Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes

It was a strange world, ruled not by humans like you and me, but by apes and monkeys that talked and thought and built and planned and organized like humans do here in this world. The difference, I guess, was that on their world, there was so much rain forest and for some reason both monkeys and apes had opposable thumbs. Also, whereas here on our earth, we sometimes surmise that we didn’t bother with agriculture until we’d used up all the big game, and we didn’t really get thinking until we had to deal with agriculture and population density and the therwith-possible accumulations of great power; over there they made amazing use of their free time. I don’t know why, but even with fruits so plentiful and a seemingly infinite supply of luxury treetop living, they would sit around inventing, organizing, theorizing, warring. Like in Ancient Greece, kind of, I guess.

It was a strange world because it was ruled not by humans like you and me, but by hairy apes and monkeys that leaped from branch to branch, shaking leaves and loosing fruit rests, feces, and urine over the side, for the loamy jungle ground and its army of bugs and microbes to process. This world didn’t even have humans!, that’s how strange it was.

Maybe the weirdest thing about this world was that you weren’t born a specific type of ape or monkey, you were born what looked like a tiny little monkey with a stubby tail, and then you would grow into some kind of an ape or monkey, and the tail would either grow longer and possibly become prehensile (New World monkeys have prehensile tails, Old World monkeys do not). I know that sounds impossible, however, what is more possible: that which you think is possible or that which you witness first hand as being the case??

A big advantage that readers of this story have over some but not all readers of other stories is that I (your narrator) went to Catholic school, and so I (the person presenting this story and its concomitant reality to you) know pretty much everything. Obviously I don’t know every bit of science, history, math, literature, anthropology, sociology, pop culture, or any of that. But those things are more like evolving details, rather than what’s really going on. And in Catholic school you have religion class, where they teach you about Reality writ large: what’s really going on, what’s really preferable, and how to fit yourself into the flow of things so as to get to what’s really preferable.

I don’t know the mechanism by which these little monkey babies would evolve into various type of monkeys and apes. But I can tell you that the mental and emotional development of these primates did not seem to be affected by which sort of primate they grew into. Still, their life-path was definitely influenced by whether they grew into a big gorilla or a tiny marmoset. Marmosets were more likely to marry marmosets than gorillas, for example. And certain weapons were too big for most monkeys to wield effectively, for another example. Positions of power tended to go to apes. Not always, and I think as their society evolved, that became less and less the case; since, after all, apes were bigger so in times of violence, that seemed better, but when violence got so sophisticated that it became more about strategy and technology than about hefting swords and drawing bows, then bigger started to seem more like “whatever” than it had before.

When I was there on the planet, observing and hanging out, I learned that you can waste whole days drinking fermented coconut milk and laughing with apes and monkeys on a sheltered wooden platform looking out at the misty morning morning and then the muggy morning and then the noontime showers and then the hotter drier but still pretty damp afternoons. Of course, I knew that before. Or at least I knew of the fundamental truth that days can be wasted in alcohol and frivolity, but I hadn’t ever wasted time in that exact manner before, nor had I ever woken up with that precise type of coconut-milk whole-head-somehow-even-into-your-teeth headache before. But this is by the by. Unless it’s important somehow, and I mention it for that reason, though right now it seems just a stray thought brought on by the pounding of hammers on a building site near my apartment.

The place I am telling you about was the village I visited. It was more like the main neighborhood in a bigger city, than a village in a state. And the city was more like a country than either a city or a state in the United States, where I live in a very big city, but under the ultimate authority of the federal government. Of course, this being the United States of America, it is understood that the federal government is ultimately under the authority of We the People, who, through orderly, secure, fair, and regular elections gently poke and prod our shared government away from chaos, corruption, madness, and tyranny, and towards what’s best for us all altogether, having faith, as loyal-hearted even-minded and bright-eyed citizens of a democratic republic with equality under the law and in the Light, in the existence of win-wins, and in the need to together seek them.

The village was called Brompton. I don’t know how it got that name and I know I am anglicizing it and otherwise not doing their language any kind of justice, because I lack the linguistic chops to even try. Brompton was a neighborhood in a city that I can translate because it is made of words with clear meaning: Wild Woolly Vines. I think the place used to be thick with vines, but by this point in time, they’d been largely replaced with more dependable and regulatable ropes.

