Gorilla Tales: My Life as a Professional Primate

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Remember the American Tourister Gorilla? The Gorilla in Trading Places? Meet actor and professional mime, Don McLeod. Gorilla Tales chronicles the author’s madcap adventures in movies, television, commercials and live appearances. A two-time Cleo winner for his American Tourister luggage commercials, McLeod brings us up close and personal with movie stars, bad “B” movies, small town county fairs, and an insightful and hilarious visit into the secret world of Japan and Japanese geishas. His touching memories of growing up as an only child in a small town, becoming a local sports hero, and then revisiting the town again after 30 years are worth the price of admission alone.

“Donald McLeod‘s journey as the world's foremost professional primate delivers the ultimate backstage peek into his gonzo adventures. Who knew a gorilla could write with such style and wit? This book is bananas!” —Jeffrey Weber, Author of You Sound Amazing! Every Single Lie Of The Music Business “Donald McLeod’s Gorilla Tales is the best read I’ve had in decades! It’s an adventure from beginning to end. A fun and very unique story of one man’s wildly adventurous life. I highly recommend it!” —Craig Scott Lamb, Founder of the Ape Suit Cinema website

Don McLeod has been a professional mime/movement artist for the past 46 years. He is best known for his work as the American Tourister Gorilla and for his acting work in feature films including the gorilla in Trading Places and The Man With Two Brains, along with his portrayal of TC the werewolf in the classic horror film The Howling. McLeod writes fiction and non-fiction, screenplays, haiku and longer poetry. For five years he was co-editor of the literary journal Vol. No. Magazine. His poetry and fiction has been published in many literary magazines in North America, Europe, and Japan. He lives in Los Angeles with his two cats Benny & Monkey, and a revolving collection of raccoons, possums, squirrels and wild birds.

A Memoir

Donald McLeod

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel the world in a state-of-the-art gorilla suit, get highly paid, and not have to pay for things you break? Then Gorilla Tales is the book for you. McLeod brings these bizarre and humorous tales to life with a keen eye for detail and a masterful use of language. From smashing suitcases on national TV, to frolicking with geishas in Tokyo, to drinking tequila with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders...his stories will captivate even the most jaded reader of literary humor.” —Stone Buddha Books


“Gorilla Tales is a hilarious collection of stories that only a person that experienced a lifetime career as a professional ape could tell. A stranger (and funnier) than fiction world told by the ape master himself, Donald McLeod. Get the bizarre behind the scenes stories (from an ape’s perspective) on the films Trading Places, Tanya’s Island, and The Man with Two Brains just to name a few. Hold your breath, fasten your seatbelt—this is a wild boozy ride through the vivid memories of a master storyteller!” —Adam Meir, Actor, Director and Movement Artist


My L i f e a s a P r o f e s s i o n a l P r i m at e

Donald McLeod

G O R I L L A TA L E S My L ife as a P r o f e s s i o n a l P r i m at e

A Memoir

Donald McLeod Headline Books, Inc. Terra Alta, WV

Gorilla Tales My Life as a Professional Primate A Memoir by Donald McLeod copyright ©2021 Donald McLeod All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any other form or for any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage system, without written permission from Headline Books, Inc. To order additional copies of this book or for book publishing information, or to contact the author: Headline Books, Inc. P.O. Box 52 Terra Alta, WV 26764 www.HeadlineBooks.com Tel: 304-789-3001 Email: mybook@headlinebooks.com ISBN 13: 9781951556242

Library of Congress Control Number: 2020942610


To the loving memory of my late parents, Wilfred & Ruby McLeod, who always supported my various and unusual career choices, and gave me the love of books and storytelling. A special thanks to Gordon Lish for encouraging me to complete this memoir.

TA B L E O F C O N T E N T Introduction...........................................................................................................................5 Chapter 1: The Early Years...................................................................................................8 Chapter 2: The Galactic Connection................................................................................16 Chapter 3: Moving Violation.............................................................................................31 Chapter 4: Tanya’s Island....................................................................................................36 Chapter 5: American Tourister..........................................................................................54 Chapter 6: Ralph Nadar......................................................................................................65 Chapter 7: Live at 5..............................................................................................................67 Chapter 8: Bad Publicity.....................................................................................................72 Chapter 9: Dallas Department Store.................................................................................76 Chapter 10: Trading Places.................................................................................................78 Chapter 11: Gaijin Gorilla..................................................................................................93 Chapter 12: The Wedding.................................................................................................112 Chapter 13: Congo Bongo................................................................................................125 Chapter 14: Wagnor Mazda.............................................................................................147 Chapter 15: County Fair...................................................................................................156 Chapter 16: Field of Broken Dreams..............................................................................178 Chapter 17: Last Tango in Buenos Aires........................................................................194 Chapter 18: Synchronicity................................................................................................207 Chapter 19: You Can Never Go Home...........................................................................213

INTRODUCTION I never intended to become a professional gorilla. It happened by accident, like the story of the starving artist whose cat spilled paint on his blank canvas. A wealthy man happens by and proclaims the artist a genius—his paintings begin to sell and he goes on to become a world-famous artist. To a much lesser degree, this is what happened to me. Only my fame would be slower to arrive, and my canvas would be a $35,000 gorilla costume. For the first eighteen years of my life, I wanted nothing more than to be a professional baseball player. I loved playing and dreaming of baseball. I came close right out of high school and was invited to tryouts with both the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. But in the end, my diminutive size (5-7) was deemed a problem. I was too small in stature to get any serious consideration, so I turned to my second passion; acting and theatre. I auditioned and was accepted to the famous Pasadena Playhouse Theatre School in 1966, where I studied and acted in Shakespeare, Elizabethan and Restoration dramas. Then I transferred to the School of Performing Arts in San Diego, where I excelled in physical theatre and mime. I acted in underground theatre productions, done in the cold stone basement theatre at the university. We did plays by Sam Shepard, Artaud, Grotowski and wrote our own when we wanted to express our strong anti-establishment views. I felt distant from the rosy-cheeked musical theatre kids, who worked in the well-lit rooms upstairs. For me, theatre needed to be physical—a sacrifice to the gods, something tinged with a touch of darkness. I had little desire to work in the television industry, which was filled with vacuous content in the late sixties and early seventies. I didn’t care much about money—I just wanted to find a profession where I could be my own creative boss, and be free from the predictable path most young actors take in order to make a living in show business. The theatre suited my split persona—off stage, I was a student of Zen Buddhism with a love for literature, knowledge, and a gentle passive way of life. But on stage, I was a bundle of raw nerves—a physical performer with an insatiable dynamic energy. In 1969 I discovered the art of mime, and by the end of the school year, I was producing my solo shows in theaters and schools in the San Diego Area. I was recommended to the great French mime, Marcel Marceau, by his former partner, who worked with him in his company in Paris during the German occupation near the end of World War II. I studied with him for a brief period at the end 5

of my senior year in college, but soon chose a more radical approach to mime, by forming an avant-garde musical group called The Mime & Music Machine. We garnered a large following throughout Southern California and played major concert halls and venues, including dates with Fleetwood Mac and other big-name acts. Doug Weston booked us into the Troubadour in Hollywood for a week’s run. There we played to many big names in the music industry. We followed a just-breaking Elton John at the club, and next door, an unknown band called Van Halen was gathering a strong local following. We signed with a major talent agency, and success appeared to be on the horizon. But it was not to be—band member egos got in the way and we broke up in 1973. I returned to performing solo shows at theaters and colleges throughout the US and Canada. Then in 1974, I was booked for six months as the official mime company at the World’s Fair in Spokane, Washington, and the following year Diana Ross hired me to be a part of her World Tour in 1975. The stories that follow are the result of following a most unlikely career choice—playing gorillas as both a profession and a means to find great adventure and travel the world. Many were written in hotel rooms or on airplanes, closely following the depicted event. Others were written from notes I’ve kept in my journal. Not all the stories are just about my gorilla escapades. I’ve included events that led up to my becoming a literary primate and other events that have occurred as a result of my unique occupation. To prepare for the book, I read and studied countless memoirs from many writers. It struck me that many of the books were often about someone either overcoming or dealing with dreadful circumstances. Abusive spouses, alcoholism, and drug addiction in all its various forms, and a plethora of dysfunctional behavior. It seemed to me the common theme was overcoming adversity, and thus the popularity of these books. Most people feel better about themselves when they read and learn about someone else who is even more screwed up than they are. This isn’t that kind of memoir. This is a book about the humorous and positive results that one man experienced, as a result of chance happenings and a willingness to go blindly down an unexplored path—therefore allowing the Universe to guide the outcome, which it always does, whether the person in question believes in making great plans, or in just going with the flow. And what was my adversity? I was given up for adoption by a twenty-year-old single mother, taken into a loving home with my parents, who then died when I was only twenty. I never viewed this as adversity. On the contrary, I saw everything that happened to me as a guidepost towards new adventures and opportunities. And I was born with a humorous take on the human condition, so viewing the world from an anthropomorphic ape’s perspective proved to be a major asset in comprising and documenting these stories. Early on, I found that sweltering in a gorilla suit, despite the obvious physical discomfort, could be the perfect place for unobstructed observation regarding 6

a writer’s desire to infiltrate the world and report back from the deep cover of a realistic gorilla suit. The humorous and openness that people reveal when interacting with my gorilla has been a joyous source of understanding the human condition. This would never have happened with a cheap Halloween suit. That fact that I looked like a real gorilla is what gave me this unique viewpoint and then my background of literature and vast reading gave me the tools to make these reports at least entertaining if not enlightening. Saying that one is a born storyteller, implies both an inflated sense of selfimportance, and a judgment best left for others to proclaim. But that being said, from a very early age (four years old), I was compelled to tell stories. I think because it was a way of getting attention from my parents, playmates, and even other adults who I came in contact with. For example, if I came across a minor car accident, and reported the sighting back to my parents as it actually happened, the retelling was usually met with mild interest. So I quickly learned to dramatically embellish the event, with vivid and plausible added details that were certain to hold their attention. And by doing this, I soon found I could alter even the most routine happening into a colorful narration, thus holding the attention of whomever I was talking with. I had no brothers or sisters, or even many playmates, as we lived far from the nearest town. My parents never owned a television and the radio only picked up one station, and that was only on days when the coastal fog didn’t roll in marring reception. They came to rely on my stories for entertainment, and I became a more than willing provider. When my parents weren’t available, I would make up stories and tell them to my Teddy bears, and our ever-enthralled miniature collies, Bonnie and Scott. The family cats were not good listeners, so with them, I learned to keep the stories short. When no sentient beings were available, I’d go into the barn loft or my secret cave out in the field, and tell stories to my imaginary friends. The reason I’m telling this now is that in looking back on my life, I realized I always loved being in some unusual adventure, however insignificant, so I could have material out of the ordinary to share with whomever would listen— becoming a professional gorilla provided the perfect scenario for a vast array of unusual events, misfortunes, and even life and death encounters. So here are the tales I’ve remembered, recalled from my diaries and journals. I always knew I needed to be somebody. I just didn’t know it would be a gorilla. There are always people who dislike actors, mimes, politicians, pompous writers, pit bulls, and vegans, but almost everyone likes gorillas, especially the ones with a good story to tell.



I was adopted as a baby in the winter of 1949 and raised for the first four years of my life on a farm near the town of Lacombe, Alberta, in Canada. My father was forty-two and my mother thirty-three when they brought me home. I was and would remain an only child. When I was a one-year-old, my mother gave me a small cream-colored stuffed Teddy bear named Bessie. By the age of three, I began creating bizarre adventures for Bessie and her imaginary animal friends. Each evening I would sit my folks down and tell them the latest “Bessie Story.” I always acted out her escapades and occasionally provided crude crayon drawings to support the tale. Most of Bessie’s family were imaginary, but some were lucky enough to acquire physical bodies. On rare trips to Calgary, I would search out the toy department in the Hudson Bay store for a stuffed animal that would match the imaginary character I’d previously created. Once I spotted the appropriate family member, my mother had little choice but to buy the poor creature. One such animal I found was a fuzzy gorilla that matched Bessie’s bad-boy son Benny. Benny, the gorilla, was a trouble-maker and made frequent appearances in my stories. Fortunately for mother, few of the stuffed animals lived up to the demands of my imagination, so the expenditure was minimal. After a bitterly cold winter in 1952, my parents sold the farm for a small profit and moved to California to start a new life. We spent the first year in Ben Lomond, a small town about six miles north of Santa Cruz. My father found work shoveling manure on a chicken ranch. The following year we moved up the coast to Greenwood, a town of about 120 people, on the rugged Mendocino County coast. Dad took a job as a night watchman at the Daniels and Ross lumber mill, and my mother taught the first through sixth grades at the old yellow schoolhouse. Television had yet to be introduced to Greenwood. The town remained a place of quiet friendships, a place where a small boy could safely camp out in his neighbor’s yard, and a place where parents still read to themselves and to their children. Greenwood had much to offer a young boy’s ripening imagination. Evenings were often spent by our old black Franklin stove. Mom would reward my Bessie story by reading stories to me. She poured through volumes of children’s literature, Dickens’s Oliver Twist, the Laura Ingels Wilder books, Treasure Island, 8

and the Babar elephant books. I loved the sound of words, and the dramatic hanging inflection in my mother’s voice as she added vocal characterization wherever needed. These stories were my introduction to fantasy. The characters in the stories became the brothers and sisters I never had and never missed. I loved everything about books, especially the stale, musty smell of the old classics with their thick covers that opened and closed on such wondrous worlds. Although I couldn’t yet read, I’d sometimes take a favorite book to bed with me just to know the characters were nearby. I’d fall asleep and dream of flying like Peter Pan or rescuing a fairy princess from the jaws of a terrible dragon. I knew I wanted to grow up to be somebody special and exciting, like the characters in my books. My initial stage experience came in the first grade when my mother, who was my teacher, cast me as a singing sugarplum in the annual Christmas pageant. Indications of a promising solo career surfaced when I turned the wrong way in the sugarplum dance and got my headgear tangled with Marilyn Berry’s sugarcane hat. The crowd howled as we lurched around the stage like a pair of interlocked stags. I’d learned my first lesson in upstaging the competition. The following day one of my classmates suffered the misfortune of wetting his pants. Leroy Altman stood spread-legged at the back of the room. Tears rolled down his cheeks as the shiny puddle formed at his feet. My mother tried in vain to calm him while she mopped up the mess with a paper towel. I jumped up from my desk and bolted for the door—with arms and legs flailing, I tore down the street to our house. Five minutes later, I returned breathless, bearing a can of Lysol. I ran over to Leroy and sprayed him down. The poor kid began howling again while the rest of the class clapped and cheered. I spent the remainder of the period in the cloakroom, a place I’d come to know all too well during the next few years of school. But I’d learned another lasting lesson—comic timing and a touch of the bizarre guaranteed friendship and laughter. Oddly enough, my Bessie stories continued for several more years. The more I became aware of my surroundings, the more elaborate the stories became. Bessie, like my mother, became a school teacher. Her classes were held on Monkey Island, a fictitious rocky landmass located about a half-mile from the Greenwood coastline. Bessie would “drive” the little apes and bears to school in the school boat. Like my own father, Bessie’s husband Bruce worked in the lumber mill. They had numerous children, some were bears and others were gorillas, one of which was named Boo. He spent most of his time drinking banana daiquiris and running a simian resort located in the nearby mountains. Bessie’s arch-rival was an extravagant Joan Collins type ape named Caterpillar. Her name, to the best of my recollection, derived from the imagined fact that she always wore a leopard skin coat. For some reason, I had assumed the imaginary coat was made from caterpillar fuzz. Caterpillar drove a fast red sports car and was rumored to be connected with several shady gorillas in the area. She had two sons. The eldest, Benny, played football for the University of California Golden Apes. His younger brother, Billy, was unemployed and wore a black leather jacket. 9

He was the town’s only beatnik and rumored to write poetry in his spare time— which was all the time. He often spent the night in jail for drinking too muchfermented banana juice, but was always released the following morning—thanks to his mom’s provocative and persuasive ways. I suppose my interest in writing began with Bessie and her friends. Their imagined shenanigans were actually a long-running soap opera, which continued through my twelfth year. The primate and bear community resembled Greenwood in a number of ways, but there were some startling differences. One being the boat-in movie theatre. The films were projected on the face of a large rock offshore. The apes and bears would pack thermoses of hot banana cider and blankets into a rowboat and set anchor in front of the rock for the film. On certain nights when the moon was full, the pirate orangutans would raid the boaters and steal their cider. In 1958 my mother accepted a teaching assignment in Manchester, a town of about 250 people, located 14 miles south of Greenwood. My folks bought a tenacre ranch half a mile from the ocean. The land was barricaded on the west by a long row of tall cypress trees. We lived in a cozy but dilapidated one-bedroom house, with a rickety gray barn out back by the pine tree. Mom and Dad slept in the far end of the living room, and I was generously given the bedroom. Contest Winner My interest in pantomime (a prerequisite for my gorilla work) may have begun when I won a Dick Dale and the Del-Tones record on a radio contest. I awoke one morning in June 1962 to find our house engulfed by a blanket of fog. Outside, dew droplets hung from the cypress trees and fuchsia bushes. My father sat asleep in his shaky old rocker by the fireplace. Mother bustled about the kitchen, making a fresh batch of egg and potato buns. I stood in my hunter and quail pajamas with my ear pressed close to the speaker of our red plastic RCA tube radio. On certain days I could catch the rock hour on KPLS from Santa Rosa. The station operated on a10,000 watt wavelength and offered various music programs and the occasional sporting event. I twisted the dial through three inches of static until I heard the faint sound of the Coasters doing “Yakety Yak.” “Hello everybody, Rockin-Robert with ya on KPLS at a quarter past the hour. And now it’s time for the giant KPLS SUPER SUMMER ALBUM GIVEAWAY. Give me the name of the artist and the song on the next tune we play and you’ll win the album. I’ll take the eighth call.” I grabbed the phone with one hand and turned up the volume with the other. Despite the static, the sound was unmistakable—Dick Dale and the Del-Tones doing “Misirlou.” I put a long-distance call through to the station. This was my first attempt at winning a radio contest, so naturally, I was shocked when I heard the voice on the other end of the line say, “KPLS.” 10

“This is Don McLeod in Manchester—I know the answer!” “You’re our eighth caller—just a minute, Don, let me switch you on the air. All right folks, we have Don McLeod of Manchester on the phone. Give me the artist and title of the last song we played here at KPLS—and the album is yours!” said Rockin-Robert. “Dick Dale and the Del-Tones doing ‘Misirlou,’” I proudly announced in my most confident voice. “You’re absolutely correct!” screamed Rockin’ Robert. The phone exploded with bugle calls and wailing sirens. I’d won. I’d become a member of the great American Something-For-Nothing club. I danced around the room shadowboxing with the air. My dad shuddered awake and Mom emerged from the kitchen, still clutching a doughy spatula. There were, however, several problems I hadn’t considered when calling in to win the album. The first problem was geographic. Manchester was 95 miles from Santa Rosa and I wasn’t old enough to drive. The second problem was even more severe—we didn’t own a record player. It wasn’t easy to convince my parents of the cultural and aesthetic values of owning a Dick Dale and the Del-Tones album, but after listening to me whine for two days, they finally broke down and agreed to undertake the three-hour drive to the heart of the Codingtown Shopping Center in Santa Rosa. I strode proudly into the station and announced my arrival to a sour-faced secretary. She emitted an exasperated sigh, crushed out her cigarette, and handed me a lengthy form to fill out. It seemed odd that they would need so much information just to award a prize. But I figured they couldn’t give away a Dick Dale album to just anybody. As we neared the outskirts of Santa Rosa on our way home, I reminded my folks that I’d need a record player to hear my prize. My dad muttered something about it being a very expensive free prize as he reluctantly pulled up to a discount drug store and the three of us traipsed into the building. I brought the album with me to be sure the record player spindle would fit the hole in my album. A droopyeyed kid with massive red pimples approached my dad. “Help ya?” he mumbled. “We need something to play his record,” said dad, pointing at me. “Won it on KPLS,” I said, holding up the record for the kid to inspect. He avoided me and looked at my dad. “How much ya wanna spend?” “Ten dollars tops,” said dad. The kid squinted his eyes and twisted his lips to the side of his face. “Cheapest we got is a Silvertone for $l4.95,” he said. The record player in question was about the size of a briefcase. It was covered with beige and silver cloth and a crude drawing of a guitar player on the cover. I tingled with excitement at the thought of actually hearing Dick Dale and Deltones rocking away on my own magic box. Sensing my excitement, my mother said, “We’ll take it!” 11

My Silvertone, though hardly much improvement over the original Thomas Edison tinfoil phonograph, gave me endless hours of pleasure. After a solid week of listening to “Surf Beat,” “Let’s go Trippin’, and “Glory Wave,” my mother, having reached her wits end with Dick Dale, gave me five dollars to buy some new 45 records. I picked up Sheb Wolly’s “Flying Purple People Eater,” Conway Twitty’s “Not Fade Away,” and Roy Orbison’s “Only The Lonely” Album. I’d often stand alone for hours in front of my bedroom mirror and mime singing and playing along with the record. When I tired of imitating the singers, I’d practice weird character walks in time with the music. Somewhere deep inside my subconscious, a primal archetype screamed for release. High School By the time I reached high school, my grades had begun to plummet in direct proportion with my rising popularity. I suppose I fit the clichéd description of the class clown, always imitating the teacher’s mannerisms, or being caught in the middle of an elaborate plan to “disrupt the learning process,” as it said on my report card. I excelled in sports, drama, and typing, struggled by in English, geography, history, and science, and failed miserably in Spanish and math. I managed to become popular with every group in school. The trouble makers found me to be a willing accomplice in disruption. One afternoon my friend Terry Galletti and I decided to skip gym class and see if we could get the old pickup truck in shop class to work. We got her started and not wanting to waste the sputtering horsepower under her rusted hood. We drove across the football field to the concession stand. We hooked a chain from the back of the truck to the snack bar and attempted to drag the quivering building onto the 50 yard-line. Just short of mid-field, the snack bar’s walls gave way, and it crashed to the ground in a shower of flying splinters and exploding soda canisters. One of the rat-fink honor students spotted us from the chemistry class window and our fate was sealed. Terry was placed on probation. I was removed for a week from the starting lineup of the mighty Pirates football squad, and assigned to the typing class for the remainder of the semester. The next morning I proudly strode into typing class. The rowdies gave me a resounding and well-deserved round of applause for my dastardly deed, and two well-formed cheerleaders eyed me with newfound interest. Our typing teacher, Mrs. Borchus, was not impressed and advised me to find a seat in the back and place my hands on home row. I fumbled through the familiar sentence, a sly brown fox jumped over the lazy dog, when a messenger arrived at the door. Mrs. Borchus was summoned to the front office for a long-distance phone call. Shorty Sutton, an angel-faced delinquent, cupped his hands to his mouth and whispered hoarsely in my direction. “Hey McLeod, you ain’t got a hair on your ass if you don’t show me some destruction!” His friend, Richard Smith, beckoned me to the back-room where the business machines rested safely on a long table. 12

Richard calmly placed an expensive-looking adding machine on the floor and motioned towards me with a sweeping gesture. “Looks like this thing needs a kick start,” he said. For one terrible moment, this evil kid managed to possess my mind, and I foolishly followed his cue. I climbed onto the table. And with both arms held neatly at my sides like a cliff diver, I jumped feet first into the face of the adding machine. The damage was severe-broken keys, a cracked tab bar, and a bent frame. Richard pushed open the window and I tossed the mutilated machine out onto the front lawn. Mrs. Borchus returned a few minutes later, and the class resumed the clacketyclack typing drills. I sat with mixed emotions at the typewriter. On the one hand, I’d gained points with the most ingenious pranksters in school, but on the other, I’d destroyed an expensive piece of machinery that would take weeks to replace. Five minutes before the period ended, the janitor, Mr. Anderson, appeared at the door with the evidence in hand. For some unknown reason, Richard, Shorty, and I were immediately singled out for private interviews after class in the principal’s office. Not having time to compare our stories, we had little chance to avoid the ax. I was the first to be interrogated. William Barber, our principal, was a rotund little man with a fleshy set of jowls. We called him bowling pin Barber. He looked much like a Buddha in a business suit and had a temper that matched that of Genghis Khan in his vilest moments. “McLeod, you’re treading on very thin ice. For your sake, I hope you had nothing to do with this incident.” “No, sir, I didn’t... well uh, see what happened was there were some kids working in the backroom and the adding machine just fell off the table, I guess, and I went back there to see what the noise was all about. The machine was all smashed.” “An adding machine doesn’t get smashed just by falling from a table,” roared Barber, “Now what the hell happened?” “I don’t know, sir,” I offered, showing him my most innocent and sincere face. “Anderson said he was weeding by the science room when the machine landed on the grass—and when he looked up, he saw YOU!” “Well yeah, see I... uh, I thought the machine might catch on fire or something after falling on the floor, so I put it on the window ledge, just to cool off, and I guess it fell or something, I don’t know.” Barber frowned at me. “Take your shoes off and leave ‘um here, and go take a seat in the front office, Sutton, get in here!” he bellowed. I stepped out of my shoes and shuffled out of his office. Ten minutes later, Richard and Shorty walked past me with heads bowed. They avoided my questions and disappeared down the hall. Barber appeared at the doorway with the verdict. Guilty. Between the incriminating evidence from my buddies and a smudge of green paint on the sole of my hush puppies, I had 13

little defense. For punishment, I was assigned to remain in the typing class for the rest of the school year and kicked off the football team for an additional week. This action severely hampered the team—as I was the leading rusher and the thirteenth man on the squad. Barber made me wear a sign on my back at the games that read “On Probation”: a firm reminder to the other students to maintain their sanity during school hours. My final punishment was to pick up all the trash during lunch hour. I strolled around the schoolyard armed with a pronged stick and canvas trash sack. My classmates helped me out by bombarding the ground with candy and gum wrappers. A Bit of Direction My fame as an athlete and prankster finally caught the eye of a man who could help me. He was Anthony Bernard, our English and drama instructor. Sensing my raw talent for drama, he recruited me to play a supporting role in the school’s production of Moss Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You. I hammed my way through the role of the black servant, Donald, to popular and critical acclaim. In my junior year, he cast me as Aargon in The Imaginary Invalid, and the following year as Scrooge in The Christmas Carol. I can recall scanning the pages of the English drama magazine Plays and Players. I longed to be like the long-haired Shakespearean actors, who held spears and buxom women in their arms. This was a career to be reckoned with, although I still dreamed of playing baseball for the San Francisco Giants. With my success on the athletic field and the theatre stage, I found myself in the driver’s seat at Point Arena High School. In my senior year, I was elected student body president by an overwhelming margin. I defeated our future valedictorian by running a daring campaign—VOTE FOR ME AND I’LL SET YOU FREE. Free from what, I wasn’t too sure of, but I liked the slogan. At graduation, I was named best actor of the year and received a plaque honoring my four years of athletic achievement. I had lettered in the four major sports for four straight years. I had a total of sixteen metals dripping from my blue and gold lettermen’s sweater. I learned a lot about girls while attending Point Arena High School. The more leading roles I got, the closer the pretty girls came. After I was elected Student Body President, I began dating an attractive brunette of questionable morals. We explored our sexual awakening with careless abandon well into the summer after graduation. There were many nights when I dragged into our cold house after 1:00 a.m. and sheepishly announced to my parents that I’d been bowling with my friends. If I’d actually bowled all the nights I claimed, I’d have been a sure bet to join Don Carter on the pro bowler’s tour. In the summer of 1966, I took a job working at a local lumber mill. I worked the lowest job they had to offer—the green chain. We stood for eight hours a day on a wooden platform and pulled various grades of cut lumber from a revolving chain. We hand stacked the lumber in rows alongside the chain. At $3.35 an hour, 14

I didn’t see much future in the industry, so I persuaded my drama teacher to help me get an audition in September for the most acclaimed acting school in the country, the Pasadena Playhouse. Armed with a shaky audition scene and an inflated ego, I drove with my parents to San Rafael for the private audition. A man in a velvet smoking jacket paid a compliment to my muscular physique and signed a letter of recommendation to the Playhouse. Three weeks later, I was accepted, and my theatrical career was underway. Pre-Gorilla Training After a year at the Playhouse, I transferred to The School of Performing Arts in San Diego. My latent gorilla skills were awakened one day in pantomime class when I was assigned to study and imitate an animal of my choice. With the San Diego Zoo being nearby, I figured the primate compound would be a good place to start. I mentally transported myself into an aging mountain gorilla, and soon found myself in tune with his rhythms and attitude. My sketch of the gorilla earned high praise from the teacher and led me into a self-proclaimed major in mime during my senior year. The gorilla improv I performed in class remained a featured part of my oneman show. In the summer of 1978, I was downing a few brews one night at a friend’s house when I was coaxed into performing my gorilla act for the guests. I performed a brief knuckle-walk around the swimming pool, did a wobbly bow to drunken applause, and then returned to my beverage. Turned out one of the guests was friends with a film producer, who was looking for talent for a feature film she was casting. She recommended me. Little did I know those two minutes of foolishness would change my life in the months and years to come.

Don with Marcel Marceau 15


(The Making of a Bad “B” Movie) Los Angeles, Winter, 1978 I was kicked back on the chaise lounge, endorsing my unemployment check when the phone rang. It was Patti, a dancer friend of mine from theatre school. “Don, I’m so glad you’re in...a friend of a friend is doing a movie about apes or early man or something—they need an actor to play the lead ape. I told the lady you were an excellent mime, are you interested?” “Yes. What does it pay and when is it?” “I think it’s $500 a week, plus expenses. It starts in three weeks. They’ll be shooting around December 1st, in the San Bernardino Mountains.” I checked my snowy-white calendar—all I had booked in December was a bar mitzvah for a hundred bucks. “What’s the film about?” Patti giggled. “Apes... something about an outer space experiment. A UFO deposits the apes on earth and then monitors their progression into—TA-DA modern man. They fight a bunch of wild animals, that’s all I know, call Ellen, the assistant director, she’ll tell you more about it.” After a chapter of Darwin, a round of deep-breathing exercises and a cigarette, I was ready to call Ellen. “Hello, this is Don McLeod—a friend of Patti’s. I’m calling about the part available in the movie. Is Ellen in?” “Yah, this is she,” replied Ellen in a husky German accent. “I’d like to audition for the part. Can I make an appointment to see you?” “Ralph get down—get down!” She said. Ellen’s voice phased in and out from the receiver. I could hear the chaotic barking of large dogs in the background. “My babies are jumping all over me—things have been really crazy here today. I just finished a script for ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ are you the mime?” “Yes, but I’m also an actor, and an excellent ape. I do a piece in my show about an ape who—” “How tall are you?” snapped Ellen. “How tall an actor do you need?” I asked. Ellen didn’t respond, so I continued the verbal resume. “I’m 5-7—actually almost 5-8.” 16

“Are you fat?” “No, I’m thin, well slender with broad shoulders—sort of ape-like.” “Alright, good. Meet me here tomorrow morning at 10:30. We’ll check you out.” The next morning I awoke somewhat groggy from a fretful night of moviestar fantasies. I doused myself with a bottle of Aqua Velva, chased the moths out of my tweed sport coat, and primped my eyebrows with my girlfriend’s toothbrush. Even though I was auditioning for an ape, I figured I should look my best. I tucked my two photo albums, a brochure, and my resume under my arm and headed out the door for the big audition. Ellen’s house was located in an affluent section of the Hollywood Hills. My knock brought an avalanche of barking dogs to the door. This was followed by shouts of “Get down Ralph!” and “Get back, Willie!” Ellen opened the door and greeted me with an appraising stare. She wore tight, faded jeans and a stylish candy-pink sweatshirt. A sleepy shock of blond hair hung across the right side of her face, and a brown Sherman cigarette dangled from her lips. She looked like she might have stepped straight out of a Bogart movie, were it not for her modern attire. “Peter, look, zee monkey has arrived,” she said, smiling at me through a vale of smoke. “Come in, and don’t mind the dogs.” Willie, a boisterous red setter, rammed his muzzle into my crotch. I patted his thick skull and side-stepped his persistent advances. As I strode across the thick pile carpet, I made a note of the numerous expensive artifacts and tasteful interior decorations. A six-foot-tall Palmetto tree occupied the center of her living room. Whenever I’m offered a theatrical job, I’ve made it a practice to check out the promoter’s immediate surroundings—I once was duped by an impresario who claimed he managed Ringo Starr, while in truth he was running a male prostitution ring out of the back of his West Hollywood office. (He wore the same suit for three days and drove a dented Lincoln with Montana plates, which should have been a warning sign). So far, the ape project looked promising as Ellen appeared accustomed to a healthy income. She introduced me to Peter, the director. He looked to be about 40, with rosy cheeks and a boyish smile. His shirt and slacks were neatly pressed. “Peter used to be a child star with Disney,” said Ellen, sauntering into the kitchen. Peter told me the film was tentatively called The Galactic Experiment—The Emergence of Man, and that the part I was up for, was the most important role in the picture. This was his first feature film as a director, although he had previously worked for Disney on documentaries. Peter and I talked for a few minutes and then Ellen emerged from the kitchen, carrying a tall glass of elixir. “Congratulations, Don, you have the job,” she said, smiling at Peter. He grinned and nodded his head. “I knew you were right when we talked on the phone,” said Ellen, “but I had to see you to be sure.” I thought it odd that they hadn’t even looked at my resume, but I wasn’t about to question their casting methods. 17

“Have any idea on the ape’s movement?” asked Peter. I shed my jacket, rolled up my sleeves, and began knuckle-walking around the Palmetto tree in my best gorilla impression. “Could you make it a little less gorilla, and a little more Neanderthal,” said Peter. I straightened my legs, brought my arms up above my knees, and repeated the action. “Yeah, that’s better,” he said, stepping away to pick up an apple from the table. What’s the storyline on the film?” I said to Ellen. She choked on her drink, coughed, and erupted into a raucous Phyllis Diller laugh. “You tell him,” she shrieked at Peter. His lips seemed to quiver, but he didn’t smile. “Well... there are six half-man, half-ape creatures, Homo Erectus to be exact, who have been deposited on earth, or some other planet like earth, by an alien spacecraft. The apes are an experiment in evolution. Ellen broke into another fit of laughter and staggered in the kitchen. “This whole script is an experiment in evolution,” she howled. Peter frowned and continued the rather complex plot. “There’s a family of four apes, ah... creatures. Plus two other, more intelligent ones named Onna and Ehyah. You’ll be playing the male, Ehyah.” “Will I have any dialogue?” “No, we’ll do the voice-overs in the studio later,” said Peter. “But you’ll call out the words ‘Moonie’ when the Mountain Man—he’s a more human character— kidnaps the little girl ape. And you’ll also say ‘Meega Kaw,’ which means danger in the apes’ language.” “And don’t forget that he says ‘OOOOOnaa’ when she has her miscarriage in the wind storm,” shrieked Ellen from the kitchen. Peter glared in her direction. Several minutes later, a somewhat composed Ellen emerged with a refill of elixir. “Who wrote the script?” I asked. Peter and Ellen exchanged glances and then Peter said, “Ellen wrote the shooting script, but the story came from an original idea by the producer’s son. “Is he a professional writer?” I asked, trying to look intensely interested. “No,” said Ellen, “he’s an optometrist from Azusa. He’ll be making the contact lenses for the monkeys. His father used to work for the old Hal Roach studios—he was responsible for importing the first Godzilla pictures from Japan.” “Oh,” I said, nodding my head a trifle to fast. Ellen explained that the dramatic conflict in the film centered around whether the apes or Homo Erectus could survive their first year on earth. I learned they, or I should say we, would be confronted by nearly every mishap mother nature and the $200,000 budget could provide. We were to be confronted by lions, bears, buffalo, wolves, snakes, tarantulas, hawks, rain, snow, landslides, floods, and an avalanche, providing the stock footage of the disastrous Frank slide in British Columbia was still available. I signed my contract, said goodbye to Peter and Ellen, and drove down the hill to North Hollywood for my preliminary costume fitting. 18

My First Ape Suit I’m sitting in the middle of makeup artist Greg Cannom’s living room. I’m reading Fangoria magazine. On the cover is a picture of a severed human head; the head is split open with a hatchet lodged in the cranium. The caption beneath the photo read: Gore-master, Tom Savini, hits the big time. Greg is in the kitchen, mixing up a batch of algae-based paste, which will be used to create a life-mask for me. His eighteen-year-old assistant, Steve, is painting a pair of rubber ape feet out on the back porch. The interior of the house is cluttered with monster magazines, clay sculptures of demonic creatures, piles of synthetic hair, and a wide assortment of special effects make-up supplies. A pungent aroma of acetone, latex, and plaster fills the air. Greg sticks his head around the corner and says, “Hope you’re not claustrophobic... the last guy I had in here nearly destroyed the place trying to tear his head cast off.” I assure Greg that I’ll be fine, and he leads me into the kitchen. “Better take off your shirt and pants,” he says with a sniff, “this stuff gets pretty messy.” I strip to my shorts and plop down on a chilly metal chair. Steve covers my hair with a rubber skull cap and tapes the edges down against my skin. Greg pours some white powder into a Hamilton Beach electric mixer and fires it up. “First, we’re going to cover your head with alginate, and then we put on a second layer of plaster bandage,” he says. “You mean like a doctor’s cast,” I ask. “Same stuff,” says Greg. “Do I get straws for my nose?” “No, we don’t use that technique any more. We just leave a small opening around the nostrils—if I accidentally cover one up, just blowout like this,” and he makes a wheezing sound like a farmer finger-blowing his nose in a field. “Okay, close your eyes and just stay calm, we’ll have you out in no time. If one nostril gets plugged, you can always breathe out of the other one.” “Better give him the signals,” says Steve. “Oh yeah, if you’re okay in there,” says Greg, “just hold up one finger—if you’re not, hold up two.” I feign a relaxed attitude and begin humming a nervous little off-key tune— I’m not about to let a touch of claustrophobia ruin my film debut. I shut my eyes as Greg and Steve begin slapping handfuls of cold alginate paste on my head. The material seems to dry rapidly and I can feel it begin to tighten against my face. As my ears are covered, I notice Greg’s voice is muted and distant. I also notice that I’m still breathing, although I can feel thick gobs of paste dripping dangerously close to my nostrils. Greg and Steve are discussing a horror film as they work the plaster over my mouth. Suddenly a wave of panic strikes me—I have failed to tell Greg that I have a deviated septum, and I can only breathe out of my left nostril. I consider holding up the distress sign, but I can’t remember the sequence, so I remain still. After an indeterminate amount of time, Greg leans down and shouts into my nose holes, “We’re going to let the plaster dry—takes about 20 minutes— you okay in there?” I nod my head and make several meaningless hand gestures. 19

A devastating silence falls over me. I begin to imagine the various disasters which could strike me. What if the great California earthquake hits, and the house collapses? I’ll be left to wander the streets in my underwear, with my head entombed in a plaster mold. Someone approaches and raps me on the head, with what feels like a ball-peen hammer—the sound rattles around my brain in true stereo. I hear a defused voice through the tiny nose holes: “The plaster is taking a little longer than usual, we’ll have you out soon.” In the background, I hear the faint ringing of a telephone. I figure it’s just the police calling to evacuate the area due to a chemical spill, so I lean back in the chair and relax. Despite the obvious inconvenience of having your head sealed in ten pounds of plaster, there are certain benefits. The pressure of the head cast pressing against my eyeballs is creating a light show, paralleled only by a visit to an IMAX theatre. And even the most inventive scientist would be hard put to create a more realistic Helen Keller experience than the one I’m now exploring. I continue studying the depths of my psyche until I hear a muffled voice say, “Stay still, we’re going to cut you out.” This is a command well worth considering. After several moments of absolute stillness, I feel a sawing sensation on the back of my head. The sound grows louder as the implement nears my cranium. Without warning, a terrific crackling sound explodes on either side of my head, and the severed head cast is lifted off. I emerge, blinking like a toad in a sand storm. Steve holds up the negative impression of my face and says, “Looks like a take, I can’t see any bubbles.” I notice the gelatinous interior of the mask contains a partial set of eyebrows and eyelashes. “Are those mine?” I say to Steve. Then I realize the incredible stupidity of the question. “They’ll grow back,” he says, shuffling into the living room. While I’m washing up, Greg explains how the life mask will be made into a form-fitting fiberglass helmet. The self-operated facial mechanisms will be implanted, which move the jaw and nose, from within the mask. Then the foam-rubber ape face will be attached, and yak hair will be punched into the crown. One hour later. I’m now standing in Greg’s dusty garage wearing a pair of ladies’ heavy-knit black tights and a leotard, with the zipper in the back. Greg and Steve are attaching chunks of synthetic ape hair to the outfit, with the aid of a hotglue gun. Despite a protective undercoating of newspaper, I quickly learn how the hot-glue gun acquired its name. Five hours later. I am now completely covered by hair. Steve and Greg seem rather pleased with the results. Personally, I think I look more like a pregnant teddy bear than an anthropoid ape, but for five hundred a week, I remain silent.


