As a kid, weekends meant hanging at my dad’s apartment. Most Saturdays were spent watching old movies on TV. When “Planet of the Apes” or any of its manifestations played, I sidled up to the black and white set with a bowl of chips and a bottle of strawberry Pop Shoppe, happy to share the afternoon with Charlton and Roddy. I’ve always loved a good ape movie.
Once again I’ve got apes on the mind. A recent story on NPR retold the adventures of Fu Manchu, the orangutang who learned to pick locks with a piece of wire he kept hidden in his mouth. Then I heard about Julie, the chimp who adorned herself with grass earrings. Her friends imitated the grass blade ornamentation even after Julie’s death.
Last week, just as the most recent “Planet of the Apes” installment was being released, three bachelor gorillas hatched a great Como Zoo escape and found their way into the toys and treats closet. I used to look for the treats closet when I was a teenager babysitting kids who finally went down for a nap. Oh Virgil, you are an ape after my own heart.
In honor of Virgil, Fu, Julie, and all of the apes that so delight us, T and I spent our weekend with them. Rather than mope about in the Saturday afternoon rain, we headed to the theater for a matinee showing of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” (It was fantastic, by the way. The perfect antidote for this summer’s dull movie schedule.) Sunday, under warm sun and blue skies, we wandered through Como Park Zoo for a peek at Virgil and his buddies as they munched on romaine lettuce and ignored the crowds that beckoned to them.
Humans have always been fascinated with apes and monkeys. We cage them and observe their reactions to imprisonment, as if being caged is a natural state for any being. We experiment on them, hoping their similarities to us will enable us to cure and discover. We look to them for evidence that we are the smarter cousins, and find that evidence a lot less frequently than we believe. Although I do wonder if Virgil’s lettuce would be tastier if he dipped it in a honey mustard vinaigrette.