Sometimes I feel how other peoples’ realities rubs off on me, and then I approach someone else with this new reality, and they are like, “what is this nonsense?”, and then I want to be like, “it isn’t my reality! So and so’s reality rubbed off on me just now. I was only temporarily infected by it.” But since they did not say, “what is this nonsense?”, but only spoke to me with arched eyebrows and backthroat-rounding irony, I could only keep saying the kind of nonsense I’d already been saying, but more quietly and with eyes downcast and fumbling.

The village of Brompton was a busy and exciting place. It was the economic and cultural center of Wild Woolly Vines. The seat of the government was just across the West River (really part of a larger river) in what I’d translate as Washing Place, so named for its origins as a place for washing clothes on the banks of a sluggish river as it poured its heart and soul into the mighty sea, which pouring, coupled with the end of the East River (really a narrow channel of the mighty sea after it made its way through a large oval sound) all made for an unparalleled natural harbor. I know I said that Westville was across the West River, or at least I know I meant to say that. But Washing Place was carved into Westville, which bordered Washing Place on all sides except for the river side.

When you are young and live in a free nation with grandparents who are retired for decades in nice big homes of their own and who roam the land in van caravans and the pleasant security of jobs well done, time well spent, and church bodies that need love and respect them; it is hard to deal with our today, where political evil and cultish idiocy and malice combine with good-old fashioned, respectable political spin, partisan organization, and the gentle promise of politics-within-a-functioning-democratic-republic as usual. One becomes disoriented. Did Trump not really spend a month trying to steal the 2020 election? Or, if so, is that not such a big deal after all, not something that his next administration, now shorn of the old fashioned “responsible adults” from his last administration, but peopled with a new sort of “responsible adult” committed to enforcing Trump’s policies and making his presidency more powerful and the countervailing balances less able to stop him, but not quite sharing his desire to only accept election results where they win: is this going to make everything fine? And why do we know they don’t quite share his intention to only accept election results when they win? Because they say so? One begins to slip and slide through life, waking up at four in the morning with old and new knots in one’s gut: the old knots of the old deep hurt; the new ones of worry for the continuance of the truth, justice, democracy, and !American Way! that you in your naive and pleasantly padded youth thought were yours to keep. But then one begins to doubt ones doubts. Mike Johnson and Kellyanne Conway are certain that Trump is a good, solid president like we always want. They’re sure he’s not trying to become a Putin-style dictator. And so what do I know? But it wasn’t just the 2020 election. Trump was attacking checks and balances all through his presidency. And he still pretends the 2020 election was stolen from him. And Mike Johnson serves up an elaborate but ultimately so clearly specious and even by this conservative Supreme Court refuted argument for why Trump’s lies are reasonable approximations of the truth. And there’s some talk of immigrants poisoning the blood of the nation. And talk of punishing news organizations that stood up to him. And the whole thing feels very much like the old notion long painfully gnawing inside: people are as evil as the system lets them be. But here we have someone desperately trying to pervert the system so as to be allowed to be more evil. Evil as in I steal all the power and the glory and people who disagree with me are silenced, sidelines, destroyed, and waylaid. Political evil starts out subtle, but to the degree it succeeds, it becomes the same old boring bone-snapping evil you remember from movies that you knew had nothing to do with you.

We interrupt this interruption to bring you a strange, though you have our word not impossible, dream:

I am awoken by a noise and I see a woman moving through my bedroom or maybe out in the hall. She is young, petite, pale with dark hair, a beautiful delicate face. I ask her what she’s doing. She said she’s looking for place for the two of them to rest. The two of them?, I ask. And she pats her round pregnant belly, which I’d not before noticed. Oh, I say. But who are you with?, who let you in? I asked because I thought she must be a guest of one of my siblings. But she said no one let her in, she came in on her own. There’s no extra beds. I say she could get in bed with my sister. She said no. I set her up on a sofa with blankets but I don’t seem to have an extra sheet and for a pillow I fold up a blanket. Then it seems that she is on my lap with her head leaning against my shoulder and I am leaning with my back against the blue fabric square-bodied sofa. And I am saying I guess in the morning she’ll leave and on the way she’ll have to steal something from the house: something that I don’t really need but that I’ll still kind of be sorry to lose — like maybe the silverware, which actually belongs to my parents and I’m just kind of keeping for them and I would be sorry to lose it. Then she says if I give here a credit card, she won’t have to steal anything; and she’d prefer that anyway because she likes to be able to pay cab drivers with money. So then I say maybe if I gave her like $120 she could refrain from stealing anything? She said that didn’t sound like enough. I thought of offering $150 or $160, but I decided to jump right up to $200. She said, Okay, for $200 in cash she can leave in the morning without stealing anything. I do not believe anything passed between us beyond this little bit of cuddling and then she is in bed on the sofa with crocheted blankets on top and also for a pillow, and I am headed towards bed. But then I decide my siblings should know. And they seem to have rooms below this level. But to get there I have to crawl under an entrance a couple feet high. It seems to be part of a playhouse built into the house. And somehow when I am crawling back to my level, my sister is there lowering a portcullis and I just barely make it through without being run down by the metal bar gate. I say, hey!, what are you doing? But she says she always does that. Then my brother is there with some friends and I tell them about the young woman sleeping on the sofa and I forget why, but my brother asks for money for something, and I say please not too much, I’m already out $200 tonight. So we agree on $50 for him and everyone is happy, although I reflect on how now I’ve spent a quarter of a thousand dollars that night. And not really for anything. Just for a half-hearted promise that the girl who broke and entered into the house won’t also steal from it, and $50 worth of some detail perhaps related to that circumstance. This dream ends with far away and then close up pictures of the young woman as she travels around from town to town, stopping in libraries to use their internet to publish rightwing conspiracy theories on a blog she has. I wonder why she does that. To make money? Is she making money that way? Does she believe these things? But I see her there typing without any belief or much interest in what she’s saying, beyond the art of it, and also maybe some joy at inserting explosives into the joints and cracks of our shared thought and government — that here she considers herself an artist in command of her craft. I don’t approve of this behavior, but I cannot undo the softness I feel for her; the sympathy and broken unconsummatable longing for her.

And then in a separate dream I see you walking up to the glass revolving doors in the glass entrance of a big firm where I also work. My heart drops. I watch you as you pass quickly past, face down, clearly trying to not interact with me or acknowledge my existence — my shoulders drooped, face fallen, heart clearly drooping out over and smashed. You walk past me. I turn and say as you pass by that I am sorry and, now, with you through the revolving doors (I guess I was outside the building? Or maybe inside the lobby between two sets of revolving doors?) and in the elevator with a closing door, I — my head now somehow through the revolving doors — yell, loud enough to be heard but no louder, that I would do anything to make things Okay with you, anything. The elevator doors close. I think you looked back at me, but not with happy eyes — with scrunched brow. And I stand there wondering if I shouldn’t have said that, if that was an imposition and improper, if I should’ve just remained silent and spoken to you only through the crestfallenness of my being.

But at some point one must always wake up. Then one can lay in bed worrying about one’s little life and the country’s big conundrums. And one can say to God, go ahead and shape me into your servant; I can be single, but please not so alone; I can give up everything to do your will — what do I have to lose?; but what is your will anymore and how do I fit into it?; I don’t want to get out of bed, God; I don’t want to do another day of this; not that it is so bad; I’m just sick with worry and so lonely.”

I’m telling you that in the days of the air tigers that tunneled through the sky like fanged corkscrews and the giant moles that burrowed under the earth with claws as big as a (full grown medium sized male or larger female) gorilla and the shark-faced whales that crashed and chomped through the seas and up the deep rivers like belligerent drunks in wifebeaters stained with mustard, sweat, animal and auto grease, and either ketchup catsup or blood: I’m telling you that in those days the only safe place was the trees and the only safe way was to fling oneself eloquently through the branches from the low-mid to low-upper levels of the canopy!

But what do you know of such things? You who’ve never known war except as something to either thrill over in the subtle ecstasies of world domination or to protest in the subtle ecstasies of moral domination or to worry vaguely over in the subtle tragedy of half-empathy half-fear deep-apathy please-let-us-keep-going-out-to-eat-and-for-coffee-and-to-the-park-I-luv-u !!

What do you know of such things?