Monkeys On Location One week later—Dec. 1. The cast and crew arrive in the mountainous resort town of Big Bear. A blanket of freshly fallen snow covers the buildings and streets, making the village look like a Hallmark Christmas card setting. We check into the rustic (shabby) Lakeside Motel and then tromp over to Steve’s room for a final ape fitting. Two of the ape costumes have been constructed on a mannequin because two of the actors failed to show up for their fittings. The actors in question are now standing with their ape crotches hanging down around their knees. Greg has mysteriously failed to show up, and poor Steve is swamped with other unfinished costume demands, so a local seamstress is recruited to adjust the sagging crotches. She over-compensates for the sag, and the apes now look like they’re wearing pegged pants from the fifties. Herb Gelpspan, our near-sighted producer, says they look marvelous, so we stomp outside and board the Winnebago for the ride to our first location. We arrive at the site around 2:00 p.m. I think we’re about 15 miles southwest of Big Bear. The air is thin and extremely cold. We are surrounded by towering, snow-covered mountains. The ground is covered by chaparral brush; off to the left, I notice a pile of rusted beer cans. Most of them have been punctured by bullet holes. The city apes climb down from the Winnebago and gape in awe at the majestic terrain. Condo-sized boulders are protruding like giant mushrooms from the ground. Steve begins applying ample doses of black pancake makeup to our eyes. We slip into our fur-covered one-size-should-fit-all rubber ape feet. “Hey, these things are too small,” says Elaine. “Mine are too big,” wails Dina, as she stumbles about, flapping her feet like a circus clown. “Over here monkeys—the camera’s ready,” yells Peter. The crisp mountain air is suddenly shattered by a terrible moan. “Has anybody seen the ape heads?” cries Steve. Following a brief search, it is determined that the heads are still resting on a couch in the motel lobby. Steve is handed the van keys and instructed to hurry back and pick them up. “Monkey’s, let’s rehearse our movement while we wait for the heads,” says Peter. We waddle off to a nearby clearing to begin the rehearsal. Our cast is an unlikely gathering of characters; Onna, my mate, is played by a jazz-dance teacher named Elaine. She has previously appeared as a “biker chick” in a B movie called “The Wild Angels.” The father ape, Bah, is being portrayed by a claustrophobic video store manager, named John. His ape spouse, Neu, is played by a stuntwoman, named Susan, who is best known as the sexy blond swimmer who was devoured by the Great White in the opening credits of Jaws. Her rambunctious nine-yearold daughter, Dina, is playing the little girl ape. The boy ape is being played by a lethargic 12-year-old, named Adam. Mountain Man, the only “human” character, is played by a black street performer named David Bynum. Elaine and I discuss the possible styles of movement for the apes. We decide that the creatures should be portrayed as half-man, half-ape, with the arms 21

hanging loose at the sides, and the knees slightly bent. “Let’s give it a try,” says Elaine. The monkeys begin rambling aimlessly around in a circle. We sniff and snarl and wave our arms. I notice we appear to be not only from different tribes, but from different planets. Dina and Adam, strangely resemble modern children at a Halloween party. And John looks like he’s auditioning for one of those jerky, stop-motion Godzilla movies. I’m uncertain as to how I look, but I feel quite comfortable in the Neanderthal stance. Imitating animals is a natural extension of my mime work, and I’ve spent many hours at the San Diego Zoo studying the rhythms and habits of the primates. Susan, the animal trainer/ stunt woman, is also adept at playing an ape, due to her first-hand knowledge of the animal kingdom. Elaine’s extensive dance and acting training give her a realistic style of movement. John, the video store operator, is not so fortunate; he hasn’t acted in over fifteen years and probably hasn’t exercised since his teens. His attempts at running in the suit, rather resemble the movement of a two-legged crab-man on Quaaludes. I also note that he is developing a bobbing lateral head movement, which makes him appear totally mindless. I’m about to correct his erratic style when Steve drives up with the missing ape heads. Peter approaches us and looks at his watch. “We’ve lost our light. We’ll have to come back tomorrow. Sorry, Steve.” Steve climbs out of the van and drops the heads on the ground. “Ah... ah, I can’t believe this—what an unorganized mess,” he says. We nod in agreement and stumble into the Winnebago for the ride back to the motel. Corned Beef, Killer Dogs, and Fire Dec. 4th. Today we are filming a domestic family eating scene. We are hunkered down around a campfire, busily tearing at some meat we have supposedly killed. In reality, we are devouring a $9.95 chunk of corned beef, purchased at the Safeway market in Big Bear. The jaw portion of my mask is opened and closed by means of an interior chin cup, which is attached to a large spring. To create an eating effect, I have to cram handfuls of greasy meat into the ape mouth, while I simulate a chewing motion. Chunks of corned beef are wedged against my cheeks and nose, causing a rather unpleasant sensation. We have now been sitting on the frozen ground for nearly two hours. It is cold. I’m starting to stiffen up like a fur-lined carp on a block of ice. Peter is rubbing his hands back and forth on a battery-operated pocket heater, while Dina pokes her frost-bitten hands in the flames. I lean closer to the fire in search of warmth and a better camera angle. I’m about to grab a hunk of sizzling corned beef when I hear a loud ripping sound emanating from my crotch. The filming is halted and a quick inspection reveals an 8-inch tear in my ape butt. To add to the embarrassment, I’m wearing a bottomless jockstrap. A copy of the Sunday Los Angeles Times is folded into a make-shift cushion and strategically 22

placed between my bare skin and the snow. “Doesn’t show on camera,” says Peter, looking carefully into the lens. The filming continues. Twenty minutes later: I find I’ve lost all feeling from the waist down. When the shooting is completed, I get up and discover that the Times and I are one. With a bit of help from the crew, I’m able to peel off most of the paper from my posterior. Unfortunately, the ink has remained behind, making it possible to read the first two panels of Peanuts on my icy left buttock. The ape actors amble off to a rocky area for the “killer dog” attack on Moonie. This scene is a last-minute inspiration, as the previous eating sequence lacked, in Ellen’s words, “a sense of drama.” The “killer dog” turns out to be a sleepy-eyed pooch of questionable heritage. He belongs to one of the cameramen, and without his agent’s consent, he is spraypainted into a mottled brownish-black color and bits of thorny chaparral brush and straw (not indigenous to the area) are glued onto his fur. His muzzle is frothed up with a handful of Gillette shaving cream. Peter instructs the trainer to have the dog jump over a boulder and attack Dina. The trainer is standing behind the camera, waving a Milkbone and shouting, “Teeth, teeth!” The lovable cur hops off the rock and falls against Dina. He waves his paws and wags his tail. Dina falls melodramatically to the ground and pretends to wrestle with the ferocious beast. He ends the scene by wagging his tail and licking her ape mask. “That’s fantastic!” coos Herb. He checks his watch and motions us to move on to the next scene. December 9th. According to the script (i.e. notepad), we are scheduled to wander through a mountain pass today. Mountain man yells out some mystical mumbo-jumbo and unwittingly unleashes the stock footage of the aforementioned Canadian avalanche. However, the footage is not available, so the scene is being rewritten to include a forest fire. Peter has learned of a scheduled brush burning session by the San Bernardino Forestry Service in the area. After several phone calls, the apes are cleared to join the burning. We pile into the Winnebago and drive down the mountainside to a thicket of brush and trees, located several hundred yards below the snow line. A half dozen rookie forestry workers, armed with butane flame throwers, are standing in the midst of about an acre of cut brush and timber. “All right, monkeys,” yells Peter through the megaphone, “we only got one shot at this so make it good. Lots of action, lots of arm-waving!” I feel a certain empathy towards Joan of Arc as I peer out of my eye slits at the eager rangers pouring gasoline on the brush. A bearded workman leans down and torches the ground. The hillside bursts into a pine-scented inferno. “Run in a figure-eight pattern,” yells Peter. A gust of wind swirls down the mountainside. Suddenly the flames change direction and race towards us. I drop my simian semblance and run like a panicked Frankenstein through the flames. Our assistant cameraman runs by with the camera bouncing up and down on his shoulder. 23

Things seem to be getting out of hand—small trees are roaring like match sticks and thick smoke is billowing in all directions. Over the din of the fire I can hear Peter yelling a barrage of useless directions. The other apes are running helter-skelter as the forest rangers begin rolling out hoses. I stagger through a break in the foliage and collapse on the ground next to a smoldering log. I’m gasping for breath in a real-life drama when the head cameraman shoves his Aeroflex into my face for an extreme close-up. I extend a scorched middle ape finger to the lens and he quickly departs. I rip off my mask and look up as Susan gallops by. She is briefly overtaken by a moment of bravado, and dashes through a triangle of sizzling pines. An orange tongue of flame leaps up at her ankles—her ape legs catch on fire—Suzy vaults over me, yells, “Goddammit, I’m on fire!” and begins rolling in the dirt. A forestry crewman rushes in and gives her a blast of soda acid, which extinguishes her smoking ape suit. I note that her ape legs are badly singed, and since the scene is one which will appear near the end of the movie, I wonder how the hairless legs will be accounted for in earlier scenes. Someone places an oxygen mask over my face, and I lay back against the log for a brief nap. Bring On The Buffalo Dec. 10th. The temperature is in the low twenties. A light snow is falling. It is 7:00 am and I’m standing in my ape suit waiting for the trained buffalo to arrive. Bah, Lawdy (young Adam), and myself are scheduled for an extended tworounder with the rent-a-buffalo. My feet are frozen and I have a severe wine/latemovie hangover. The generator is broken in the Winnebago, so there is no heat and no coffee. Peter peers down the snow-covered trail toward the main highway. “Where the heck is that buffalo? I told the guy to get here at 6:30,” he says. Ten minutes later a weak cheer echoes throughout the wooded clearing. The buffalo has arrived. A dark blue van, towing a dented horse trailer, is fishtailing up the steep incline. The crew rushes over to meet the great beast. Little puffs of steam are escaping through the slats in his trailer. The buffalo trainer is a heavy-set, jovial fellow who resembles Lou Ferrigno. He makes no mention of his tardiness as he lowers the trailer ramp. After several minutes of prodding and poking, the buffalo’s reluctant hindquarters emerge from the trailer. He staggers backward down the ramp and rolls his eyes at the unwelcome sight of three apes holding makeshift spears. I step back as a heavy rope is snapped onto the slimy metal ring in his nose. I notice something odd about the buffalo, so I approach Peter with my findings. “Why does the buffalo have blue horns?” Peter examines the buffalo at close range and then turns to the trainer. “Why does he have blue horns?” he asks. The trainer looks at the buffalo and then back at Peter. 24

“We just came from a rodeo in Arizona. He was billed as ‘Big Blue,’“ he says with a shrug. His answer seems to satisfy everyone, and there is no further mention of the blue horns. It seems odd that the primal apes should run across a blue-horned buffalo, but it is, after all, only a movie. Authenticity of any kind was never an issue on the Galactic Connection set. “Okay, here’s the action,” says Peter, cupping his hands to his mouth. “The monkeys will be found stalking the buffalo in the middle of that meadow. The buffalo sees them and charges Bah. We cut to an insert of the buffalo goring Bah in the leg. Then Don and Adam—I mean Ehyah and Lawdy—chase him away with their spears. Despite the cover of an ape suit, John has the look of a defeated man. I’m quite certain he is wishing he was back in Los Angeles opening the video store. “No way am I getting near that damn thing,” he says to Peter. “We’ll figure something out,” answers Peter. “Now, let’s get this scene on film before it stops snowing.” On a last-minute hunch, I walk over to the buffalo and introduce myself. I want him to know that I’m a mild-mannered and semi-fragile actor and that I possess a deep affinity for bison. I cautiously pat his bulging eye socket. “I sent ten bucks to the National Wildlife Fund,” I say. The buffalo snorts and blinks; his gaze flickers at me and passes on. For a moment, I feel great sympathy for the shaggy fellow—here stands a once-proud king of the plains, now reduced to making “guest appearances” in low-budget sci-fi movies and discount rodeos. The trainer steps up and begins dragging the buffalo through the knee-deep snow towards the meadow. The buffalo’s role seems simple enough—he must stand in the clearing and then run for about 30 yards towards the camera. The camera is set, the buffalo is placed, and the ape actors are poised for the kill. “Action,” yells Peter. We raise our spears and begin taunting the buffalo. He yawns, blasts a duel jet stream of mucus from his nostrils, and raises his tail. A moment later, the ground is covered by a sheet of steaming manure. Since we’re making what producer Herb calls ‘a family picture,’ the deposit is quickly covered and we resume the attack. Madly yelling and waving our spears, we run at the creature. I’m prodding the stationary buffalo with my stick when he suddenly spins around and crashes into me. I fall to the ground, like an actress in a horror movie chase scene. The buffalo lunges past me—his right rear hoof slams down like a piston on my foot. Now to have a full-grown blue-horned buffalo step on your foot is one thing, but to have him do it in the dead of winter when you’re wearing a thin rubber ape foot is quite another matter. “Fantastic,” yells Herb, clapping his hands. I’m assisted into the Winnebago while the trainer is squeezed into John’s suit for the goring scene. I look out the window and notice the trainer’s red socks and white underwear are plainly visible under the ill-fitting suit. “Action,” cries Peter. 25

Pooh Bear Gets Tired Dec. 14th. I’m standing on top of a twelve-foot high boulder waiting to do combat with a full-grown grizzly bear. The fact that the bear is named “Pooh Bear” is of little conciliation. Fortunately, for me, Pooh has no front teeth or claws. Pooh is led into the arena—I steady myself on the edge of the rock, and with a silent prayer, I jump down into the cave entrance. I’m holding a chunk of raw beef in my hand, which is the motivation for Pooh to attack me. Pooh catches a whiff of the beef, rears up on his hindquarters, and lumbers towards me. I pretend to jab at him with my sharpened stick. Pooh brays like a sick mule and then lunges on me with his full weight. I crumble under Pooh as he begins gumming at my hand for the hidden meat. I stagger to get up, but Pooh is quicker, and with one swat of his massive paw he sends me crashing into the side of the boulder. “Cut,” yells Peter, “it’s not working.” Monty, the bear trainer, steps into the ring and shakes his head. “I think Pooh is getting tired. I’m going to bring in Sasha.” Monty and Pooh waddle off behind the rocks. He returns a moment later with Sasha. I immediately notice that Sasha has shiny white teeth and long claws. It seems ironic they have a stunt double for the bear and none for the actor. Monty drags the drooling bear up to the cave and slips me another chunk of raw meat. “Once he gets a whiff of this, you won’t have any problem getting him to react,” he says with a sadistic grin. Sasha glares at me and licks his lips like a lion at a Christian barbecue. “Don, really get in there and fight, the last shot looked like you were playing with the family dog,” says Peter. I nod my head and silently curse the entire operation. Sasha rocks back on his hindquarters and staggers towards me. He lunges on me—I feel his tree-sharpened claws slicing through my padded costume. I jam my head into his chest—the bear loses his balance and rolls backward. Still clutched in his grasp, I’m catapulted into the air. I do a neat tuck and roll before slamming into the boulder. A sharp pain explodes as my right knee cracks against the stone. Sasha leaps up and jumps on me. He growls and snaps at my face. His fangs sink into the foam latex mask—he jerks his massive head back and the foam rubber ape cheek rips loose like a slice of warm cheese. Monty is on him in a flash, and I am rescued with seconds to spare. Monty pulls the missing chunk of mask out of Sasha’s mouth and replaces it with the meat I dropped on the ground. Steve Johnson is moaning over the fact that he will have to spend most of the night trying to glue the mangled mask back together. “It’s a wrap, folks,” says Peter. “Good job Don, that looked great. Let’s go over to the canyon site for the tarantula scene.”


What We’ve Done So Far Dec. 19th. I’m sitting up here in my room, listening to the lounge band from the bar across the street. They’re playing Gloria. They don’t sound bad, considering they’re coming through two sets of walls. Tom Snyder is on the tube—he’s interviewing a lesbian witch, but I can’t hear their conversation because of the lounge band. This is our third week of filming, and I still have only a vague idea of what the film is about. Some scenes in the movie have, quite literally, driven me to drink. For example, several days ago we shot a flashback scene where Onna, my mate, finds the Mountain Man (as a baby) floating like a baby Moses in a basket (Kmart) of reeds. In a previous scene, Mountain Man has been firmly established as a sixfoot-four black actor wearing a bearskin and loincloth. Since there were no black babies available for the scene, Ellen and Peter, began a desperate search for the character. “All we really need is a moving form under the blanket,” says Peter. As luck would have it, my girlfriend, Macarena, is visiting and has brought along our ten-year-old Sheltie, named Pudgy. Pudgy is a friendly and mellow dog, weighing close to thirty pounds. It is determined that he is about the right size to portray the baby, Mountain Man. Pudgy is turned upside down and placed on his back in the Kmart basket. An insurmountable problem arises—each time the basket is pushed out into the lake, Pudgy finds it necessary to poke his pointed snout out from under the blanket. No amount of rationalizing can bypass the fact that he looks like an upside-down Sheltie in a basket. Pudgy’s bout with celluloid fame is brief, and he is rewarded with a stale bag of Cheese Nips. The missing baby problem brought the filming to a standstill. We are about to abandon the Moses-inspired sequence when the movie Gods decide to smile upon us. A vacationing Mexican couple wander over to the set; the young mother is carrying a tiny baby in her arms. One of the crew rushes up to her and explains, in broken Spanish, our current dilemma. Anxious to have their offspring blessed by a sacred recreation, the couple cough up the squirming kid. Baby Mountain Man has gone from an over-weight Sheltie to a skinny Mexican baby in a matter of minutes. The olive-skinned child is placed in the basket and partially covered by the blanket. I notice the baby’s plaid shirt is readily visible, but again, no one seems to care. After several hours of being pushed through the water by apes, the shivering baby is released. No mention of screen credit is made as the couple head off towards the parking lot with their immortalized infant. According to the script, the apes are not smart enough to figure out who they are or where they are going, so a plan is devised—they are to be led about by a series of silver balls. An unnamed master race of alien beings is supposedly behind this plan. Large silver balls (actually polished tank ball bearings) are to be strategically placed on the ground. The apes are inexplicably drawn to the balls, which provide them with the necessary motivation to further the quest of mankind. 27

While viewing one of the daily footage sessions at the local theatre, I noticed that you could clearly see the cameraman and director in the ball’s reflection. Tom Snyder is saying goodnight to the lesbian-witch, the band next door have quit for the night, and I’m still wide awake. I pull S.J. Perelman’s Eastward Ha! Out of my bookbag and slip into bed. The Big Bad Timberwolves Dec. 21st. It’s the last day of shooting before our three day Christmas break. This is the day of the big wolf attack. In this scene, the ape family is traveling through the mountains when they are suddenly attacked by a vicious pack of wolves. Last night in the bar, the wolf trainer spent the evening telling us some of his most gruesome wolf tales. One, in particular, was about an Alaskan wolf pack that devoured three geologists and their dog team. All week long, Monty had drilled us on how dangerous the wolves can be. “Don’t talk to them, don’t feed them, don’t even look in their direction,” he said, grinning, “Them bastards will kill you if you give ‘um half a chance!” Monty delighted in scaring the actors. He is a stuntman and animal trainer, and I have a feeling he thinks of us as a bunch of Hollywood pansies. Yesterday I noticed him taking a break on a rock—he held a thrashing rattler in one hand and a Marlboro in the other. Monty has a rugged physique—long lithe muscles on a small frame. His body bears the marks of a veteran stuntman—he once broke his back in a fall from a high building. And a 15-inch scar runs across his rib cage, the result of a run-in with an angry cougar. He is a commanding figure who demands respect from the crew, and his horde of wild animals. The only thing beyond his control seems to be his daughter, Dina. So far, in the filming, we have done all our own stunts, except for the buffalo goring scene. I’m relieved to learn that Monty will be wearing my ape suit for the close-up scenes with the wolves. The next morning finds the ape actors reluctantly suiting up in the Winnebago. I brush off my smelly suit and willingly hand it over to Monty. I slip into my winter coat and step outside to view the proceedings. Peter instructs the apes to stand atop a snow-covered knoll in preparation for the wolf attack. Monty will be doing the actual fighting, and the apes will be protecting his rear, so to speak. “Please clear the area,” yells Peter, “we’re releasing the wolves!” I scamper up a crooked pine and nestle into a comfortable position to view the action. I recall Monty telling us that the wolves haven’t eaten in three days. This is because they don’t work well on a full stomach—quite the opposite with ape actors. From the wolves’ point of view, the apes are to be considered dinner. I move up to the next highest branch. 28

Monty emerges from the Winnebago with my ape pants stuck, halfway up his thighs. The torso piece is slung over his shoulder. “Hey Pete,” he yells, “I can’t get this damn suit on—it’s too small.” Peter shakes his head and looks at his watch. “Better get Don ready, we can’t afford to wait for a suit alteration. “Don! Where’s Don?” I climb down from the tree and present myself. With one eye on the wolves, I make my way to the makeup trailer. I slowly put on the ape suit, and then Monty and I walk out to the clearing. Monty runs me through an instant course in basic wolf combat. Off to the left, six very real wolves are studying me with particular interest. Four are silver and two are gray. They strain on their chains as I slink past. I notice they have gleaming white teeth and very thin bellies. The battle area is surrounded by a long strip of electric wire, which will give the wolves a strong jolt, should they decide to make a break for freedom. It seems to me that a second wire would be a good idea—one between the wolves and us, but this would interfere with the camera angle. “Everyone ready?” yells Monty, “we’re releasing the wolves!” The trembling apes are huddled behind me in a Custer’s Last Stand circle. We are again armed with the make-shift wooden spears. “Take ‘um,” screams Monty. The wolves charge at us—then abruptly stop a few feet short of our spears. They drop to the ground and begin a stealthy crawl around us. “Cut, cut, cut!” barks Peter. “Why aren’t they attacking the monkeys?” Monty shakes his head and flicks a half-smoked cigarette into the snow. “They’re smart animals, Pete, they know they can’t take the monkeys, so they’re waiting for one of them to fall before they attack. You let one monkey go down, and all hell will break loose.” Monty scratches his head and then looks up at Suzy (his wife and fellow animal trainer). “Suz, this is going to be dangerous... I think you better do the fall.” He hands her a large hunk of raw beef and a small electronic buzzer, which is used to call the wolves to their food during training. Suzy hides the buzzer in the cuff of her suit. She gives it a test buzz and the wolves respond by perking up their long ears and licking their chops. “Suzy, I want you to go down like you’re hurt, hit the ground fast—stay flat on your stomach with your hands tucked under your chin. Let the first wolf grab your cuff. On camera, it should read that he has you by the throat.” Monty walks up to me and smacks me on the chest to get my full attention. “Don—your job is to protect Suzy while the hit is coming down. Keep the other wolves off her, or they’ll tear her to pieces. If she gets hurt, I’ll personally feed them your ass!” This was a taller order than I had counted on, so I nod my head, put a death grip my flimsy stick/spear, and prepare for the worst. “Action!” yells Peter. The wolves creep up to us and snarl through exposed fangs. No Stanislavsky acting method is needed on my part—all the motivation is being provided live. A huge gray male wolf watches Suzy fall to the ground. He makes a diverting “s” pattern in the snow, and then leaps on her, grabbing her ape suit cuff. Two smaller 29

wolves move in and lunge at Suzy as she rolls in the snow. I intercept them in midair, with a vicious swipe from the thick end of my spear. They reel back from the blow and drop, snarling in the snow. I consider telling them that I’m a lifetime member of PETA and the ASPCA, but they don’t appear to be in the mood for charitable small talk. The two wolves regroup and attempt to attack me from the rear. My fellow apes are huddled behind me in a space about the size of a phone booth. Their only movement is fearful group trembling. One of the female wolves lets out a high pitched whine and then lunges at me with flashing teeth. Three things pass through my mind: I must protect Suzy. I must protect myself. And I must not hurt the wolf. Only the first two thoughts are presently valid. The female wolf leaps at me, grabbing the end of my spear in her fangs. The stick snaps in half like a pencil, and a red slash appears on my spray-painted hand. I kick at the wolf with my rubber foot—she snaps again—my uninhabited little ape toe flies off like Ann Boleyn’s head at the guillotine. With the business end of what’s left of my stick, I give the snapping she-wolf a good poke in the snout. She yelps and jumps back. “Cut—Oh, this is Fantastic!” says Peter, grinning like a proud father at a little league game. “The wolves are getting tired,” orders Monty, “We better give them a rest.” The ape-actors take inventory of their injuries. Dina has a bloody nose caused by some overzealous spear waving by Adam; Suzy’s arm piece is ripped to the elbow; my hand is bleeding from a minor puncture wound, and Elaine’s feet are frozen—otherwise, we seem to be in pretty good shape for the upcoming Christmas break. A Final Note Following the holiday break, we regrouped for a final week of shooting in the desolate China Lake region, east of Bakersfield. We fought cougars, hawks, and spiders. We survived a wind storm, created by a DC-6 airplane propeller, and scaled the face of a treacherous mountain. The monkey suits and our spirits broke down in unison; rips in the crotches were being ignored, and visible zippers no longer seemed to matter. At long last, we heard those immortal words we had only dared to dream of: “It’s a wrap,” chirped Peter into the dented lips of his megaphone. We threw the festering suits into the trunk of Herb’s Cadillac and got riproaring drunk in The Last Chance Saloon on the outskirts of the U.S. Naval Weapons Center. The filming was over, or so we thought. After sobering up to some degree, we piled back into the heavily-damaged Winnebago and careened down Highway 395 towards the city of broken dreams, otherwise known as Hollywood and beyond. 30


January 1979 San Bernardino Mountains The six of us, once again attired in ape suits, were huddled against the Winnebago while Steve Johnson, our makeup man, sprayed our frozen fingers with a can of black Streaks & Tips. A blast of chilly mountain air swept down the canyon, rocking the Winnebago in its wake. Steve cursed as a spritz of spray paint blew back into his face. “Dammit, how I’m supposed to get you guys ready in this kinda weather. This is ridiculous!” Light snow had begun to fall. Dime-sized flakes were building up the on Winnebago’s roof. John, the father ape, flipped up his mask and drank from a can of RC Cola. Twelve-year-old Adam, who we accurately referred to as our juvenile delinquent ape, stood snapping his monkey teeth at the falling snowflakes. Our white-haired producer, Herb Gelpspan, stood shivering next to his silver Cadillac. He frowned at the dark clouds moving down the mountainside, adjusted his glasses, and stooped to tuck his damp pant cuffs into his socks. Then he disengaged himself from a frozen clump of tumbleweed and strode over to us. “You kids are great... this picture’s gonna make a million dollars,” he said, with a knowing twitch of his head. “Would you believe two bucks,” said Elaine, rolling her eyes. Fortunately, the remark drifted no further than my rubber monkey ears. Peter, our director, tramped around from behind the Winnebago and shielded his eyes with a red and blue designer mitten. “Okay, monkeys... into the bus,” he said, tucking his viewfinder into the puffy recesses of his down jacket. “We better get back up the mountain before this weather gets any worse.” Our two cameramen ran to pack up the equipment. Dina, the nine-year-old daughter of the animal trainer, and youngest of the two-child apes was bent over next to Herb’s car. She was anthropomorphically attempting to release the air from his tires. “Dina, cut that out and get on the bus,” yelled Peter. She stood up and placed her hands akimbo on her hips. “Nate’s not here,” she announced proudly. “Who’s going drive the Winnebago?” A right valid question, 31

considering that Nate, our production manager and only legal operator of the 28-foot house on wheels, was on his way to Hollywood with the latest reels of our primal epic rattling around in his trunk. Once as a kid, I had sat behind the wheel of a Peterbilt truck & trailer rig, while my friend’s father inspected the air brakes. Under the present circumstances, I figured this experience qualified me for the job. I raised my spray-painted hand and said, “I can drive it. I used to drive log trucks through the redwoods back home.” Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. “You’re on,” yelled Peter, “Load ‘ur up. If we hurry, we can still get the lake shot in before dark.” The five apes and I lumbered into the Winnebago. “Keep your suits on,” said Peter, sticking his megaphone through the front window. “We shoot the next scene, as soon as we get up the mountain.” I turned the key and the motor home rumbled to life. Elaine broke out a bottle of Jack Daniels, which she had hidden beneath one of the bunk beds. She waddled up the aisle to the cockpit. “Better take a swallow,” she said, “we’re headin’ into a bad storm.” I tipped back my ape mask and gulped down a burning slug of straight whiskey. “Ummmmm... I”m going to tell,” taunted Dina from the back. “Shut up, Dina,” snapped Elaine. Our concern for the young ape’s moral influence had long since evaporated. “Ya Hooo, let’s hit the road,” I hooted, as I jammed the Winnebago into reverse...then KABAM! Right after the crash, someone in the back yelled, “Watch out for that boulder!” I stepped outside to inspect the damage. I could smell the stench of raw sewage as I rounded the back of the vehicle. The cleanly severed septic tank lay on the ground; a slimy gray liquid oozed out from a foot-long gash in the metal. I jumped back in the motor home and threw her into gear. “What happened? Did you crash the Winnebago?” screamed Dina. “No, just scraped the fender a little,” I answered. As we bounced across the desert floor, I could see the gray hulk of the septic tank growing smaller in the rearview TV monitor. My city-scarred conscience, had for a moment, made me consider throwing the tank on board, but my more logical and self-serving id told me the thing was really little worse than a large beer can. Who knows, fifty years from now, it might even prove to be ecologically sound—providing shelter for a pack of rattlers or something. At Highway 79, we turned left and headed up the steep incline towards the mountain community of Big Bear. A glance in the rearview revealed my strange cargo: three adult apes passing around a bottle of booze, and two child apes hitting each other in the face with Ritz Crackers. Back in Los Angeles, happy families were sitting at home watching The Love Boat, while I was stuck driving a mobile home full of apes into the heart of a massive snowstorm. It was getting pretty nasty out; the mountainside had long since become covered with snow. I flipped on the wipers. 32

We surged past a family station wagon parked on the side of the road. The driver was lying on his back, attempting to attach a shiny set of snow chains. What a waste of good time, I thought to myself. I shifted into low gear, and we bucked up the steep incline. Over muffled ape laughter and the din of the engine, I heard a distressful cry. “Hey, I’m peeing on the road—I can see the ROAD!” It was Dina. Elaine got to her feet and poked her head into the tiny bathroom. “She’s peeing on the road,” said Elaine, cupping her hands around her ape mouth. “Looks like we are missing a septic tank.” “Nate must have broken it off yesterday,” I said, “now sit down everybody, we’re coming up on some hairpin turns.” Adam ran back to the john and began dropping crackers down the toilet. The Winnebago began slipping and sliding as I cranked it around an S-shaped curve. I shifted back to second. The vehicle groaned with a violent shudder. We managed another hundred yards before I caught sight of the flashing red lights behind me. “Oh shit,” I yelled over my shoulder, “we’re getting pulled over by a state trooper.” “Oh no, monkey man—you’re getting pulled over,” screamed Elaine. The remaining apes broke into a crazed primal howling, which seemed to feed on itself until the Winnebago literally rocked with mirth. I didn’t find the situation particularly funny. I turned my right blinker on and pulled over. As I cramped the wheel to the right, I felt the rear end beginning to slide. I stepped on the gas and whipped the wheel back to the left. The Winnebago continued its tailspin. Another twenty feet and we would be plummeting some 4000 feet down into the valley below. I jammed on the brakes and somehow managed to skid headfirst into a snowy embankment. The impact sent the giggling apes spewing into the aisle. We were now resting in the middle of the road, parallel to the normal flow of traffic. I cut the motor and mumbled a mock prayer. On the driver’s backup TV monitor, I watched the door opening on the trooper’s black and white jeep. A heavily bundled officer stepped out. I wished I could change the channel. The officer flipped up his fur-lined hood and disappeared behind the Winnebago. A moment later, a leather-gloved hand pounded on the door. I pushed the release button, and the hooded patrolman stepped up into the cabin. He took a long cold look at me and then slowly removed his sunglasses. He shook his head and rubbed his temples with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. “May I see your driver’s license?” he said. “We’re actors,” I stammered. “We’re filming a big movie up here.” “Driver’s license,” he repeated. I could hear muffled laughter erupting from the back of the Winnebago. “It’s not here,” I said, weakly tapping my hairy thigh, at a point where most men would carry a wallet. “It’s in the back of Herb Gelpspan’s Cadillac.” “And where is Herb?”


