Yesterday was a ‘Feed the Poor’ day where I got out of the house and sliced cake-pie-and-pud for the Saint James Cathedral Kitchen. I was also schooled in the mysteries of ‘mammoth salad making’ and mastered the art of ‘colossal casserole collaboration’, some fun! During my extreme celery chopping exertions I had a vision of the many, many veggies I had chopped for hungry monkeys during my Zoo-keeping days of yore. Celery was never one of their favorite food-items. When their food basket arrived they would up-end it, tossing broccoli and celery aside, looking for the good stuff, grapes and yams. However, I mused, none of the primates that I met after those days, (including some of my dates on match.com - (before I met the man of my dreams), can rival my first gorilla - Wanto.
Episode TWO in the Zoo Stories Series - True tales to dip into, dwell on and that occasionally disgust.
You can take it from me. Never trust a Gorilla!
I had barely recovered from my Rat in a Blender experience, at my new Assistant Zoo-Keeping job in 1976 at the WPZ animal nursery when other concerns with the animals I was helping to raise began to surface.
In 1976, WPZ Gorillas Nina and Pete, produced a little brown bundle of joy-- WANTO.
Wanto was nearing 6 months of age when I arrived upon the Zoo nursery scene to assist Nursery Keeper Violet Sunde in his care. He must have been a beautiful baby but baby, he was a handful then! Imagine a miniature brown Arnold Schwarzenegger with large-lashed eyes and a will of iron. Violet had raised him since his “incubator-days rescue”, after first-time mom Nina dropped him on his little head once too often. He was a placid little jewel with Violet. It was me that he liked to put the fear of god into when she wasn’t around. I had been taught disciplinary gorilla-mom signals. A low harsh grunt and chest thumping were supposed to work wonders. Ha! Inevitably, when alone the Wan-ton, as we called him, would ignore my attempts to say, stop him from trying to eat the electrical socket, and there would be a big tugging match -- me venus baby- godzilla. These bouts resulted in a varied assortment of hand and finger-shaped bruises on my arms that were very difficult to explain at the gym, or while out dancing in my 1930’s sleeveless gowns. “Er, Right, sure, the..Gorilla....gave you those bruises.” Like most cases of Zoo-Gorilla abuse my plight was destined to stay behind the scenes. Or so I thought.
1976 was the year of the Zoo’s First Jungle Party, a fund raising effort that all staff were expected to participate in. What fun, I thought, and I immediately acquired a vintage strapless sarong dress that featured flamboyant orange flowers -- very “Dorothy Lamour”. The night of the party I showed up in my glamorous new attire ready to charm party goers with something like a tiny, tame, cute baby kinkajou shown through the nursery glass. But Noooo. My task for the evening was to take my nemesis, baby Wanto, outside to the exercise area and show him off to various semi-inebriated semi-big-wigs. Great, I thought, just great.
I trudged outside with my charge, his little sweet legs clamped around my waist like oversized rusted-shut bolt cutters, and I smiled, at least somewhat successfully, as the then Mayor -- Charley Royer and his encourage of perky-girl interns and city hall cronies drank champagne and made ‘hilarious’ comments about Fay Raye, King Kong and other raucous burbling quips too numerous to mention.
After 5 minutes of this banter Wanto became bored, and in an attempt to liven things up a bit slipped his little paw into a vise grip on the bodice of my strapless dress and began to pull....and pull...and PULL! The group watching were amazingly entertained by this, supposing, I guess, that it was all part of some gorilla peep show we had planned for the evening. I, on the other hand, was, not-entertained-at-all, by this display of playful gorilla jua de vie, and a feeling of frenzied and doomed deja vu took hold of me as I, without seeming to deviate from a caring and sensitive pose by screaming and flailing at him like a crazed lunatic, attempted to remove his hand from my dress.
We wrestled for a while, Wanto pulling and grunting gleefully, while I said unmentionable things to him between my clenched teeth. Finally, in fear of loosing my temper and my dress I finally gave up and fled the scene, yelling, “little Wanto needs a nap,” Back in the nursery. Mr, congeniality Immediately climbed down and scampered over to Violets lap, looked up at her lovingly with his big brown innocent eyes, and gave me a happy grin. I looked like a good-time girl down on the waterfront after the fleet has come in. My dress was perilously close to half-mast and the gardenia originally over my left ear now dangled in a tangled squishy mass that obscured the sight of my right eye. “Wanto-one Me-zero.
I forget how it all ended -- my gorilla-mom days. I think I was transfered to the Aviary and lost track of my little friend for a while. However later when he was grown up and housed in the main gorilla area it was uncanny how, when I came in view he would perk-up and start to finger a rock or small turd and eye me with a speculative grin. I began to take the long way around to the office. It was then and shall always be -- Wanto-one, me-zero.
Take my advice, never trust a gorilla.
©copyright 2009 Robin Wendell