"You put a ape mask on me, I disembowel you. Just so we understand each other"
If you said "Nice day," he would look up at the three clouds riding overhead, nod at each, and go back to doing what- ever he was doing or not doing. If you asked for a smoke or a light, he'd hand you whatever he found in his pockets: a jackknife, a hankie -- usually unsoiled -- a dollar bill, a subway token. Once he gave me half the sandwich he was eating at the little outdoor restaurant on La Guardia Place. I remember a single sparrow was perched on the back of his chair, and when he held out a piece of bread on his open palm, the bird snatched it up and went back to its place without even a thank you, one hard eye staring at my bad eye as though I were next. That was in May of '97, spring had come late, but the sun warmed both of us for hours while silence prevailed, if you can call the blaring of taxi horns and the trucks fighting for parking and the kids on skates streaming past silence. My friend Frankie was such a comfort to me that year, the year of the crisis. He would turn up his great dark head just going gray until his eyes met mine, and that was all I needed to go on talking nonsense as he sat patiently waiting me out, the bird staring over his shoulder. "Silence is silver," my Zaydee had said, getting it wrong and right, just as he said "Water is thicker than blood," thinking this made him a real American. Frankie was already American, being half German, half Indian. Fact is, silence is the perfect water: unlike rain it falls from no clouds to wash our minds, to ease our tired eyes, to give heart to the thin blades of grass fighting through the concrete for even air dirtied by our endless stream of words.
FIRST Be it a girl, or one of the boys, It is scarlet all over its avoirdupois, It is red, it is boiled; could the obstetrician Have possibly been a lobstertrician? His degrees and credentials were hunky-dory, But how's for an infantile inventory? Here's the prodigy, here's the miracle! Whether its head is oval or spherical, You rejoice to find it has only one, Having dreaded a two-headed daughter or son; Here's the phenomenon all complete, It's got two hands, it's got two feet, Only natural, but pleasing, because For months you have dreamed of flippers or claws. Furthermore, it is fully equipped: Fingers and toes with nails are tipped; It's even got eyes, and a mouth clear cut; When the mouth comes open the eyes go shut, When the eyes go shut, the breath is loosed And the presence of lungs can be deduced. Let the rockets flash and the cannon thunder, This child is a marvel, a matchless wonder. A staggering child, a child astounding, Dazzling, diaperless, dumbfounding, Stupendous, miraculous, unsurpassed, A child to stagger and flabbergast, Bright as a button, sharp as a thorn, And the only perfect one ever born.
SECOND Arrived this evening at half-past nine. Everybody is doing fine. Is it a boy, or quite the reverse? You can call in the morning and ask the nurse.
At some point, while watching Tim Burton’s over-long, ponderous 2001 film Planet of the Apes, I turned to my wife and whispered, “You know, I don’t think Tim Burton is the artistic genius he’s made out to be”.
It was not so much a “the Emperor has no clothes” moment, but more of a “the Emperor has no clothes and appears to have soiled himself” moment.
This latest, lazy, trip down memory lane is brought to you by the news that the prequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is about to hit our shores.
To be fair, the prequel is made by somebody else and is said to be much better than Planet of the Apes but fair dinkum, I could have filmed my cat, asleep in front of the heater for four hours with an ape mask on her, and it would have made a more amusing film than Planet of the Apes*.
Let’s all give any ape-related films a miss – shall we?
* And nobody said “Get your hands off her, you dirty ape”**.
** Or even “Damn you! Damn you all! You blew it all to hell!”