“I’m not sure, but I have a feeling he’s stuck down the hill somewhere.” I could tell by the officer’s eyes, that he was in no mood for a Winnebago full of illegal apes. “Where are your snow chains?” he snapped. “We don’t have any, that’s why I was trying to get this thing up the hill so fast.” “I see,” said the officer, methodically removing his ticket book from his inner breast pocket. He peered around the partition at the ape clan in the back. Then he withdrew his pen and began writing down a numbered list of complaints. I sat casually, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel. A valley-bound Wonder Bread truck inched towards us. We were partially blocking the road. The driver glared out his window and appeared about ready to yell some obscenity when he caught sight of my surly simian face. He withdrew his head and the truck slid past us in silence. The officer twitched his mustache, shifted his gun belt, and leaned towards me for emphasis. “I’m going to read you the violations I’ve noted,” he said. I pulled away from him, for fear he might smell the Jack Daniels on my breath. I had, by this time, already resigned myself to spending the night, incarcerated, in the Big Bear City Jail. But I didn’t wish to get pinned with a DUI. Thinking a more personal approach might help, I said, “Would you like me to take off my mask?” “That won’t be necessary,” said the officer. He snapped open his ticket book and began to read off the charges: “Operating a moving vehicle without a proper license. No evidence of a valid driver’s license. Operating a moving vehicle while wearing a restrictive apparatus.” “What’s that mean?” I asked. “It means that you’re wearing a gorilla suit. You have limited peripheral vision, and your rubber feet are too wide for proper mobility on the pedals,” he barked, pointing at my feet. I looked down and confirmed his assessment with a guilty nod. “Operating an over-sized vehicle in severe weather conditions, without evidence of snow chains. Raw sewage and other unidentifiable objects are leaking from the vehicle—no apparent waste receptacle attached!” I could see my movie career evaporating and the bars slamming shut on my jail cell. The officer handed me the ticket book. I signed my name, leaving a sweaty black Streaks & Tips smudge on the ticket. Someone shifted in the back of the Winnebago and got to their feet. It was Elaine, not wearing her ape head. She sauntered seductively up the aisle, a living vision of primitive femininity. “Excuse me, officer,” she purred, “but couldn’t you give him a break. He’s got three kids at home, and he’s only making a couple hundred a week on the film—the only reason he’s driving is to help us out. Our regular driver got bitten by a rattler, and had to be rushed to the hospital in San Bernardino.” The officer just stared at Elaine. But I sensed that he could see in her, a repressed connection to his primal beginnings—somewhere in the depths of his chilly human heart, a primitive chord was struck. His firmly clenched lips relaxed, 34

then curled, albeit ever so slightly, into a faint likeness of a remembered smile, as he made a notation on the ticket. Then he relaxed a bit and pointed to the ticket. “What does that say at the top?” Elaine leaned forward and squinted at the ticket. “Warning notice,” she said, a little embarrassed. “That right,” he said, zipping up his jacket, “it’s just a warning—I’m not about to explain this one to the judge. Now get some chains on this crate, and don’t let me catch any more apes behind the wheel.” “Should I take the suit off now,” I asked. “That would be a damn good idea,” he said, stepping out into the swirling snow. If Hannibal could cross the Alps with a herd of elephants, I could certainly drive a Winnebago full of apes up the slopes of Blackhawk Mountain in my underwear.



The movie looked like a hit on paper—a sexy update of Cocteau’s classic, Beauty and the Beast. I would be co-starring as the beast with a newly discovered Canadian looker named D.D. Winters. Compensation for my efforts—$1000 a week, plus expenses for 18 days in the tropical outback of Puerto Rico. Whiz kid make-up artist Rob Bottin was hired to build the $25,000 fantasy ape suit. After several clandestine meetings, the producers decided the creature should be a cross between an orangutan and a baboon. In the days ahead, the beast would come to be known as a boomerang. Another topic discussed in the meetings was the creature’s genitalia. Rob had designed a ten-inch rubber penis, a fine pair of lime-sized testicles, and a realistic set of tangerine-colored buttocks. Following a frantic call to the ratings board, the producers decided the creature would perform sans genitalia; but the buttocks were allowed to stay. The story was logical enough—beautiful young model does a toothpaste commercial in Toronto; the commercial features clips of the ape, Mighty Joe Young. The hybrid ape sets Tanya to thinking about primates. When she arrives home from the commercial shoot, she fights with the artist/boyfriend (right after the nude shower scene); she takes some pills and falls into a sweaty dream sequence, which takes place on a seemingly deserted tropical island. The boyfriend is still with her in the dream. Tanya caresses her naked body over a super-imposed sunset while the opening credits roll. My misspelled name is frozen for a split second over her vulva. This ribald effect was added after I saw a pre-release screening, but before I invited the bornagain Christian neighbors to the premiere. The film opens with Tanya and Lobo, the boyfriend, making passionate movielove on the shore, ala Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. There is one major difference in our version—Tanya and Lobo are naked. They fight again, perhaps owing to Lobo’s flaccid penis, which is accidentally revealed in the scene. Tanya mounts a conveniently available white stallion and rides off in a huff. She explores the island—this is where I come in, only you don’t see me right away. Instead, you just see a bunch of broken coconut shells lying around my ocean cave lair. From this point on, things get pretty hectic. It’s your basic girl 36

falls for beast, boy gets jealous of beast, beast copies boy’s actions, boy hates girl, girl and beast leave together kind of plot. Despite the frequent nudity, the film managed to eke out a “hard R” rating. The cast and crew flew to Puerto Rico for 18 days of jungle work. Rob Bottin and I were to join them, two days later, with the much-awaited hybrid ape suit. The events surrounding the making of Tanya’s Island, have been taken, in slightly edited form, from my journal. Day One I’m stuck in holiday traffic jam at L.A. Airport. Nine-thirty at night and it’s bumper to bumper. Made it on board Pam Am flight with five minutes to spare. Rob and the beast suit missed the flight. I sit alone in the back of the 747 and talk to the stewardesses. I tell them I’m co-starring in this big jungle picture, but I don’t mention that I’m playing the beast. They think I’m funny and possibly a future celebrity, so they give me free vodka tonics. No sleep. Very drunk. I arrived in San Juan around 8:30 a.m. Ninety-four degrees and humidity so thick you could make it rain just by waving for a taxi. Luggage missed the flight. A weaselly little man in baggage claim says it should be on the next flight. I look around for someone from the film company but no one seems to care that I’m the co-star of a big jungle picture. San Juan looks exciting but I’m too drunk, tired, and jet-lagged to appreciate anything more than a hotel bed. My eyes are burning and I’m starting to dry up like a sidewalk starfish. After an hour of wandering around looking for anyone who resembles a Canadian filmmaker, I give up and stagger into a phone booth. The name Hilton bounces into my consciousness and I give them a call. “Diga, hello... Buenas Dias—I am trying to reach the movie crew.” After 15 minutes of transfers, grabbed translations, and repeated questioning, I learn that the movie crew was staying at the hotel, but they’ve now departed. None of the employees have a clue as to where the crew may be. I drain out of the phone booth and fall into a broken-down taxi for the half-hour ride into San Juan. Further inquiries at the Hilton lead me to believe the Tanya’s Island crew has fled town. I half expect Allan Funt to step out from behind a pillar to inform me my movie role has been a complete hoax. I check the front desk—no reservation for Rob or myself. I pay $80 for a room and then have to wait three hours in the lobby, while the maid readies my room. Bed! Fell asleep in my clothes and slept like a coffin for five hours. Rob Bottin showed up at my door about 7:00 pm. There are no more rooms available, so he has to stay with me. Rob suggests we spend a night on the town, and if we aren’t contacted by 3:00 p.m. tomorrow—we head home. I agree. We are about to step out for some food when the phone rings. “Hello, Senor MicLEEod?” “Yes, yes, that’s me,” I say, hoping it’s the production company or at least a cunning reporter seeking an interview. 37

“Are you...how you say—with Senor Brousseau?” I instantly recognize the film producer’s name. “Yes, where the hell is he?” “This is what we wish to know—he hasn’t checked out of his room, but there is an unpaid bill for $240. We would like to know if you can pay dis bill?” “Where is Brousseau now?” I ask. “I am afraid he has left without to notify us.” I cover the receiver and fill Rob in on the dilemma. “They want me to pay Pierre’s bill—he’s split on them.” Rob lights up like Fagin eying the Crown jewels. He signals for me to hand him the phone. Rob holds the phone at arm’s length, and in a perfect impression of our French Canadian producer, he says, “Don, I am so glad zat you have awakened me. Let me speak wis zem—Hello, yes, this is Monsieur Brousseau. (pause) I am so sorry for zee mistake, but I vill be staying in zee room wis Monsieur McLeod. Yes, yes... tomorrow I vill be checking out, so pleeze leave zee bill open—I vill pay zee bill tomorrow. (pause) C’est la vie, au revoir.” Rob slowly hangs up the phone and then twirls an imaginary mustache. “They will be sorry zay ever heard zay name, Pierre Brousseau. Let us drink and zen we dine!” “What should we eat?” I ask. “Why only the finest cuisine in the hotel—we charge everything to Pierre Brousseau,” says Rob. “But how can we do that, he’s gone.” “But his bill isn’t,” answers Rob, patting his stomach. He picks up the hotel brochure and begins reading from it. “Let’s try the Captain’s Table...it looks like the most expensive restaurant in the hotel.” Rob convinces the maitre d’ that I’m a famous American movie star, so we manage an excellent table. Pierre proves most generous. We open with Caesar Salad, clams on the half-shell, and a bottle of Dom Perignon to cleanse the palate. I order lobster and Rob goes with the Chateaubriand for two, in honor of our absent host. We finish up with a chocolate soufflé dessert. After a half-dozen vodka tonics apiece, we are feeling pretty chipper and decide to share our jollity with a nightclub or two. Rob forges the $175 tab and we teeter out into the buzzing tropical night. Rob and I make an odd team; he is 6-foot 5 and I’m 5-foot 7. We both have long hair and look like part of an errant rock group. We drank and danced with the local talent in a smoke-filled hooker disco. Rob did W.C. Fields impressions— most of the Puerto Ricans thought he was crazy. They were undoubtedly correct. Found hotel—can’t remember how—so drunk I’m starting to hallucinate. I’m not really like this! Day Two Laid around the pool from noon to three. Charged full course brunch to Pierre’s bill. At 3:00 p.m., the production manager calls—a few minutes later, we meet an anxious dark-haired woman in the lobby. She blames the lack of 38

communication on a pair of twin workers, called the Dion brothers. They arrive and load our baggage (my suitcases arrived from the airport as we were leaving.) The Dion brothers look like a pair of muscle-bound Harpo Marxes, they sing in harmony as we load the station wagon. The dark-haired woman pays Pierre’s exorbitant bill; she doesn’t mention our additional charges. Puerto Rico has no apparent driving laws—just missed getting side-swiped by a rusted bus. Hot and humid, bright blue sky—slight breeze. Angry black rain clouds forming behind us over San Juan. We’re heading south down the coast. The travel-poster affluence quickly fades as we near the outskirts of the city. We pass the Ron Rico Rum Distillery—my stomach tightens. Palm trees, tall grass, and lush green vegetation sprout up around us—the air is alive with the white noise humming of invisible insects, or maybe it’s just my hangover. Two hours south of San Juan. We arrive at the faded Guajataca motel in the lost coastal village of Quebradillias. Rob and I check-in. My room looks like it’s straight out of the Bates motel in Psycho. The nervous production woman drives us to the beach location to meet Tanya and the crew. White sandy beach rimmed with dense jungle foliage. Looks like a beachhead on the shores of Iwo Jima. Rob and I trudge past a whirring generator and follow the thick black cable, which lays in the sand like a mammoth umbilical cord, to its extremity. We slide down a grassy embankment and come face to face with the sunburned film crew. They are busily assembling white sun reflectors by the shore. Our mentor and producer, Pierre, drifts across the sand to welcome us. He is tall and thin, with sunken cheeks and a concave chest. He looks out of place on the beach, but I wouldn’t want to try kicking sand on him. Tanya is on horseback, several hundred yards down the shoreline. Alfred Sole, the director, walks over to us. He is dressed like a Sandinista guerrilla fighter, and he is carrying a megaphone and a clipboard. He runs his hand through his salt and pepper hair and says, “Welcome to Apocalypse Mañana—how was your trip?” Rob just starts laughing and I nod my head in agreement. Alfred waves to D.D. Winters (Tanya) and she rides towards us. Her mount, a spirited white stallion, gallops through the surf, kicking up sensual splashes of foam. He lunges up a sandy knoll and charges straight for us. At the last possible moment, D.D. yanks on the reigns—the stallion rears up, pawing the air like Silver on the old Lone Ranger show. An impressive entrance. Rob rolls his eyes and pats away a faint yawn. D.D. and the stallion toss their manes in unison. “D.D. say hello to Rob and Don,” says Alfred. D.D. just stares at us and then smiles like a Goddess inspecting a new crop of servants. “Hi D.D.,” says Rob in a perfect Paul Linde voice. “Hello, Tanya,” I say, lowering my voice an octave. I notice that her wardrobe is rather scant, loincloth flap, leather moccasins, and a sea shell harness, which surrounds, rather than covers, her breasts. D.D. is beautiful—half Black and half French, with full lips, sharp cut cheekbones, and olive-brown bedroom eyes. She has a seductive manner, well advanced for her twenty years. 39

D.D. studies me for a moment longer and then whirls the horse around. They dash off down the coast with an air of disdain. Alfred tells us that Pierre discovered D.D. in a Toronto restaurant. He says she has never acted before. Richard Sargent, who plays Tanya’s schizophrenic lover, Lobo, walks over to introduce himself. He has sandy hair and a wiry frame. He talks like a nervous Nick Nolte. “What do you think of D.D.?” I ask. Richard scowls and wrinkles his brow. “Just wait, you’ll see—oh God, I shouldn’t be saying this. I’ll tell you later—hey—do you think this film is any good? I don’t know, I don’t know—it’s crazy, “He scratches his beard, turns, and stomps off into the jungle. Rob and I are back at the motel. He hasn’t finished the ape suit yet, and we’re scheduled to shoot tomorrow afternoon. I help him punch hair and sew on snaps—I’d much prefer to be out at the pool, sucking on a Pina Colada. Day Four I spent the morning working on the suit with Rob and finished putting the last snaps on just after lunch. Rob and I drag the suit outside and load it into a Dodge maxi-van. A crowd of Puerto Rican motel workers stared at us as we pull away from the Guajataca. The beast, now known as Blue because of my blue eyes, arrives at the Cueva del Indio (Indian caves.) The caves are a natural phenomenon; deep-set erosions in the volcanic sea wall. Twenty-foot wide blow holes loom overhead, creating huge natural skylights. A half-dozen trucks and vans surround two small trailers. The smaller of the two trailers is the actors’ dressing room. Rob and I step inside. The air conditioner is on, making the humidity somewhat tolerable. D.D. is standing, naked to the waist, brushing her hair. Rob and I roll our eyes and struggle past her with the ape suit. After two hours of hot gluing and pinning, I emerge as the magnificent beast of the jungle. A cluster of children, belonging to the proprietors of the Indian cave restaurant, back away in terror. Following a round of “oohs” and “aahs” from the crew, I’m led to a rocky precipice overlooking the ocean. Alfred picked up the megaphone and pointed it at me, “Okay, Don, you’re just climbing over the rocks in this shot—Tanya spots you, and you run away along the cliff.” “Which scene is this?” I say, but my voice is lost under the pounding surf. I figure this isn’t going to be a deep psychological moment, and I recall Robert Mitchum’s advice to young actors: “Remember your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.” None of his advice seemed applicable at the moment. “Action,” bellows Alfred.


I tear up the cliff, do a sharp double-take at Tanya, and then run full speed down the side of the cliff. After the first few steps, I feel the sweat pumping out of me like water from an irrigation hose. I drop to my knees, gasping for breath. “Cut, cut, cut!” yells Alfred. “Rob, I can see Don’s T-shirt when he raises his arm. Can you fix that?” Rob runs over and sprays my neck and underarm area with a noxious blast of Streak & Tips. “Trying to make me look bad already,” hisses Rob, “Don, please keep your head down and your shoulders hunched.” “Hey Rob,” I say, “the mask is cutting into my temple,” but he’s already heading back towards the camera. We film several more angles of the monkey on a cliff scene, but are cut short when the sun sets off to the west. Back in my motel room, dead tired, and I worked less than two hours. No television. The management has set up a widescreen in the lounge; the picture is fuzzy and distorted like you were looking at the screen through a coke bottle. Rob is pleased with the way the suit looks. Says I look like a long-haired rock and roll surfer monkey. I met the motel manager after dinner. He speaks good English—said he used to live in Florida, but left when he fell behind on his ex-wife’s child support. He carries a loaded .38 in his pants. Said he shot two guys trying to break into a room last month. I’m relieved to hear he likes apes. Day Five Six am call. Blue is found hiding in an abandoned stone shack on the beach. Lobo, Tanya’s aforementioned boyfriend, lures him outside by dropping his pants and hanging a moon. I step out onto the porch and Lobo, who is now on the roof, drops a noose around my neck. He yanks me up and I dangle, precariously, above the doorway. The hanging effect is created by the use of a parachute harness, which is hooked under my ape suit. The noose is then snapped onto the chute and the ape suit closed over it. Two 6-foot-6 grips, named Doug and Maris, do the actual hoisting. At one point, I’m left suspended in the air for two hours, while Alfred tries to figure how to get Lobo and me into the same shot. There is a certain serenity to be found in this unusual position. Aside from ninety-degree heat, 50 pounds of fur and rubber, and a rotisserie view, I find the experience quite exhilarating. After the first hour, the harness begins cutting into my shoulder blades; by the end of the second hour, I feel like I’m wearing a wheelbarrow. How Alfred can rationalize a 160-pound actor lifting up a 300-pound ape is beyond me. When I ask Alfred about this, he says Lobo can lift Blue because it’s in the script. 41

I fell asleep in my room and missed dinner. I ate two stale cookies from the vending machine. Drank vodka and ate popcorn at the bar. I watched a webfooted frog doing pushups on my window. Read the last half of James Cain’s Double Indemnity. It’s 3:00 a.m. and I have a 7:00 a.m. call. Oh God, why do I love to read and write so much? Day Six I’m blessed by a miracle; the production office calls to tell me we’re doing a late-night shoot. I sleep until noon. 9:00 p.m. Tanya and Lobo make love in a tent while the beast watches from the shadows. Blue thinks Lobo is hurting Tanya, so he attacks the tent. Lobo retaliates by stalking Blue with a crossbow. The script calls for Blue to be shot in the arm with an arrow. I figure they’re going to just shoot an arrow into an empty ape arm, and then cut to me writhing in pain. I have thought wrong. Alfred wants the realism of a single shot. Various theories on how to execute the shooting are discussed. Rob suggests that a hollowed-out arrow could be shot along a filament fishing line attached to my arm. Someone else suggests merely throwing the arrow at close range into my arm, but none of these ideas seem effective. Suddenly the set-designer steps forward and says, “I’m a champion marksman—let me shoot the arrow.” We all turn around and stare at Carlos. He is a burly, dark-haired Italian with a native love of the grape. Now granted, he is skilled at impromptu tent rigging and the like, but whether his claim to accuracy with a crossbow is valid or not, I couldn’t be certain. Carlos picks up the bow, cranks back the shaft, and carefully fits a steel-tipped arrow into position. He strolls up to a nearby log and places an empty pack of Marlboros between two limbs. Carlos backs up fifteen paces and lifts the bow to his shoulder—Crack! The arrow sliced through the heart of the box. The crowd cheers. “You can call me William Tell of the North,” says Carlos, chucking Alfred on the shoulder. “Let’s make a movie!” The crew begins adjusting lights, while Rob and Carlos prepare my arm for the shot. In between mosquito bites and cries of “Fuckin’ bugs,” they manage to cut a tin can in half and attach it with gaffers tape to my right shoulder. Carlos then cuts two 3-inch square sections of balsa wood and tapes them over the tin. I contemplate the makeshift target with false bravado. Pierre’s wife appears and begins examining my arm. “You’re not going to hurt zee poor monkey?” Rob wraps on the pad with his knuckles, as if to check its penetrability. “Not to worry, Mariette, even Stevie Wonder could hit this big target. If Carlos misses the wood, the arrow will bounce right off the tin. Mariette pats me on the cheek and then Rob slips the ape head over my ears. The suit is hooched up and zipped shut. 42

“All right, stand back everyone. This is a take,” barks Alfred, his voice echoing out into the night. “Carlos, can you move back a couple of steps,” says Alfred, “I want to shoot the scene real wide.” Carlos nods and steps back. I remain still as a statue, as Carlos reloads the bow. He takes a deep breath and draws the bow up to his shoulder. “Looks good,” says Mark Irwin, the cinematographer. “Action!” yells Alfred. I turn my head away. I can smell the damp, salty aroma of seaweed at my feet. Overhead, a bat swoops down through the artificial light and disappears in the darkness. I hear the dull crack of the bow—an instant later, I feel the razor-tip arrow rip into my deltoid. I shriek in my best ape utterance and whip around snarling at the camera. “Cut,” yells Alfred, “print it, print it—that was fabulous!” Everyone runs up to congratulate Carlos on his marksmanship. Rob runs over to me. “Are you okay?” Suffering from heat exhaustion, shock, and a mild case of heroism, I nod and mumble, “Yeah, but the arrow went into my arm.” “What?” said Rob. “Hey, Don’s been hurt! He jumps up and starts screaming, “Get him out of the suit!” Moments later a crew member runs up and pulls out the arrow. The suit is opened and the padding is removed. A stream of blood runs down my arm and drips dramatically into the sand. The wound is minor, a halfinch puncture, but luckily there is lots of blood. Mariette rushes over and begins bandaging my arm. Carlos had missed the balsa wood pad. And the arrow had sliced through the tin. “I can’t believe it,” stammers Rob, “they fucking shot you in the arm.” “It’s nothing,” I say, rotating my throbbing shoulder. I arrived back at the hotel around 2:00 a.m. D.D. rubbed my neck on the bus. I think she’s figured out that without the ape, there is no movie. Funny how people can change their priorities after a shooting incident. I killed two roaches with my tennis shoe and smoked a half pack of Vantage while writing this. Day Seven Dreamt I was going bald last night—long stringy strands of hair sprouting out of my forehead. I pull the hairs out of my head and punch them into the ape suit. At breakfast, D.D. and Alfred ask how my shoulder is feeling. I lie, saying it hurts a lot. We move 90 miles down the coast for a week at the Mayaguez Hilton. Mange covered dogs and sad-eyed children line the streets like weeds. In the center of the city is a lush green park, apparently belonging to a Military institution. The park is empty and guarded by a sentry. The Hilton is located several hundred yards above the city, on the edge of a hilly rain forest. A circular concrete drive surrounds the hotel. Tropical plants 43

and fat blinking lizards line the entryway. Temperature is in the high 80s, with a promise of daily thundershowers. Rob is overworked and has flown in Steve Johnson (who was our makeup man on The Galactic Connection) from Los Angeles to help out. I came down with a nasty stomach disorder around noon. Hope it’s not amebas from the water—or is that only in Mexico? I drove to the “Fortress” sight. Quite impressive. Puerto Rican workers have constructed a massive bamboo fortress in the middle of the jungle: fifteen-foot high walls, raised parapets, and an interior stockade. According to the script, Lobo has built the fortress to keep Tanya away from Blue. I spent the afternoon running around the fort in my ape suit. My intention was to drive Lobo crazy by banging on the walls with a bamboo pole. Hotter than Hades—must have lost eight or ten pounds. Running in circles while wearing 40 pounds of foam rubber just can’t be good for a person. I called my fiancee, Macarena, back in Los Angeles. The dog kept her up all night with his scratching. She reminds me I forgot to take him to the vet. Some fat slob across the street is making obscene phone calls to her, because he and his doped up friends have nothing better to think about. Might just have to rip their lungs out when I get home. Good news here! The hotel has a real restaurant, complete with expensive prices and waiters in tuxedoes. I had crab legs tonight with Rob and Steve. D.D. is going out with the Steady-cam operator. He’s a likable guy who spends most of his days spraying himself with Bug Off and rubbing Coppertone on his muscles. His tan and his love life appear to be flourishing. No bugs in the room, but they’re hanging outside the plate glass window, waiting for a break in the defenses. Heavy tropical rainstorm broke up the filming today. Angry black clouds rolled in and hammered the coast for about 20 minutes. I take off the ape suit and stand in my shorts in the downpour” First time I’ve been cool all week. My body is getting pale and my flesh is beginning to feel soggy from the eight to ten hours of suit time I put in each day. The costume is starting to get pretty funky—smells like a pair of damp wino pants. No way to dry it out and I think it’s getting heavier too, but maybe I’m just losing my strength. The best part of an ape movie gig is when it ends, and you can go home and tell stories about how you almost died fighting a water buffalo or something. Should I go to bed now and read a little Graham Greene, or should I go to the bar with Rob? Day Eight Big action scene in the jungle today. Lobo builds a 6 foot by 10 foot, 500-pound bamboo cage and hoists it high into the foliage above a narrow trail. He lures Blue under the cage and then cuts the rope with a machete. 44

Alfred asks me if I want a stand-in for the stunt. He then reminds me that the suit probably won’t fit anyone else. Like a fool, I except the assignment and the huge cage is lifted into the trees. Once again, Carlos has volunteered to cut the rope. I question him on the details of the drop. “The cage will drop about fifteen feet. You have a clearance of two feet on either side—more than enough room to cover any miscalculations on our part. Just be sure to hit your mark, and everything will be fine,” he says, patting me on the back. I examine the spot where the cage has fallen in a practice drop; huge fencepost sized holes have punctured the jungle floor. Carlos marks my stopping point with two small sticks, placed in the shape of a cross. “Here’s your star,” says Alfred, “someday you can tell your kids about this.” “If he’s still alive to have any,” adds Rob. The crossed sticks suddenly remind me of a grave marker. Sweat pours down my neck and chest. I squeeze my fingers together and little spurts of white liquid (sweat and liquified baby powder) shoot out from the rips in my rubber gloves. The two cameras are adjusted and Alfred yells, “Action!” I stumble, half delirious from the heat, into the clearing. Lobo chases me, taunting me with raspy war cries. I try not to look too obvious in searching for my mark. Suddenly I panic—every pile of sticks I see seems to be crossed. Overhead, I hear the ticking sound of strained hemp rubbing against dry bark. Lobo is behind me, prodding at me with a very real machete. Recognizing his devotion to method acting, I leap onto a crossed pile of sticks and try to transform myself into the shape of a broom handle while maintaining a ferocious demeanor. From the depths of the jungle, I hear the mocking cry of some loud tropical bird. Carlos cuts the rope with a swift blow. Crack! The cage comes crashing down through the trees. Limbs snap and vines whiplash as the bamboo cage sears past my shoulder and slams to the ground with a resounding thump. The camera continues to roll as Richard dances around me in his loincloth and black body paint. He picks up a long bamboo pole and begins poking at me through the bars. “Hit him with the pole,” yells Alfred. Richard is a man possessed; he has taken a lot of crap from Alfred, mostly regarding his love scenes with D.D. He needs only to imagine Alfred in my place, and he will surely kill me on the spot. He rams the pole between the bars, narrowly missing my head. I feint to the left and Richard jabs at me again—the blow catches me just above the right eye. The fiberglass inner helmet of the ape head shatters with a loud crackling sound—my head snaps back. I reel back against the bars and slump to the floor. The cage is opened and my mask is removed. I can feel a warm stream of blood running down my cheek. Someone applies a cold pack and a bandage to my temple. “Fantastic!” says Alfred, strolling off to lunch with his arm around D.D.’s bare waist. “Can’t wait to see the dailies.” 45

Back at the hotel, I watched part of a Spanish baseball broadcast in the lounge. I went to bed early with an upset stomach and a sore head. Day Nine Carlos built a cooling box for me today. Four by four by seven with an air conditioner built into the wall. It has no windows and looks like an elongated version of the box Steve McQueen sat in on The Great Escape. A long cable runs along the jungle floor connecting the air conditioner to the master generator. Rob thinks it’s funny to unplug the cord while I’m inside trying to cool off. Gets rather smoky inside when I light up a cigarette—really must quit soon, my body can’t take this abuse much longer. We filmed a location shot this afternoon on the beach in Ponce. I had to get dressed in the men’s room of a local hotel and scared the tan off a Puerto Rican maid, who came in carrying a mop and bucket. “Madre de Dios!” was one thing I remember her screaming. I turned some heads during a political meeting, as I stomped through a banquet room. More rain. Flash flooding. Richard told me he couldn’t stand working with D.D. and Alfred anymore. He asked me if his bad attitude showed through in his acting. I lied and said no. At lunch, D.D. tells Alfred she isn’t doing any more love scenes with Richard unless someone buys him some breath spray. (He has purposely been eating onions and garlic to irritate her.) I look over at Richard’s table, and sure enough, he’s eating a double order of fried onions. I carried D.D. through the jungle in a prelude to the big ape/rape scene. She’s heavier than she looks. Noticed she had nothing on under her loincloth flap. She tells me she doesn’t want to study acting, as it would taint her natural style. Her French-Canadian photographer boyfriend is coming in from Toronto tomorrow. I wonder what will happen to her part-time boyfriend, Dan, the steady-cam operator. I guess he’ll be stuck with his can of bug spray. After dinner, we drive into Mayaquez to view the daily film clips at a local theatre. The ape looks great. Rob watches for zippers and exposed human neck shots. Alfred is more concerned with the overall continuity. D.D. just chews her gum and smiles. Rob and I have several rounds of Pina Coladas in the bar. Alfred shows up and requests a haircut from Rob. An hour later, Alfred emerges from the room looking like a mental patient—I can sense his authority beginning to slip. Day Ten I awoke at 5:00 a.m. for the drive up the coast to Quebradillas. Rob and I take one of the rented station wagons. Several roaches run across the back seat as we pull out of the Hilton parking lot. They’re scampering back and forth like they’re on a military training mission. The stench from the sweat-soaked ape suit forces us to open the windows. 46

Rob’s starting to break down from the grueling schedule; he is banging his fists on the dashboard and doing an impression of the Puerto Rican deejay on the radio. “Howlin Ready, make love to me,” he screams, as the radio blasts out Helen Ready’s syrupy hit. Rob breaks into an out-of-control cha-cha, causing the station wagon to rock back and forth like an out-of-control amusement ride. “Don, Don—am I driving you crazy—Uh Don, am I? Am I?” taunts Rob. I drive on in silence, reminding myself of his budding genius. We are approaching the coastal village of Aricebo. Ramshackle buildings and chipped abode houses line the hillside like broken pieces of shale. Early morning locals are out in the street. The men are drinking beer in little clusters while their pregnant wives, surrounded by multiple groupings of dusty children, stroll the sidewalks. Rob decides I should wear the ape head. He climbs into the back and hides behind the seat. “It’ll be funnier if the ape is driving alone,” he says. Rob crams the monkey head on me while I attempt to keep the wagon on the road. We pull up to a group of villagers basking in the shade of a local watering hole. I lay on the horn and they glance up. The beast snaps and growls— an elderly fellow, tilted back in an aluminum sun chair, mouths something in Spanish and then topples over backward on the porch. Fearing an uprising, a la the villagers in Frankenstein, I jam the car into gear and speed away down a side street. When we arrive at the Indian Cave site, Alfred is waiting for us. “Hurry up guys, we need Blue in the first shot.” Rob coaxes me into the suit, with the promise of celluloid immortality. The Blue suit is hot and sticky and smells like a bag of dead fish that someone threw up on. I squeeze into the suit and Rob is zipping me up when I feel something crawling on my leg. A moment later, I feel two more somethings inching down my back. “Rob,” I say in a calm voice, “there’s something in my suit.” “Yeah, right,” says Rob as he continues my entombment. I start to think maybe it’s just my imagination when I feel a critter scuttle over my right cheekbone and onto the corner of my eyelid. In an extreme close-up, I see a giant round head and two undulating barbed legs. “Roaches!” I scream as I whirl about slapping like a madman at the mask. Rob drops his vented hairbrush and jumps out of my way. I rip the ape head off and Rob yanks me out of the suit. He lunges for the costume, swoops it up, and begins shaking it out as if it were a garbage can. Half a dozen fat cockroaches plop out onto the sand and scurry away. I shake out the head and three more roaches drop spinning to the ground. Alfred stands back staring in horror at the proceedings. Dan, the steady-cam operator, is summoned. He arrives moments later, carrying an industrial-sized canister of bug spray. We step back as Dan blasts the suit and head with a half-quart of pesticide. A dozen or so roaches tumble out of the suit and scuttle towards the trailer. D.D. runs inside and locks the door behind her. 47

We wait ten minutes and then Alfred suggests I get back in the suit. I can’t decide what is worse—to be in sweaty suit with live roaches or to be in a sweaty suit sucking up bug spray toxins through open pores. I opt for the latter and climb back into the deadly costume. Sweating like a fat man in a Turkish bath, getting dizzy and nauseous from the bug spray. Filmed a couple of scenes in the ocean-side cave grotto, with D.D. staring at me and saying, “Oh, Blue... I’ve never seen a beast like you before—even in the movies.” Day Eleven More cave scenes today. I spent ten hours in the suit. I lost nine pounds according to the hotel food scale. After dinner, we drive to a nearby disco. I enter a Pina Colada drinking contest with Rob and some of the crew. When you’re my size (5-7, 145), this can prove to be lethal. By midnight I have consumed a dozen or more of the golden beauties. I rationalize this foolishness, by convincing myself the fruit juice is healthy. Around 12:30 a.m., Rob goes out to the station wagon and brings in the ape head. I put it on, stuff the cables down my shirt, and begin dancing with Maris, the grip. We clear the floor, sending young Latin couples rushing for the exit. I end the evening by doing a pantomimed ape jam with the Puerto Rican house band. The club closes a few minutes after I fall head-first into the drum set. Someone drives me home—can’t write anymore, feeling rather green. Day Twelve I’m sitting on a damp rock in the monkey suit, waiting to film a love scene with D.D. Alfred is chatting with her while the crew tries to figure how to create a waterfall effect with a fire hose. I’m growing more and more irritated as the minutes crawl by. My temples are pounding and sweat is seeping out of every pore. “I think I’d better take the head off,” I say. My voice is once again drowned out by the waves crashing through the mouth of the cave. Suddenly I feel a spasm in my neck, black spots, surrounded by rings of sparkling light flash before my eyes. I stand up and scream at the top of my lungs, “Get me out of this fucking suit now!” My head explodes in a shower of white light, and I collapse on the sand. I lay twitching like a fish on the cave floor. I can see a ring of vaguely familiar faces staring down at me—Rob’s voice echoes through the cave, “Don, cut it out. Come on, get up!” Someone else, no doubt familiar with my antics of the past few days, says, “Is he faking?” Rob leans forward and peers into my eyes. “Oh God, he’s dying, get him out! Get him out NOW!” A cluster of hands tear at my soggy costume. A moment later, I’m dragged like a piece of boiled spinach, from the suit. My body suddenly 48

tenses up as a hideous paralysis shoots through me. I can feel my eyeballs jerking up into my skull. “God, he’s turning blue,” says someone, unaware of the irony involving my character’s namesake. “Don, can you talk?” says Alfred. I try to move my lips, but they seemed to be clamped shut by some unseen force. “Get him some water and cold towels,” yells Rob. “Get the paramedics, quick!” says Alfred. My body begins to shake violently, as if I were receiving a massive electrical shock. Mariette’s hazy form appears—ice water splashes against my clenched teeth. A group of spectators is staring down at me from the lip of a blowhole overhead. The group includes the two paramedics assigned to the film. They are pointing and laughing at me. I guess they think this is a scene from the movie. “God damnit! Doesn’t anyone speak English around here?” screams Alfred as he waves at the paramedics. They smile and wave back at him. Cold towels are placed on my head and chest. After about ten minutes, I regain the power of speech. “Just relax, Don...we’re getting you to a hospital,” says Rob. I can feel my heart pounding against my chest as Mariette pulls back my eyelids. “Don, are you okay?” she asks. I force my lips open and mimic W.C. Fields. “Ah yeeeees, I’m going to die in an ape suit.” “Hurry up, get the paramedics—he’s delirious,” screams Rob. A translator is summoned. I’m too weak to climb out of the cave, so Maris hooks me up to the parachute device, and I’m hauled up through the blowhole. I’m literally spinning in circles as the ground falls away beneath me. The Puerto Rican paramedics slap me on a stretcher and shovel me into the ambulance like a loaf of sweaty bread. An oxygen mask is attached to my face. Rob is sitting next to me in the back. I can hear the drivers conversing in a worried tone as we jounce down the pot-holed highway to the hospital in Aricebo. It is about a fifty-mile trip—I hope I make it. I black out near the hospital. When I wake up several hours later, I find a clear plastic tube running from my arm to an inverted bottle of liquid by the bed. A short, oily haired man with a dark walrus mustache walks over to the bed. He is smoking a cigarette. As he leans over to feel my pulse, the ash falls from his cigarette onto my chest. He brushes it off as though it is a fly, and continues the examination. A sick baby is coughing in a tiny bed next to mine. “You have come very near to death, my friend,” says the Doctor, checking his clipboard. “Very bad heat prostration...worst case I ever see. I have given you a, how you say, heart stimulant and glucose solution to stabilize you. You have lost many electrolytes—very dangerous. Why you wear this costume?” “Dinero, money, pesos...” I mumble. I sleep a couple of hours and then check out of the hospital, dressed only in my soiled underpants as no one thought to bring me my civilian clothes. Rob and 49

I stop for a cheeseburger and fries at a Mom and Pop stand. Back at the hotel, some of the crew come by my room to visit. Day Thirteen I stayed in bed most of the day. Feeling a little weak around the knees, but otherwise okay. Wondered what dying is going to be like—and whether or not the show business magazine, Variety, would mention me in their obituary column. FAMED ANIMAL ACTOR DIES IN JUNGLE MISHAP...doesn’t sound so bad. Rob comes back from the movie shoot and tells me one of the singing Dion twins was forced to wear the ape suit. Rob said he became so claustrophobic they had to pull him out. The scene will be reshot tomorrow when I return. It’s reassuring to know I’m not easily replaced. No more Pina Coladas, at least not for a day or two. Day Fourteen I got back in the suit today. Mariette follows me around with drinks and cold towels from the ice chest. A doctor and two nurses are hired to watch over me. My blood pressure is checked every few minutes. When it gets too high, I’m pulled out of the suit and stretched out on the bed in the trailer, with my feet propped up on a pillow. Now this is what I call star treatment! Went swimming tonight in the hotel pool—tried to teach Rob to float. I talked to Alfred about the script. He asks what I think of it. I tell him I think the idea is good, but the dialogue is horrible. “I know, but there’s only so much a semi-clad girl can say to a mute monkey,” says Alfred. “Who wrote the dialogue?” “I did,” answers Alfred, as he turns towards the bar. Wrote a short story tonight about a man who is abducted by a mad scientist. The scientist removes the man’s tongue and permanently seals him into an ape suit. The ape-man is doomed to work a sleazy little roadside attraction in southern Oregon. Day Fifteen A tremendous flash flood hit today. It filled the station wagon to the steering wheel. We abandon the car and climb out the window, with the sacred ape suit held high overhead. We look like Amazon explores from a bad “B” movie. Ate some rancid chicken for lunch, and more of those damn little banana/potato things called plantains. After lunch, the floodwaters recede. We film a mock love scene, which features D.D. and I frolicking along the shore.


