Two days after the worst disaster in the history of the offshore drilling industry, a high-ranking executive of the company at fault decided he needed a day off. Like most of his cohorts, Joe Petrol wasn’t about to accept any personal responsibility for the accident. “These things happen,” was the ongoing phrase of the week.
Indeed, the heat in the kitchen was becoming unbearable, so to speak, and since he couldn’t stand it, he got out, as did many of his partners who suddenly discovered they had personal matters that needed attending to.
Joe loved being entertained, especially after a few pressure-filled days at the office. “Detach, get distracted, and disengage your mind,” was his favorite motto to follow in times like these. In regards to what exactly he wished to do that day, Joe had a number of choices. After all, he was a wealthy man by anyone’s standards. Joe thought about it for a while before choosing to go to the zoo. He hadn’t been there in years, and it had recently been renovated. A change of scenery would do him good, or so he figured. Just thinking about it lightened him up, and made him feel young again.
Dressed in casual attire, Joe left home in hope of an uneventful day. He drove to the zoo, and easily found a place to park his gold Mercedes. After he stepped out of the car, his stomach let out a low growl. As luck would have it, a hot dog vendor stood nearby. The bearded man behind the stand was an old long-haired hippie wearing a brightly colored tie dyed shirt. Joe went and bought a hot foot-long, and tipped the man a dollar. The vendor grinned, and offered him a free cup of Kool-Aid in return. Since Joe was in the mood to feel like a kid again, and since he did need something to drink, he happily obliged, took the cup and thanked the man. Little did Joe know that the vendor was on a secret mission to enlighten the community one person at a time. That’s why he’d made the Kool-Aid electric. Joe was not experienced, in Hendrix’s sense of the term. Joe’s lust for money had helped him make it through the peace-loving 60’s basically unscathed. That was all about to change.
Joe could see the gates to the zoo from where he stood, so he gobbled up the hot dog, and chased it down with his strawberry Kool-Aid. There was no waiting line at the booth, so Joe speedily paid for his ticket, and walked through the turnstile. The first thing he noticed was a building that housed an indoor aquarium. He found the entry door, pushed it open, and walked on in. The see-through glass container was larger than he’d imagined. There were a variety of species on the swim, and Joe thought they looked exceptionally magnificent, so he took his time and tried to view each kind in turn. The fish of many flavors were becoming more and more vivid as the minutes quickly passed. They were darting to and fro so fast that their colors blended together, leaving rainbow-like trails in their wake. Joe’s stomach began to feel a bit queezy, but he figured that was because he’d eaten the hot dog too fast. A short while later, in a tank all their own, he watched a shark with a mouthful of teeth chase down and bite into a pretty little goldfish. He cringed as the bloody red ooze infiltrated the surrounding waters, and decided he’d best move along.
Right next door was the reptile sanctuary. It was dark and dank inside that place. The smell of the musty air gave Joe the creeps. Some of the lizards closely resembled fire-breathing dragons, and some of them looked exactly like miniature dinosaurs. Just watching the snakes slither around made him want to crawl out of his skin. Those ancient relics of times long past caused his hair to stand on end, and a chill rushed up his spine. Joe grew ever more fearful of them with every moment that passed. He didn’t know why he felt that way, but he knew he’d seen enough of those guys. Joe made haste towards the exit door, and as he opened it to the sunshine, he realized how ridiculous he’d been. Joe then began to laugh at himself. The more he laughed the better he felt, and then pretty soon everything he looked at was hilarious.
With an ear to ear grin, Joe continued to walk, and he didn’t stop until he found the monkey exhibition. It was a very active scene, and it appeared like they were having a barrel full of fun. Once they caught eye of Joe, they all pointed at him and laughed, “Eeee, eeee, eeee!” Joe tried to imitate the monkeys, and laughed back at them with an “Eeee, eeee, eeee!” of his own. This went on and on for quite some time. After having a ton of fun with the monkeys, Joe was out of breath. He saw a bench in front of the next exhibit, so he went and sat for a spell. The orangutans behind the bars were busying themselves with their daily chores. Watching them pick and prune each other calmed him down considerably. They seemed especially intelligent to Joe. He felt a sort of kinship with them for his hair was also reddish-orange. He waved at them and they waved back, which pleased him immensely. Joe was feeling particularly strange during this stage of his trip, but it was a good kind of strange. Although every sight, sound, and smell continued to gain in intensity, he didn’t find it bothersome, nor did he feel sick, so he wasn’t worried about it. He figured it was nothing but a sugar rush from the Kool-Aid.
