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Authors: Cheeta

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BOOK: Me Cheeta
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Well, for pity’s sake, you had them just a minute ago, I thought. But I desperately wanted to please him, to do something for him that would bind him to me, so I scampered off down the passageway between the caged galleries of monkeys, looking for the Luckys. There they were, in plain sight on top of a bucket of sand. I grasped them and loped back between the dumb gray monkeys, not in any expectation of a banana or an orange, but only of pleasing him.

When I got back to the room there was nobody in it but Trefflich, and it was another sixteen years before I saw Tony Gentry again.

So it was that the kaleidoscope of America dwindled to a shelter in another rehab center. Of course I was grateful, and impressed by the sheer number of animals who had been rescued, but I wasn’t altogether convinced that I was in any need of

I was sharing my shelter with Bonzo and a couple of other males the same age as us, but there wasn’t much cause for interaction. Trefflich’s was like
Forest Lawn
in that most of us slumbered through our days, roused only by the internal alarm of our hunger going off and the light traversing the room. It grew more and more
difficult to hold anything in mind other than breakfast and dinner. Our muscles whispered at us about things they recalled doing, but only very faintly. Our dreams became incoherent and naggingly repetitious. Every once in a while we’d stir our stumps for a gallivant around the shelter, or while away an hour or so with a good long groom….

Please, dear reader, please don’t for a second think that I’m not grateful. Each second of my life is a record-breaking triumph that I owe to you, to human protection and intervention. In me, the shelter system has magnificent proof of its efficacy and I salute the ambition of the whole project. By the time Trefflich’s heart killed him in 1978 he had been involved in the rehabilitation of around 1,450,000 monkeys, mainly rhesus macaques. Nearly one and a half million macaques had either passed through Fulton Street or been helped in their resettlement by a single man! I suppose the only tragedy was that he didn’t live to complete his work. So much more remains to be done, and one trusts that many millions more macaques will benefit from his work. But I was a foolish little thing in ’33, and I’m sorry to have to admit, I began to feel the whole process of rehabilitation weigh a little heavy on me.

If I squeezed my head against the mesh at one corner of our shelter I could see a section of window where the sky mooched from gray to white. This was the corner the others would vacate when I approached, where I had banked up straw for myself so I could look out and dream about America. Out there were the sidewalks with humans who knew your name, the rolling shelters and the great towers, and Tony Gentry sitting in the White Rose Tavern with a fan of cards. I had no idea whether the other animals feared or yearned for the other side of the mesh; maybe it was just me who’d been corrupted by the energy of America on my walk through Manhattan. But I thought I could read messages of sorrow
in the toes of the macaques where they gripped the wire, in their sudden maniacal pacing and the listlessness of their unceasing masturbation.

Several times a day Trefflich would enter our gallery of shelters and remove one of us for a short period. Only once or twice was it a chimp, and never a macaque. Most often it was one of the parakeets, or one of the many little ratlike things that snuffled around in transparent shelters, twitching their flamboyantly excessive ears from time to time but never doing anything else. Nearly always the parakeets and big-eared rat-things came back, but occasionally, I noticed, they didn’t, and I wondered about the fate of these non-returnees. Had they completed their rehabilitation? In which case, what had happened to them? Were they just cast back into the jungle and left to take their chances? I couldn’t really see the big-eared rat-things having that much fun back in the jungle: I’d have eaten one myself. And this thought made me nervous. There were pythons and leopards in Trefflich’s rehab center and they’d have to be eating something. And if the parakeets were python food, wasn’t it possible that the same thing applied to us? What the hell was all this rehabilitation
What was the
of animals?

Time passed. We slept and masturbated and nothing happened, except that I became more and more obsessed by these profound philosophical questions, as unanswerable as the mesh of our shelters was unbreachable. I was compulsively bashing my head against them as usual one morning when another occurred to me. Why was Trefflich’s helper struggling with one of the macaques in the shelter opposite us? These shelters of ours, I should explain, had an outer and an inner section. When Trefflich or his boy came to remove our excrement (what did they want with it? Why were they harvesting it?) we would be hustled into the inner section behind a second door, and I now saw that this particular macaque had
trapped itself in the mesh. Its paw had gone right through the diamond of wire, trapping its wrist, and the boy was having to shove hard at the door to squeeze the now-screaming monkey’s pinky-gray fingers back through. But as he did so, he simultaneously swung the door back onto himself—it banged painfully against his head and a dozen macaques scampered out past him and into the space between the shelters. Hello, I thought.