Day Sixteen This is it! The day of the big ape/rape scene. I notice the crew seems rather smug, as they prepare the reflectors and lights. Two elderly American tourist ladies stroll onto the set. They are wearing straw hats and medic alert bracelets. “What a lovely place to make a movie,” says the elder of the two. I’m standing near them, enjoying a brief moment of suitless freedom by cooling my ankles in the surf. “Yes, I guess it is,” I say, not bothering to explain the hazards of ape acting. “Is it alright if we watch,” says the woman. I panic and call Sophie, a production assistant, over to handle the situation. The two old ladies are quickly whisked away, with the reassurance that tomorrow’s filming will be much more interesting. I can’t imagine the two old ladies getting much enjoyment out of watching a long-haired rock and roll hybrid monkey rape a helpless Canadian actress. But then again, you never know. The beach is cleared of spectators and the filming begins. The scene opens with Blue breaking into the bamboo fort and locking Lobo in a small cage. I achieve the lockup by piling coconuts around the door. Then I swoop Tanya up in my arms and run through the jungle with her. (Shades, but albeit only shades, of old King Kong carrying off Fay Ray.) Blue drops her on the ground and she tries to run away. She manages to make it a few yards through the dense foliage before Blue is on her. I jump out from behind a tree and throw her to the ground. (If you’re under eighteen or faint of heart, don’t read this part). After a lengthy setup, the actual rape scene is ready to go. D.D. is strategically sprawled on her stomach on a sandy ridge, facing the sea. I am placed doggie style on her back. Rob and his bug-eyed assistant, Steve, are lying behind us and between D.D.’s legs, moving the cables—for the ape’s facial expressions. The cameraman, lighting man, and Alfred are grouped in front of us. “Action,” whispers Alfred. I begin dry humping the disgruntled starlet, while Rob and Steve work my facial expressions. I can’t help but think of my years of classical theatre study, my college degree, and my parents’ wishes for me to become a doctor or lawyer. For a brief moment, I think of Whitman’s famous poem The Road Less Taken—then I resume my finest ape humping. D.D. and I grind away for another five minutes and finally, Alfred yells, “Cut!” The cameras move in for close-ups. D.D. is getting upset because a sand flea has bitten her leg, and something wet has touched her inner thigh. I’m pretty sure it was Rob’s tongue, but I don’t say anything. Day Seventeen Last day of shooting! Blue and Tanya are found playing in the cave lagoon. She is swimming nude while Blue tows her around with a piece of seaweed. Playboy Magazine photographer, Richard Fegly shows up to shoot D.D. and me for an upcoming pictorial. Fegly is not what I expected; he is a mild-mannered and intelligent man, who approaches his work with cool professionalism. 51

Rob and I get very drunk at the wrap party. I stand on a table doing impressions of D.D.s acting and Alfred’s directing—the singing Dion brothers sing, and Rob pours a decanter of wine on Alfred’s head. I call home to tell Macarena that I’ll be another couple of days, as I’ve been detained to shoot nude pictures for a magazine. She understands and isn’t worried in the least. This is one of the reasons we’re still together. God, I can’t wait to get home to see her again. Beautiful woman, beautiful dancer, and talented—she would have made a great Tanya, except she wouldn’t have done the nude scenes. Day Eighteen The movie crew flew back to Canada today. Rob, D.D., and I remain behind for the photoshoot. Rob and I are switched to a little motel near Quebradillas. The place is a dump! Urine stains on the carpet, and spiders the size of your fist, dangling outside our broken window. (Rob and I are sharing a room.) The air conditioner doesn’t work. After numbing ourselves in the dormant bar, we head back to our room. I flick out the light and climb into bed. A moment later I feel bugs crawling over me. Rob turns on the light and I jump out of bed. Beneath my bed, is a half-eaten packet of moldy cheese crackers. The container is surrounded by a gang of marauding roaches. Rob runs downstairs and returns with a can of Raid. We zap the roaches with a direct hit; they eye us with contempt and stroll off to the mothership, which appears to be parked somewhere beneath the carpet. Several hours later, I’m about to doze off when I feel a second attack. I flip on the light and find Rob standing over me, with a handful of crumbled crackers that he is strategically dropping on my sweaty neck. “Am I driving you crazy?” says Rob, with a wide-eyed innocent expression. Day Nineteen I got up early this morning—had to wash and dry the ape suit before I could wear it again for the pending Playboy shoot. I fill the motel bathtub with warm water and dump in a bottle of laundry detergent. Then I throw the ape suit in the water and call Rob. We put on our swimming trunks, climb into the tub with the suit, and begin jumping up and down on it like Italians at a wine making festival. The suit belches out a bubble of green slime, two dead roaches, and countless invisible organisms. We drain the tub and squeeze out the suit, by stomping on the spongy padding. It becomes apparent that our efforts to dry the suit with our hairdryers are not going to work. Richard Fegly calls and says he’ll pick us up right after lunch for the shoot. We have less than two hours to get the monkey dry. I suggest we use the maid’s industrial dryer, over at the Hilton. “Don, I don’t know that might ruin the suit,” says Rob. “It’s our only chance. They’re never going to pay us if we show up with a wet ape,” I say. 52

Rob reluctantly agrees and we drive over to the Hilton with our dripping cargo. I give the housekeeper five dollars. She turns her back, allowing us to slip past with the water-logged beast carcass. I cram the suit into the dryer and Rob sets the timer for ten minutes. We sneak out of the laundry room and share a cigarette on the back porch. Feels like we’re filming a Marx Brothers capper. When we return, the suit is spinning around like a circus bear doing somersaults. I pop open the door and the steaming suit flops out on the floor. Rob and I step back in horror—the once flowing mane and hair are now frizzled up in tight little Orphan Annie ringlets. Rob mumbles something about the workers cheating him by using synthetic hair, which can’t be dried at high temperatures. Playboy will have to settle for a scorched, but clean ape. Luckily, the head is still intact. Day Twenty The Playboy photo session. We shoot various seductive poses with D.D. draped over jagged rocks by the shore. We cover, or uncover, all the basics: ape grabs girl, ape gropes girl, ape watches nude girl, ape chases nude girl, and almost every other ape/woman pose imaginable, short of actual coitus. At dusk, we return to the Indian caves for a night shoot. Several fires are lit in the cave, to give the effect of a volcano. We are about to shoot the sacrificial rite scene when a massive swarm of bats flutters out of the blowhole. D.D. runs away screaming and locks herself in the station wagon—and demands immediate transportation back to the civilized calm of downtown San Juan. Richard Fegly checked us into the Caribbe Hilton. Our rooms cost $150 a night. “Charge everything to my room,” he says, as he heads upstairs. Rob and I grin at each other as we head for the bar. “I do believe we’ve survived Tanya’s Island,” says Rob, as our Pina Colada glasses clink together for the last time. Postscript Tanya’s Island was released in 1980. It bombed with the critics and was a box-office flop, lasting less than five days in most of the theaters. My name, as I mentioned before, was misspelled in the credits. D.D. went on to become one of Prince’s girlfriends. She signed a recording and movie deal with Motown and changed her name to Vanity. She can now be seen on the late-night talk show circuit, and her videos run on the music programs. Alfred Sole wrote a script for one of the Friday the 13th Part 54 in the 4D series. Rob has gone on to become one of the leading special effects makeup artists in the business. His ground breaking work has been featured in The Howling, The Thing, Explorers, and Legend. I continued to play gorillas in many feature films and commercials, and toured my mime act, writing stories, and still playing rubber creatures. Tanya’s Island is available on DVD if you search long and hard. 53


It was a long day for me after doing a mime performance out of town, and then battling LA traffic to get home by five o’clock to catch the Laker game on the tube. I was just settling in my old recliner chair with a beer and my slippers on when the phone rang. I didn’t pick it up as was my habit, but monitored the message in one ear while listening to the game with the other. “Hey, Don, it’s Rick Baker. We’re building a gorilla suit for a new commercial, and the casting office wants a stuntman to play the role, but the guys they’ve seen haven’t been working out. One of my guys recommended you. If you can get over to Universal Studios by 6, they might still be able to see you. It’s a long shot, but maybe worth your time if—” I dove for the phone. “I’m here. I’m here. Yes, I can try to make it, tell them I’ll be there as fast as I can.” I should explain that Rick Baker was the leading authority on building realistic gorillas, as he’d played and co-designed the gorilla in the 1976 film, King Kong and done many other special effects creations including Star Wars. I threw on my sweatpants and a long-sleeved black shirt and raced down back streets towards the casting office at Universal Studios. It was 5:55 p.m. and they were closing at six. When I entered the audition studio, I didn’t think I had much of a chance. Most auditions in the television and film industry involve the casting agent seeing many different performers for the same role before a final decision is made. The audition to play the American Tourister Gorilla in their new TV commercial was no different. They had seen mostly stuntman, as the role called for the gorilla to do head over heels series of rolls down a steep set of concrete stairs while smashing his American Tourister suitcase as he descended. The audition video operator looked at his watch and shook his head. “You’re the guy from the makeup studio, right? “Yes... Rick Baker recommend me.” “Okay, we’re just wrapping things up... just give us some gorilla movement. But make it quick as we have to get the audition tape to the producers tonight. The casting lady sat at her desk in the corner of the room, with her back to me. She was talking on the phone and smoking a cigarette. She didn’t even bother to look at me, so when the camera operator said, “Action.” I hunkered down into my best ape stance and began knuckle-walking around the room. I alternated between 54

walking upright and on all fours. Realizing the casting lady was still not paying any attention to me, I decided I had nothing to lose, so I ramped up the gorilla action. I began snorting and grunting in my finest gorilla vocalization—then charged out of the designated filming area and waddled up to the preoccupied lady. I vaulted up onto her desk and began tossing her papers all over the room. I picked up a Variety trade magazine—tore it in half and threw it over my shoulder. The casting lady glared at me like I was totally insane. I ripped the phone out of her hand, held it up to my mouth and let out a blast of ape hoots into the receiver, then towering over her (as I was on top of the desk) I reached over and started picking imaginary bugs out of her hair. I pounded the desk with my fist, leaped deftly to the floor and staggered out of the room in a bow-legged gorilla walk. I didn’t go back in, but rather just kept walking straight to the parking lot. I figured I’d really pissed off the casting lady, but it had been worth it. A half-hour later, I was back home in Sherman Oaks, watching the Laker game. I was certain I’d blown the audition big time, but at least they would remember me. I can’t recall if the Lakers won, but I do remember I was in the kitchen fixing dinner when the phone rang. An official-sounding voice said, “Is this Don McLeod?” Figuring it was too late for a collection agency to call, I said yes. The voice introduced himself as being from the New York Advertising agency, Doyle, Dane & Bernbauch. “We just saw your audition tape...and you were fantastic, just what we are looking for. Congratulations! You have the job. You’re going to be the new American Tourister Gorilla in our next TV commercial.” Still holding the phone, I did a silent celebration dance by the kitchen stove, as the pasta began to boil over. “Fantastic!” I said. “What happens next?” The Ad executive said, “We need you to get over Rick Baker’s special effects studio tomorrow for a fitting. We’ll be shooting the commercial in New York in three weeks, so we need to move fast to get the suit finished on time.” Having a professional movie quality gorilla made is a lengthy and complicated process. You can’t just walk into your neighborhood costume shop and find one. And there is a huge gap between suits you can buy or rent from places like Western Costume. They provide beautiful costumes to the television and film industry, but their gorilla rental suits look like cheap Halloween suits. The American Tourister suit was a work of art. It had a fully articulated face, with a custom fit fiberglass under-skull made from a mold of my head. The jaw could be opened by me thanks to a chin cup inside the mask. The gorilla’s eyes were my own, as opposed to mechanical eyes, which would dominate later gorilla suits in the coming years. Motorcycle gearshift cables were attached to the eyebrows and nose, which allowed for enhanced expressions, which would be used in closeup shots for the commercial. The gorilla hair was a mixture of different fibers that came from a company in Massachusetts called National Fiber Technology. Much 55

of the hair on the front of the head had to be punched in one hair at a time. The cost of the suit was about $35,000, which included the materials, expert labor and Rick’s assistants, Steve Johnson, Kevin Brennan, and Rick’s wife, Elaine. The gorilla had a big belly and a cute, mischievous face, while still looking in every way like a real gorilla—even when one stood right next to it. After three or four fittings and weeks of construction, the gorilla was ready for action. We bought a giant steamer trunk from an Army-Navy store, and I was off to Manhattan to shoot the commercial, which was called Hotel. One advantage of being a member of the Screen Actors Guild was that they fly the actors first class. And Tourister had arranged for limo pickup right from my doorstep. I figured this would be just one commercial and then it would be over, so I planned to enjoy the job to the fullest. At the American Airlines ticket counter, the clerk asked me what was in the trunk. I told her it was a gorilla. That was a mistake. The supervisor came over and had me open the trunk, to prove that it was indeed only a costume and not a poached or live gorilla. I had never flown first class before, so this was looking to be a pretty sweet job. I sipped my second mimosa and was flipping through the flight magazine when one tall, handsome older gentleman took a seat next to me. It was Charlton Heston. I have always been comfortable around stars and rarely become starstruck, as I’d worked with many big names in the past, including a year as part of Diana Ross’s world tour. I’d been backstage in many theaters with everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Beatles and Michael Caine, but somehow I figured it would make perfect sense to offer small talk to Moses. Once we reached cruising altitude, I broke the ice. “Seems like a pretty smooth flight so far.” Charlton just gave me a half-smile and nodded in agreement. I surmised that his worst nightmare would be a chatty seatmate, who was going to fawn all over him regarding his world-renown film career, so I just talked to him like he was Joe Blow, traveling salesmen, just flying off to make another company sales pitch. “Are you going to New York? I asked just before realizing it was a royally stupid question. He could have said, of course, didn’t you read your ticket? Or he could have said no I’m going Hawaii and I just got on the wrong plane, but luckily he just smiled again and said: “Yes,” then he looked at me carefully, and I guess he recognized my overt friendly nature and he asked, “So what line of work are you in?” I told him I was a physical actor who was going to New York to be a gorilla in a commercial. He laughed and wished me luck, then reclined his seat fully back and closed his eyes. I never mentioned his fame or even that I knew who he was, and I think he found that refreshing. We didn’t talk for the rest of the flight, and when we landed, I wished him good luck. He looked at me with a raised eyebrow for a half-second and just chuckled. Then it crossed my mind that he might be flashing back to the movie, Planet of the Apes, where he was captured by the apes and that he might not feel so kindly to another ape sharing his space in first class. 56

I checked into the InterContinental Hotel, visited the bar and then had a gourmet meal at the hotel restaurant. Back in my room, I read through the shooting script for the next day’s shoot. The spot was called Hotel and featured a classy looking lady handing her suitcase to a neatly dressed Bellboy. He takes the luggage and exits to the stairwell. Cut to the gorilla wearing the Bellboy’s cap and carrying the suitcase. He goes berserk, smashing the suitcase in every way possible and throwing it down the stairs. Cut to the orderly Bellboy on the ground floor. He enters into the lobby and hands the unblemished case to the lady. She smiles and tips him with a banana. Early the next morning, I stood at the top of a back stairwell somewhere in New York’s Garment District. Cameras were maned both in front and behind me. My assignment—to kick and throw the Tourister bag down the stairwell, then smash the hell out of it by any means possible. On “action,” I slammed it against the wall, jumped on it, and kicked it down two flights of stairs. We repeated this action several times and within a couple of hours, the director announced that he had exactly what he wanted and it was a wrap. I said goodbye to the film crew, ad agency team, and several people in suits, who I didn’t know. I figured I’d never see them again, and my soirée as the luggage-smashing gorilla would be a one-time commercial and I’d again be unemployed. The limo picked me up the next morning for the 45-minute drive to JFK airport. I chatted with the driver, a young enthusiastic Italian guy named... yes... Vinny. “How much that monkey suit run you?” he asked. I told him it was about $35,000. Somewhere in the back of his scheming brain, a light went off. He looked around to me in the back seat and said: “Son of a bitch! Man, I got a guy can get youse a real gorilla outfit for five grand.” “You mean a realistic costume?” “Fuck no man—the real thing. This guy can get you anything you want,” said Vinny swerving the limo between two yellow cabs and blowing his horn. “Fuckin’ immigrants, they’re worse than the chinks—anyway, my buddy can get you a real gorilla.” “You mean a live gorilla?” I said, laughing. “No, a dead one. They snuff him in Africa and my buddy arranges for him to be sent here...” “But that’s illegal and... “ “Everything’s illegal, not a problem. He knows people. They ship him over, and my taxidermy guy guts him clean. Brains, guts, bones... the whole nine yards. Treats the skin and BINGO... you got yourself a perfect gorilla suit for five maybe six grand.” Here’s my card, he said, leaning his arm into the back area of the limo. “Just call me when you’re ready and I’ll make it happen,” he said with a big grin. I sat wide-eyed in silence as we lurched through traffic towards the airport. I briefly pictured myself walking around in a real gorilla’s head with the brains and 57

eyes hollowed out, and all the bones and muscles missing on the body. I could only imagine the trouble American Tourister would be in if it was revealed that their prize gorilla was now an actual animal carcass minus the insides. I pictured Vinny and I sitting in a jail cell on Riker’s Island with an angry mob of animal activists circling the prison and chanting for our immediate execution. Back in Los Angeles, I returned to my normal daily existence, without giving much thought to the gorilla commercial. Once the check arrived, I paid off a few bills, bought the high-end brand of coffee, and several dozen poetry books from my local Indy bookstores. Then the phone calls started: Friends and acquaintances began leaving messages on my answering machine, letting me know they’d seen my gorilla antics on Carson and other network programs. The spot was running multiple times a day on the three major networks during the pre-Christmas advertising frenzy. This could only mean one thing—RESIDUALS! Which is a magic word for actors, as it refers to the agreed-upon payments one receives through the Screen Actors Union for the airing of a movie, TV show, or commercial. On an overcast, chilly morning, I went out to the mailbox and fished out the usual mixture of bills, advertisements and BOOM—five long envelopes bearing the return address of Talent Payments. I was expecting maybe a check for $0.02 from some old movie I’d done, but when I tore open the first envelope, it contained a check for $950. And in each subsequent envelope, I was rewarded with more residuals and other fees totally close to $2000. All the checks were for the filming and airing of the first American Tourister Gorilla commercial, and it was still running. About a week later, I got a call from Mark Bueler, the marketing director at Tourister. “They loved the spot and decided to do a second commercial, which had already been written. A limo would be sent for me in three days, and I would be back in New York for more luggage smashing. “Oh, and Don,” Mark added, “We’ve decided to make the gorilla our new corporate symbol.” “Wow, what does that mean for me?” “Well, we’re still in the planning stages with DD&B and the PR firm, but we’ll be putting the gorilla image out to the public in every way we can. We’ll need to do a couple of photo sessions with you in the coming months for print ads and likely some major trade shows.” “Fantastic,” was all I could think to say. “Stay in shape, buddy, you’re going to be sweating your ass off!” Over the next several weeks, I chased the spiders off my ancient barbell set and slammed the dumbbells around in order to muscle up for all the potential gorilla activity in New York. I rode a few miles a day on my twenty-year-old exercise bike that was rusting out under my carport, and got in as many softball games as I could, along with periodic scampers through my yard with the gorilla arm extensions on to build up my knuckle-walking endurance. 58

In my younger days, I had always dreamed of playing professional baseball, as I discuss elsewhere in the book. I played one year in college and had a tryout with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I was deemed too small (5-7) and my curveballs hung like grapefruits, so in recent years I’d resorted to playing softball in two leagues in the San Fernando Valley. On a Friday night, five days prior to my return trip to New York, the El Torito Burritos were trailing the Van Nuys Assassins 17 to 4 in the last inning. I was in left field, alert and ready, deep in the weeds of Strathren Park. One of the revolving sluggers from the Assassins sent a screaming line drive to left. I raced in at top speed and dove head-first for the ball. As I left my feet and launched horizontal, time was suspended—I could see the worn threads on the ball as it sped towards the ground and inches from my outstretched left arm. As I crashed into the ground, my glove hovered over a small mound of hard dirt, most likely created by an industrious gofer. I gave a final extended lunge trying all the while to keep my glove above the mound and make the inning-ending catch. But it was not to be. My glove caught the edge of the mound, jamming my forearm into the ground. I heard the wet snap of bone and flesh as my arm struck the ground and my body propelled me into an awkward summersault that left me twisted and writhing in pain as the ball careened past me and disappeared into the wooded area behind me for a home run. When I untangled myself, it was clear I’d broken my forearm in two places, a few inches above the wrist. I waved off my concerned teammates, switched the Rawlings glove to my right hand, shook the grass and dirt out of the web and signaled the ump to continue the game. It is not out of bravado that I mention this final detail, but only to remind myself how much I loved the game of baseball. After the game, I drove myself to the emergency room. Two hours later, I was back home with a bottle of pain pills and my arm in a white plaster cast from my hand up to the elbow. A bad break literally and figuratively. How was I going to do the gorilla commercial with a giant cast on my arm? And how was I going to smash the luggage with a busted digit? The shoot was only five days away and there was no way to get a replacement, as the gorilla suit was custom made to fit only me. The night before my trip to New York, I took a slow deep breath and removed the long gorilla arm extension from the steamer trunk (the costume has two sets of arms); one set is short and referred to as the gloves. The other set is longer by about 12 inches, to simulate the length of a real gorilla’s arm. These are used for running, knuckle-walking and smashing luggage. I tried to get the cast into the long gorilla arm, but aside from the pain, it was too big to fit through the aluminum ring that formed the top inner portion on the suit arm. It was close to fitting—just a quarter of an inch too wide, so I got out my power sander and started grinding away until I shaved the cast down to a penetrable size. Once the gorilla long arm was attached, you couldn’t see that I was wearing a cast inside 59

of the arm. I should mention that the gorilla arm has a handlebar about halfway down, designed like a crutch handle. I could barely get my fingers around the bar, as part of the cast was looped around my thumb. I didn’t even try walking on the arm as I knew the pain would be extreme. I selected a wardrobe with extra-long sleeved shirts so I could hide the cast from the big wigs and crew upon my arrival on the set in New York. The cabbie shot past three cars and a delivery guy on a bicycle and skidded to a halt at the curb. I paid him, grabbed the receipt, and wrangled the ape trunk out of the back seat. I stood in the midst of the crowd of people waiting to cross the street at a light. It was a chilly morning and the frantic pedestrians had little puffs of steam breath escaping from their mouths. I scanned the scrawled address for the location—son of a bitch! The damn cabbie had let me off at the wrong address. I needed to be at 509 W. 52nd, not 909. I would now have to roll the damn 70-pound ape trunk on my wobbly two-wheeled cart for four long blocks through an almost impenetrable flow of mildly irritated New Yorkers. “Pardon me... oops, sorry, sorry, coming through behind you, my bad, ‘excuse me... watch your back, comin’ through.” The crisp cold air seemed to intensify the distinct smells that are unique to New York City: combustion from a thousand taxis, hints of cigarette smoke, a whiff of perfume, a drift of fresh-brewed coffee aroma from a shop door, and now and again the not unpleasant order of fresh garbage. Mix this with constant beep beep, honk honk of traffic and the tinkling of a delivery boy’s bicycle bell and the cacophonous sound of countless voices made it impossible to mistake this great city for any other place I’d ever been to. Twenty minutes later, I arrived, sweating and disheveled at a massive stone building baring the numbers 909. I fumbled open the heavy glass doors and yanked the gorilla suit inside. “No way... you can’t come in here with that!” snapped the surly guard from behind the reception desk. “I’m the American Tourister Gorilla...I’m here for the commercial shoot.” I announced hoping my minor celebrity might pull some weight and allow me direct passage to the fourth floor. “I don’t care if you’re the Mayor, everything that big has to go in through the freight entrance.” The bank of elevators was less than 10 yards to the right of the guard. “But couldn’t I just…” “Freight entrance side of the building,” he said, waving me away with a flick of his thick wrist. I surrendered my attempt at easy entry and clanked back out onto the street and around the corner towards the side entrance. As anyone who has ever been to Manhattan knows, the streets at rush hour are a flowing sea of interwoven humanity all going somewhere, with a certain urgency. Briefcases are kept close to the leg, and even bags and packages must be kept either in front or behind the person carrying them so as not to smash them 60

into other pedestrians. I zigzagged my simian trunk through the flow without incident and entered the building through the loading dock. The ancient heavy steel elevator shuddered up to the third floor and I slid open the accordion gate with my one good arm. Sandy, one of the production assistants, ran up to me with a big smile. I took a quick visual inventory of Sandy, who would be my dresser and personal assistant during the shoot. She wore tight faded blue jeans, sturdy brown work boots and a plaid flannel shirt tied in a knot exposing her well-toned midriff. Darting dark eyes and shiny black hair done up in a loose ponytail, all housed on a compact lithe frame. She spoke with a warm, husky voice and her handshake was quick and assertive. I knew the gorilla was in good hands. “Welcome, super-star! I’ll take you to your dressing room—we need to hurry, they’re goin’ to shoot as soon as you’re dressed.” I filled her in on my broken arm issue and swore her to secrecy, as I was afraid I’d be in big trouble if the production crew and the client learned of my impaired status. “Gotcha covered!” she said. I liked her already—she was one of those young women who made rapid decisions, physically moved at lightning speed with precision, and did it all with cheerful abandon. She would not be a production assistant for long. She eyed my dangling left arm, pushed me back with a straight arm, and grabbed the gorilla trunk—she spun it around like she’d been wrangling steamer trunks her whole life, and speed-walked it ahead of me down the long dim hallway. “Follow me, and watch the cables,” came her voice from the far end of the hallway. I whisked past a flash view of the production staging area through an open doorway. A maze of lights, cameras, and production crew members were urgently putting the final touches on what appeared to be the inside of an airport baggage holding room. My still broken forearm throbbed from the five-block trip down 52nd Ave with the ape trunk. Sandy poked her head around the corner at the end of the interior hallway and motioned for me to hurry. We got the suit unpacked, and as always, I put black rubber mask grease paint around both eyes so they would blend with the ape mask. Sandy held the long walking arm out and I gently slid the shaved cast on my left arm into the ape appendage. After a quick bit of brushing, I turned around and playfully growled at her. “Jesus! Don’t do that. You look so real you’re scaring the crap out of me even though I know you’re a guy in a suit.” She covered her eyes with one hand and snapped her walkie-talkie off from her belt. “Gorilla man coming in,” she announced to someone on the staging floor. With a hesitant hand on my shoulder, she led me down the dim hallway and into the blazing lights on the set. “Time for your grand entrance King Kong!” she whispered. I hunkered down on all fours and did a modified knuckle-walk towards a group of suits and crew members gathered around a TV monitor. The room was abuzz with chatter until the crew saw me. Silence. I rose up, letting out a primal roar and undulated my one good arm in the air. The crowd broke into wild applause and everyone starting talking at once: Wow, he looks fantastic; looks so real; oh my god, 61

look at those teeth; looks like my mother-in-law. The Tourister executives and the ad agency people who had worked with me on the first commercial stood back with satisfied smiles and head nods. The airport baggage area set was lit, the cameras manned, and the clapboard boy stood next to me with his clapper cocked. We were ready to shoot. I had been in the suit for less than ten minutes and I was already sweating like a Sumo wrestler in a sauna. The director came up to me and spoke softly into my ape ear, not realizing it was made of rubber and I could only hear sounds that came through the open mouth. “Alright, Don... I’m just going to let you go crazy on the brand X luggage. Smash the hell out of it. Do your thing—we’re going shoot wide, so use the whole area.” I had the afore-mentioned long arms on, which weighed about fifteen pounds each and had hard rubber hands molded into an immobile bent fingered position. I crammed the Tourister suitcase handle around the curved fingers, so it appeared that I was holding it. “Action,” yelled the director. I jumped up and down and slammed the Tourister bag on the floor, crashed it into the holding area walls—and then with a deep crouch move like a discus thrower, I spun around, using the suitcase for leverage and with an arcing twirl crashed the bag onto the brand X bag. It collapsed like a stomped-on aluminum soda can, revealing part of a red sweater and a black wingtip shoe. My left arm was throbbing from all the action, but the pain was bearable if I just focused on my mission of destruction. I gasped for breath, as the construct of the head doesn’t give one much air, and you end up breathing your own carbon monoxide after an energetic burst. I bounced the Tourister bag off the cement floor and used the ricochet rebound to loft the hero suitcase over my head and hopefully land it squarely on another traveler’s case. But as I swung the suitcase down toward the target, it flew out of my inert ape hand and went flying past the camera and slid with a scraping sound across the outer floor, where it came to spinning stop under the Craft Services (snack food for the crew) table—a good twenty yards from the set. “Cut, cut, CUT,” snapped the director. “Love the action. Great stuff, but I’m not buying that long arm.” He ran his long fingers through his hair and massaged his scalp for a second. “It looks like what it is... a stiff arm swinging a suitcase, that is NOT working to hold the suitcase,” he said, gesturing to the recently launched Tourister bag under the table behind him. “Sandy—get his short arms.” I had hoped I could get away with using the long arms for the baggage smashing, as I knew the circular steel support rings in the arms would help protect my broken left wing. I mumbled something about the long arms looking more realistic, but the director was already back at the monitor looking at playbacks. Sandy trotted into the room, carrying the short arms. I motioned her to go to the back of the set, so I could keep my white plaster cast hidden. We switched out the arms and she held the short left ape arm out at waist level so I could wriggle and 62

cram the cast into the short left arm. With every thrust and weighted push, I let out a scream of pain-induced curses. “Son of a BITCH—that hurts, ah now hooch up the arm when I push down—ah JESUS...goddammit. Oh man...this can’t be a good thing to do.” “You’ll be fine. Just think of the money,” she said, laughing and with a final yank pulled the arm up over the cast and into place. I felt the searing pressure of newly broken bones coming together. Then I thought about the residuals coming my way and I let out a roar, which helped to mask the pain for a brief moment. When does a wounded ape roar? Anytime he wants. So I waddled pidgin-toed onto the set and signaled I was ready for action. I grabbed the hero bag with my good right hand and on the director’s command, I began thrashing about the set, smashing the Brand X suitcases to pieces and bashing my bag against any solid object in my path. I was getting away with it, only having to use my good arm to swing the bag around. Breathless and dizzy from the heat of the suit, I staggered off the set and motioned for Sandy to get my head off. The ape head was removed, and I fell back exhausted onto a folding metal chair. Someone rolled a giant industrial fan in front of me and the life-saving blast of air brought me back to my senses. The executives were buzzing with pleasure near the TV monitor and all seemed to be going great until I heard the director’s fatal words: “Okay, Don, now we need you to switch arms—use your left arm for the smashing.” “But...um...my right arm is a lot stronger. Couldn’t I just...” “I know, but we need a new angle on the action. Use your left this round.” Being in a 50-pound professional ape suit is a completely unique experience. For one thing, it is hot as hell—so hot that even working outside in 20 below zero weather at a St. Louis boat show had left me dripping with sweat and light-headed after just ten minutes of work. It can also be almost hallucinogenic, depending on the duration one spends in the suit. Here I was about to shoot a national commercial when I found myself briefly reflecting on my history as an actor and physical performer: Flashes of studying mime with Marcel Marceau, touring with the Diana Ross world tour; doing Shakespeare plays, reading thousands of books—then thoughts of not being the doctor, lawyer, or civil engineer that my parents had once hoped for—and I realized I was a man in a gorilla suit, and just a blip in the swirling cosmic soup and it felt pretty good. Then the assistant director said something and I was suddenly back on the airport set about American Tourister Gorilla


to be highly paid for destroying luggage and with a catered lunch waiting in the wings. I stood sweltering under the hot set lights, took a deep breath of stale gorilla mask air, and grabbed the suitcase in my left hand. A white-hot surge of pain shot up my arm and into my brain—the director once again yelled action. I cursed and growled and slammed the bag down on the stunt suitcase like I was trying to kill a gator. My curses and growls managed to distract me from the awful stabs of pain that shot up my arm every time I bashed the suitcase into the prop bag. After six or seven crushing slams my left arm just gave out and I couldn’t hold the grip any longer, so I switched to using both hands as I did an improvised close range battering of everything in sight. All the intended target bags lay strewn and broken about the set like you’d find in the aftermath of a tornado. All but one, that I’d somehow missed in the ensuing frenzy. I dropped the hero bag, jumped up, and flew through the air like an NBA shooting guard going in for a slam dunk, brought my knees high up to my chest, and slammed down feet first into the center of the pre-set stunt suitcase. It exploded with a crackling sound. The lid had broken in half and collapsed down into the bag, and in doing so, sent a shower of panties, stockings, and a slipper flying into the air. I wobbled back on my heels and dropped back onto the cement floor with my arms and legs spread out like Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of the ‘Vitruvian Man.’ “Bingo! That’s our money shot. It’s a wrap, everyone. Give our monkey man a big hand.” The trip back to LA proved uneventful and I settled back into my normal existence as a mime, writer, poet, painter and unemployment recipient. All the while watching for the commercial on TV and waiting to see if there would be anymore ape action in my future.