Apes, monkeys, dragons, roses, open air passion plays on treehouse stages, breadfruit slow-roasted in the nutty (like almonds?) leaves of the mush-monch tree, gorilla females showing their backsides to male gibbons, cheeky young spider monkeys hawking papers (“Read all about it! Twenty-five cents for today! Fifteen for yesterday! Thirty and you’re caught up! Come and get it! Hot off the imaginations! Right here in WWV!”) on broad branches radiating out of mighty trunks with shops and restaurants built in the round all around: What does it all amount to?

Forgive me my impatience. It’s not as if I understand the pressures and privileges of this time and place. No, I was just there watching like you watch TV, except a really amazing TV that you could go inside and interact with, some really fantastic TV brought to you by tech geniuses, financial wizzes, and out-of-the-box pop-tart artistic visionaries. Anyway, there I was, or there I seemed to be: For what more can we say of life?, and has it not been practically theologically proven from every possible religious/philosophical/scientific vantage point that life is indeed an illusion in which we row row row through the mind/heart of God, living the three-dimensional, textured, scented, flavored, and pleasure-/pain-ed dreams of the God?

Be that as it may!

By which I mean, “Wie dem auch sei!”

By which I mean, “remember that part in Thomas Mann’s ‘Der Tod in Venedig’ / ‘The Death in Venice’?”

Thomas Mann does such a good job in that youthful novella!, whatever the exact combinations of confusions, urges, admirations, and contemplations that gave birth to them. In Wikipedia it says that he was inspired by the 72-year-old-Johan-Wolfgang-von-Goethe’s rejection from the 17-year-old Ulrike von Levetzow, and the resultant “Marienbad Elegy”, and by Gustav Mahler’s 1911 death in Vienna, and by a 10-year-old Polish boy he (Thomas Mann, a repressed homosexual and realized world-historic author) who he observed with marked interest while both families (the young author’s and the young boy’s) vacationed in Venice in 1911. Thomas Mann was 36 in 1911 (oh! So not that young, but most of his best works were yet to come).

I heard Thomas Mann died in 1955 at the age of 80 in Zurich. But then I heard, from a good, God-fearing Christian, that that wasn’t true — that that was all part of the big lie trying to steal our history and legacy from us, and that once Putin and Trump assemble the Europe and Americas of Tomorrow, all these lies will fall like so much dust into the sea, and mankind will finally be free to be himself and to follow his natural course, which is to be ruled by the people who know most and invent most, and the problem we’ve been having lately is that people — sometimes through no fault of their own and sometimes through fault of their own — are trying to use sciences and maths and other stuff that they didn’t invent and so can’t understand, and basically everything is out of whack, but if we can kill Biden and raise Trump up so that he billows over us like a float on Macy’s Day, then all will be well as it must be and will most certainly be because this little confusion about how democracy is not compatible with forever-leaders misunderstands the will of the people fundamentally misunderstands that, and what’s more, God is going to fuck you over!, if you disagree with this wisdom.

But this is all by the by.

By which I mean, “Remember that part in Herman Melville’s ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’?”

But let’s not lose sight of our main topic here:

Mir ist das All, ich bin mir selbst verloren,
Der ich noch erst den Göttern Liebling war;
Sie prüften mich, verliehen mir Pandoren,
So reich an Gütern, reicher an Gefahr;
Sie drängten mich zum gabeseligen Munde,
Sie trennen mich, und richten mich zugrunde.

People often suppose deep inside where they’re most putrid (that’s not fair! the putrid level is an exterior part of the interior) that the good things they do they do on their own, but the bad things are the fault of circumstances, the system, other people: not them. What if the opposite is true? What if, for example, Mike Johnson’s relatively healthy and wholesome family and home life are just the luck of a safe time and place and a relatively straightforward and doable path that his thinking/feeling/moving (exterior aspects of his conscious moment) were shaped to jostle within into place; but his decision to give a would-be dictator cover is his own soul choosing to bend a knee to the false prophets of political, theological, philosophical, emotional and most-fundamentally ultimately physical power and away from the gentle Love that calls us all to love us all?

To me the everything, I have lost me from myself,
I who were once the gods’ darling favorite;
They tested me, lent me Pandoras,
So rich in treasures, richer yet in danger;
They urged me on at gift-blessed mouths,
They divide me from me as from them, and squish me down and out.

Author: BW
Editor: AW
Copyright: AMW

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