“What Monkey Wants,” by Andy Glasser

Apr 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Prose

The University wasn’t too impressed that I had taught the monkey to speak. No matter what I did, they always required more.

I knew that when I taught Chester to clean my office, put away my books, sweep up the cookie crumbs, and make neat piles of paper on my desk, it wasn’t going to impress the department. But I couldn’t lose with that, so I considered it my first success, regardless.

When I embarked upon my next project, to replicate Dr. Penny Patterson’s work and teach him sign language, it was without resentment. I knew I was going to have to do something else.

I succeeded with that, but in too short an order. It should have been impressive to achieve – even such an unoriginal result – in only two and a half months, but in retrospect, the speed with which I completed my experiment may have made it look too easy. Perhaps I should have pretended to take more time. That lack of foresight probably contributed to the department’s demand for more.

Regardless, I was up for the task, and ready to make my mark, with something never before done. It took me quite a bit more time, six months, or seven, before I could feel totally confident presenting the results. It was grueling work, and not just for me but for the monkey too, yes, especially for Chester, though I must admit, he wanted to learn and tried very hard. I pushed him, too. It couldn’t have been any easier for Kelly Osborn to learn to dance, but that was achieved around the same time, and I’m not too proud to admit that she was an inspiration to us when we really needed it. During one particularly grueling week, in which we worked on one word at a time without break, Chester had a major meltdown, and said, quite by surprise, to me, “I QUIT,” A phrase I hadn’t taught him, but he must have seen it on Dancing With The Stars. It took a boatload of bananas to get him to come back to work, but by the end of the week I finally got him to utter the simple phrase, though he sounded like The Elephant Man doing it, “I… AM… A… MONKEY.” It was a start.

And by the end of the seven months, having shed seventy five pounds between the two of us, (it helped that in the throes of work, I had forgotten to eat cookies, which was just as well because the Monkey was no longer sweeping up my crumbs), I had Chester debating, with considerable skill, the pros and cons of drug legalization.

The department was unimpressed. They wanted something more original, not just from me, but from the Monkey. They wanted to know from Chester, what it was like to be a monkey, not to hear about drug legalization from a primate who hadn’t even tried marijuana (well, so I had to tell them).

They wanted an original story. They wanted, not to see that the Monkey could learn, but to learn from the Monkey. Mother of God! I was exhausted, but I looked at Chester, and he returned my glance, sideways, moving only his eyes. I could see within these large glass domes, pupils of black liquid that flowed with life, as if the eyes had a mind of their own. I believed then that he understood what they wanted, and felt the indignation that I, too, felt at being underappreciated. But I saw, also, a determination, and it fueled in me a strength that came from unknown reserves.

They would regret it, I thought at that moment. When this monkey could express itself, they would be indicted for the crimes of all humanity. Only a monkey capable of independent perspective and the ability to express it could judge us like we really needed to be judged. It would be historic, an achievement above all previous achievements. I would be judged along with everyone else, but I didn’t care. I had such high hopes for him. And they, with their less primitive minds, could not see. Chester smiled at me, and I smiled back.

I knew the old adage: if you put an infinite number of monkeys in front of a keyboard to tap randomly that one of them would produce something identical to the works of Shakespeare, but I didn’t want to rely on chance. I set Chester down and began to teach him how to type. I taught him how to tell me he was hungry. I taught him how to tell me he was tired. I taught him to tell me when I hurt his feelings. I taught him about yearnings, for freedom, for trees, and girl monkeys. I taught him that there was no “I” in TEAM, and that our team, he and I, were different than those department pointy heads. He never quite understood what I meant by “pointy head,” had trouble equating the “sharp” that meant smart, with “pointy.” Nevertheless he was soon writing phrases like “I AM HAPPY.” And “I AM FRUSTRATED” (oh proud parent I was).

We started with stories that began “ONCE UPON A TIME” and I did even manage to teach the monkey to lie. But it was hard to get him to write a good opening line.

This was his best work, and alas it was never good enough to earn the funding that we so desperately desired. I remain to this day, profoundly disappointed in Chester, though I would never tell him that:


Not Shakespeare. I tried to get him to polish up the grammar, for the department heads, but acquiesced after he made it clear to me that this was his aesthetic. I knew we wouldn’t get the funding, but I stood by my monkey. He had principles. At this point, we had been through so much together I had to accept that he would make his own choices, and that it was time he followed his own path. He ended up in a city zoo, with plenty of bananas and maybe even a girl monkey. That was, after all, what he said he wanted.

It was frustrating to me that he spoke better than this, but who was I to edit? You see, it wasn’t that he didn’t know the rules, he wanted to break them. He hated grammar and his, by then well developed, style reflected how he thought a monkey should sound in a story. I had no choice but to consider this an objective measure of what could only be “maturity.”

So, I didn’t have a problem with it, but I didn’t like his overuse of the word “WANT.” He hated grammar; ok, who doesn’t? But it did seem to me that he also hated the thesaurus, and that bothered me.

Andy Glasser grew up in New York City, but now resides in Decatur, GA, with his South Carolinian wife, their three kids and a mutt who were all born on neutral ground. He likes to write. His listing of publications includes Hobo Pancakes. That’s it. Oh, and he whores himself at day as an accountant. He didn’t want to admit that, but he says that if he earns publication in Defenestration he will leave whoring behind forever.

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