Once the second American Tourister commercial started airing, my life changed in ways I hadn’t counted on. The spot with me pounding the crap out of the suitcases as the airport baggage handler somehow captured the public’s attention, and we were getting mentioned by the media and even in casual conversation on the street. With school soon to be out and summer travel plans being made, the company decided to blitzkrieg the ad on all the major networks, both in daytime (on the soaps) and on the top-rated nighttime programs. I pictured myself floating on a yacht in the Bahamas sipping on a banana daiquiri, with a wad of hundred dollar bills stuck in my shirt pocket. But it was not to be. Something bad happened—something very bad. I got a call from the Tourister PR headquarters in New York telling me they might have to drop the gorilla campaign. Apparently, Ralph Nader and his consumer advocate group were crying foul and accusing Tourister of false advertising. Thinking I was a real gorilla, they weren’t buying the claim that the company’s suitcases could stand up to a real gorilla, without being somehow “deceptively altered” to take all the bashing. To prove their point, they took a Tourister hard-sided suitcase to the Miami Zoo and threw it in the cage with Willy Bobo, the zoo’s star primate. Within two minutes of finding the bag, Willy had ripped the thing in half like it was a cardboard box, and was videotaped drinking water out of the lid. The gorilla luggage test made it on the local news and apparently, a few national news outlets also carried the grim event. I can’t remember if Nader’s group wanted to sue, but they did want the company to stop airing the commercials. Susan, who was in charge of the PR account, was close to tears as she relayed the news to me over the phone. The Tourister luggage account was a huge project and was just starting to pick up steam when Willy Bobo threatened to ruin everything. I’ve never been one to believe in divine intervention, but suddenly an idea came to me as clear and unfiltered, as if the ceiling had parted and I’d been handed a glowing parchment containing the exact words I was about to speak. “Susan...I have the perfect solution,” I heard myself say. “We put me on the talk show circuit, news programs—both local and national—plus radio shows and set up live newspaper interviews. I’ll either be in the gorilla suit or bring the 65

head with me and talk about the commercials and the operation of the gorilla— plus I can always mention the company, and IF they ask about Nadar’s challenge, I explain to them that I’m a 150-pound actor in a suit, and not a real gorilla as the Nadar group implied.” Silence...but I sensed Susan’s marketing brain starting to churn. “And I’m funny, well mannered, widely read and articulate. I can talk about the amazing Hollywood gorilla for hours if they want, AND I can come on the shows with the luggage and test it live on the air . . .” “Don, I ahh...gosh, I don’t know. I’ll have to run it by Dan (Dan Hillenbrand was the CEO) and the Tourister execs and see what they think. I’ll get back to you soon.” Three days later, she called back. “Fasten your seat belt, Don—Dan absolutely loves it. I mean crazy LOVES our idea. He was really angry over the consumer group thing, and he thinks having you on a PR tour is the perfect response.” “When do I start?” “You’ve already started. The spot is going to keep airing and Dan is even buying more network prime time. I’ve got you booked for three new print ads, and when you’re here in New York, we’re putting you on the Today Show. I’ve already started with your ten-city tour.” This was a major turning point—a point that all started from a negative happening to a complete life-altering series of events, which would play out over the next thirty-seven years, as of this writing. The commercial was airing on a regular basis during the early summer months of 1980. The residual checks were rolling in with more money than I’d made in my first ten years as a mime artist and an actor. I had never planned on a career as a professional gorilla, but I’d always been open to and desirous of taking Robert Frost’s road less traveled. My acting teachers at theatre school all advised me not to pursue a career in mime as they felt there was little chance of ever making a living at it. But I had to follow my passion and mime was what I wanted to do. And it was my mime skills that got me the audition and eventually the role as what was now the famous gorilla who had almost overnight become the spokesperson for the world’s second-largest luggage company. One of the great pleasures or perhaps I should say vices of performing in a stateof-the-art gorilla suit is what you can get away with.


CHAPTER 7 L I V E AT F I V E Denver, Co. Winter, 1983 It’s 7:30 a.m. here in Denver. There is no weather inside the Sheraton Hotel. My curtains are drawn because I’m wearing my gorilla costume. Joe Gallick, a former college basketball star and N.Y.C. policeman, is on the phone trying to order coffee from room service. He is my public relations man, chauffeur, and tour director. We’re waiting to film a “human interest” spot for one of the local TV stations. I’m watching the Today Show. Willard Scott is wishing some elderly lady a happy ninety-eighth. Joe places our coffee order and hangs up—the phone rings—it’s the front desk wanting to know why a television camera crew is headed up to my room. Joe runs his fingers through his thinning hair and tries to explain. “... of course, he’s not a real gorilla.” Pause. “Yeah, the American Tourister Gorilla...the one from the commercials.” Pause. “Yes, we’ll keep the hotel’s image in mind. We’ll even mention you in the spot, terrific exposure. Not to worry.” Several minutes later, there is a loud knock at my door. “Just a minute,” says Joe. He finishes brushing the ape hair over my zipper and steps back to admire his technique. He laughs and crosses to open the door. I hunker down in an ape-like stance. A perky newsman wearing a tan suit bounces into the room. He flashes a programmed smile and whips his hinge-o-matic handshake into position. “John McSomebody—K something or other, Denver.” I snap my realistic fangs at his manicured mitt. The newsman jerks his hand away and lightly touches his crispy hair. “Damn,” he says to Joe, “for a second, I thought he was real.” “He is real,” says Joe with a wink. John, the newsman, pokes his head out the door and yells down the hall, “Come on in guys and meet the monkey.” A burly looking fellow with a video camera on his shoulder enters. He is followed by a slender Mexican boy who is carrying a power pack for the camera. The two fellows stare at me for several seconds. Then the heavy-set guy says, “How much that suit cost?” 67

“Over $40,000,” says Joe. I notice he’s added $10,000 to the cost, but I remain in character and just grunt. The newsman looks at me and says, “What’s the plan of attack?” “Didn’t you get a call from our New York office?” says Joe. John shakes his head slowly. “No, just a note in my box saying to be here at 7:30 to shoot some monkey footage.” Joe takes a yellow spiral note pad from his pocket and stares at it for a second. “What we had in mind was to film the gorilla in his natural habitat—a hotel room. A day in the life of a profession ape.” John smiles again and says, “Sounds good to me. Where do we start?” “How about in bed,” I say in jest. The idea is a hit. Joe and John decide the camera will simply follow me about the room while I prepare my toilet. I remind John that I rarely arise wearing a gorilla suit, but the point is considered irrelevant. I climb into bed and pull the covers over my head. John sets the alarm clock to go off in one minute. Joe is on the phone to the public relations office. “Shelly, they’re here. They’re filming him now. Sleeping in bed. Yes, Shelly, he’s in the suit!” Pause. “Don’t worry. He’ll work the luggage in somehow.” “Quiet,” says John. Then he says, “Action!” I twitch around under the blankets until I hear the grating electric buzz of the Westclock alarm. I rip off the covers and sit up with a jerk. My face is inches from the camera lens. Most human actors would consider this a desirable shot—it is known as an extreme close-up. I do a silly double-take at the clock and then I cover my ears with a pillow. When I’m certain the camera is following me, I lean over and smash the clock with my heavy rubber fist. The dial flies across the room and ricochets off the dresser. The alarm is still ringing, so I yank the cord out of the wall and slam the clock down onto the nightstand. It explodes in a dozen pieces, leaving a deep gouge in the wood. But it has stopped buzzing. I’m about to jump out of bed when I hear a knock at the door. I point to the door. The camera spins around and films the door. “Uh hoo,” I say, which is gorilla talk for “come in.” The door swings open and a uniformed bellman in glasses enters. He is balancing a coffee tray over his head. His eyes grow wide, the tray wobbles, and he lowers it for a more secure two-handed grasp. With a wave of my hand, I gesture for the terrified employee to bring the coffee to me. He inches forward and cautiously places the tray on the edge of the nightstand. I jump up and race across the room to Joe. I yank his wallet out of his back pocket. Joe plays along as I shake the contents out on the floor. A ten-dollar bill flutters to my feet. I swoop it up, sniffing it for authenticity, and hand it to the bellman. He pockets it with a fearful reflex action and turns to the door. Noticing he has forgotten the check, I rapidly sign it with a big X. I run out the door after him. The TV crew and Joe follow. The bellman is standing by the service elevator, waving his hands at me. “No, go away, go away,” he yells. The elevator door opens and he ducks inside before I can reach him. I pound at the door and then turn to the camera with a shrug. I fold the check in half and 68

push it through the slot between the doors. It slips out of sight. I dust my hands, scratch my butt, and charge down the hall towards the room. John is ecstatic with the preliminary coverage. “Great,” he says to Joe. Joe gives him a proud animal-trainer smile and rubs his fingers together, indicating the universal money sign. “We got him well trained—Pavlov’s Dog— only his bell is the sound of a check being cut.” John sort of nods weakly, like he’s thinking Yeah, right, and then he turns to me and says, “What’s next?” I lead the cameraman into the bathroom, where I flip on my cassette player. A German heavy metal band, called Grubschnitt, is blasting out bombastic gloom and doom licks. I sniff my armpits, shake my head, and jump into the shower. I discreetly close the curtain and turn on the hot water. Stepping clear of the spray, I pretend to lather up my fur with soap. The camera is filming me through the glazed plastic curtain. I grunt along with the song. When it finishes, I jump out and towel off. A quick facial inspection reveals the need for a shave, so I remove two Schick disposables from the counter and simulate (the ape hair does not grow back) a two-handed shave. I slap on a half-bottle of Old Spice. I’m debating whether or not to plop myself down on the john (the toilet, not the newsman) when the camera runs out of tape. As usual, I’m getting a bit over-heated, so I stomp into the outer room and turn on the air-conditioner. Joe is waving at me from the corner. He points to my American Tourister suitcase and then back to me. I realize he’s trying to tell me to work the suitcase into the spot. I give him the “okay” sign, and he seems to relax. “All set,” says the cameraman, as he slaps a new film cartridge into the base of the camera. “Action,” says John. His lips are tight and drawn as if he’s directing a Bergman epic. I bounce over to the television where I point to the Movie Channel advertisement. TARZAN THE APE MAN starring Bo Derek. The cameraman zooms in on the card. He holds the close up for a second and then he swings around to me on the edge of the bed. I’m sitting in a stoic poise while I simulate masturbating with one hand. The cameraman vibrates with laughter and drops to one knee. John yells, “Cut!” When the laughter subsides, he advises me that this is a network broadcast, aimed at a family audience. I figure maybe we could sell the outtake to one of the TV bloopers shows. I pick up my suitcase, being careful to kiss the red, white, and blue Tourister luggage tag, and then I stomp out into the hallway. Three hotel maids catch sight of me. They shriek and dash into an open doorway. I traipse towards the elevator, where I nonchalantly push the up and down buttons. The crew catches up with me and film the door opening. An edgy looking businessman is revealed. He eyes me with contempt and shifts his Wall Street Journal from the left arm to the right. His demeanor is 69

otherwise unchanged. He stares straight ahead as Joe and the camera crew pile into the elevator. I listen to the whirring sound of the camera as it records our descent. I start to imagine the business man’s internal dialogue, as he attempts to register our presence. You’ve got a killer hangover—you’re operating on four hours sleep and there’s a goddamned gorilla getting prime-time news coverage with you in the background. If the Bossman sees this, you’ll be run out of Denver on a boxcar. Tension is showing on the man’s temples. I decided to give him a lesson in primal superiority. I reach up and push all the remaining down buttons. The man makes a nasty guttural sound, rolls his eyes, and slowly lowers his upper lids, to show his displeasure. He realizes he is outnumbered and on television, so he says nothing. He is clearly annoyed by my presence—and I’m not thrilled by his ill humor. My very shape and expensive design demand recognition. I may be an absurdity, but after all, I’m a fellow businessman too, and I’m sweating my butt off just to meet the mortgage. This is not a rational response on my part, but being irrational is one of the luxuries of being an ape. I tap the man on the shoulder and say, in the king’s finest English, “I’m a simple beast, aspiring, if you will, to be united with the one great force, from whence we all came—but I feel hindered to a passion by the increasingly downward pull of the material world.” The businessman glares at me as though I were both a living nightmare and a raving lunatic. Then he turns to Joe and says, “What’s this for?” Joe grins and says, “He’s in the Witness Protection Program—we’re trying to relocate him.” The businessman nods and steps out at the next floor. I’m wondering if he knew I was paraphrasing Emerson, and why I thought of the quote in the first place. “He can’t sue us, can he?” asks Joe, as we step out into the main lobby. John presses his finger to his lips, indicating that the camera sound is still rolling. I knuckle-walk into the hotel gift shop. I grab a stuffed gorilla from the notions rack and begin hugging it. Then I hop over the counter and start hugging the checkout girl while Joe pays for the stuffed monkey. (It will be charged to Tourister, along with the broken clock, as a necessary business expense.) I pull over at the shoeshine stand and take an empty seat. An old black man is laughing and putting spit and polish on my rubber feet. Now here is a man with soul—a man I could easily spend some time with. Joe gives the shoeshine man a five-dollar bill and tells him to watch the 5:00 o’clock news on K-something. We head over to the coffee shop for breakfast (still part of the shoot). I suddenly realize I’ve left my suitcase on the elevator, so Joe goes up to look for it. The restaurant is buzzing with early morning business people. Most of them are staring at me and laughing. I wave a menu at them and follow the hostess to a booth by the window. It is snowing outside, but I’m sweating like a hog in a steam bath. 70

Three waitresses and a busboy rush over to get a better look at me. John orders coffee and I order a banana shake with two straws stuck together. The cameraman continues to record the event. I throw a bear claw across the room and John says, “Okay, let’s finish up with something really wild.” I jump out of my seat and pick up John’s hard-sided suede briefcase. I examine it for a second, and then I slam it onto the red brick floor. I vault into the air and land feet first on the spinning case—it crumples with a snapping sound under my weight. John looks at me with a dazed expression. His camera sense is saying smile, you’re on TV, and his common sense is saying, What the hell do you think you’re doing to my briefcase? Joe arrives right on cue and slides the Tourister suitcase into the shot. I gave it a good whack with my fist, nod my head, and begin stuffing John’s papers and pens into my bag. I pick it up and hand it to him. He smiles weakly as the camera runs out of tape. We all shake hands. John stares forlornly at his demolished briefcase. Joe arranges for him to get a briefcase of his choice at one of Denver’s finer luggage shops. (Also charged to Tourister.) “I can’t wait to get this stuff back to the station,” says John. “Good luck, guys.” Joe is on the phone to the New York PR office. I’m heading back to the elevator (without coffee or breakfast) when Joe calls me over to the phone. “We’ve got to hurry, they’ve got you on an FM rock station in an hour, and it’s clear across town.” I nod and wobble through the lobby. On my way to the elevator, I notice a meeting room filled with a group of Mary Kay Cosmetics ladies chattering away about sales. Before Joe can stop me, I charge into the room, beating my chest. I’m greeted with screams, gasps, and laughter. I grab a gift bag of samples and run for the door. Joe confiscates my stolen loot and returns it to the ladies with a knowing smirk. We ride up the elevator in silence.



One of the clichés of the advertising business has always been: there is no such thing as bad publicity, but I very quickly found this not to be true. The first incident occurred on an early leg of the Tourister Gorilla tour. We were in the midst of the massive Cherry Hill New Jersey shopping mall, and I had been in the gorilla suit for nearly three hours without being able to take a break, due to two closely booked promotional engagements. One of the side effects of staying too long in a 50-pound costume is you start to get a strange kind of high, from sweating profusely and breathing your own stale carbon monoxide. This “high” is not entirely unpleasant, as one gets a light-headed devil-may-care kind of attitude. And thoughts, actions, and motivations often take on an almost hallucinogenic quality. We were headed for a luggage store, which happened to be located about 100 yards away at the far end of the mall. Our entourage included a couple of local Tourister reps, a newspaper photographer, and one of the interns from the PR company. I had requested a break prior to entering the mall, but it was vetoed as we were already late for my advertised appearance in the luggage store. I led the charge, growling and tossing my head as I ape-walked past rows of shops and chain stores. Dunkin’ Donuts, Orange Julius, Foot Locker, Zales Jewelry all went whizzing by my limited peripheral vision. The two TV commercials had established the gorilla as a mischievous and potentially bad-ass ape, who got away with questionable behavior due to his cute half-smile and well—because he was a gorilla that looked real. I had gradually been taking more advantage of these qualities as the first promo tour progressed. And then I saw them—them being a full entourage of Disney on Parade characters, marching and singing towards me. They were accompanied by about twenty or more small children, who I guessed had been granted their greatest wish to meet and follow around their beloved icons. Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy led the parade while a trio of musicians played with forced excitement behind them. They took up the entire center aisle of the mall and were headed straight for me. Rows of shoppers lined the edge of their path, all smiling and loving this display of Americana. I had two choices as I saw it—either cower to the side and let them pass, or being the famous badass gorilla from TV, stand and hold my ground. I charged 72

ahead a few feet, pulled up short in a primal stance, and beat my chest. The happy song fizzled to a few final discordant notes and then silence. I could see the shoppers were trying to figure out what Disney movie or show had featured a “real” gorilla, or if I was actually an ill-conceived part of the parade. Two little girls, who were behind Minnie, got scared and tried to run, but ended up tripping over each other and falling to the floor, spilling a large box of yellow popcorn. I tried to lighten the mood by attempting to dance with Goofy. He pushed me back with a big brown dog paw and snapped, “Hey, get outta’ here... you’re ruining the parade,” and then he kicked at me with his jumbo black shoe. The newspaper photographer was motioning for me to get closer to him for a picture, but Goofy wasn’t having it. He pushed me away and said, “Who the heck are you?” “Your worst nightmare dog boy!” I growled in my best James Earl Jones voice as I danced around him, displaying some lethal Karate moves. He backed off, sensing my danger. I figured I’d try my luck with Minnie, so I charged up to her, put a hairy gorilla paw around her waist, and attempted to do an impromptu waltz. I managed a half turn with her when I was pushed hard from behind. It was Mickey. A muffled effeminate voice emerged from his massive mouse head. “You aren’t supposed to be here!” Clearly, their Disney training manual hadn’t prepared them for dealing with a marauding gorilla. On the sidelines, I could see two ladies who looked to be part of the parade team, pointing at me and gesturing for me to leave. Now it was Mickey, Goofy, and Minnie against the ape. I reared up, beat my chest again, and roared. Mickey and Goofy backed away. I sauntered up to Minnie, like Clark Gable approaching Scarlet O’Hara on the staircase, and started humping her cute little polka-dotted leg. She jerked away with a series of muted mouse squeaks and ran behind a tuba player in a red band uniform. Some of the crowd were in hysterics laughing... others just stood with their mouths open in horror. I dropped to all fours and knuckle-ran down the hallway and around the corner, where I found refuge behind a row of mannequins in the Macy’s ladies’ lingerie section. Phil, the intern, flushed me out with the promise of a water break. The intended promotion in the luggage store went off without further incident. I sat benignly perched on a stack of Tourister luggage, and posed for photos with the customers. The Tourister reps seemed too busy to worry about the brief humping incident, as they lined people up for Polaroid’s and free gorilla luggage tags. I felt damn good at that moment, as in my mind, I’d just let off a bit of good gorilla humor in a random situation that had presented itself. I had stood up to the juggernaut Disney on Parade people and won. Ain’t nobody gonna’ push the American Tourister gorilla around. The next day I got a call in my hotel room from Susan at the PR office in New York. “Don, we have a BIG problem. The execs at headquarters heard about your run-in with the Disney Parade. And, well... they’re very upset.” “Just because I tried to dance with Goofy and Minnie?” 73

“I think it was a bit more than dancing that was the problem. You stopped a scheduled and organized parade, humped Minnie, and got in a fight with Micky and Goofy.” She sounded serious, even though the topic made me stifle a laugh. “I... ah.... well... I thought they wanted me to be a take no prisoners, leave no luggage unsmashed kind of gorilla,” was the only weak response I could come up with before my morning coffee. “And the worst part is the Cherry Hill Courier Post has a photo of you trying to hump Minnie, with the caption: American Tourister Gorilla wreaks havoc on the Disney Parade. That’s what really caused the most trouble. They’re all flying out tomorrow for the luggage show in Reno and they want to meet with you as soon as you arrive.” “Am I going to be on gorilla probation or something?” “I’m afraid it may be worse than that Don... from what I hear Roy may be considering letting you go. The others... I’m not so sure. “Oh, boy...” “It’s just not the kind of publicity the company had in mind. I mean this could be very bad... Disney could press charges for assault. Anything could happen. We can’t have our gorilla going around humping people... especially not a beloved American Icon like Minnie Mouse!” “Hey, it was Goofy who assaulted me first,” I offered, sounding like a guilty junior high kid. Just for a brief second, I thought I could detect a faint rumble of suppressed laughter coming from Susan—so I had a glimmer of hope for getting a reprise. “No worries, Susan. I’ll straighten all this out with them when we get to Reno.” We arrived in Reno two days later. On the night before the impending corporate meeting with the suits, I sat in silence at the end of my Hilton Hotel bed and stared at the blank television screen. Trying to plot out my weak defense, I decided I could blame the incident on Goofy, and maybe lie and say he flipped me off or something or I could just tell the truth. And tell them I felt invincible in the gorilla suit and I’d never liked parades. When I was in the high school marching band, I’d had to play trumpet on a 100 degree parade day while following behind a farting and shitting horse ridden by the mayor of our rival football team’s town. And that I didn’t like Disney as they’d denied me entrance in 1968 for having long hair and this was my one big chance to get revenge. Or I could just tell them that I was dehydrated and half loopy from too much gorilla work, and I thought it was really funny to hump Minnie. The following morning I was called to a small meeting room, with the suits all sitting at one end of a long oval mahogany table. I took a seat at the far end and made sure my posture was in a firm upright position, in the unlikely event of a crash decision. They ran the charges by me, one by one and then Roy, the vice President, leaned forward and was about to give a proclamation, when the door burst open and Dan Hillenbrand, the CEO of Hillenbrand industries stepped into the room. He was in his early 70s, short and wiry of stature, with close-cropped 74

gray hair and a major twinkle in his eye. He owned American Tourister, Batesville Casket Company, and Batesville hospital furniture. His formula for being a multimillionaire was simple. Everyone gets sick and needs a hospital bed, everybody dies and needs a casket, and everybody left goes on vacation and needs a suitcase. “Okay, boys,” he said with a grin. “It’s been decided. Don stays. He’s our gorilla. We’ve brought in an estimated 500 grand in free GOOD publicity since we started the campaign and I’m not going to let him go just because he humped a mouse.” The suits all stymied chuckles and shifted in their chairs. “Plus the suit only fits him, and he’s damn good as the gorilla. I’ll have the lawyers draft some bullshit apology letter to the mall and Disney and we’ll be done with this. Mark, send them all some suitcases while you’re at it.” I hadn’t had to say a word. Dan shook his head and glanced at his watch. “Okay team...get out on the floor and get our booth ready. We’ve got a luggage show to worry about.” He stepped out into the hallway and then poked his head back in and looked at me with a wink. “Don...don’t fuck up anymore. If you’re going hump anybody, make sure you keep it in your room!” and he closed the door. I would later learn that Dan loved the idea of the gorilla being his personal project and alter ego, and that he liked the image of the gorilla getting into a bit of trouble, not unlike the way Al Davis liked the image of his Oakland Raiders football team being the bad boys of the NFL—especially when they were winning. And right now, Tourister was winning and I was part of the reason.



I’m pruned up in a gorilla suit stuck in the bowels of some swanky department store. I’m on tour for Tourister and they have me set up on a pedestal under a flashing neon logo sitting on a stack of pyramided luggage. Now bear in mind, this ain’t just any old Halloween ape suit, it’s a $35,000 masterpiece made by Oscarwinning Rick Baker King Kong maker—it’s anatomically correct sans genitalia with a 12 expression face, snot-dripping nostrils and real itchy yak hair. I’m sitting here sweltering under some phony palms in the tepid luggage jungle with a fiftyyard long line of people holding packages and numbers 1 through 200 just waiting to sit on my lap. Off to my right, a sign says Meet the World-Famous Luggage-Smashing Monkey from TV. On my left, a skinny little man in coke-bottle glasses is rifling off Polaroids while his buxom assistant is fumbling film cartridges into the second unit like a Sea World intern feeding sushi to a starving shark. It’s 123 degrees in the suit and my blood pressure’s probably double that. I’ve got a colander sweat underway, smile, flash-pop-kachink, smile, flash-pop-kachink—is that thing real? Some knobby-kneed kid in Calvin Klein shorts pulls my rubber ape lips. I make a retching sound like a bit bull with the dry heaves. Kid senses my danger and wanders off into the linen department. Years of mime work, countless stories, and poems, and I’m still here staring out from under an ape brow at the real world trying to care whether or not somebody buys a suitcase, but happy as a hairy tortoise while pints of last night’s lounge liquid are seeping outa me like piss from a sleeping wino… “Just another half-hour, whispers the PR guy.” Somebody dumps a pair of Japanese twins in Disney shirts onto my lap. I curl my lips and bare my incisors and the twins dissolve into a photo flash. The human queue inches towards me. Mothers with babies, squealers in carriages, cosmetic clerks with bony asses and good perfume on their lunch breaks, black athletes with bags of sporting goods, white bikers with gold earrings, slouching snickering stoner kids from suburbia in Iron Maiden T-shirts, grandparents with reluctant little girls, and huge women with mailbox butts crushing my knees and blocking my view of the Lolita candy clerk. Time is halted. My brain throbs and my eyes bulge under fiberglass pinch. I see mad flashing archetypical images. Electrolytes are flying out of me like welding sparks. I wave for help. The 911 76

medical emergency kind—the crowd laughs at my anthropomorphic gesture— I’m going down in a bathwater spin. Faces flare past me like a 60s acid movie scene. I grasp at a suitcase trying to get a handle. A logical thought—anything to stay conscious and then it hits me. I’m making more money than Jim Nabors in concert and I’m about to meet God or William Blake. l’m holding onto that thought when a somber, heavy hand grabs my padded ape shoulder. “Come over here, I want to talk to you,” says a Texan drawled voice. Figuring it’s Blake reincarnated, I push a pregnant lady off my lap and stumble into the voice, all 6-foot 4 5 6 of him. “You that monkey from TV?” Shouts a cowboy from a spread-legged stance like he just finished roping off a steer. I drop the primal grunting and switch to a muffled Anglo-American tone. “Yep…that’s me,” I say. Cowboy mutters something and takes a step closer. “You know who I am?” On the chance he may be a stray hunk of ectoplasm come to usher me into immortality, I say “William Blake?” “No,” he shouts, grabbing me by my rubber ape chest. “I’m a baggage handler for United Airlines and I’m going to kick your ape ass!” He’s earnest like a disease, and I can tell by the veins in his eyes he’s rapidly slipping down the evolutionary ladder. “I seen them commercials where you makin’ fun of us AND I DON’T LIKE THEM!” The crowd steps back with their lips pinched shut and their ears cocked. Cowboy baggage-handler grabs me in a chokehold. He’s breathing hard and his face is turning redder than his neck, while the photographer is still popping off Polaroids in case the cowboy wants a souvenir. “Oh, that gorilla,” I hear myself say. His shovel-shaped hands loosen ever so slightly on my neck. “That wasn’t me, heck no, I’m just the local guy. That guy is a jerk. I’ve met him. He’s from California.” Cowboy breaks his hold and pushes me back into the luggage. “Oh yeah,” he says, hitching up his pants at the buckle. “You tell that asshole he better stay clear of Dallas, or I’ll kick his faggot teeth in.” The crowd breaks into a partial applause, thinking the confrontation is an ill-conceived part of the show. Cowboy stomps off, parting the sea of people like Moses. The gap fills in and a teenage Mexican girl places a red-faced newborn into my arms... a dab of sweat rolls down my mask and falls like a soft raindrop onto the child’s face. I hold the baby with infinite gentleness…a balance is achieved.



By the spring of 1982, I had become the go-to-guy for playing gorillas, both domestically and soon on an international level. The big-budget feature film, Trading Places, had just been green-lighted and they needed a gorilla. One of the film’s producers had seen the Tourister gorilla commercials and called me into his office on the Paramount Studio lot to check out the ape. I knuckle-walked around the office and five minutes later got the job. Two weeks later, I was in New York City on the movie soundstage. I stood waiting in the shadows next to the Amtrak baggage car set. I wore the full gorilla suit, minus the head, and had just emerged from the dressing room with my friend and assistant, Carrotte. The movie assistant director’s plan was for the gorilla to remain hidden behind the set, and then when the director, John Landis, called for me, I was to enter wearing the head and knuckle-walk around the set for a surprise reveal to the cast and crew. Carrotte was busy wiping beads of perspiration off my brow with a paper towel when I noticed a bulky figure appear from one of the openings on the set walls. As he got closer, I could see it was the actor Jim Belushi. “Hey gorilla man, lookin’ good,” he said with a patented Belushi grin. “Wanna get high?” Jim motioned me to join him behind a darkened area behind the set. Normally I wouldn’t have wanted to smoke pot prior to any kind of professional acting work, but when the request comes from the brother of the late great master of mayhem John Belushi, it’s hard to say no. So I waddled behind the set and watched as Jim pulled out a perfectly rolled, three-inch-long joint from inside his shirt pocket. He fired it up with a Bic lighter, took a long toke, exhaled a stream of thick smoke up into the rafters, and handed the joint to me. Not wanting to look like a wimpy gorilla on my first day on the set, I matched his inhalation. We did a couple more quick puffs, then he whipped out a tube of Bianca and blasted it into his mug. He gestured for me to open my mouth and gave me a short blast. As a finishing touch, he leaned back scoping me out, gave me a wicked chuckle, and did a final circle spray on my rubber ape chest before exiting back onto the shooting set. Carrotte gave me a disapproving head shake and began brushing the costume. A moment later, the film’s costar, Eddie Murphy, popped his head around the set, and when he saw me, he came running up and clapped his hands. 78

“Oh, that’s fantastic! Love it!” He spotted the ape head, which was resting on a long table next to me. He grabbed the head, crammed it on his head, and with his shoulders slumped like he was bearing the weight of the world, he started chanting, “I is Kunta Kinte, I is Kunta Kinte!” as he launched into an improvised slave dance around me. He giggled with joy as he continued his impersonation of the Roots character from Alex Hailey’s popular TV mini-series. A voice from the set yelled out, “Eddie, we need you back.” He slapped me on the back, yanked off the gorilla head, and hurried back onto the set. I was still laughing from Eddie’s antics when I caught sight of an actress coming down the hall towards me. It was Jamie Lee Curtis, who was playing Ophelia, the lovable prostitute in the film. She stopped right in front of me, peered deep into my black encircled eyes, and said with a seductive voice, “You’re cute. Welcome to our movie.” She deftly hopped up onto a prop table, crossed her bare legs, and adjusted her lederhosen costume. Sweat was pouring off my face and neck, and forming little rivulets, as it flowed down my rubber ape chest. I was stoned and trying to act cool around one of the film’s costars. “You’re the cute one... nice to meet you, Jamie,” was the best I could manage. A voice from the set broke us up. “Jamie, gorilla... we need you on the set.” Carrotte attached the head, and I dropped to all fours and lumbered onto the set. The stage was done up as a replica of a baggage holding car on an Amtrak train. A giant steel cage stood elevated on a platform. The plot point is that I’m a “real” caged gorilla on the train and the bad guy, actor Paul Gleason, is holding Dan Aykroyd, Eddie, and Jamie Lee at gunpoint. The gorilla reaches through the bars and whacks him on the head, allowing the other three to gain control of the situation. The director, John Landis, yells “action,” and the camera rolls. As Paul gets close to the cage, with his back to me, I reach out and thump him on the head with my fist. Paul feigns crumpling to the floor and Landis yells cut. Paul gets up and glares at me and says, “Not so hard, you’re messing up my hair. Haven’t you ever heard of a stage punch?” and he reaches up with one hand and taps his heavily sprayed hair back into place. Paul Gleason, it should be noted, was well known in the film industry for playing nasty roles. He played the mean spirited principal in The Breakfast Club and many other films. I had barely hit him with the soft rubber fist, and already he was creating a scene. “Paul, take five,” says Landis as he hurries up to the cage. Paul walks off the set rolling his head around like he’s just come out of a round of WWF action. Landis motions me close and says. “That looked terrible. It was a love tap. You’ve got to really whack the guy.” “But John... he’s already in my face about hitting too hard.” “Fuck him,” snaps Landis, “it’s not a scene about his feelings. You gotta bop Beeks to the ground, enough to make him drop the gun.” “Okay ah ….” 79