They’re not stupid, rhesus monkeys. I believe they share something like 92 percent of their DNA with chimpanzees. They may be inscrutable and standoffish, and hardly pleasant to look at, with their pale ginger fur and pleasureless frowns—I could never see Johnny’s fourth wife, Beryl, without being reminded of a macaque—but they get things done. In a group, they have an almost insect-like singleness of will. Thick as thieves, they consulted briefly in a knot, then scattered themselves across the room, working on the bolts of the outer doors of the other macaque shelters. Of course, the door of the room itself was closed, and I doubted they would have the smarts to get that open, but I applauded and pant-hooted in excitement anyway. You go, macaques! And, you know, wasn’t it a pretty clever tactic to go for the other doors in the first place, so that Trefflich’s boy would be outnumbered?

Now that the macaque shelters were springing open, a little delegation
in fact scampered over to the main door. Second by second Trefflich’s boy’s day was getting worse. He stopped trying to chase the macaques and instead took out a set of keys with which, I suppose, he meant to double-lock the remaining shelters. And at that moment my feelings about rehabilitation came clear to me. I
it. I suddenly needed to get the hell out of there very badly—not to go anywhere in particular, only to, Christ, only to be
And then a little ginger ball sprang onto the door of our shelter and flipped the bolts.

Panicking parakeets fluttered through the air as we evaded Trefflich’s boy and knuckled into the maelstrom of macaques. Big-eared rats were hopping among them, looking flummoxed, and some busy little critters twitched their high-held tails. I shouldered my way through the monkeys to the door, which was a breeze. I’d worked out harder doors on
Forest Lawn.
A swivel knob and an outward push and the stairwell lay open to us. But beyond this door, I knew, there would be others. There’d be a whole succession of doors, and Trefflich, and other impossibilities. Instinct told me all this in a moment, as macaques eddied around me and down the stairs. Instinct told me too: always escape upward.

For a second I vacillated, looked around to see Bonzo and our shelter-mates, and Tyrone (my heart brimmed at his face) and various others behind me, and then I pelted upward into the dark of the stairwell, not in fear so much as pure joy. The door at the top yielded to a push and we opened out onto an escarpment. All around were the termitaries of the humans and beautiful, beautiful, climbable America.

I do love Palm Springs. You’ve got the cool, dry air from the desert coming down from the mountains, a low crime rate, half a dozen championship-quality golf courses that Don can drive me around while he hacks away. Impeccably liberal, pro-animal, pro-environment views are standard among the humans you meet. But you wouldn’t want to be young here. There’s nothing to climb. It’s a flat, bungaloid city. Whereas New York is the greatest climbing city in the world. I’d advise any young ape looking to break into the entertainment business to find a human backer living privately in New York. You may not make it—and you certainly won’t if Don and the No Reel Apes campaigners get their way—but you’ll have a better time clambering around the place, especially if you live on a
block with an old-style iron fire escape like the one that invitingly ushered us down the back of Trefflich’s building.

Down we all swung like a waterfall, six or seven chimps and twenty or so macaques. We hit the streets with a certain simian swagger, I like to think, if a little scrambled by the question of what to do with our freedom. It wasn’t as if we had a plan to return to Africa, raise children and retire. What to do? What does any organism
do, except survive?

The rolling shelters in the street slowed themselves so their occupants could gawk at us, and the braver macaques vaulted up onto them. I saw Tyrone hesitate, then rush into the crash of the rolling shelters but I couldn’t make myself follow: with their glossy depths of glazed black, their frictionlessness, their somehow angry speed, they reminded me of the mamba.