Vocally expressing himself, Joe told the great apes, “Goodbye!” Walking upright and proper, Joe took off and hit the road in search of lions and tigers. With his mind racing around, and his thoughts running rampant, Joe began to ask himself some very weird questions. At one point along the way, he thought he might have all the answers to every question known to Man hidden somewhere inside himself. During the short amount of time it took for him to walk from the tiger cages to the muddy rhino’s pond, Joe thought he understood religion for the very first time. Between the land of the giraffes and the alligator swamp, Joe regained his love of life, and in his zest for life he found new reason to live. Everything fell into place, and Joe knew where he stood in the grand scheme of things. He’d completely forgotten himself, that is…until he came upon a gorilla’s transparent fortress. When Joe saw his own reflection on the wall, it all came back to him, including who he was, the company he worked for, and why he’d run away that day. He had no answers for the ongoing oil spill. He only had questions, same as everyone else, which made him feel sad, and a teeny bit guilty. He stared into the eyes of Joe Petrol for a full 10 minutes before he came back to his senses, and spied the gorilla sitting back quite aways from the glass on the grass.
The big ape was holding a notebook in one big hand, and a pen in the other. Surprised by this perplexing sight, Joe stood still and wondered, “What the heck?” For all appearances sake, it sure looked like the burly beast was carefully scribbling something on a page. The gorilla finally raised his head, and looked straight at Joe. Without a hint of surprise on his face, the gorilla held his index finger up in the air, as if to say, “Hold on just a minute,” and then he proceeded to scribble some more. Joe understood the gesture, and patiently waited to see just what the ape was up to. When the gorilla had finished with his work, he gently ripped the page from the book, and folded it three times. Then he looked around to see if anyone else was watching. The coast was clear, so the gorilla got up on his feet, and pointed to one corner of his high-walled enclosure. He continued to scan the entire area as he made his way on all fours to the spot where he wanted Joe to meet him. Joe’s heart skipped a beat, and then he too looked around for other visitors. There wasn’t a soul in sight, so he thought, “Why not?” Joe courageously walked over to the designated corner, and got a giant-sized view of the ape up close and personal. The big guy had keen and dark shifty eyes, and the expression on his face spelled m-i-s-c-h-i-e-f. This was all too surreal for Joe to believe, but he kept his cool, and played along. The gorilla looked around one last time before slipping the note under the glass. Without hesitation, Joe reached down to pick it up, and rapidly unfolded it. What he held in his fingers was a hand-written letter. That stunning revelation was such a shock to his system that he nearly fell over backwards. After regaining his composure, Joe looked at the note again. The penmanship wasn’t very good, but it was legible. Joe expressed his puzzlement to the ape, and pointed at the note. The gorilla grinned, best he could, and proudly thumped his own chest a few times with his thumb. Whereupon he turned and nonchalantly wandered back to his place in the grass. After the ape had taken his seat, he shooed Joe away with a few flicks of his wrist.