“Just do it. I’ll deal with Paul. It’ll be fine.” Paul was summoned back to the cage and placed with his back to me again. Dan, Eddie, and Jamie Lee stood in front of Paul with their hands in the air. “And action,” chirps Landis. Paul takes his fatal step back next to me. I lift my right arm in the air and crack him on the melon like whack-a-mole in a game center. He drops to the ground with a loud groan. “Cut,” says Landis with a pleased finality, “perfect... love it... moving on.” Paul remains flattened on the floor like he’d been clocked by a sledgehammer at a carnival bell-ringing game. He rises up on one arm and looks around for sympathy, but everyone has moved over to begin the next set up. I hadn’t hit him that hard, but in his mind, I was now his arch enemy. And we had several big scenes together in the days ahead. “You’re out of control,” he says, glaring at me as he eases up to his feet. “That fucking hurt!” I shrug and give him a what-I’m-I-going-do gesture as he walks away. The first assistant director calls out from the food table. “Great job Paul you’re a trooper.” The following day I’m back on the set and back in the gorilla cage for the continuation of the scene with Beeks/Paul. Prior to the head thumping scene, Jim Belushi had entered the baggage car dressed in a cheap Halloween-style gorilla suit. The gorilla gets excited upon spotting a fellow primate, hits Beeks on the head, and he collapses on the floor. Dan, Eddie, and Jamie get the bad ape suit from Jim, and cram the unconscious Beeks into the costume. They tape his mouth shut, attach the gorilla head, and shove him into the cage with me (the supposed “real” gorilla.) Lights are set and the cameras roll into position. Landis sticks his head through the bars and gives me a wry look. “Okay, Don—this is the big payback scene for Beeks. You’re an amorous gorilla and you’ve been given your mate. Grab him from behind and hump the crap out of him!” I roll my head around a couple of times and do a hip roll, followed by a thumbs-up gesture to let Landis and the crew know I’m ready. “Action,” yells Landis. I wrap my arms around Beeks/Paul and commence humping him from behind like an amped-up porn star. Paul is writhing around and sending muffled protests from behind his mask and the strip of gaffers tape over his mouth. I can’t tell if he’s acting or just really pissed, but I don’t care as this is my big moment on camera. So I continue humping him using every different angle and rhythm I can think of. The cast and crew are laughing so hard that Landis finally has to yell, “Cut!” I collapse exhausted on the cage floor. Carrottte rushes in and removes my ape head. Two costumers hurry in to aid Beeks/Paul. They pull him out of the suit and tear off the tape from his mouth. He is breathless and visibly shaken. But he doesn’t say a word. He just limps out of the cage, rubbing his neck and back, then shuffles slowly off the set and back to his dressing room. 80

With the scenes in the baggage car finished, I’m released and sent back to LA. The production coordinator decided it would be cheaper to fly me home and then back again when I’m needed for later scenes the following week. I’m thinking I’ll have at least a week to relax and take care of my normal domestic chores. But when I wake up on the first day back, there are five messages on my answer machine, all from the producer for Steve Martin’s new film, The Man With Two Brains. Kathleen Turner is costarring and it’s being directed by Hollywood legend, Carl Reiner. They need a gorilla and they want me to start filming in two days. I’m still just rubbing the sleep outta my eyes when there’s a knock on the front door. It’s a messenger boy from the Warner Brothers Studio with a copy of the script. He hands me the full script for the movie and says, “Mr. Reiner wants to see you and the gorilla suit on the set this afternoon. What time can you be there?” “I guess 2:00 p.m. could work.” “Okay, good. I’ll let him know,” he says and trots down the driveway to his car. The ape suit is still in the steamer trunk and soaking wet with sweat from the “Trading Places” shoot. I drag it out of the trunk, spray it down with Lysol and begin airing it out with a portable house fan and my girlfriend’s blow-dryer. Two hours later, I arrive on the studio lot, put on the gorilla suit, and knuckle walk up to Carl Reiner, who is on the set working out camera angles with the director of photography. “Fantastic! I love it...let’s go meet Steve,” says Carl. We walk through the maze of sets and out the front stage door to where Steve Martin’s VIP trailer is parked. Carl bangs on his door. Steve sticks his head out. “Steve, say hello to our gorilla, Don McLeod.” He just stares at me with a blank expression. After an awkward silence, I respond in a muffled voice (the mask tends to mute sounds, due to a large foam tongue and the external foam face.) “Hi Steve...looking forward to working with you. I’m a big fan!” He frowns and shuts the trailer door. “Gee...that went well,” I say to Carl. “He’s had a long day—let’s go meet Kathleen Turner!” This encounter goes much better. She gives me a big hug and a kiss on my ape cheek. “You look SO real—what a great gorilla. Can I take him home with me Carl?” she says. Two days later I’m on the set and ready to film a scene with British actor, David Warner, and Steve Martin. I’m playing a recently deceased character named Dr. Schlermie Beckerman who had his brain transplanted into the gorilla. I’m sitting in an office chair with the two actors discussing my brain transplant. My action is to rub my butt with my ape finger and then smell it, which is something Beckerman did in his former human life. The scene is taking a long time, with many retakes, as David Warner has a full page of dialogue and he can’t remember any of it. 81

“I’m SO sorry Don...I know you’re dying in that suit. I’ll get it this time,” and he quickly looks over the script page. Sweat is pouring out from the edges of my mask and dripping on the floor. Finally, after at least thirty takes, David gets enough of the dialogue right, and director Reiner calls it a wrap. I stagger back to the dressing room, towel off, and pack the gorilla suit into the trunk for the drive back to Sherman Oaks. When I get home, I have a message from New York that they need me back on the set of Trading Places for a series of scenes on the train in the Newark, New Jersey Amtrak station. Now my gorilla schedule was starting to get tricky as I hadn’t told either production company that I was doing another feature film with the same gorilla suit at the same time. My fear was that both movies wanted the gorilla to be their exclusive idea, and it would not be good if the same gorilla was seen in two feature films at the same time. I knew they needed me again soon for more scenes with Man With Two Brains, but I was now on film in both movies, so I just had to hope the gorilla gods would look out for me, and allow the two shooting schedules to coincide. I’m on hold for the next scenes in the Steve Martin film, but I’m also on hold for Trading Places in New York, so I fly out the next day to Manhattan. On the following day, I’m driven to our location in Newark for some additional scenes on the train at the Amtrak station. Dark, ominous clouds are forming off to the West as we pull up to the location. It’s a night shoot. I’m sitting in the gorilla suit in the train station, waiting to film our first scene, when the first assistant director rushes in and tells us there’s a massive blizzard moving in and the production is halted. “All actors and crew need to get on the train NOW! It’s our only chance to beat the storm. The train is leaving in twenty minutes. Move, move—go, go, go now! Don, you’ll have to drive back with Frank the grip—no room on the train for the gorilla trunk.” I rip off the ape suit, cram it into the trunk and load it into the back of Frank’s station wagon. The other actors, director Landis, and the production team, clamer on board the train and it lurches out of the station for the twenty-six-mile trip back to NYC. Frank is delayed, loading lighting equipment into a truck, so it’s another hour before we leave. The light snowstorm that was forecast is rapidly turning into a major blizzard. Blinding snow is whirling in every direction and visibility is just a few yards ahead as we crawl along I-95. “Son of a bitch,” says Frank, “this is turning into one of the worst storms I’ve seen in years. I hope to hell we make it back—doesn’t look good.” Frank is a toughtalking short, stocky teamster type. He is wrapped in a puffy winter coat and I’m wearing my Member’s Only windbreaker. The temperature has dropped from the mid-fifties earlier to twenty-five degrees in just a matter of hours. Although I was born in Alberta, Canada, my cold weather DNA has melted away by living in California for the past twenty-eight years—so I’m freezing my ass off despite Frank’s rattly old heater being on high. All of a sudden, we come to a dead stop— 82

red taillights glaring all around us. Frank turns on the radio and we find out the massive storm has blanketed the area and the interstate has become impassable. “What’s the likelihood of us getting back to the city anytime soon?” I asked. “Poor to none,” says Frank. “Cars and big rigs likely stuck all the way into the city.” “You think the actors on the train made it back?” “Yeah...they left a good hour before us, and trains can plow through most anything—at least before it gets too deep. Oh yeah, you can be sure those pantywaists are back by now. It’s us dumb fucks that are left to fend for ourselves.” Frank is an old school, somewhat bitter, movie grip. I could tell he didn’t think much of movie stars and their privileges. It was mildly reassuring that he didn’t consider me an actor. I was one of his own, at least for the moment, and I wanted to keep it that way. After three hours we hadn’t moved at all. Thousands of motorists were stuck right along with us, and none of us were going anywhere. Frank was getting low on gas, and every few minutes he shut down the motor, to conserve fuel and the precious heat that went with it. My teeth were chattering, and I was shivering like a supermodel in a meat locker. “Hey Frank, I’m getting a little cold...as in freezing. You don’t have an extra jacket, or maybe a blanket or something, do you?” “Nope—you shoulda brought your own. All you damn California guys think the whole world is seventy-two and sunny.” “Okay, I’m going to crawl in the back and put the gorilla suit on.” “Oh Jesus...do what you gotta do,” said Frank shaking his head. I climbed over the front seat and into the back where I could access the ape trunk. I wrestled the gorilla body out of the trunk, took off my shoes, and with my clothes on crammed myself into the cold sweaty foam and hair suit. It only took a few minutes for my body heat to begin warming me up. I was now too bulky to crawl back into the front seat, so I opened the back door and scrambled out into a foot of blowing snow that had built up around the station wagon. A family in the car next to me, did a double-take at the sight of headless gorilla getting into the passenger side doorway. “Shut the fucking door—you’re letting the cold in!” yelled Frank. I squeezed my massive ape body into the front seat beside him and pulled the door shut. It was clear he wasn’t at all thrilled at the idea of having an ape in the front seat with him, but at this point, it was either that or have me freeze to death. I started to get visions of the Donner Party members having to decide whom to eat first in order to survive the blizzard of 1846, and the members of the Peruvian soccer team, who were depicted in the book and movie Alive. If any of our fellow stranded travelers resorted to cannibalism, I figured they’d go for Frank first, as he’d be easier to get to in his puffy down jacket. I leaned back and closed my eyes as a second wave of insulated body heat began to build up inside the 50-pound suit. 83

“Don’t fall asleep,” snapped Frank, “if we don’t have someone awake to start the motor, we could freeze to death. And I ain’t about to be found dead next to a goddamned gorilla!” Off to our right, on a small hillside, I could see the glow of an all-night diner, which had remained open, but was being overrun by shivering motorists, trying to get coffee. It looked to hold about 40 customers maximum and there were at least another hundred people pushing at the front door. A man, whom I presumed to be the owner, stood at the doorway waving his arms for people to go back to their cars. I made the safe assumption it would be impossible to hike through the snow in an ape suit, and try to get a $10 cup of coffee, even if there was any left to be had. I tried talking with Frank, but he was in no mood for idle chatter with an ape, so I remained silent in my primal overcoat. By 4:00 a.m. the cars were all covered in a deep blanket of snow and the windshield was frozen over. Frank estimated we were about ten miles out of the city somewhere near Secaucus, still on the Jersey side. I contemplated whether I could walk ten miles through a blizzard to Manhattan in a gorilla suit. It was possible I could make it, but it was also possible that I might collapse under the weight of the suit, and be found frozen to death in a snowbank days later. With the car engine off, my ears and nose were beginning to freeze. I begged Frank to turn it on, but he refused, saying we were running low on gas and had to ration what we had left for the drive back. I leaned over the front seat again and pulled the gorilla head out of the icecold plastic bag I’d left on the back seat. I put it on and watched as little puffs of steam escaped from the ape mouth as I exhaled. “Oh, Jesus—you’re not going to wear that thing, are you?” muttered Frank. “My head is freezing and I don’t have a cap, so YES I’m going to wear the gorilla head.” At that moment there was an agitated knock on my side window. A bundled up African American man, who ironically resembled Eddie Murphy’s homeless character from the movie, was behind the knock. I hand-cranked the window halfway down. He jumped back, almost falling onto the car next to us. “What the fuck—” “It’s okay,” I said, “I’m an actor...just a costume.” He slowly moved closer to get a better look at me, then reached into his coat and pulled out a fifth of Old Crow whiskey. “Shot of whiskey, man?—Five bucks a swallow.” “You gotta deal.” I reached back into the unzipped portion of the ape suit and wriggled my wallet out from my jeans pocket. “Hey, Frank, you want a shot?” He shook his head and scowled at our new friend. Clearly, he didn’t want any part of this exploitive survival operation. “Okay, just me—he’s driving,” I said, handing the guy a five-spot. The whiskey salesman let out a big laugh. “You a funny mother-fucking monkey, hurry up man...I got customers waiting.” 84

I grabbed the bottle, wiping off the top with my hairy ape arm, and took a long swig. The guy snatched the bottle out of my hand before I could do another and trudged off into the swirling snow behind us. Around 6:00 a.m. we learned from the radio that the worst of the storm was moving on and it had dumped nearly twenty inches of snow on New York City and the surrounding area. The Holland Tunnel had been blocked, but snowplows were now out and beginning to get the main roads open. About an hour later, I detected a slight bit of movement from the surrounding vehicles. Engines coughed alive and trails of exhaust steam drifted out of tailpipes. People were out of their cars clearing windshields, some cars that had run out of gas, were being pushed to the side of the interstate. Frank cleared our windshield with a yellow plastic ice chipper and then we were off, crawling our way back towards the city. We had survived the blizzard of 1982—the worst storm to hit the region this late in the year in decades. As the sunrise broke through the clouds, I could see Manhattan had been magically transformed into a sparkling white wonderland. Deep mounds of snow covered the streets, trash cans, cars, parking meters, and well everything. It was beautiful. Clean, cold, and alive—even hardened New Yorkers were beginning to poke their heads out of windows and doorways to take in this incredible sight. Frank dropped me off at the Mayfair hotel on W. 49 St. I took off the ape suit, right on the sidewalk, jammed it back into the trunk and rolled it into the lobby. The desk clerk didn’t even look up as I rumbled past him to the elevators. Back in my room, the message light was blinking on my phone. I was needed back in Los Angeles on Monday to shoot more scenes for the Steve Martin picture. This was a big problem, as I also had a message from the Trading Places production office that I’d be staying over the weekend to shoot another scene back in the New York studio. My head was spinning from the lack of sleep, the cold, and now this dilemma of having to be in two places at once. I figured all I could do was get some sleep, and perhaps I could come up with a solution when I woke up later that afternoon. Some eight hours later, I awoke and mapped out a shaky but workable plan. I called the LA production office and told them I’d contracted a nasty flu virus. I would need a couple of days to recover. They were not pleased, but agreed to move my shoot day from Monday to Wednesday. At this point, I was still in New York and hoping the Monday “Trading Places” shoot would only be one day, so I could get back to LA in time for the Steve Martin movie shoot. Our location was at Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 2. It’s the scene near the end of the movie where the gorilla and Beeks (the bad guy I whacked on the head) are loaded onto a freighter ship bound for Africa. The production team hired several of the crew from an Egyptian cargo ship to hoist the gorilla cage from the loading area at Pier 2 up about seventy-five feet onto the ship. 85

They used a standard steel-bottomed cargo loading device with four steel pipes on each corner. The rest of the container has been outfitted with fake balsawood bars to match the cage used in our earlier scenes. Beeks, the Paul Gleason character, still in his Halloween gorilla suit, is to be sitting between my legs, with me lovingly caressing him as we’re being hoisted onto the ship. A stuntman had been hired to stand in for Paul, who either wasn’t available that day, or simply didn’t want to do the scene—and I’m guessing it was the latter, as the cage offered no support for us, should it tilt to one side during the hoisting process. The wooden bars of the cage were just props and wouldn’t have had any resistance, were we to have slid into them. As we got into place on the dock, I realized the operators of the loading mechanism spoke no English and were being instructed what to do through a series of mime gestures. “Hey, John,” I said to director Landis, “Is this thing safe?” He laughed and said, “What’s the worst that could happen? You fall out and break a leg—it’s your last shot in the movie. We’ve got insurance...you don’t have to do it, but it’ll take us a couple of hours to bring in another stunt man.” Frank, the grip, who I’d survived the snowstorm with, was standing at the back of the dock with some of the union crew members. I could almost read his mind—another panty waisted actor slowing down the production. The pressure for me to do the scene was intense; if I refused, it would cost production much time and money to find a stuntman who would fit in the suit, and even if he did, the head would only fit someone with a similar-sized noggin. And if I failed to do the scene, I’d always be remembered as the Hollywood gorilla who was scared of a bit of danger. “Okay...I’ll do it” I said, beating my ape chest. A roar of approval went up from Landis and the crew. The stuntman and I climbed into the cage, and the fake bars were reattached. The Egyptian guys on the ship looked over the edge and started laughing and speaking in their native tongue. “Action,” yelled Landis, and the on-board crane groaned into action. The steel bottom and sides of the cage shuddered and swung right and left as we were cranked up into the cloudy New York sky. I had a reputation of being relatively fearless when it came to semi-dangerous stunts in the ape suit. I’d hung over the edge of the Empire State building for a photo shoot, fought killer wolves and an angry bear in The Galactic Connection, been shot with a crossbow in Tanya’s Island, but the one thing I was afraid of was heights. “Give him some lovin’,” bellowed Landis. From our Kama Sutra love position, I wrapped my arms around the guy and began “kissing” him on the back of his neck. Clearly, no one had bothered to tell the stuntman about our previous intimate relationship, based on the movie’s storyline. “What the fuck are you doing?” he growled. “Keep still—if this thing tilts, we’re going to slide right through the bars.” I took his advice. The winch groaned and then, at the last moment, swung us up and over the ship’s railing. A cheer rang out from the crew below. The process was reversed and we were lowered back onto the pier below. “That’s a wrap on the Gorilla for today,” announced Landis. The crew cheered 86

again and my reputation as a fearless ape would live on, at least for another movie or two. Back at the Mayflower hotel, there were two new urgent messages: one that I would be needed in two days to do the snowed out scene at the Newark train station, which had yet to be completed. And the second message was from the American Tourister PR office, saying they needed me here (in New York) in two days for a commercial magazine shoot. I came up with a risky plan that involved a bit of my own trading places. I had brought a second gorilla head with me, which was part of a new second gorilla suit that was being built for me back in LA. I decided to have my friend and gorilla wrangler, Carrotte, fill in for me and do the scene wearing the backup gorilla head and my bodysuit. He was almost my exact size, so he would fit into the suit without a problem. We decided he wouldn’t tell director Landis that he would be replacing me in the suit, and we hoped no one would notice that we were using a different head. The other part of the plan was a bit more complicated. I’d bring the original gorilla head back with me to LA and have my special effects guys do a rush job with the backup body of the new suit, so I could match the scenes we’d already filmed on the Steve Martin picture. Carrotte would work it out with the Trading Places assistant director that he would never take the gorilla head off when director Landis was on the set. The reasoning behind this move was we didn’t want Landis to know he had a different actor doing pivotal scenes in an already established series of scenes with me in the suit. Carrotte was already signed in as a union (SAG) puppeteer, so he would just sign in again on the day I was missing, and IF he could keep the head on at all times, Landis would never know it wasn’t me in the suit. Bottom line—it worked and to the best of my knowledge, he never found out. I guess if he reads the book, he’ll come at last to know our dark little secret. I flew back to LA on Tuesday and picked up the new back-up gorilla bodysuit from the effects shop. With my original gorilla head and the new body, I thought I was in the clear, despite all my double bookings and covert switcheroos. The Man With Two Brains gorilla scenes were filmed without anyone noticing the gorilla had a different body. But there was a final suit switch that they did notice. I had filmed what I thought was the last shot, flown back to New York for the American Tourister promotional magazine shoot, with all the original gorilla suit pieces back in my possession, when the LA production office left me a message on my home answering machine, calling me back to the set for an added scene with Steve Martin. I was already committed to Tourister in New York, and Carrotte was using my back up suit for Trading Places, so in desperation, I called my LA special effects friend Kevin Brennan, who was just finishing building his own gorilla suit. He was 6-3 and his suit was huge and not yet finished. I persuaded him, with the lure of a large amount of cash, to work around the clock to finish his suit and show up on the set for the final gorilla scene with Steve and David Warner. He did 87

the impossible and got the suit ready by working straight for 48 hours over the weekend. I had told the production company that Kevin would be filling in for me as I couldn’t get out of my contracted Tourister gig. They reluctantly agreed. What I didn’t tell them was that Kevin wouldn’t be wearing my suit and that his gorilla suit looked nothing like mine. He had a 7:00 a.m. call for the next morning, but didn’t show up. At 10:30 a.m. New York time, I got a frantic call in my room. “Where the hell is Kevin? We need him on the set NOW! We’ve been calling his house and there’s no answer.” “Oh... well, I ah...haven’t heard from him. Last we talked, he confirmed the time.” His no show was due to exhaustion. After having worked for 48 straight hours, he literally fell into a catatonic sleep next to his just-completed gorilla suit, and nothing short of a massive earthquake would have awakened him. Eventually, the production office reached him, and he stumbled onto the Warner Brothers set around noon. He was strapped onto a lab examination table on his back, and from what I later heard, fell sound asleep again through most of the filming. No one noticed it wasn’t the original costume I had worn in previous scenes, or that it was a good ten inches taller than my suit, and had a totally different face. I had pulled off the great gorilla trading places caper without detection. In the end, both movies got their gorilla shots, and I had a hearty reinforcement to my bank account. Fifteen years later, I had a poetry reading at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Santa Monica. I’d been introduced as the gorilla from Trading Places, among other notable credits. After the reading, an elegant lady approached me and introduced herself as the former Mrs. Paul Gleason (my nemesis from the Trading Places humping scene). He was deceased by this time. I apologized for being a bit rough on her ex-husband. “Sorry about hitting him on the head.” She laughed and said, “You should have knocked the son-of-a-bitch out!” GORILLA PHOTOS THROUGHOUT THE YEARS

Scene from The Man With Two Brains with Steve Martin and David Warner 88

Don with Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd from Trading Places

Don with special friend from Trading Places

Tourister Gorilla

American Tourister Gorilla in Tokyo

Fatima the Psychic Gorilla 89

Don on NBC’s Today Show with Jane Pauley

Radio City Music Hall - New York 90

Blue with Vanity from Tanya’s Island

Image from Don’s gorilla greeting card line

Atlas Van Lines gorilla - Springfield, IL

Don training South Korean actors for the movie Mr. Go 91

Don with Rick Baker, Kevin Brennan & Steve Johnson

Beverly Hills Pool

Blue with Vanity from Tanya’s Island 92

Blue from Tanya’s Island


Japan has been a special place for me ever since I first discovered the minimalist beauty of haiku poetry when I was 20 years old. I can honestly say Japanese art and culture has molded me into the person I am today. From my studies in zen to the puppet theatre of Bunraku, Noh, and Kabuki and later the dark earthy dance form called Butoh, I became intoxicated with all things Japanese. So naturally, I was thrilled when in the spring of 1983, American Tourister decided to introduce their luggage into the Japanese market. Since I was the corporate symbol of the company, and its primary spokesperson, it made sense that I would go along with the company VIPs to help launch the brand. Everything was arranged in advance, down to the smallest detail of our threecity tour. My agent, Brad Kessler, had somehow arranged to accompany me as my gorilla dresser. His job was essentially to get me in and out of the gorilla suit, take the head off for air and water breaks, and generally keep an eye on me, as my bad sense of direction had on several past occasions, caused minor delays when I would take a wrong turn in a foreign city, and often be missing for several hours. All the travel was first class. Five-star hotels were booked and luggage stores in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka had all been pre-stocked with a large selection of American Tourister suitcases. Brad had decided it would be one giant party, and he convinced me to start the celebration while we still sat on the tarmac at Los Angeles. Japan Airlines was, without a doubt, the best airline I’d ever flown on, and the amenities and service were impeccable. We kicked back in our plush first-class seats and started with the champagne. By the time we were air born, we had a serious buzz on and were pretty much smashed by the halfway point in the flight. Brad was normally a mild-mannered and professional agent when I’d seen him in his work environment, but once released from his job, his girlfriend, and his sense of decorum, he became a wild man unleashed. He had consumed a good six or eight drinks at the half-way point in the flight, and this didn’t include the two champagnes we’d had before takeoff. He had his headphones on and was singing off-key to Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and banging his tray table with furious raucous drumming. Tiny vodka bottles were bouncing off the tray 93

and rolling down the aisle. Nearby passengers had complained, and the flight attendants in their reserved, polite way attempted to calm him down, but to no avail. With the memory still fresh in my mind of the Disney Minnie Mouse humping incident, I was staying away from any outward display of unruly behavior that could get back to the head office. Although I’d matched Brad drink for drink, I remained relatively sedate. Finally, Brad passed out from sheer drunken exhaustion, and all was quiet for a few hours. Luckily the Tourister executives had taken a different flight from Boston and were already in Tokyo making advance arrangements. Our flight landed in the early evening at Tokyo’s Narita airport. Brad and I rolled our luggage and the gorilla steamer trunk up to the customs checkpoint line. I was not in the best of shape, as I’d been unable to sleep on the twelve-hour flight, and I was still foggy from all the drinks, food, and over-all jet lag. Brad was cleared without question and stood waiting for me at the ramp leading up to the street. I wheeled the 70-pound gorilla trunk up to the customs inspection table and snapped open the locks. The first custom agent said something to his partner in Japanese, and then in English, he said, “What is this? What is in the box?” “It’s a gorilla. Famous gorilla, from the movie Trading Places.” “Open the box, please now,” he said with a stern face. Normally I’ve always found custom agents to be fascinated with the costume, and I’d sometimes end up putting on the head and making them laugh. So I popped open the lid, took out the short arms and the gorilla head, and placed them on the cold steel counter at the inspection station. The two agents frowned and said something again in Japanese, then looked into the gorilla trunk and began moving things around. “We’re doing a big promotion here in Tokyo—starting tomorrow,” I said. “Where you get this gorilla?” said the first agent. “Los Angeles,” I said, “I keep the suit in my house there.” The agents bent down below the counter and put on white latex gloves. They picked up the head and turned it over, examining it from all angles. One of the agents turned and signaled over a third man, who I guessed was a senior officer. I was thinking they were marveling at the workmanship of the suit, and just wanted to share the fun with their superior, but that was not the case. They conversed among themselves for a couple of minutes and then the senior officer shook his head and glared at me. “Please come with me,” and took me gently by the arm and led me towards a room at the back of the customs area. I looked back at the open gorilla trunk like a worried father, leaving his child alone and vulnerable. Brad gave me a ‘what’s up’ gesture, and I signaled back to him that I didn’t know. The two agents were putting the head and hands back into the trunk, as the supervisor pulled open a door and gestured for me to enter. “We have to inspect,” he said. “You will stay here.” “My taxi will be here in half an hour...will I be able to make it?” 94

“You will wait. We will let you know,” and he shut the heavy metal door behind him. I was in an empty holding area, with about six or seven other travelers. It wasn’t a full-on detention center, but rather just an area for suspects with visa issues, or in my case, luggage that required a lengthy and more thorough inspection. I took a seat on one of the naugahyde backless benches and ran the various scenarios through my groggy brain. The most likely seemed to be that they discovered the radio control device for the gorilla’s facial movements, and might have thought it was some kind of detonation device as commonly used in remote-controlled bombs. The only other thing I could think of was that I’d left a banana in a plastic baggie in the gorilla trunk, and they were holding it for some kind of illegal fruit and vegetable violation. After about three hours of waiting, the door opened, and a female agent motioned me over to speak with her. She told me my gorilla costume and trunk would require further testing, which would take some time, and that I was free to go, but not with my gorilla. The agent told me Brad had gone ahead to the hotel and that I should call him. But first I had to give them all the names and contact information I had regarding my stay in Japan. “Why is my costume being held?” I said. “I have to have it tomorrow for a major promotional tour.” “I’m sorry I don’t have that information. Our agents have to do more inspection.” “So will they finish today and send it tonight?” “I can’t give answer.” It was now 5:00 p.m. so I called Brad at the hotel in downtown Tokyo and filled him in on what happened. I figured the inspection would likely only take another hour or so, and with luck, the suit would be delivered shortly and all would be well. I flopped into the back seat of an immaculate taxi and we drove in silence for the hour and a half drive to the hotel in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. The suburbs are a delight to pass through, as everything is unique to a Westerner’s eye—the rounded tiles on the houses, the perfectly sculpted pine trees in the yards, even the power poles and electrical grid are uniquely Japanese. As we moved into the downtown area, a dizzying dance of neon creates a phantasmagorical living web of flashing color. The streets were alive with salarymen hurrying to their hostess bars, and not a single piece of trash anywhere... Tokyo is the cleanest city in the world with fantastic vending machines offering every kind of beverage and snack a person could ever want. And with tiny cars and tiny trucks all going somewhere, but politely—you almost never hear a horn honked, and lights are turned off when your car is behind someone at a stoplight. I pay my driver, but he refuses my tip, and with a white-gloved hand, he opens a long metal lever that opens my back door and I slide out onto the curb—a perfect taxi ride to the New Otani Hotel. In the sparkling lobby, a workman is on his knees, polishing a large brass ashtray. I checked in and hurried up to my room. From inside the room, I could hear agitated voices talking back and forth. I pushed the key in the slot, first 95

one way then the other—the green light went on and I stepped into the tiny but pristine room. “Don... Welcome to Tokyo,” said Roy, the president of American Tourister. “You know Mark, our marketing director, of course, and this is Mr. Tanaka and his assistant Mr. Yoshihara, our partners here in Japan.” Both men jumped to their feet, and we shook hands and exchanged bows. I made certain to bow with the exact amount of forward tilt as they had done, both as a sign of respect and to acknowledge that we were on equal ground in terms of professional standing within our respective companies. If I had failed to bow, it might have seemed I was a rude, arrogant American, and if I bowed too deeply, it would imply that I viewed them to be my superiors, which I did not. I could see they were impressed by my understanding of Japanese protocol. They both smiled and sat back down on the edge of the bed. Brad sat on a chair in the back, looking through a Tokyo guide book. I sensed, despite the overall friendliness of the Japanese men, a hora of worry and concern. “I guess you’re all aware of our dilemma with the gorilla suit,” I said. “Yes,” said Mark, rubbing his temple with his thumb and forefinger. “I spoke to the customs desk at Narita, and apparently there’s some delay in inspecting the suit. It will not be here tonight, and we have to start at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. We’ve got four appearances at major shopping centers, with posters and radio announcements all over the city.” “Can we delay things for a day, until the suit arrives? I asked. “No...everything has been booked for weeks—with a down to the minute schedule. Hundreds of people are expected at each location.” “But how can we do the personal appearances without the suit?” I asked. “Mr. Tanaka has acquired a backup suit,” said Roy, “It’ll be here in an hour.” “Very nice gorilla,” said Tanaka with a confident tone in his voice. “From Godzilla movie—very good costume. We use!” I shook my head in despair and slumped down on the carpet. “The show must go on,” I said, and everyone nodded in agreement. I convinced the group that I’d need a shower to get the travel stress suppressed, and it was agreed the group would meet back in my room in an hour when the substitute suit arrived. As the hot water poured over my throbbing head, I wracked my memory for images of gorilla suits I’d seen in old Japanese movies. Only one I could recall was pretty dreadful—a dead fake-looking face with goofy, blinking eyes. If that was the suit they’d acquired, it would have to be at least fifty years old and falling apart. I could only hope there was some obscure film with a gorilla in it that I hadn’t seen and the suit was at least descent by contemporary standards. The hot shower cleared my head a bit. I shaved, changed clothes, and lay on the bed to await the arrival of our desperation backup suit. Exactly one hour after the gorilla team left, I heard a knock on the door. Roy, Mark, Brad and the two Japanese hosts filed into my room. 96

“Gorilla suit is in lobby. It will come here in,” said Tanaka, pausing to look at his watch. “Five minutes.” Everyone seemed somewhat relieved, although no one had yet actually seen the suit. I smoothed out the bedspread, so we could spread out the suit once it arrived. “Any word on the Tourister suit?” I said. Mark looked at Roy, then down to the floor with a slight head shake. “It’s not good. Apparently, it tested positive for real animal hair, so they have to wait for some forensic expert to bring more testing equipment. It sounded like they think part of the suit might be from a real gorilla.” “Oh man, that’s insane! What did they think—I was a gorilla poacher?” “That might be a bit extreme,” said Roy, “but they are being extremely careful, as the customs liaison said there’s been a rash of animal parts being smuggled in for the Chinese market, so they can’t be too careful.” “I think I know what might be the culprit,” I said. “There’s Yak hair punched into parts of the gorilla head. They must have done a fiber test on it. This is not good.” “Why do you have Yak hair in the gorilla suit?” asked Mark. “We mix it with synthetic hair, to give some density and color variation to the hair, but just on the head, not the whole suit,” I said. The Japanese gentlemen seemed confused, as I don’t think they fully understood what I said. At that moment, there was a soft knock on the door. Brad yanked it open, and a slender Japanese boy entered carrying a large green duffel bag. Mr. Takahari spoke with him briefly and the man backed out of the door with a series of quick bows. Tanaka undid the drawcord and shook the contents of the bag out on the center of my bed. For a few moments, we all just stared wide-eyed at what we saw: There lay the worst gorilla suit I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen some bad ones. The body lay on the bed like a matted black piece of roadkill. The cheap fake fur had likely never looked good, but now it was missing patches of fur in several places, giving it the appearance that it had come down with a severe case of mange. The chest piece was a shiny slab of hard plastic with two misaligned nipples, which looked like something you might see on a discount sex doll. The “gorilla feet” were simply a pair of old tennis shoes, with a clump of fur glued onto their tops. Not even enough to cover the white rubber soles of the shoes. The hands were no better— just an old pair of leather gloves with more of the same fur glued onto the tops of the gloves. But the piece de resistance was the head. It was about two and a half feet in diameter and looked to be made of paper maché attached to a chicken wire base, with a smelly leather helmet on the inside to hold the actor’s head in place. The eyes were huge, at least four times bigger than gorilla eyes, and looked like someone had bought a giant Styrofoam ostrich egg, cut it in half and attached it to the head, then with acrylic paint added a huge set of pupils, giving the head a cartoonish cross-eyed expression, which wasn’t going to change...ever. The costume was dreadful by every standard imaginable. 97

We all stood around the bed, looking down at the suit in silence. I could tell no one wanted to offend the Japanese hosts, but were lost for words. Mr. Tanaka gave a nervous laugh, and looked at me. “What you think Don san?” “Well...ahh...I have to be honest. It’s dreadful!” I answered. “What is this word? I don’t understand.” I shook my head and rubbed my throbbing eyes, “Not good.” Brad stepped forward and said, “Maybe it’ll look okay once you put it on.” I shuddered to think in a few hours I’d be parading around Tokyo in this awful contraption. “Yes, please, Don san, you try on,” said Tanaka. The suit smelled of mothballs, old sweat, and rotting fabric. But being a company man, I stripped to my shorts and climbed into the suit. Brad stuffed the massive phony head on me and zipped up the back. Everyone just kind of eyed me slowly nodding. “I guess it will have to do,” said Roy. “Very famous suit,” said Tanaka, trying to offer some encouragement. “From Japanese movie.” I turned to look at myself in the mirror—it looked even worse now that I was in it. For starters, the legs and arms of the body were too long, and bunched up at the ankles and wrists, and you could see my bare neck if I looked up. I’d had nightmares about just such an occurrence, and now I was living it out in reality. It really looked like something you might find in a dusty trunk, stowed away in some long-dead magician’s attic. It didn’t even look like a gorilla—more like a skid row Bigfoot, only sans the realistic detail. I crawled out of the hideous suit and just wanted to sleep, but that was not to be. “Okay, good, we have gorilla, now time for celebration dinner,” said Mr. Tanaka, clapping his hands. I looked at Brad and gestured that I wanted to sleep, but to no avail. Tanaka looked at his watch, and said, “We hurry—reservation at sushi restaurant is in ten minutes.” We all shuffled out of my room and were off into the bowels of Tokyo’s neon nightlife. I was so exhausted from the long flight, the customs detention and the emotional letdown of the missing gorilla suit that everything became a hazy hallucinogenic blur—never-ending orders of sushi, sashimi and endless rounds of hot sake “kanpai! kanpai!” and Sapporo beers. I was the guest of honor, so naturally, I had to follow the toasts and then make several of my own to the future success of the partnership and all things gorilla. By 2:00 a.m., the welcome dinner ended and I somehow found myself back at the New Otani hotel and in my bed. Three hours of sleep was not going cut it, but I figured I could sleep when I was dead. The following morning I emerged from the elevator at 7:04 a.m. and was greeted by an agitated Mr. Tanaka. He tapped his watch and said, “You four minutes late! 98