I took off down the sidewalk. Possibly I had some mad idea that I would run into Mr. Gentry, and we could parade regally together through Manhattan again, I don’t know. But I saw immediately how much things were changed simply by the absence of his hand from mine. No human called my name or sauntered up to slap palms now. Instead they stooped to grab at me or tried to corral me with the long cloth-covered sticks many of them carried. By baring my teeth and shrieking, I managed to clear a path through a cluster of them. But it was clear that I couldn’t survive long on the sidewalk and I ducked into a gap that opened up in the wall to my right.

My luck was good. I scuttled low past an old man in a booth and through a pair of doors (what is it with you and your addiction to
and found myself in a cavernous dark room. Having nothing else to do, I rested there for a few minutes, thinking of Mama and Victoria. The silvery light coming in a beam from a window at one end of the room was the color of the forest under a full moon. I thought of the three of us curled together in a nest of leaves; it had
been a long time since I’d seen that light, and it calmed me. There was a whole rectangle of it illuminating the room, and when the light brightened for a moment, I was shocked at the number of humans scattered throughout the gloom. They were all facing away from me and the shifting moonlight was so soothing that I felt no urge to leave.

After a while I began to decipher the shapes within the light up on the wall. Real humans formed, snapped away and re-formed. And once I’d deciphered the humans, the sound in the room became their speech. It was exactly like a dream, I thought, all chopped up and shuffled, and then it hit me that that was what it
, a dream, dreamed onto the wall by the silver-haloed heads in front of me.

After a few minutes the dream-story became intelligible to me. The humans were hunting for a female lost in a forest. Something wicked had stolen her. But in order to rescue her, her friends had to defeat various predators. The humans watching in their seats screamed at the succession of predators that Jack and Carl and the rest had to battle with in order to get to Ann.

At this point things went a little crazy. Ann, who turned out to be a tiny little creature no bigger than a termite grub, had been stolen by a
Jack and Carl rescued her and the chimp lumbered after them, only to be captured himself. I have to say, my attention was flagging a little, but when Jack and Carl turned out to have a ship rather similar to
Forest Lawn
, I sat up again. And when the chimp’s name was revealed to be
, as in all that “Hey, Kong!” I’d experienced on my first day in Manhattan, I thought,
I know this dream.
They’re going to take him to New York, right? And so it happened! Now, hold on. Don’t tell me he’s going to escape from his rehab center….

As Kong busted out of the miniature rehabilitation unit and
went in search of Ann again, I found I was scarcely breathing, so strong was my desire that my dream-brother should win out, should survive this ordeal. By now the humans in the room were screaming pretty much continuously. Kong retrieved Ann and started to seek some place of refuge.
, I was thinking,
safety is up
Come on, old Kong, you know that, get
somewhere! And, goddammit, he did, in a fantastically enjoyable clambering sequence that culminated with him surveying New York from the escarpment at the summit of its topmost tower, Ann cradled in his palm, tiny and vulnerable but very beautiful: the sweetest little human being in the world, in Kong’s protection.

What a finish. The most amazing, inspiring dream imaginable. I felt tremendously happy and proud of Kong for a second before I sensed human fingers scrabbling at my arm and there was the old guy I’d sneaked past at the door suddenly ahold of me. A flash of my teeth loosened his grip enough for me to free myself and I blundered off through the blackness, smashing into invisible objects in my way. I heard the old fellow barreling along behind, so followed my instincts: up, and toward the light from the window.

Luckily for me, there were little staggered ledges I was able to use to scramble up the wall that led to the shaft of light. Having gained the bottom shelf of the window, I hoisted myself into what turned out be a cramped little room almost entirely filled by a fat young human lounging in a chair. A piercing shaft of very white light emitted by the machine behind him half blinded me, but I tried to display at him as frighteningly as I could. I needed to get him out of the way of the door he was blocking. And my display seemed to work fine, except that the panicking fat boy could do no more than flail and flounder in his chair, still in my way, so I displayed more angrily, waving both hands wildly above my head, bristling my fur
and shrieking. At that point I heard an upsurge in the screams of the dreaming humans below.

BOOK: Me Cheeta
13.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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