What do you say to a 600-pound gorilla? Sir! And of course one has no trouble seeing the United States as a 600-pound gorilla - No, Sir! Nor is this an ordinary 600-pound gorilla. This particular little beastie has gone bonkers, rushing around threatening the entire animal kingdom.
Well, I have some experience with gorillas, more precisely with one, the gorilla in Manhattan’s Central Park Zoo, Kongo his name, I believe. One fine day in 1979 I stood in front of his cage and after a while it occurred to me that gorillas, just like humans, need Vitamin-C. There couldn’t possibly be sufficient Vitamin-C in his diet. Considering his size he would have had to eat mountains of citrus fruit to get the minimum daily requirement. I happened to have a couple of 1000mg capsules of C on me, so I took one out, got close to the cage and held it out to him.
He’d been lounging on a big, black tire in the center of the enclosure, watching me. I dare say there was a certain rapport between us from the start. Now he just casually ambled over to the bars, reached out, took the cap, then moved back to his tire and made himself comfortable. I knew he had the capsule but was cupping it in his hand so you couldn’t see it from the visitors side. After a while he brought it up to his face with two fingers, holding it delicately, the way these great apes will. He sniffed at it, licked it a little, sniffed again. Eventually he started nibbling at it, then licked some of the white powder off the capsule.
The effect was startling – and stunning. That huge, massive body flew up, came down, he stood there, Vitamin-C powder on his chest, shaking, shivering, licking at the powder, licking his great palms, snorting, shaking his head, licking wherever he thought there was some of that powder left. Finally he pried open the capsule still in his hand, licked it clean. Then, in two great bounds, he was at the bars staring right into my eyes. Naturally – very very cautiously - I handed him the other capsule.
Apparently, after these first two 1000mg hits, Kongo was totally hooked. The next time I went to see him (carrying half a dozen or so capsules in one pocket) I tested his recall by standing back in the small crowd of visitors. We made no eye contact but I believe he deliberately waited until I’d moved up front to the bars, before slowly ambling over – sidling up to me, actually. There was something surreptitious about his behavior, as if he sensed we were partners in something illicit. Indeed, he waited until there was a lull in the flow of visitors, then, when there were only two, three people besides me, he stealthily held out his great paw, shielding it from view as best he could. I snuck him three capsules this time – a big hit. He pivoted, bounded over to the door of a windowless cubicle with cement walls, disappeared into it.
He staid in there for quite a while, ten minutes at least, but I was determined to wait him out. When he reemerged he ambled right over to me, sat himself down and broke open what must have been the last of the three capsules. This time he actually made a show of it. With hindsight I believe he’d imbibed two capsules in privacy, then come back outside slightly inebriated, or rather, turned on, by the delicious dust. I may be wrong about this but I’m sure Kongo was high. There was a certain swagger to his shoulders, a mischievous gleam in his eyes when he broke the cap open and emptied first one, then the other half into one palm, then started licking – quite suggestively I must say. That proved to be his, or rather our, undoing.
A couple of cops walking the beat had stopped to watch Kongo blissfully licking away at the Vitamin-C. Being street-smart Manhattan cops they immediately fingered me for the connection. What’s that you give him there, what is that stuff? You giving him dope? A much younger, bolder man then, I told them I’d given him Vitamin-C and that I was sure Kongo was Vitamin-C deficient. You some kinda doctor? If you a doctor how come you can’t read that sign, so I’ll read it for ya. Feeding the animals strictly prohibited. Violators will be prosecuted. Get it?
Yes, sir, I said, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again, but you know we all need Vitamin-C, it’s good against all kinds of things, like for instance scurvy, I just wouldn’t want this magnificent animal to develop prostrate cancer or scurvy, would you?
They looked at each other – the kind of look only New York beat cops do faultlessly. A look that said it all in a few short words, in this case eight: What we got here is a harmless nut. They looked back at me, smiling. Yeah, well, okay, fuhgeddabouditokay? Yes, sir, I said and walked away. Or rather started walking away, stopped dead in my tracks by a roar like a freight train plowing into a Quonset hut – Kongo hitting the bars with all of his 600-plus pounds, then rattling them in a fury such as I’d never seen unleashed by man, woman, child or beast. The cops literally jumped back, reflexively pulling their batons. Onlookers gathered as Kongo kept it up for maybe a minute, then stopped as abruptly as he’d started, switching to a mode if anything more menacing than what he’d just done. Throwing back his head, he bared his great yellowish fangs and started pounding his chest. The hollow, booming sound he produced would have made the makers of King Kong starring Jessica Lange green with envy.
What was worse was that his anger – real or shrewdly enacted – clearly was directed at the two cops. These now actually took a couple of steps backwards, but in a strange, timid way that made it look as if they were withering away, shrinking from his rage. Regaining some composure, one of them started laughing, which caused Kongo to intensify his efforts. The bars no longer seemed safe, in fact one had begun to give under the relentless onslaught. This whole thing was swiftly moving toward some nasty climax: one of the cops was going for his gun - just to be safe, one might have thought, but the look on his face told me he meant business. Out of I know not what desperate impulse I took two, three steps, put my arms around him – quickly, perfunctorily, effectively. I just hugged him, then his buddy. They looked at me dumbfounded. That moment Kongo closed his huge maw, stopped beating his chest. It was over as suddenly as it had begun.
In the silence that now enveloped us there was an element of peace and harmony such as I had felt on only a handful of occasions in my life. The cops looked chastened, dumbfounded. As if by common impulse they now acted as if nothing at all had happened, nodding at me, starting to move away, to continue on their ostensibly uneventful beat – all hunky-dory, all routine. Except, as they passed me, one of them mumbled in a low, weirdly suggestive voice Take it easy there fella – and that goes for your buddy too. Nothing anyone had ever said to me had made me feel remotely as proud as that little word buddy, spoken that day by a humble beat cop in Central Park. Will do, Sir, was all I could muster for a repartee.
So there you have it. By spontaneously hugging a couple of New York cops back in 1979, I managed to pacify a rampaging gorilla confined in an at least marginally safe cage. Today, 28 years later, an infinitely larger, infinitely nastier gorilla is out there, rampaging on the open range, sorely in need of pacification. I may just be the man to do the job - I’m three decades older today, a lot cagier, and as you can see from the above I have at least a modicum of experience. So why not let me have a go at it?
You know where to find me, StillOccasionallyRelativelyFreeWorld. It’s a long shot, yes, but, I mean, what have we got to lose! Besides, it might just turn out to be a helluva show.
©Peter Edler 2007