We go, please hurry.” I knew the Japanese are always extremely punctual, but my living with a Latin lady for fourteen years had caused me to become a bit looser in considering time. In most Latin countries, 8:00 p.m. really means closer to 9:00— but in Japan 7:00 a.m. means 7:00 a.m. and not 7:04. I threw the backup gorilla suit into the mini-tour bus and climbed on board. Our entire entourage was there, plus two Caucasian British girls dressed in cheerleader outfits and my co-star, a famous Japanese comedian named Beat Takeshi, who had been hired to help draw a crowd to the luggage unveiling and to generally interact with the crowd. Introductions were made and we were off, zig-zagging through Tokyo’s morning rush hour on our way to the Takashimaya mall. The group squeezed out of the mini-bus, and Brad helped me struggle into the rent-a-suit, which was no easy task, as we were confined to the backseat area of the little bus. The head was too big to put on inside, so we stepped out onto the sidewalk and Brad dropped the monstrosity onto my shoulders. He peered into the nose holes where I was looking out, and whispered: “You look like shit!” He handed me a Tourister soft-sided suitcase and we got into line with the cheerleaders, and the comedian for a grand entrance into the mall. A huge crowd was waving and clapping as we entered, led by the comedian, Beat Takeshi. Everyone seemed to know him and he was chanting something in Japanese that got the crowd fired up. He was followed by the cheerleaders, who were just walking behind him holding their limp pompoms at their sides, like they were carrying bags of dirty diapers. I brought up the rear of the miniparade. Posters hung on the mall pillars, with big pictures of Beat and of me. Some were photos of the “real” gorilla suit, from the movie “Trading Places,” and others had a photo of me as the werewolf from the movie “The Howling.” Once the families and their children got a full view of me, I could see their smiles melting into puzzled frowns—this was NOT the gorilla from the posters. And it wasn’t even a half-decent random gorilla. The costume was simply awful and everyone could see that. Even natives in the darkest most unexplored part of the Amazon rain forest would undoubtedly start chanting “Bad gorilla suit,” if they caught sight of me. Beat and the cheerleaders did a little dance around me, and then an announcement came over the sound system for the guests to line up for photos. When I heard the English words American Tourister Gorilla, I blew kisses to the crowd and beat my phony plastic chest. I jumped up and down and began to pound on the suitcase, but as I did so, the giant head lurched off my shoulders and went tumbling into the crowd. I did a mimed series of gestures signifying that I’d lost my head and went staggering around in a circle like my brain had gone with it. This brought a few embarrassed laughs, but not enough to save the moment. A kid in the crowd grabbed the head and ran up to me with it. I bowed to him and stuck it back on to a smattering of applause. An announcement in Japanese again invited the crowd to line up for autographs from Beat and myself. A big stack of 12”x12” autograph cards was set up on a nearby table. The cheerleaders stood looking bored on either side of us and occasionally gave a half-hearted wave with the pom-poms. 99

I couldn’t see to sign the cards with the giant floppy head, so Mr. Tanaka said, “Please take head off.” After an hour of posing for photos and signing maybe 200 cards, the event was over and we all shuffled out of the mall and boarded the bus for our next appearance at another mall. After three more mall and department store events, the day was mercifully over and we drove back to the hotel. Mr. Tanaka and Takahashi spoke to each other in Japanese, and I could tell by the tone in their voices that something was wrong. Our contingency remained silent. It was clear that the stand-in gorilla suit was a disaster, but no one wanted to admit it. Even though the missing gorilla suit was not my fault, I still felt a sense of failure. Here I was, a semi-famous gorilla performer and film actor, with years of mime and movement expertise, and it was all lost in having to wear the mangy replacement suit. “Can we check with customs,” I pleaded to Roy, “We’ve got to get the suit!” “I’ll call them when I get back to my room,” he said. The word on our Tourister suit was not good. Apparently, the forensics guy at the airport had a personal emergency and the suit still hadn’t been analyzed, so we would have to wait another day or more. We had a day off the next day, so I muttered a prayer to Buddha for divine intervention, and decided I’d make the best of things with a day of shopping for Japanese books and ceramic bowls. My first stop was Kappabashi Street, which is home to dozens of shops that specialize in everything a restaurant or kitchen owner could ever wish for, except food. I’m not sure why I’ve always been so fascinated by Japanese kitchenware, but I think it has to do with the uniqueness of the items and the artistic and practicality that goes into these items. Tiny sake cups, miso soup bowls, tea sets, cloth banners, red lanterns, countless sizes of wooden spoons, chopsticks, and one of my favorites—fake plastic food and plastic glasses of frothy beer, where even the “beer” is made of plastic. Beautiful dishes with intricate paintings of geishas or misty landscapes. After three hours of browsing, I left with a plastic cheeseburger on a plate, three sets of chopsticks, a green banner (that may have said “welcome”) a Daruma doll, and a set of geisha salt and pepper shakers. I was just about to close the sale when I spotted a two-foot-long red lantern with black lettering, written in Japanese kanji. I asked the checkout clerk what it said, but she just laughed, covering her mouth and said, “No English.” I was hoping it said either “welcome” or “open,” but for all I knew it could have said, “You’re an asshole.” Luckily the lantern was collapsible, so I crammed it into my bag of kitchenware bounty and headed off to the subway in hopes of getting to the famous Kinokuniya bookstore. The Tokyo subway/train system is one of the most complex in the world. The maps on the station wall are a maze of red, green, blue, yellow, and turquoise lines—all interwoven like a modern art mosaic. The map I was staring at had yet to be updated with English, so I had no idea where the bookstore might be in relation to my current position. Since it was getting late, I decided to play it safe and just explore the hundreds of shops that lined the underground station. 100

I was so glad I didn’t have any of the Tourister crew with me, as I like to explore strange places by myself. Few people I ever met have shared my enthusiasm for almost everything Japanese, so shopping/sightseeing alone is the only enjoyable option for me. Tokyo station has everything you can think of, and thousands of items you could never even imagine. I made note of my location and only had to walk about ten yards until I found a wonderful little shop that made artist name stamps. I told the owner my name so he could maybe carve out a stamp for me. “I’m McLeod,” I said. He shook his head and said there was no word for that in Kanji. So we settled on a stamp that combined Mac, like a Big Mac and Cloud. I did a mime of eating a big Mac and then pointed towards an imaginary cloud. The little man laughed and said, “Hai, hai...Big Mac Cloud, come back in one hour. I have ready.” I planned to use the stamp on my Japanese inspired landscape paintings in lieu of a signature. So with my “welcome” cafe banner, my “you’re an asshole” lantern and my “hamburger in the sky” stamp, I could soon bring back a bit of Japan in my yet-to-be filled extra suitcase. Almost everything I saw, as I wandered from shop to shop, was unique: stationery stores filled with wonderful little pads and pens, magazines I’d never seen before, futon store, cupcake store, stand-up noodle shops, and cute Japanese girls handing our tiny promotional packets of tissues. I was getting dizzy, just dodging my way through the thousands of people going to and from their various subway stops. I didn’t care anymore what happened to our missing gorilla. I could just stay in Japan for the rest of my life and wander around all these amazing little shops. After two Ebisu beers and a bowl of noodles, I was heading back to the stairwell that led to the street, when I spotted my dream shop; an artist supply store, which sold every kind of paintbrush one could imagine, plus sumi ink and in the corner, a huge collection of intricate Japanese kabuki dolls. I bought a jumbo sumi paintbrush, the brush portion being made from goat and horsehair, and the handle, which was a good three feet long, and made from polished and lacquered Qing Tan Tree wood. It weighed about fifteen pounds and would require both hands to hold. My objective was to do large spontaneous paintings on huge canvases, as part of my one-man upcoming performance art show. I also bought two beautiful geisha dolls, one holding a parasol and the other wearing a miniature kimono, which was just as detailed and stunning as those you would find in a kabuki theatre play. I made it back to the hotel and deposited my kitchen supply loot along with my art supplies and dolls in the closet and lay on the bed to rest up for yet another “welcome” dinner. That night I got the dreaded news that my gorilla suit was still being analyzed and would not be arriving for tomorrow’s show. The following day we repeated the mini parade and appearances with the bored cheerleaders and Beat, the comedian. It had the same deflated reception as had the first day of shows. Even the TV news coverage stayed mostly on Beat, and for good reason, generally avoided filming me in the desperation backup suit. 101

But on the third day, everything changed. As we were about to leave on the bullet train for Osaka, Mr. Tanaka rushed up to us and excitedly announced. “Great news. Gorilla has cleared customs at airport and will be shipped to the hotel in Osaka today.” “Praise Buddha, King Kong, and sweet baby Jesus,” I shouted. The Tourister team high-fived each other, and we departed with renewed vigor and excitement. Our first stop in Osaka was at the massive Hankyu Department Store in the Umeda section of the city. Beat, the comedian, and the cheerleaders were gone. So now it was just our previous entourage and me with our famous gorilla back from detention at the Narita Airport. I got dressed in a storage room somewhere in the bowels of the store and we were off. This time the reaction was totally different; excited shoppers began following us throughout the store. We worked our way up the various floors, making impromptu stops in some of the shops. The local luggage promotors had decided it would be funny if I bought a few typical Japanese items, and stuffed them into a large cloth bag, bearing the company logo. The thinking behind this decision was to enforce the idea that American Tourister suitcases and the Japanese public could find common ground. This vague idea was bolstered by me selecting items in various shops, and the local promotors would pay for the items. I was told to just select items that were typically Japanese and not too pricy. I started off by charging into a candy shop and grabbing a box of Giant Pocky Sticks, which are chopstick sized biscuits covered with chocolate. Next, I selected a scarf depicting two geishas playing with a cat, then I burst into a music shop and grabbed a CD of a popular Japanese pop group called Pink Lady. With each item I chose, a photographer captured my joyous moment as I danced around the shop holding the chosen item in one hand and my American Tourister handbag in the other. My final stop was a Hello Kitty store, where I selected a Kitty doll. I rolled around on the floor, playing with my iconic new friend to raucous applause from the crowd of shoppers. By the time I reached the luggage department in the store, I was sweating like a Miami dockworker in August, but I was so charged up by being in my famous gorilla suit, that I barely noticed the heat. I collapsed on a pile of our branded suitcases and prepared for a long line of visitors, who were all waiting to get a photo with the gorilla. After two hours of posing, I was starting to get pretty loopy. Mr. Tanada took me aside and said, “Please come...special group of children. You say hello and we photograph!” He led me to a kind of theatre area, with metal bleachers, where about a hundred Japanese schoolchildren were seated, listening to some kind of lecture. I entered the room from behind the bleachers, so I could knuckle-walk around to the front and surprise the kids. They were maybe 1st or 2nd graders, all dressed in navy-blue skirts with white blouses and little yellow bowler hats. I was hoping they would all come down from the bleachers and be in a group photo with me... 102

as they were so cute and seated in exact rows with their hands folded on their laps—the very picture of youthful discipline and attention to their teacher. I crept around the edge of the bleacher and emerged in front of the children. Their eyes went wide with fear. I reared up and gently beat my chest. The bleachers erupted with screams and cries, and the children leapt up and began tumbling out of the stands in a desperate attempt to escape—hats flew off, backpacks fell through the seats, and the kids were falling over each other and crying in a horrifying moment of utter chaos. I tried to back away, but it was too late. It was a scene straight from one of the old Godzilla movies, where the monster staggers into the city, and the citizens run every which way in total panic. I stood up straight and began foolishly yelling, “It’s okay... I’m a nice gorilla!” But this only made things worse. I ran out of the theatre, and that created even more panic, as some of the kids thought I was chasing them. A few kids ran into a dress shop and crashed into a mannequin knocking it over and breaking a faux cheery tree next to it. Teachers and chaperons ran in all directions trying to catch and calm the scattered youngsters. With flashbacks of my infamous Minnie Mouse mauling, I collapsed against the window of a futon shop. I waved to Brad to get my head off and bring water. The triumphant return of the gorilla was off to a rough start. I would later learn the mini-riot caused over $500 in damage, and luckily only a few bruised knees and banged foreheads. But despite the accidental school children fiasco, Tanaka and the Osaka contingency were very pleased with the reaction our gorilla got in the department store and decided to reward us with an all-expenses-paid trip to the “special” bathhouse. If you’ve never had a Japanese bath, it’s a must for any discerning international traveler. It began with me stripping off my clothes in a stone-floored locker room. Being a first-time bather, I stood naked with my hands cupped over my genitalia. An elderly Japanese lady entered carrying two buckets and a long brush with an ornate wooden handle. She turned the larger of the two buckets upside down and set it on the floor in front of me. “You sit!” she said with a stern face. I plopped down on the bucket, and she handed me a washcloth, gesturing for me to cover my privates. Then she withdrew a sea sponge from the second bucket and began scrubbing away on my back, chest, arms and legs. She then pointed to my crotch, and said, “You do please.” So I reluctantly washed my privates as she stood back watching, to make sure I did a thorough job. Once I’d washed to her satisfaction, she pulled a shower type sprayer from the wall, tested the water for the proper warmth, and commenced to hose me down. When I was fully rinsed off, she snatched the washcloth from my hand and pointed to an open door. “Take bath now!” At this moment, I realized that this had just been the preliminary step to the actual bath. She gestured for me to step into the huge steaming bathing pool, just beyond the open door. 103

The dark blue waters smelled of sulfur and steam. About thirty people, including men, women, and children, were all joyfully soaking away in the huge pool of steaming water. Everyone was naked and showed no signs of embarrassment, so I strode over to the pool and stepped into the glorious water. My aching body responded with a deep release of tension and I wadded around in the three-foot deep elixir for the next half hour. I had nearly fallen asleep in the water when the old mama san came up to me and gestured for me to get out of the pool. She led me back to the preparation room, turned on a cold shower and said, “You wash now.” The icy water hit me like blast of refreshment and then she handed me a towel and said, “Come please.” She led me through a set of heavy double doors and into a magical white room with Japanese plum blossoms adorning the walls. There were rows of what looked like operating tables and a team of beautiful young Japanese women in mini-skirts and tennis shoes, some of whom were tending to prone male customers on several of the tables. One of the girls approached me and asked, “Are you having regular or special bath?” “Ahh...I think maybe just regular for today,” I said, remembering that Dan, the owner of Tourister, had told me that a “special” bath involved unimaginable sexual favors. “Next time, special bath okay...today just regular.” The girls covered their mouths and laughed. I didn’t see Brad or any of the other members of our group, so I deducted they had gone for the “special” bath. “Please lie on table,” said my hostess, and the other girls gestured for me to get on the table. With the towel still wrapped around me, I climbed on board. Like a team of finely tuned surgeons, the girls began messaging my toes, feet, legs, arms, hands, and even the fingertips. Next, one of them took out a pair of tiny scissors and started trimming my toenails, while a second girl gently clipped my fingernails. Then one of them touched my long hair and said, “You like cut?” “Just a trim,” I answered, making a half-inch gesture with one hand. Snip, snip, snip, and the delicate young women cut exactly a half-inch all around my head. Another girl meanwhile piled some warm, smooth stones on my thighs and chest, while her partner messaged my temples, and a third girl rubbed some kind of jasmine-smelling oil on the bottoms of my feet. Were these beautiful women being the quintessential subservient women that Japan is so famous for? Yes, but still it was a wonderful relaxing pleasure that surpassed anything I’d ever experienced in Western massage parlors, and I let go my concern for women’s liberation causes for the moment and lay back in blissful ecstasy. When in Rome... do as the Romans was my mantra for the time being. A steaming cloth was placed on my face, and I drifted off to the gentle sounds of the Japanese koto wafting from the hidden speakers above. Life was good—I had the hero suit back in my possession, I was highly paid, and tomorrow I’d be honored with a geisha performance and dinner at a famous zen restaurant in magical Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. 104

We did one more round of appearances in Osaka at several department stores, and then it was off on the train for a thirty-minute ride to Kyoto. Our hosts had arranged for us to stay at one of the finest and oldest Ryokan inns in the city. I can’t recall the name, but it was a night I will always remember. When we checked in, they took away our suitcases, briefcases—even the clothes we were wearing. Another elderly lady handed me a washcloth, towel, and pointed to an open shower, indicating for me to begin washing. Once I finished, she mysteriously reappeared and hung a blue kimono robe on a wooden peg in the shower room. She then handed me a razor, shave cream, and toothbrush and paste on a lacquered tray. “When finish, please go to your room. We summon you when dinner begins.” She bowed and backed out of the shower area and disappeared behind a sliding paper shoji door. Everything about this Ryokan inn was reinforcing the reasons I’d long since fallen in love with Japan and its culture. There was not a scrap of trash anywhere on the grounds or even in the city. From the gentle miniature bamboo trees surrounding the entrance to the walkway stones, which lead you past the bright orange Koi fish undulating in their pool, to the sculpted and tiered pine tree that almost seemed to bow to you as you walked past—each object in every direction I looked, had been created or molded into its most harmonious shape. The respect and love of nature have always been a part of Japan’s allure, even dating back to feudal times. I remember the first time I visited Japan, the first person I saw as I entered the hotel lobby, was an elderly man, likely seventy-five or older, on his hands and knees polishing a marble floor tile. He had complete laser focus on this one job of the moment, and he was doing his work with such commitment, I had little doubt if even a minor earthquake struck, he would have just gone right on polishing. This was Buddhism, this was Zen and this was Japan. Today or a thousand years ago. Almost all Japanese objects have an artistic sensibility to them. Matchbooks, sake cups, packets of tissues, food, drink even toilets... a perfect blend of old and new. That is Kyoto. I lay back on my futon for a fifteen-minute nap and was gently awakened by a soft voice calling my name. “Don san...please come. It is time.” The ryokan staff girl came to my bedside and quickly brushed my hair with a soft brush, and then bade me follow her into the dining area. It was a stunning room with rich dark wood, tatami mats, and subtle soft light. Lacquered natural wood pillars framed a full-sized window that looked out onto an alcove that looked like something right out of a Japanese painting: A small Koi pond with underwater lights was fed by a gentle waterfall, and surrounded by a rock formation with native Japanese plants growing lush and thick on either side. Large landscape paintings hung on each side of the room, and a single vase with three peonies adorned a long wooden shelf. At the far end of the room was a raised platform performance area, with a Noh theatre painting of a twisted pine that occupied a center position on the back wall. All the members of our group and the Japanese hosts were already seated at a long, foot and half high table. 105

I sat in the lotus position and rubbed the sleep from my eyes with a hot steaming cloth. Moments later, three geisha arrived carrying bottles of sake and our first dish, which consisted of a perfectly carved carnation made of fresh ginger and a thin slice of Yellowtail sashimi. I hardly wanted to eat it, as I felt like I was taking a bite out of a tiny art treasure. The geisha poured our sake into tiny seashell-like cups, and we toasted each other, the geishas, and the ryokan inn. The celebration was underway. The geishas drifted back and forth from an unseen kitchen with more dishes, more sake, and large bottles of Ebisu beer (my favorite, and Japan’s best brew). It is not considered polite for a guest to pour their own beer, so the geishas do it. The beer glasses are just a bit larger than a shot glass, so the refills are frequent, but the geishas are on top of this with exact precision. They sat next to us; engaging us with basic conversation in broken English, filling our glasses at the exact moment they became empty (which was often) and then slipped away to bring us countless dishes of sushi, sashimi, miso soup, and numerous other items, each selected to complement the previous dish and all this between listening to our jokes and stories, as they laughed and covered their tiny red mouths with a softly cupped hand. One danger of such an extravagant and deftly choreographed Japanese dining experience is that one has no barometer of how much alcohol one has consumed. With the miniature cups and glasses being constantly refilled, it didn’t take long before I was buzzing with a warm fuzzy drunken euphoric sense of ecstasy. Not out of control in any way, but rather freed of all inhibitions while maintaining proper manners and decorum. The geisha trio returned with another round of delicacies, and then I noticed that when they sat down next to us, they had alternated partners so that we all got to “visit” with each of the women for an equal amount of time. About an hour and half into the meal, the Japanese contingency lit up cigarettes, and the geisha next to me said, “Don san, do you like to smoke?” “Well, yes,” I said. “I have a pack in my suitcase.” “What kind do you like?” she asked. “Marlboro is my normal brand, but I doubt you have those, so any kind is fine.” She lightly touched me on the right forearm, drifted up and away into the secret backroom from whence all these delights had been created. Moments later, she returned with a stack of four Marlboro packs on an orange wooden tray. The top pack had been opened and the cigarettes fanned out with the center one being the furthermost in the row. I placed it between my lips, and she magically removed a gold lighter from the folds of her kimono and brought the flame to the tip of the cigarette. I took a long drag, leaned my head up, and blew a series of smoke rings upwards toward the ceiling. She giggled and poured me another sake refill. “Do you have any paper,” I said. “I want to write a haiku for you.” She said something to one of the other geishas, who then reached into her own hidden kimono space, and withdrew a small square notepad with delicate bits of wisteria dangling on the corner of each page. 106

“No—you write haiku? Very difficult, I think,” said the geisha next to me. The others nodded in agreement. I didn’t tell her that I was a widely published haiku poet, both in the U.S. and Japan, and that I’d won first prize in a much-heralded Japanese literary contest. “I will try,” I said with a sly grin. They handed me a tiny white porcelain pen and I wrote the following—one on each sheet of the note square. Cherry blossoms fallen... the oldest geisha turns to look back Geisha hurrying— her clipped little wooden steps Buddha of Nara a tiny spiderweb in the folds of his robe gazing at the stream... my shadow flows into the world I gave one to each geisha. They studied them carefully and then passed them to Mr. Tanaka, who then read them aloud—first in English and then in Japanese. “Very beautiful Don san...I think maybe you were old school Japanese in other lifetime.” Everyone laughed and clapped, and then it was time for the traditional geisha drinking game. The geisha mama san brought out a small wooden stool and placed a threeinch wide sake coaster on the center. The object of the game is for the geisha to clap once and tap the disk with a flat hand, then the guest does the same. If the geisha or the guest picks up the disk, then the other person must tap the table with a fist. The same applies to the geisha as they take turns. Musical accompaniment is provided by one of the geishas playing the koto. As the tempo increases, it gets harder and harder to do the right gesture. The geisha almost always wins, and the loser has to down a glass of beer. Brad, Roy, and I were rapidly defeated by each geisha. If the geisha loses, she just takes a sip of sake from a tiny, white seashell. I noticed the geishas all remained completely composed, and they had only taken a few sips of sake throughout the dinner. The rest of us were by now getting more inebriated by the moment, though not yet out of control, due to the constant flow of food. The second part of the drinking game took place on the stage area of the room. A three-panel folding screen was brought out and placed in the middle of 107

the floor. The geishas teach you a brief humorous dance, which you mimic, and then you and a geisha each step behind a split section of the screen (so the other guests can still see you both). The game is an elaborate version of Rock, Paper, Scissors, with the difference being at the end of the song, you have to be either a Warrior, a Tiger, or an Old Woman. And on the last measure of the song, you mime which character you wish to be, and then step out to meet the geisha, who does the same. Rules are simple, but confusing when you’re liquored up on sake and beer. Basically, the Warrior beats the Tiger, but loses to the Old Woman. Tiger beats the Old Woman, but loses to the Warrior and lastly, the Old Woman beats the Warrior, but loses to the Tiger. Got it? I know...I didn’t either. When it was my turn, I did the mimic dance with the geishas, then stepped behind the screen panel and crouched down as the Tiger. My geisha partner stepped out as The Warrior, thus winning the game. But I was not about to lose quietly, so I morphed into a gorilla and went knuckle running around the restaurant. I grabbed a half-full bottle of sake and gulped it down, beat my chest, and raced back to the stage, where I served my penalty, which was drinking yet another “losers” glass of beer, while the musician geisha plucked out a rhythmic crescendo of notes. I finished the beer and dropped to the stage floor like a drunken gorilla. Then I staggered to my feet and bowed to a round of applause. Not caring that I had likely violated the rules of the game—I became the ugly “American Tourister” Gorilla in Japan. The final round was the same physical rock, paper, scissors game, only this time the loser had to not only down a beer but remove an article of clothing. I’m quite certain the geishas cheated by saying a code word in Japanese to their member behind the screen because I lost three times in a row and found myself staggering about in just my Calvin Klein briefs. Final “penalty” was to do a short improvised dance. Again, I broke the rules and commenced to do a six or sevenminute mime drama of the creation of the world. Somehow even being rip-roaring drunk, I maintained near-perfect balance, as I’d done this piece hundreds of times at colleges all over North America. At the end of the piece, I gulped down the last of many beers and was escorted back to my room, where I curled up on the futon and slept until noon the next day. Our last day of the tour found us back in Tokyo for a final visit to a big department store, where I posed for photos and signed several hundred autograph cards. I was once again in our hero gorilla suit, and it made all the difference. We went on a whirlwind tour of the Roppongi district in Tokyo, with me posing by iconic Japanese objects, including a plastic statue of Colonel Sanders, a giant Daruma doll holding an ice cream cone, and posing at the gateway to the famous Sensoji Buddhist Temple. After the morning promo photoshoot, and a mall visit, I got cleaned up at the hotel, and was invited to an open-air beer garden for lunch. Mr. Tanaka and Kenji had apparently told the rock band, who were playing on the stage, that I was a famous American mime and actor, and they asked if I would like to perform 108

something with them. They all shook hands with me and bowed. They spoke no English, and my Japanese was limited to the sentences, “Another beer please, you are very beautiful and where’s the bathroom.” So with Kenji, san’s translation help, it was decided I’d do a twenty-minute improvised set and the band would play a kind of Grateful Dead suite of Japanese rock songs. What we did was, well... kind of a Marcel Marceau meets David Bowie meets hard rock Japan with no meaning or theme, but it was energetic, to say the least. The audience toasted us with German-style beer mugs and it was back to the hotel for a final goodbye and thank you dinner, courtesy of our hosts. I took a long shower, washed the gorilla black eyeliner off, and put on my sport coat and slacks. The dinner was being held in a gorgeous sky-view rooftop restaurant that overlooked the neon-lit wonder of nighttime Tokyo. The local hosts and our Tourister entourage where seated by a full-length glass window. When I took my assigned seat, I noticed an empty chair next me. “Is this seat for the gorilla?” I asked. “Much prettier than gorilla,” said Mr. Tanaka. “Here she comes now!” We all turned and looked to the front of the dimly lit restaurant. An elegant Japanese woman in a western-styled black dress approached our table, bowed to everyone, and then took the empty seat next to me. She had shiny jet black hair cut in a modern bob, with long strands hanging over one eye, which she brushed back with a flick of her slender, manicured fingertips. “Don san, your dinner date for the evening. She is Akemi,” said Kenji. Then he did the rock, paper, scissors hand gesture and everyone laughed, except Akemi, who just gave a coy smile. “She is former geisha,” said Tanaka. Akemi remained silent, but her eyes darted around the table at all these strangers with a confident glance, much different than the subservient detached looks I’d seen on the Kyoto geishas. This woman was comfortable in the company of men—even a bit contemptuous in her demeanor and body language. I had my doubts she had ever been a geisha and was starting to think she might be a high-class escort, who was just playing along with the geisha thing for my benefit. Before my thoughts went any further, Tanka entered yet another toast, and the sake and beer began to flow once again. I was certain it would take at least a month to clear out my system, once I got back to LA. Either that or I was doomed to become a sake alcoholic hanging out in Little Tokyo for the remainder of my days. The food was again one of the best meals I’ve ever had anywhere. Lobster, done up in an entire 3D seascape of seaweed, sashimi, pickles, and curly strips of some diaphanous white vegetable. Then Blowfish soup and side dishes of every kind of Japanese delicacy one could imagine. The waiter apparently had been tipped off that I liked Hennessy, so a full bottle was delivered to my table. Akemi smiled knowingly and poured an inch into a warmed brandy snifter. “You like Japan?” she asked, already knowing the answer. 109

“Like it! I LOVE it! I want to live here forever, but these extravagant few days only come around with big jobs. Normally I prefer to stay at home in my simple house with my cats and my books.” “You are a famous actor?” she said, touching my wrist with her soft white hand. “No...not at all. I’ve just been in a few movies that were popular.” Being quite knowledgeable about all things Japanese and geisha culture in general, I decided to test her out without causing her any embarrassment. “Did you wear wigs or your own hair when you were a geisha?” Akemi leaned close to me and spoke softly in my ear. “I was only maiko, so I wore my own hair. I was not geisha.” “And only geisha wear wigs. So you were an apprentice geisha or maiko?” “Yes...but I left before I could become geisha. I was maiko since five-yearsold.” “Why did you leave?” “I had very cruel mama san. Wanted me to sleep with an important client and I refused, so she took away my privileges. And I grew to not like the drunken parties and bad-mannered Japanese and foreign men.” She paused to pour me a fresh cup of sake, and I returned the protocol. “Don’t tell Tanka san,” she whispered, “he likes to pretend sometimes I’m geisha...for his clients.” “So what do you do now?” “I own a hostess bar in the Ginza district. Tanaka is good costumer.” Akemi had excellent English and as the night progressed, I learned she was as taken by Western culture as I was by Japanese. She knew many of the great American writers and painters, so we discussed Buddhist ideals, sumi ink painting, Japanese baseball, haiku and were just getting into the aesthetics of sumo wrestling when Mr. Tanaka announced it was time to go. We said our goodbyes and went to the bank of elevators. Kenji pushed the ground floor button and I pushed twenty-four, the floor where my room was. The elevator glided to a stop and I was about to say good night to Akemi and the others, when she stepped out with me and bowed to the others as the doors drifted shut. I was confused but certainly not displeased. I think she enjoyed my excitement for Japanese culture and perhaps wanted to continue our conversation from the restaurant, or maybe just wanted to see the gorilla costume. Once inside my room, she asked if she could use the bathroom. “Of course,” I said, “it’s all yours.” I kicked off my shoes and went to the window to look down on the endless expanse of lights. Then I heard the distinctive sound of bathwater being drawn. Back in Los Angeles it took me about a week to recover from the jet lag, the ape suit lag, and the sake and the beer lag. I figured between Tourister and the Japanese luggage people, the promotion had likely cost at least $200,000 if not more. And then the bad news arrived: Brad called from the agency and told me that there had been a terrible mistake. All the thousands of suitcase orders that Tourister had prepared to ship, were suddenly canceled—the reason being that the 110

ones already in the stores were not selling, even though they were being presented as the latest American item. Turns out Japanese people like the handles on the top short end of the suitcases, while Westerners are used to having the handle in the center position. A major oversight that apparently the design team had not thought of in advance. After three years of near full-time work with the gorilla, the company decided to go for a new approach in marketing the domestic bags. High-end elegance was going to be the new direction and that meant a new ad agency and new commercials and no more gorilla. I was told I could keep the suit and they wished me the best.

Japan with American Tourister

Gorilla in Japan 111


Saturday morning. I’m yawning and shuffling down the stairs when I spot Dave Epstein. He’s sitting in his white robe and slippers in the den reading the Sunday Boston Globe. He’s slouched sideways over the edge of a beige leather recliner with his feet resting on a mahogany coffee table. Dave snaps the expanded paper in half and leans forward to study the City Life section. “Morning, Don,” he says, without looking up. “Anything in the paper?” Dave peers over the pages at me with a delighted, guilty smirk. “Shhhhhh,” he whispers, tapping his puckered lips with the tip of his extended index finger. He flicks his head towards the kitchen where his wife, Shawna, is preparing breakfast. I give him a silent “okay” sign and stroll over to the big French windows at the rear of the den. Dave’s two little daughters, Crystal and Jamie, are standing out back by the swimming pool. They’re staring silently down at the blue water, where a fallen June bug is desperately struggling to stay afloat. But before I tell you anymore, I better explain what I’m doing in Dave’s house. American Tourister has sent me on a promotional tour to do live appearances as the gorilla in various cities. Boston is next on my list. I live in Los Angeles, actually Sherman Oaks in the Valley, but it’s all really one big city. Anyway, Dave Epstein, the guy I’m staying with, is the Northeast Regional Sales Manager for the company. Last year they hired me as their corporate symbol and stuck my picture on all their luggage tags. We did a commercial where I played a bellhop who transforms into a gorilla, and dropkicks a lady’s luggage down a flight of stairs. My job is to make appearances at department and luggage stores where I pose for photos and occasionally jump up and down on a piece of luggage. The P.R. department also books me on radio and TV talk shows, to talk about how we made the commercials. My job is to mention the company name as often as I can, without sounding like a walking commercial. I think my record is twentysix times. It was in Denver on a late-night radio show FM station. The DJ asked me a question like, “How did you get the job in the commercial?”, and I said something like, “Well, American Tourister luggage was looking for someone 112

to represent the American Tourister product; someone who could do mime and stunts, so when I auditioned, American Tourister saw I had the American Tourister requirements. They wrote a commercial about a businessman with his American Tourister luggage in the jungle and Tourister luggage is really tough, so I guess you could say American Tourister is a great company to work for.” I was really obnoxious, but the publicity department loved it. They sent a transcript of the show to the corporate office in Warren, Rhode Island, and underlined each American Tourister reference in red ink. So anyway, Dave Epstein is my local representative here in Boston. I’m in town for some talk shows and a bunch of live appearances in the local shopping malls. Most of the time, Tourister puts me up in a swanky hotel, but Dave decided I should stay with him. Most of the American Tourister salesmen I work with seem pretty strait-laced, always smiling real phony and shaking hands with their account people. Some of these guys get pretty rowdy at conventions and out-of-town sales meetings, but at home with their wives, they’re as mild as cut flowers. Dave is different. He lives it up no matter where he is. He’s a tall guy and kind of lanky. He’s got manicured nails and caps on his teeth, and he wears his hair blow-dried and semi-long, so it just touches his collar in back. He’s got a long, narrow hound-dog face and he’s tanned. Real tanned—says he feels better that way. Likes to wear white slacks and loafers with no socks. One time last year at a regional sales meeting in Denver, I spotted Dave laying on top of his rented Porsche with a halo of flattened out tin foil around his face. Apparently, the hotel had closed the pool for resurfacing, and Dave had to get in his daily quota of sun. I’m not sure if he’s as tanned as George Hamilton, but he’s awful darn close. Last year, the company named him regional manager of the year, and I heard his personal income was close to $300,000. That would explain his fancy cars and this swanky house. Dave’s wife walks into the den and sets down a breakfast tray on the table. Bagels and lox, fresh fruit, and coffee. We all sit down and start eating and talking about the hot July weather, and how poorly the Red Sox are doing. His wife is pretty, although she’s a little bit on the heavy side; she looks like a young Liz Taylor—with thick black hair piled up on her head, and a lot of makeup—like one of those women you see selling cosmetics in an expensive department store. She eats her bagel with her pinky finger extended and then leans over her plate so the crumbs won’t drop on the couch. Dave lights up a Dunhill and then smokes it while he’s still eating his food. “So honey,” he says, looking at his cigarette, “you want to go over to the radio station today, with Don and me for the interview?” I know we don’t have anything scheduled, but I keep my mouth shut. “What’s wrong with you? she says, “You know I’m driving the girls down to Quincy to see my mother.” 113

