFG LOL - you've held up your end of the agreement with the reader. Well, enough of that.

So there was the whole Howard Hong thing from the summer of 2005, when that visionary art collector paid like $25,000 to buy some paintings by a famous monkey from the swinging Sixties, which extensive scientific analysis (more about that later) has revealed to be the smartest thing anyone has ever done. I was unemployed at the time after my impulsive move to Austin, and I could feel the tangible lack of progress my life was making toward a state of ownership of art by famous monkeys; despair set in. Howard even emailed me, but I didn't really know what to say other than, "Can I have one? The article said you had a few of them. Seriously, could I have one?"

Well, everything got back on the right track, I'm happy to say. As you might know, I did finally get a job, and then I split for Japan again; I paid my debts and resumed my place as a responsible member of society, even if it was, perhaps, not the precise society that genetics had intended for me. And I got to thinking about making progress again. After a brief flirtation with investing my new-found savings in stocks and bonds, I decided to do the mature thing and find a famous monkey who sells his art.

And that's what led me to Cheeta. Famous? Check. That chimp was in the Tarzan movies, also also something called Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla, according to his IMDB page, which, based on the title alone, may be better than Citizen Kane. At 75 years old, Cheeta has been recognized by Guinness as the world's oldest chimpanzee, and his love for life is matched only by his love for cake, which I'm sure we can all understand. He's received a lifetime achievement award from the mayor of Palm Springs, and he hobnobs with Elayne Boosler and Jane Goodall. This, then, is a very famous monkey.

The history of the world

I've wondered, in retrospect, if Cheeta wasn't a great painter, would I have bought one of his paintings anyway, as a symbolic gesture, as a prisoner of enthusiasm? Fortunately, that concern never came to pass; Cheeta is actually a sensational painter. This, I think, is quite good; there is an emotional richness in this one as well, but it's somewhat less mature in form. (This one, on the other hand, shows a mastery of technique - if anyone was so foolish as to think that monkeys slap paint on canvas without meaning, that's conclusive evidence that they're wrong - and it's frankly rather haunting, too. I have a theory that it may be a memory from the set of Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla, but only Cheeta knows for sure.)

The good news for aspiring collectors of fine art is that the residual checks from Tarzan aren't paying all of the bills any more - and Criterion is apparently dragging their feet on the Lugosi DVD - so Cheeta, resourceful chimp, has combined his passion (the other one, not cake) with his need to pay the rent. (That's a trick I haven't figured out. You could, if you like, say that Cheeta has made a monkey out of me.) After running around the apartment and yelling in deep reflection, I sat down at the computer and commissioned an original painting from Cheeta. After I sent in my payment, someone named Dan - either a person, or a monkey named Dan who has figured out how to use computers - emailed me to say that the payment had been received, and Cheeta would paint it soon. I told him Cheeta should take his time. I know that you can't rush monkey art. Dan had asked me to choose three colors for Cheeta to use, and I suggested green, brown and yellow, but said that Cheeta should do as he liked. I know how artists get when they feel like their art has been commercialized, and I didn't want to get into that kind of situation with my first original monkey commission. I think Dan is all about the bananas, though, because there was no delay; my mom emailed me only a few weeks later to say that a wrapped package had arrived, and it mentioned chimps on the address label. I told her that package was fine art and she had better be careful with it. She said she'd put it in the storage closet with my old comic books.

(I should clarify, by the way, that I was living in Japan at the time, but I had the painting shipped to my mother's place in Chicago, because I figured it was a real long-shot that a pair of chimpanzees could work out international shipping. It was impressive enough that they had a PayPal account.)

So the monkey painting was in a package at my mother's apartment, unseen by human eyes, and I was on the other side of the world. This story is getting exciting; I will continue in my next entry.

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.