Feeling a tad rejected, Joe waved goodbye to the gorilla, but the gorilla would have none of that. He’d already gone back to pretending he was just a dumb animal. Joe stuck the note in his pocket, and whistled a tune as he walked away. He wondered if he’d just made a very important discovery. Joe also wondered if the zoo keepers knew about the gorilla’s mysterious talent. Since he didn’t really know, Joe took off and headed for the far side of the zoo in search of a hiding place. Twice along the way, he stopped and pinched himself just to make sure he was truly awake. For certain, he wasn’t dreaming, and although Joe didn’t feel normal, he wasn’t about to let that stop him, because now he was on a mission. As fate would have it, he did find a little park with flowers, benches, and shade. Joe sought and found a place where he wouldn’t be easily noticed, and anxiously sat down. He paused for a moment to gather his wits about him, and then he took a deep breath. Not knowing exactly what to expect, Joe readied himself for a big surprise, and told his magnificent hands to unfold the mystery. His adventurous spirit could feel the weight of the moment. This was history in the making, and Joe thought he was up to the challenge. “Most likely,” he thought, “it will simply be quaint, and possibly amusing, or something akin to what a first grader would say.” Not once did it occur to him that it might be overwhelming.
Bound by biased eyes to gaze upon those you deem attractive, chained to your instinctive natures, you blindly follow talented souls who know how to capture your interests. As modern human beings, you are inclined to look upon me as a curiosity. Seeking the pleasures of entertainment, seeking an escape from your day to day worries and cares, you take yourselves to the movies, you attend spectacular events, or you come here to the zoo where you pretend to get away from it all. You fool no one but yourselves. Oh, the lengths you won’t go to just to pass the time. It astounds me!
Guns, bombs, blood and gore — there will be no holds barred for the baddest of barbarians. Torture, mutilation, beheadings — perhaps, they serve you right, but your rules do not apply to the saddest of gladiators. Ah, yes. ‘Tis all good and well for those of you who choose to be content with a life full of spectating. Woe unto you, silly humans. You risk nothing but your wages whilst you watch your inglorious shows, and place your bets on hopeless underdogs. That a humanity who likes to think of themselves as civilized should find such things appealing is appalling. A travesty, no less.
Furthermore (and this is much worse), when you do take action, when you do take matters into your own hands, you rape the earth, plunder its resources, foul the air, and blacken the living waters with your crude and sloppy methods. And yet, you imagine your species highly evolved — the highest! Well, let me tell you something. You should have learned from Darwin: Higher does not mean better. It only makes you more complex, and now everything is complicated.
You put yourselves on a pedestal, and you put us behind glass walls. All in the name of your self-given right to pursue happiness. Well, well. Are you happy now? Is this what you call Dominion? Take a look around. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Not a one of us asked to be here. You should have left me alone in the jungle. But, no! You meddled in affairs that didn’t concern you. If only I could have died with dignity in my homeland…
We, the beasts, have been reduced to mere spectacles. The birds are just for show, and the fish are visibly confined to their quarters. This is how you express your freedom, which always comes at someone else’s expense. In this case — ours. We are the expendable ones this time around, but don’t you worry. You’ll get yours, all in due process.
Signed, Frank The Gorilla
P.S. Hey, Joe! This is for you, mister. Take these words to heart. I’m afraid you’re taking yourselves down the path of no return. We had high hopes for your kind. ‘Tis a pity. You were meant for better things, believe you me. It’s time for you to take this note and leave. Go away! I fear you, and I fear for your children. They seem to be the only ones who truly understand.
Later that night at closing time when the keepers of the gate were making their rounds, they found Joe Petrol sitting in front of a fountain that lay in the center of a large flower garden. He was stark naked. They yelled to him, but he was unresponsive. The guards moved in to get a closer look, and asked him, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” But Joe just sat there as still as a stone. He did not speak, nor did he acknowledge their presence. Frank’s note lay beside him on the ground. The guards had never encountered that kind of trouble before, so they called the police. Shortly thereafter, a paddy wagon drove up to the scene, and men in white coats came and took Joe away.
To date, he remains an imprisoned patient undergoing further observation in a mental institution. The doctors have not been able to pinpoint any physical reason for his supposed meltdown, so they assume he’ll make a complete recovery within a day or two. Right offhand, they attributed the note to Joe himself because, of course, gorillas don’t write letters, but since they couldn’t be certain, a handwriting expert was called in to review the evidence, and the investigation of the case continues. No criminal charges have been filed against Joe, even though it’s clearly a case of indecent exposure.
Photograph courtesy of my daughter, Kirstie Watson