The Humor and Life, in Particular Web site
author:  Margie Culbertson

The March/April/May 2008 tie for Short Humor Contest

Drinking With the Hairy Boys


Bill Naylor

Grantham Lincolnshire


A person who regularly wakes in the middle of the night to check both his arms are the same length is severely traumatized. I am that traumatized individual and only now am I able to talk exclusively to you about the incident that caused the trauma.

As a young trainee zoo keeper I moved around from one zoo section to the other. As soon as I was sufficiently assaulted and molested by one group of animals I was patched up and moved on.

I had just completed two weeks of bliss on the bird section; birds are among my favorite animals and rarely attack. Okay, if you sunbathe naked in the vulture enclosure you might be pushing it a bit, especially with my anemic complexion, but compared with other species birds are people friendly.

This week I joined the team at the primate section. I made the mistake of calling it "The Ape House" which made all the staff there go ape…well unhappy.

In this establishment lived chimps, gorillas and orang –utans, the tree dwelling Indonesian primate who resembles a spruced up new age traveler.

The first hairy aggressive primate I met up with was Gerald, the head keeper. He detested bird keepers referring to me as the budgie minder. He was also a bully.

On my first day he filled my lunch box with gorilla dung and told me it was homework.

One of my tasks was to give the chimps their afternoon drink of black current juice.

This was passed to them through a pipe in a wall which linked the food preparation room to the chimp's outdoor enclosure. The routine was to poke the mug of blackcurrant juice through to the end of the pipe, allowing it to slightly emerge at the other end, enabling each chimp to take a drink without them being able to snatch or eat the cup.

The chimps would usually take it in turns to have a sip but occasionally one would use his sink plunger type lips to instantly siphon all the juice in one go, then I would have to pull with some effort to extricate lips from cup.

In between the rounds of drinks, they eyed me suspiciously down the pipe, baring their teeth, or making whoopee cushion noises with their lips, behaving pretty much like any other group of afternoon drinkers.

Chimps share 98% of our DNA and are our closest living relatives, so it's no surprise that they are the bover boys of the primate world. Most people are familiar with young chimps, with their big rubbery ears, large sad eyes, and hair parted smartly in the middle.

They will bite your nose while pulling on your ears to see what kind of response it gets, but they are mischievous without being malevolent.

An adult chimp by contrast is big mean and menacing, much stronger than a man. If you had a nightclub in the jungle, you might consider having a gorilla on the door.

But he's a softie. It's a full grown chimp you want. The only trouble is the nightclub would be empty, as he wouldn't let anybody in.

This particular afternoon, as usual, I was on juice detail. Having filled a cup of juice I was holding it out of the end of the pipe, but unusually, there was no sign of any chimps.

Impatiently I pushed the cup further out and called to the hairy drinkers, "C"mon then."

It was possible they were at the other end of the enclosure.

I knew different when my wrist was firmly gripped.

I could hear chimpanzee chatter on the other side of the wall, loosely translated it sounded like "We've caught the budgie minder."

What was I going to do? If I shouted for help they might get agitated. I felt my arm being tugged , not hard , just enough to let me know it would come away from the socket without too much trouble, or that I could be pulled through the pipe to join them without a single wrench.

I tried to relax, breathe deeply, stay calm, while rapidly reciting a prayer.

Would I end up being the only zoo keeper in the zoo with one arm five foot long? If that happened, I'd have to let them stretch the other arm or I would look ridiculous. What am I talking about? With both arms five feet long how could I avoid looking ridiculous?

I came out of this meditative trance when a warm wet tongue started licking my hand.

The licking became more intense, I could feel teeth. There was a whole mouth full of them.

I moaned, "Please don't eat the hand."

This was a hostage situation and I didn't even know what their demands would be.

A plane to an Africa, a banana plantation of their choice? I needed to bond with the hostage takers.

The hand licking stopped, more screeching from the chimps.

Another chimp took over, introducing himself by giving me a firm handshake, many handshakes. I felt like the Queen on a busy day.

Now my hand was being gripped by more than one chimp.

I was under no illusions of the danger. Chimps don't sit just around eating bananas, discussing tea blends or dreaming of running away to join the circus.

On their island enclosure in the zoo which is encircled by water they would from time to time catch water hens and ducks who had ventured too close. Visitors weren't always impressed to see a chimp sitting cross–legged attentively plucking a duck.

But like us they are hunters at heart. We have largely redirected the instinct into wandering aimlessly around shopping malls with lists that reach to the ground,

Wild chimps unashamedly track and kill a variety of animals. Inter group rivalry can also result in chimp killing chimp, that's why they are never considered for jobs as wildlife wardens.

My captors were now getting loud and agitated.

Were they arguing over ownership of the captured limb? It went quiet. Perhaps they had come to a decision, decided to share portions and were forming an orderly queue

Teeth were now biting my fingernails.

At least I now had the perfect alibi for having my arm stuck up this pipe.

I was having a chimp manicure.

At that moment the door opened. Oh why did it have to be Po faced Gerald?

He eyed me scornfully, which was how he usually looked at me.

"I've got a hand problem Gerald."

"What sort of hand problem?"

"The hand I used to have, the chimps have got it."

"How the hell did they get your hand?"

"It was holding the cup."

"You're not in a position to be sarcastic."

Any second he was going to ask me about the golden rule. He never failed to ask about the golden rule."

He stabbed his finger in my direction

"What is the golden rule all zoo keepers should abide by?"

I mumbled it head bowed in shame." Never ever deviate from the routine. Stick to the routine and you will stay safe." God bless the golden rule and all who sail in her.

Gerald strutted around the room glancing heavenwards shaking his head.

Now he was going to tell me how long he had been working here.

"I've been working with chimps for six years."

And how he takes up valuable time passing on his experience.

"I take up valuable time passing on my experience to the likes of you, and what do you do?"

"I ignore it." I muttered.

"Yes! You ignore it."

"Gerald, is there. Any chance of persuading the chimps to release what is left of my arm?"

Gerald slumped down in a chair. Mumbling into his hairy face.

"You trainees are a waste of time."

The chimps were now sucking my fingers, my arm was numb, or perhaps it wasn't there.

Just fingers! In the same way that amputees experience the ghost of the limb, I was left with a virtual arm.

Gerald without looking up yelled "Jumbo off!"

My arm was suddenly released. I quickly pulled it out of the pipe, and checked to see it was any longer than the one that evaded capture. No it was the correct length, but rigidly horizontal, I felt like a traffic policeman after a long shift.

"Thanks Gerald" I said begrudgingly.

"You're on the lions next week, carry on ignoring instructions, and there is a strong possibility everybody will be seeing a lot less of you in the future."

He sniggered, and as usual his nostrils flared like a warthog encountering a bad smell.

I smiled back. The only way I could manage this was by imagining good old Gerald reading his paper while being pulled feet first through the pipe in the wall.

Despite sharing a common ancestor with chimps I have never kept in touch with these African relatives nor had drinks with one since that day.

©Bill Naylor
Living in the U.K., I have retired to enjoy the level of poverty to which I have become accustomed before it's ruined when my best seller hits the book shops. I was a TV comedy writer for over twenty years, combined with a parallel lifetime career working with wildlife and as a zoo curator.

I have written numerous humorous pieces and informative articles on wildlife for UK, USA, and Australian publications. Ambition: to publish my collection of short humorous stories under the working title "A Funny thing happened on the way to the Zoological Garden ," about experiences working with exotic species and eccentric zoo staff, blending information on our fellow species with hopefully entertaining anecdotes.

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©Margie Culbertson

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