The following is the web version of the latest Monkeywire Monthly email. With the Monthly, Monkeywire takes a break from the hard news and compiles reviews and other commentary from readers. It has been over two years since the last Monthly but we hope you'll agree it was worth the wait.
HIDEOUS MONKEY CONCEPTS | by Alexandra Ringe
We're living in a boom time, at least in the monkey-facsimile business. Go into any chain store aimed at young girls--Strawberries, say--and you'll probably find pajamas with monkeys on them, slippers with monkey faces, monkey stationery, matching monkey pens, or, at the very least, a pair of monkey socks (not to be confused with sock monkeys). And if you'd prefer a furry 3-D monkey facsimile for hugging purposes, check out any toy or gift shop that sells stuffed animals, and you'll see all sizes of gorillas, chimps, sometimes even lemurs.
I myself have made some satisfying purchases of late, among them a small, soft set of the "See no evil" monkey trio, a gorilla-mother-and-baby convertible suitcase-backpack, and a pair of sculpted bookends, each with a chimp hunched over a book, Rodin's "The Thinker"-style. All of these items were presents for fellow monkey enthusiasts, who received them gladly.
For gift-buying reasons, I am of course happy that monkeys are sharing the kitsch burden formerly carried almost exclusively by the bear in its teddy form, but I am also getting bugged by the increasing amount of monkey junk out there.
I blame this on Paul Frank, while simultaneously crediting him for the monkey-object trend. In the late 90s he started selling the blank-faced Julius on t-shirts and wallets. As soon as Frank's line attained hipster cachet, other designers began ripping him off. As monkey concepts go, I wouldn't call Julius hideous, merely mediocre. I reserve the term "hideous monkey-concept" for the objects shown here, each of which shames its real-life counterparts in its own special way.
Like many Florida towns, Palm Harbor, with its perennial sunny skies and gulfcoast seabreeze, is a popular place to retire -- and not just for humans. For the past fifty years, Palm Harbor has also been a resting place for the apes, monkeys and other animals at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary.
The Primate Sanctuary was formerly known as Noell's Chimp Farm, a name that conjures up images of expansive spaces, grounds to plow, cows to milk (an appropriate setting for chimps). But no one would confuse Chimp Farm with a ranch. Walled in by wood fencing, the roadside attraction largely consists of concrete and wire. Plastic toddler toys and furniture litter the yard. In 1999, after years of threats by regulators, the place was shut down for health and safety violations.
Since then, the site has been remodeled. The animals have moved to larger, airier cages, and, provided it passes USDA inspection, the place will reopen to the public in the next few months. The name change from Chimp Farm to the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary, is part of the facelift, but to locals, the tiny strip of land off U.S. Alternate 19 will probably always be Chimp Farm.
Mae and Bob Noells founded Chimp Farm as a home for their menagerie in the 1970s. The Noell's had been acquiring apes since the 1940s, when the couple traveled the country as Noell's Ark Gorilla Show. For the main event, the Noells would invite a man from the audience to wrestle a chimp.
Over time, Chimp Farm gradually expanded as zoos, Hollywood trainers, and unlikely animal owners sought homes for difficult-to-place primates. Jan, the volunteer who showed me around, said that zoos get rid of all animals with any kind of deformity -- missing fingers, scars, torn ears -- rather than risk raising public concern about how the animals are treated. When others refuse to take them, zoos call Chimp Farm.
Many of the sanctuary's occupants are retirees from Hollywood. But that doesn't mean they're seniors: chimps retire at an age when most of us are working our first fast food jobs. After reaching adolescence, apes often refuse to do what humans want. Since the vast majority of chimps seen in the media are young pups, many people believe chimps to be small creatures, easily confused with monkeys. The chimps here, however, are four to five feet tall, some bearing freckles, gray beards, swollen bottoms.
Jan, a welcoming and kind retiree, clearly loves her work. She eagerly gave me the chimp tour, but warned not to get too close: the little monsters like to throw poop at humans. Jan told me about the time Harry started whipping dung at her as she cleaned a nearby cage. Jan refused to let the chimp get the best of her and by the time she had finished, her clothing, hair, and glasses were coated in crap. Fortunately, that hasn't happened since; Harry now occupies himself by watching Rugrats and The Price Is Right, and throws Jan air kisses when she walks by.
As we toured, Jan introduced me to some of the residents. Mike, upon seeing us, gestured to Jan that he wanted a smoke -- a habit he picked up at Albuquerque Zoo in the 1960s. When Jan refused, Mike made another gesture, one I recognized from middle school as "suck my dick." Jan didn't translate that for me, though. "He wants a cigarette," she repeated.
The cage next to Mike houses two orangutans, Jewel and Ruby. Jewel was holding a long pine branch and, when she saw us, gave a plaintive look and pointed to the adjacent tree. "She wants another branch," said Jan. "They always want more branches." Later, I saw Jewel putting a stick through the bars in an attempt to draw one of the tree branches closer. Ruby and Jewel apparently spend hours doing this, pausing only to point out cyclists on the nearby bike path.
Otto, the sanctuary's sole gorilla, starred in the old American Tourister commercials (he was the one pouncing on luggage). I didn't see him jumping around much when I visited, but apparently Otto has become a skilled painter, using both his tongue and his fingers. Like the chimps, Otto watches a lot of TV. (Apparently, TV is as good at controlling chimps as it is with children and prisoners). According to the sanctuary's website, Otto also likes "hula hoops, hair brushes, blankets, and baby toys."
After our tour, Jan had to get back to work. Everyone who works at Chimp Farm these days is a volunteer, even Debbie, the Noell's granddaughter, who runs the place. Debbie is a fervently religious woman and all the music played inside Chimp Farm headquarters is contemporary Christian. At the time I visited, Jan was making a Christmas present for her boss, collecting hair from all the animals, which she planned to place in clear plastic baggies bearing the given ape's name. A prayer box, she explained--Debbie would use the ape locks to pray for her "family."
Considering that the sanctuary still needs about $200,000 to complete a recreational habitat, I'm sure a little prayin' couldn't hurt.
Would you like your computer to shriek like a monkey when an e-mail from Monkeywire comes in? Well, who doesn't, really? I've put together some rather sketchy instructions and a nice monkey sound (.wav .mp3 .sfil ) to install. The procedure is pretty simple: you just set up a filter to tell your e-mail program to play this sound when anything with the text "monkeywire" is received. The sound is provided in several formats -- hopefully one of them will work with your computer.
Monkeys on the Simpsons
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