“What time you leaving?” says Dave, blowing a stream of smoke over the table. “Just as soon as I get the dishes put away,” she says, getting to her feet. Dave grabs her hand and pulls her over to his chair. Then he forces her down by the wrist and gives her a passionate kiss on the lips. Her diamond pendant dangles against his Adam’s apple while they kiss, then she breaks away with an embarrassed laugh and starts picking up the dishes. “Give my love to your mother... when you coming back?” “Tomorrow night, late,” she says, heading into the kitchen. Dave picks up the folded paper and starts running his finger up and down a column of print. I reach over and pick up the sports section. Halfway through the Dodger box score, I notice it’s a game I watched on television last week. I look at the date on the paper—it’s a week old. “Hey Dave, did you know this is last week’s paper,” I say in a low voice. He nods his head and looks into the kitchen to make sure his wife has gone upstairs. Then he flutters his hand at me to be quiet. “Just wait till Shawna leaves, and I’ll tell you all about it.” We sit around for about ten minutes reading the old paper until Shawna and the kids come downstairs. Shawna is carrying a Gucci overnight bag, and the two girls have American Tourister shoulder bags with their initials in gold on the corners. Dave gives Crystal and Jamie a hug and then he blows a goodbye-kiss to Shawna. The heavy oak door slams shut behind them. I watch as they traverse down the walkway towards a smoke-colored Mercedes. Dave sits up in the recliner and waves out the window at them as they back down the driveway. “YAAAWHOOOO,” screams Dave, jumping up from the chair, “It’s party time!” He runs into the kitchen and grabs two Heinekens from the refrigerator. “Dave, what was all that secret stuff with the paper?” He gives me a smug look and then he motions me over to the couch. “You see this section,” he says, holding up the society page, “this is our invitation to a party!” I guess I look confused, because he says, “Okay, Don, what does the word society mean to you?” “Rich people, good looking woman, parties...?” “There you are my man, now what better way can you think of to spend a Saturday, than at a party.” “Sounds great, but why are you looking in the paper for a party?” “Oh these aren’t just any parties, Don,” he says, slapping the paper with the back of his hand, “these are A list parties—the best looking woman in Boston— my friend, we’re going to a wedding.” “Some friend of yours?” “Hell no, you think I’d go to a wedding where somebody knows me to pick up girls! No, No, No, I have to be selective.” I’m starting to believe that Dave’s reputation as a wild man may be pretty accurate, but I’m still not sure he isn’t just pulling my leg. 114

“Now let me get this straight,” I say, “you mean you go to weddings, weddings where you don’t even know anybody—just to pick up women?” Dave gives me a sheepish grin and hunches his shoulders. “Well, there’s actually more to it than that. Free gourmet food, open bar, dancing... hell, I’ve even picked up an account or two on occasion. The girls are just a nice little bonus. You pick a classy wedding and you’re bound to find classy broads.” “How often do you go to these weddings?” “Once or twice a month, depending on my schedule.” “And you find them in the paper?” “Sure. I just look for weddings in the best areas. All the information you need is right there in the damn paper. Times, dates, names—they even give background info on the lovely couple and their families. You bring a suit with you?” “Yeah.” “Then get your butt upstairs and get ready ... we don’t want to be late to the reception. An hour later we’re driving down some expressway in Dave’s red ‘58 T-Bird convertible. It’s a super day—cloudless blue sky with a little breeze wiping around through the treetops. Dave’s all spiffed up in a white linen suit with tiny gray pin strips. He’s got all his gold jewelry on too—solid gold I.D. bracelet, gold Rolex watch, and a gold tie pin. I’m wearing my blue blazer and a gray pair of slacks. We’re about twenty minutes away from Dave’s house and driving through an expensive area; huge homes surrounded by trees and fancy gardens. Dave’s playing a Wagner tape—classical stuff, same music they used in that Apocalypse Now movie where Robert Duval led those choppers on that napalm raid. We hang a right, just past some private country club golf course, and head east on a quiet, tree-lined lane. All of a sudden, I notice all these parked cars. Mostly Cadillacs, Mercedes, and a couple of Rolls. We pull up and stop in front of this huge two-story house. There’s an ivy-covered brick wall all around the front, and a huge iron gate with twisted metal scroll on it. The archway over the gate is covered with hundreds of tiny pink roses. Two black guys, wearing tuxedoes and top hats, step out of nowhere and open our doors. Dave tosses the keys to the shorter guy and then remembers something. “Oh shit,” he says, “I forgot the present.” He gets the keys back and opens the trunk. Then he takes out this big red package and slams the trunk shut. “You’re giving them a present?” I ask. “Of course, you can’t go to a wedding without a present.” “What is it?” “Nothing, just a bunch of newspaper to give the box weight.” When we step through the gate, I get my first good look at the house. Actually, it’s more of a mansion than a house—looks like something Jay Gatsby might have lived in—it’s chalky white with intricate gray trim. There are six big white pillars in the front, and a giant front porch covered with pink and orange bougainvillea— 115

the porch is so big you could park a semi-truck and trailer on it. The house is set about fifty yards back from the street, at the crest of a grassy slope. To the left of the walkway is a gray stone statue of a naked lady. She’s sitting with her feet tucked under her hips, and she’s holding an urn over her crotch. They’ve got her set up under a weeping willow tree, and she’s looking over her right shoulder at the house. I figure if she was really valuable, she’d be missing an arm or something, but then you never know about statues. Dave’s walking ahead of me like he owns the place. He’s humming the Wagner tune and jingling change in his pocket. We bounce up these big stone steps to the front door. Dave’s just about to knock when the door swings open and an old guy with silver hair and a white tux gestures us into the hallway. “Good afternoon, gentleman,” he says, and then he takes Dave’s present and steps into a room near the entrance. I peek into the room. It’s filled with presents— they’re piled on tables and chairs and all over the floor. The wrapping paper alone must be worth a thousand bucks. After Dave and I sign in with bogus names on the guest register, I slip down the hallway to look at the living room. Incredible! There’s this gigantic crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling—damn thing’s as big as a helicopter—and antique furniture everywhere. All the couches and chairs have spindly little legs and arms, with patterns of flowers and stuff carved right into the wood. The tables are covered with old vases and weird oriental looking statues, like the kind you see in a museum. At the back of the room, there’s a humongous marble fireplace, and right above it, there’s this ten-foot-high painting of some white-haired old man in a business suit. There’s no doubt about it, these people got bucks. Dave and the butler guy come back and we head down the hallway to the rear of the house. The butler opens up a double set of French doors and we step out onto this Southern-style veranda. The wedding reception is taking place in one of the biggest backyards I’ve ever seen. It looks like one of those wedding scenes you see on Dallas or Dynasty— must be five or six acres of newly mowed grass, and there’s a little lake right in the middle, with ducks and a couple of big white swans swimming around. The ducks are splashing and quacking because some little kids in suits and fancy dresses are throwing bits of bread crumbs into the water. The lake is maybe fifty yards wide, and kind of a blue-green color like somebody painted the bottom of it. Some guy and a girl are rowing across it in a freshly painted yellow rowboat. She’s holding a bottle of something in her hand, and waving at her girlfriends back onshore, while the guy tries to get the oars to work. There are about 300 people standing around these tables with big pink and white striped canopies over them. Off to the left, by the lake, is a three-tiered orchestra stand with a portable wooden dance floor set up in front. Everybody’s dressed to a tee and drinking champagne. I squint my eyes half shut and look at the crowd through my eyelashes—they look like little dots of blurry color dancing on the lake. 116

“Look at all those fabulous women,” says Dave. “Let’s hit the field.” Dave looks like the big bad wolf watching 300 little pigs. He starts off towards the food table and I’m walking right behind him when this busty girl in a black and white French maid outfit cuts me off. She’s smiling and carrying a silver tray filled with little glasses of champagne. “Care for a champagne?” she says. I take two to help lighten her load. “Where’s the bride and groom?” “In the east wing,” she says, gesturing with her head towards the house, “finishing up a photo session. They’ll be along in a few minutes.” She turns away to greet an elderly couple who have just stepped off the porch. The woman frowns as the girl swishes up to them. When she walks, the back of her mini-skirt bounces from side to side across her tanned I thighs. The lady’s husband raises his eyebrows and smiles as she approaches; he stares at her chest for a moment before taking a champagne. The air out here is terrific—smells like a mixture of pine cones, cut grass, and expensive perfume. I head over to the banquet area for some food. Never seen so many rich people in one place—off to the right, there’s a group of preppy-looking Ivy Leaguers. Two of the girls in the group are standing there, listening to this muscular jock with slicked-back hair. He’s talking about his new Ferrari. There’s so many good looking people here I figure they have some kind of anti-ugly code on the invitations. Even from a distance, the older women seem attractive, but when I get close, I notice they have real tight faces and wrinkled necks and hands. Over by the lake, the musicians are setting up to play. They’re mostly older looking jazz-types, and they’re taking out saxophones, horns, and guitars from underneath their chairs. The food area is amazing—all kinds of little goodies lined up on a long row of tables. There’s a skinny oriental chef cutting up shrimp on a grill the size of a pool table. There must be a hundred different kinds of food here and all free. Most of the dinner stuff is still being cooked, so I settle for a plate full of crackers with some kind of meat paste on them. Golf carts are whizzing back and forth from the house, and guys in white pants and tee shirts are loading and unloading buckets of ice, bottles of Champagne and more little cracker things. I’m standing behind two distinguished-looking older men when one says to the other, “Goddamn Boeing went up two and a quarter points yesterday—if my broker wasn’t such a damn moron, I’d of been in on it!” The other guy leans over and picks up a little biscuit covered wiener. He stuffs it sideways into his mouth. He’s just getting started chewing when he sort of chokes, and then he pulls a cellophane-covered toothpick out of his mouth and throws it on the grass. “Jerry made fifty grand on that little move,” he says, chewing while he talks. I load my plate up with a big wad of caviar, not because I like it, but because I want to tell my friends back home about it. Then I catch sight of Dave standing under one of the umbrella’s talking to these two old ladies and a slinky looking 117

college-age girl. He’s waving his arms around and laughing and telling them some bullshit story. I can tell Dave’s scoping in on the girl, so I slip up behind them to hear what he’s saying. “...with the oil wells and the shopping center in Jersey, I needed a big write off, so I picked up Carly Simon’s old place on Martha’s Vineyard.” The old ladies look like they’ve heard it all before, but the girl is eatin’ it up. She’s a stunning brunette, with a short, new-wave haircut and dangly windchime earrings. She’s wearing an aqua-colored silk dress that’s clinging to her body like a sheet of Saran Wrap. She’s a bit stocky and muscular, kinda like a lady bodybuilder, and she’s wearing a spindly little pair of heels that look like you could crush them with one hand. Heels are so high they’re making her calves flex. All of a sudden, some lady squeals and everybody turns towards the house. The crowd begins cheering and clapping because the bride and groom are coming out. They look like they just stepped from the pages of some ritzy wedding catalog. The band launches into a jazzy version of “Here Comes The Bride,” with lots of extra notes thrown in. She’s walking arm in arm with the groom, and they’re smiling and laughing and getting kissed by everyone. There’s a photographer walking behind them with a necklace of cameras bouncing against his chest. For the next couple of hours, I wander around drinking champagne, chatting with people and listening to the band. Any second thoughts I had about being a wedding crasher, have long since been dissipated by the champagne. I’ve made an identity for myself in case I get asked if I’m a friend of the bride or the groom. I’m a special effects makeup artist in town to work on a new feature film, and Dave (now going by the name of Oswalt) is my cousin. At four o’clock, I figure I better find Dave, so I head over to the main bar. And sure enough, there he is hovering over a couple of hostesses. He’s getting hammered on scotch. He’s trying to be real cool by standing with his legs crossed with his arm resting on his hip. His hand keeps slipping off his hip, and he keeps putting it back. Dave takes a pen out of his pocket and writes something on a cocktail napkin. He gives it to one of the girls and she laughs and sort of falls against his shoulder. Dave’s a strange guy. He hasn’t really talked to me much since we got here. It’s almost like he’s putting on some kind of one-man show, and I’m just following him around taking notes. Around five o’clock, the sun starts dropping behind the long row of Pine trees on the west side of the yard. The shadows from the table umbrellas are crawling across the lawn like giant mushrooms. I’m starting to feel kind of dazed from the champagne, like I’m not really here. Dave’s over on the dance floor, waving his arms around like a flapper in some old movie. His tie has come loose and it’s flying around his face while he dances. He’s dancing with the brunette bodybuilder girl. Suddenly the band stops and a bald guy in coat and tails with a longhorn trumpet steps onto the stage and starts 118

playing a fanfare, like in the movies when some famous Roman rides into the Colosseum. The crowd starts “oohing” and “aahing” and looking over towards the trees behind the lake. Then I see it too—a pink and white, hot air balloon is floating over the trees and coming in for a landing just beyond the water. The basket is decorated with red ribbon and a sign that says “Congratulations Bobby and Ester.” Little kids are running towards the balloon and waving; the adults are just standing there staring with their mouths open, like some Martian spaceship is landing. The bride runs over and hugs her father. “Oh Daddy, Daddy, you didn’t,” she says. Then I notice Dave. He’s slipping away through the crowd with the brunette. He’s walking next to her with his hand on the small of her back, like he’s leading her out of a restaurant. They’re heading over towards the Japanese garden at the north side of the house. Dave’s carrying a bottle of champagne in his free hand, and whispering in the girl’s ear. The newlyweds and their families walk over to the balloon. The bride and groom hug a bunch of people goodbye, and then they climb into the balloon basket with the pilot. He reaches up and turns on the gas. A long golden flame shoots up into the balloon; the tether crew release the guide lines and the balloon swings up towards the lake. I’m kind of hoping it’ll fall in the water, but it doesn’t. People on the ground are blowing kisses and waving at the lucky couple. Bobby and Ester are hanging on to the edge of the basket and looking kind of nervous, but they’re still smiling. The balloon pilot looks bored like maybe he’s driving a city bus or something. The balloon drifts up over the great white house and heads out towards the east. I’m about to start back to the food area for some blackened shrimp when that slick-haired muscular guy, the one I mentioned earlier, comes up and grabs me by the arm. “You seen that asshole in the white suit?” he snaps. I know he’s referring to Dave, but I pretend I don’t. “Which guy in a white suit?” “Your friend—that sleazy looking fuck with a tan.” “Oh him, no... I haven’t seen him for a while.” The jock gives me a dirty look and then struts over to ask somebody else about Dave’s whereabouts. I’m guessing they told him, because the next thing I know, the jock and one of his buddies are jogging over towards the Japanese garden. I think about staying put, but I can’t let Dave get caught with this ape’s girlfriend, so I slip behind the food area and take off running towards the house. I figure if I can run around to the front, I can find Dave before they do and save his neck. But when I get to the garden, I see I’m too late. Dave and the girl are sitting on this little footbridge with their feet dangling over a goldfish pond. He’s got his arm around the girl and they’re making out like a couple of high school kids. Crazy guy’s got his hand half way up her dress. The jock and his friend are about twenty yards away, and they’re sneaking through the flower garden like they’re marines on a strike mission. 119

“Dave, look out,” I yell, remembering too late that he’s going by “Walt” as in Oswalt. He lets go of the girl and snaps his head around. The two guys look over at me, and then they sprint up onto the bridge. Dave and the girl are just sitting there, staring at them. The jock grabs the girl by the arm and jerks her to her feet. Dave is struggling to get up, but he’s so drunk he can’t make it. He looks like he’s trying to say something, but he remains speechless. The girl yanks her arm away from the big guy and says, “Carl—just what the hell are you doing?” I run up to the bridge and say, “Come on guys, he’s had a little too much to drink. I’ll get him out of here.” The shorter guy shoves me away with a straight arm to the chest. Carl leans down and grabs Dave. He pulls him out from under the handrail and slugs him right in the cheek. Dave screams, “Goddamnit,” and reaches up with both hands to hold his face. Carl is turning red and breathing real hard. He steps back and puts his right foot against Dave’s shoulder; then he leans back and kicks him right off the bridge into the fishpond. Dave lands square on his butt on a flat mossy rock. He balances for a second and then sort of slides off like a seal into the water with a quiet splash. He’s sitting there—waist-deep in water—with his arms held out and his palms turned up so he doesn’t get his sleeves wet. He shakes his head and rubs his cheek with the edge of his shoulder. I start laughing, and then for some crazy reason, I charge up the bridge towards Carl. Before I can get to him, his buddy grabs me from behind. I can feel the leather buttons on his suede jacket pressing into my throat. I’m laughing and twisting real well, but the guy’s got me in a half-nelson. Carl takes a couple of quick steps forward and slugs me square in the stomach. His friend lets me go before Carl can do any more damage, and I drop to my knees at his feet. The blow didn’t hurt much because I flexed my gut, but I pretend I’m really out of it so Carl will feel fulfilled. Carl glares down at Dave in the water and points a meaty finger at him. “Don’t you ever fuck with my girl again,” he growls. Dave looks up and says, “I’m going to sue your ass off.” Carl starts for the railing with the intent to vault over the bridge and pound Dave silly. His friend grabs his arm and says, “Come on Carl, leave him alone.” I get a funny mental image of Dave’s picture in the paper with a headline that says, “Wedding Crashing Salesman Sues Ivy Leaguer After Rendezvous With His Girlfriend.” Dave sloshes to his feet and begins picking bits of slimy green moss off his slacks. Forty-five minutes later, we’re standing in the lobby of the Marriott over in Cambridge. I’m signing in and Dave’s behind me dripping water all over the carpet. The desk clerk is staring at Dave and frowning, but then Dave hands him a gold American Express card and the guy’s expression relaxes. 120

The room is what they call an Executive Suite. It’s a two-bedroom/two-bath job with a wet bar and a kitchenette in the corner. The place is all done up in blues and grays with chrome lining on the tables and chairs. It’s got cable TV and a stereo unit built into the bottom of the set. Dave stumbles out of his wet pants and then kicks them against the wall. They hit with a soggy slapping sound and then plop down onto the floor. Dave snatches up the phone and pushes a button. “Room service? Yeah, I want a bottle of Chivas Regal, and two bottles of Dom Perignon” “And a Coke,” I add. “And a bottle of Coke—and bring four glasses and a bucket of ice,” says Dave, dropping the phone on the floor. “Why four glasses?” “Because I’ve invited two charming little hostess friends!” A few minutes later, a thin, red-haired kid comes in and drops off the booze. Dave signs the bill and gives the kid a wet twenty dollar bill. The smiling kid backs out the door and is gone. “My goddamn face is killing me,” Dave says as he opens the Chivas and pours himself a full glass. He leans back and downs the stuff like a college kid in a beerchugging contest. His face gets real white and then he hunches up and shudders like he’s having an epileptic seizure. Soon as he recovers, he tries to grab a pillow off the couch, but the hotel has had the damn things sewn right onto the lining. “Even the fuuukin pilloooows are fucked,” he says. Then he lunges at the pillow and tears it right off the couch. Dave staggers back, overcome by his own strength, and falls back against the wall. I take one look at Dave and burst out laughing so hard I’m nearly crying. Dave’s trying not to laugh, because I think he’s getting sick, but then he starts in, too. Here he is, American Tourister’s leading salesman of the year, and he’s slouched against the wall in his suit coat, underwear, and wet socks holding a torn pillow. His cheek is swelling up from the punch, and he’s about to throw up on the carpet. The absurdity of the whole day and the scene before me comes swirling into focus, and I begin roaring with drunken laughter. I’m gasping for air I’m laughing so hard, and then Dave is laughing too. I roll over on my back and slap at the carpet. We’re laying there howling like a couple of stuck pigs when there’s a polite knock on the door. “I’ll get it,” I say, staggering to my feet. Tears are still running down my cheeks when I open the door. It’s the two hostesses Dave promised, a brunette and a wispy-haired blonde. They’re good looking, in a sleazy kind of way. The brunette’s wearing a see-through cotton blouse, professionally faded skintight jeans and a pair of red heels. She’s built like a Playboy centerfold, and she’s got smooth white skin and crimson lipstick. Her friend is skinny, like a fashion model, and she’s wearing a baggy camouflage jumpsuit and sandals. “Hi, I’m Sandy,” says the brunette extending her red-nailed hand towards me like a claw, “and this is Vicki,” she adds, looking at the blonde. 121

I wipe at my watery eyes and motion them into the room. Dave’s still laying in the corner, drunk off his face, and giggling to himself. Sandy, the brunette, cocks her head and squints at me. “You guys doing nitro?” “Nitro?” “Nitrous oxide—you know, laughing gas.” “Oh no,” I say, “just booze.” Both the girls are eyeing Dave like he’s out of his mind. “Would you ladies care for some Dom Perignon,” I say emphasizing the brand name. “Yeah , far out,” says the blonde flicking her hair off her shoulder with the back of her hand. “You’re Troy, right?” I nod my head, realizing Dave has given me an alias. “Walt said you’re a movie star.” “I’ve done a few films,” I say, trying to cover Dave’s lie. I pour two glasses of champagne and hand them to the girls. Dave’s still laying in the corner in a prenatal position, sucking on the Chivas bottle. “Dave, ah I mean Walt...say hello to our guests.” Dave lets the bottle drop down against his chest and tries to focus in on the scene. “Hiiiii grrriiiilz,” he says, sounding like a street wino. Vicki waves at him with her fingertips. “What happened to his pants,” says Sandy, wrinkling her nose. “Some lady at the wedding dropped her purse in the lake, and Dave had to rescue it.” “You guys got any music,” says Vicki. Dave rolls over and slaps at the television, and a few seconds later the Solid Gold Dancers flash onto the screen. They’re standing around in their French-cut leotards talking to Wayland Flowers and Madam. A moment of sheer terror overtakes me. My real-life girlfriend is one of the Solid Gold dancers, and I can see her on the screen standing just to the right Wayland. I’m afraid, through some kind of mystical telepathy, she can see me now back through the screen, and can see me in a drunken stupor, fumbling around with the two wedding hostess girls. Sandy and Vicki whisper something to each other, and then Sandy looks at me real coy and says, “Can we use your bathroom?” “Sure,” I say trying to sound casual, “we got two, take your pick.” The girls gather up their purses and sashay off towards the bathroom. Dave’s just lying there with his face pressed against the wall staring at the tube. The Chivas bottle is laying sideways by his arm, and there’s a big wet stain on the rug. “You okay?” I say, shaking Dave’s shoulder. He lets out a groan and his head falls down on his chest. He’s not looking too good, so I wrestle him up and with his arm slung over my shoulder, I drag him into the other bathroom. I get his clothes off, and then lower him into the shower tub. Then I turn the cold water on him. I figure I’ll just leave him there to sober up while I check on the girls. They’re still in the bathroom. Then I notice something strange—I’m hearing the shower running in stereo. At first I think it’s just an echo, but then I realize I’m 122

hearing the girl’s shower too. Their door is ajar and steam is beginning to drift out into the hall. I sneak up to the door. The steam smells like cheap perfume and marijuana. I peer into the bathroom. A half-smoked joint is smoldering on the sink. On the floor I can see one red shoe, Sandy’s empty jeans, and a rolled up pair of panty hose with one leg stretched out towards the shower. I crouch down and peek into the mirror. The top half is all fogged up, but in the bottom half I can see the girls through the clear vinyl bath curtain. They’re all pink and sudsy, and they’re standing facing each other with their hair pinned up on their heads. I can’t believe it—they’re laughing and giggling and sort off rubbing up to each other. Vicki, the skinny blonde, reaches up and rubs Sandy’s neck with a little bar of soap. Vicki’s kind of wimpy looking, with a flat butt and little fried-egg tits, but Sandy’s a killer—she’s got a body to rival Raquel Welch in One Million B.C. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on when all of sudden Vicki yells out my faux name. “Troy,” she bellows like she thinks I’m in the living room. I pause for a moment, and then I straighten up and stroll casually into the bathroom like I’m used to seeing naked women in the shower. “How’s the water,” I say. They don’t even try to cover themselves, they just stand there under the pulsating showerhead and smile like Cheshire cats. “Can you give me another one of those soaps,” says Sandy pointing towards the sink. I unwrap the soap and walk over to the curtain. I can’t think of anything to say, so I just roll up my left sleeve and reach around the curtain and start rubbing Sandy’s arched back with the soap. I run my hand over the pronounced slope of her buttocks and start back up her outer thigh. Vicki’s just standing in the shower splash watching. I don’t want to make her feel bad, so I reach further around and curtain and give her a quick little rub on the arm. I’m just about to switch back to soaping Sandi, when I remember Dave in the other shower. I give the soap to Sandi, and say, “I’ll be right back...I think Dave’s drowning.” The girls think this is real funny, and they start giggling and sticking their heads under the nozzle. When I get to the other bathroom, I see that Dave’s shut off the shower, and he’s taking a ride on the old porcelain bus. He’s laying naked on the tile in a puddle of water with his head on the toilet seat. He reaches up with his left hand and sort of flaps at the handle, flushing down the remains of his rented Chivas. “Get me outa here,” he says, and then he arches his back like a sick cat, and vomits into the bowel. I dry Dave off as best I can and get him back into his wet clothes. Dave’s so wasted he keeps falling down, and I have to hold him up by the arm and waist. “Gotta get home,” mumbles Dave, slurring all the words. “What about the girls?” “Fuck ‘em, let’s go,” he says, lurching towards the door. I pick up his car keys and we stagger across the carpet towards the door. I can still hear Sandi and Vicki splashing around in the bathroom. Wild Kingdom is now on the tube, and Marlin Perkins is talking to some Hindu guy about an Indian Elephant. 123

We’re back at Dave’s house now. He’s upstairs passed out in his clothes on the bed. I’m sitting in the living room trying to watch the end of the Atlanta Braves - Dodger game on cable, while debating whether to drive Dave’s car back to the Marriott, when I hear somebody coming up the walkway outside. I jump up and run to the window. It’s Dave’s wife. His two little daughters are trudging along behind her, and there’s an elderly lady in a shawl getting out from the backseat of the car.



The phone rang. I answered. “Don, I may have a job for you. I’ve just received a call from a Boston promoter. He needs a gorilla for a big show called the Electric Circus. They originally wanted C.J. the Chimp...” “Who?” “The chimp from “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” but he’s too expensive—$1500 a day, plus expenses for two trainers. I told the promoter about you. He’s very interested. Can you be in Boston in four days?” “What do I have to do in the show?” “Play video games in your ape suit. They have a big cage or something—I should be able to get you $1200.” “A week?” “No, no...a day!” “How long will the show run?” “Two weeks in Boston, then a tour around the country...likely a year, with luck maybe longer.” “I’m interested. I’ll call you back tonight.” Thus began another chapter in my ape career. The man on the phone was David Belenzon, a well-respected manager from San Diego, who managed Harry Blackstone Jr., my mime friend Mark Wenzel, and a handful of variety acts. I’d worked with David on other projects, so I knew the job had a fair chance of happening. I grabbed my calculator—twelve hundred dollars a day times, five days a week. I couldn’t believe it—$312,000 for the year. I lunged for the phone. David proved true to his word. The promoter had agreed to pay me $1200 a day for the duration of the show. Since the producers had no track record, I was to receive my money in cash at the end of each day for the first ten days. Then, if all went well, I’d be paid on a weekly basis. The show concept was unique: Create the world’s largest indoor video arcade, complete with name rock bands playing simultaneously on two stages, while clowns, jugglers, and robots roamed the halls. The feature attraction being the two million dollars’ worth of the latest video arcade games. The other star 125

attraction being myself, or rather my gorilla costume. I would be billed as Congo Bongo—the Video playing gorilla. As an added feature, the promoters had hired the twenty top video game players in the country. David told me a large bamboo cage would be constructed around a video game machine called Congo Bongo. The game involves a little man in a pith helmet and a gorilla, who tries to kill the man by rolling barrels on him from high atop a cliff. Two machines would be displayed, with a third set up behind the curtain. My machine would be in the cage, and the “audience challenge” machine outside. My game was to be electronically wired to the hidden machine behind the curtain, which would be operated by the world’s best Congo Bongo player. All I would have to do would be to simulate making the right moves, while the kid behind the curtain racked up the points. I would be presented as a “real” gorilla, highly trained, and willing to play a video game for thirty minutes. How the promoters expected C.J. to accomplish this feat, I’ll never know. They wanted four half-hour shows a day, with a two hour rest period between each show. This worked out to about $500 an hour. A dear friend of mine from New York, named Carrotte (his legal name), was visiting me when the Boston job came up. He was an actor and had doubled for me in the movie “Trading Places.” Because he was a good friend, talented, and in need of money, I hired him to assist me in Boston. I packed the ape and headed for a scheduled engagement at the Patents and Trademarks Exhibition in Washington, D.C. Carrotte would meet me in Boston three days later. The Arrival Boston was hot and sticky, with a smell of trouble in the air. By the time my taxi pulled up to the Collonade Hotel, huge dark sweat rings had formed on the armpits of my blue Van Heusen shirt. Carrotte met me on the street and attempted to help with the gorilla trunk. The bellmen, smelling a large tip, wrestled the trunk away from him and placed it on a hotel dolly. The Collonade is a classy modern hotel with marble floors, chandeliers, and a doorman who calls you sir. The restaurants are expensive, and you can’t get into the disco without a jacket and tie. Carrotte and I checked in and inquired if the promoters had left any instructions. They had not. Since all the eateries where closed, we decided to walk down the street to an all-night pizza joint. We were about five blocks from the hotel when I realized we were entering a rough area. “I’m not too sure about this. Maybe we should go back.” I said. Carrotte laughed and waved me on. Carrotte is not the type of person who gets bothered much on the street. Although he’s only 5’8”, he has a shaved head, a giant red mustache, and an earring. Most of his movie roles have been psychos and mental patients. He’s lived at l08th and Broadway in New York City for most of his adult life and fails to acknowledge any bad areas in the city. Carrotte considers any place short of Lebanon under siege a good area. 126

On the left side of the street, a group of punk-rockers sat stabbing a basketball with a switchblade knife. On our side, a lanky black man with a purple bandana stood scowling at us under a flashing bondsman’s sign. I’d seen friendlier faces on junkyard Dobermans. I smiled as we strolled past him. “Wha the fuck you lookin’ at motherfuckers?” he said. Carrotte said he wasn’t talking to us, but I knew better. A tattered page of the Boston Globe fluttered across the sidewalk in front of me, and I sped walked to the end of the block. Ten minutes later, we arrived at Gerry’s Pizza House. I pushed open the grimy glass doors, and we stepped into a noisy room filled with the members of a black motorcycle gang. Some of the bikers were draped over pinball machines, some over girl-friends, and some over steaming chunks of pizza. Gerry and his two helpers appeared to be Italian, although I couldn’t be sure. They stood behind a chest-high counter tossing pizza dough. So far, the bikers had ignored us, although I expected them to jump us at any moment. We each ordered a single pizza and a coke. I ordered mine to go—Carrotte ordered his to stay. I peered over the glass counter, pretending to watch Gerry when I sensed a presence behind me. I turned around and stared into the leather-coated chest of an exceptionally large gang member. He looked down and I looked up. “You know what, brother,” he said without the question mark, “I believe I could use a pizza.” I twisted my neck around his taut biceps to see what the other members were up to. Nothing. I decided he was placing a solo order. “What kind would you like?” I said, sounding surprisingly like a waiter. “Plain cheese, order of fries, and a coke.” “What size on the pizza?” He expanded his chest in my face, patted his stomach, and said, “Large.” I got Gerry’s attention and had him add the order to my bill. He grunted and looked at the biker. “Here or to go?” he said. “Here,” said the biker, putting a massive hand on my shoulder. I gave Gerry $8.00 and he gave me back 11 cents. The black man removed his hand from my shoulder, arched his back, and massaged his upper lip with his bottom teeth. “What you do?” I assumed he meant to inquire about my chosen profession. I started to tell him I was Congo Bongo, the video-playing-gorilla, but a small voice in my human survival warning system told me it wouldn’t be a healthy response. Despite my $300 outfit, I said, “Nothing...I’m looking for work.” This proved to be the correct response. I guess the guy figured it wasn’t worth rolling someone who was unemployed. When our order arrived, I handed the biker his meal. He smiled, showing a broken row of stained teeth, then strolled across the room to a corner table by the window. Carrotte and I sat close to the counter. I figured if the crowd got nasty, we could vault over the barrier and escape through the back door. Carrotte giggled at me and shoved a wedge of greasy pizza under his mustache. 127

After dinner, I carefully tucked the receipt in my jacket pocket. Hopefully, the IRS wouldn’t audit me, as I’d be hard put to explain the biker’s meal deduction as a necessary traveling expense. Our brisk walk back to the hotel proved uneventful, and we returned to our rooms to await instructions from the Electric Circus. My room was painted pale green and held the usual amenities one would expect. I hung up my clothes bag and cursed the airlines for losing my suitcase. I checked the dresser drawers to be sure I had my Gideon Bible, my phone book, and my guide to the greater Boston area. When I popped open the gorilla trunk, a terrible blast of moldy vapor escaped. A quick spray of Lysol solved the problem. Piece by piece, I assembled the ape on the second queen-sized bed by the door. I had planned to do some minor repairs, but my tools were still in my suitcase at the Kansas City Airport. Apeman Meets The Whiz Kids According to my contract, I was to be paid $1200 for my first day of work. I should have been out doing publicity, but it was nearly noon and no one had called with an assignment. I dialed the promoter’s number. After several number referrals, I managed to reach the show’s law office. A woman answered and advised me to call a boy named Steve, who was in charge of the video game players. I dialed his number, noting he was located next door to me. “I’ll be right over, we’re having a meeting in my room,” said Steve. Before I could change out of my pajamas, I heard an energetic knock on the door. I opened it and thirteen male teenagers poured into the room. Steve introduced himself. He was lanky, fair-skinned, and had neatly clipped blonde hair. He wore a blue La Coste shirt, white tennis shorts, and designer loafers. “Good to meet you. These are my guys. Twelve of the top video gamers in the country.” “What’s your specialty?” I said. “Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man, and Battlezone,” he said proudly. “World’s record in Ms. Pac-Man.” Steve introduced each player by first name, game specialty, and city of residence: “John, Donkey Kong—Ft. Lauderdale; Andy, Galaga—Chicago; Art, Tempest—San Francisco; Danny, Pole Position—Ft. Wayne; George, Burger Time—Phoenix.” Each boy won a championship in his respective region and had been lured to Boston with the promise of $1,000 a week plus bonus money for winning challenge matches at the show. I nick-named them the Whiz Kids. Most all the boys had longish hair, pale skin, and rounded shoulders, which reflected the hundreds of hours they’d spent indoors, slumped over video games. They gaped in awe at my gorilla costume and were even more impressed to learn I’d been in a popular horror movie. A young Japanese boy tugged at my pajama sleeve. “You ever see that girl naked in the Howling?” “Which one?” “The dark-haired one that turns into a werewolf, and gets it on with that guy.” 128

“No, I was in my trailer when they shot that scene.” He looked away, disappointed. “Let’s get something to eat,” he said to Steve. From over Steve’s shoulder, I spotted the maid peering apprehensively into the room. The same woman who’d seen the ape earlier. “Don’t worry,” I said, “They’re only staying with me for two weeks.” She mumbled something about a respectable hotel and rolled her cart out of view. I asked Steve about doing publicity, but he said he hadn’t heard a thing about it. The Whiz Kids traipsed outside and headed for the elevator. “We NEED pizza, we NEED pizza,” echoed their chant. “Save your receipts,” said Steve, turning to follow them. I changed into my swimming trunks, called room service, and ordered steak and eggs, two Bloody Marys, and a bottle of Coppertone suntan oil. I left instructions for the order to be delivered to the roof-top pool. Around three o’clock, Steve called. He told me we’d be meeting the elusive Jim Willy, the show promoter, at 6:30 p.m. in the lobby. I applied some more oil, ordered a Pina Colada, and climbed aboard a rubber raft in the pool. When the sun began casting a shadow on the water, I figured it was time to get ready for the meeting. I rushed downstairs and climbed into the shower. I had just begun to shampoo my hair when I was interrupted by a knock at the door. I jumped out of the shower and ran to the closet to grab my robe. The hotel had maliciously placed a metal door-jam in the midst of the carpet by the closet. The inch-high wedge caught my right little toe in full stride. The toenail ripped to its base, releasing a gusher of blood. I gave a silent scream and dropped to the carpet, clasping the mangled toe with both hands. The door opened and the same maid I’d met earlier, poked her head into the room. At her feet lay a wet, naked man with suds in his hair and blood oozing from his toe. “Just checking if you want your room made up,” she said, staring down at me in disbelief. “No...please!” I groaned. She closed the door and muttered to herself in Spanish. I got to my feet and hobbled around the room, cursing the hotel, the maid, the Electric Circus, and my broken toe. I dialed the number listed under “Doctor” in the hotel guide. The receptionist seemed impressed by my gorilla credits. She waived the mandatory office visit and put me through to the doctor. “Broken toe, huh? Which one?” he asked. “Little one on the right.” “How did you do it?” I told him. “It hurts like hell when I step on it.” “Then don’t step on it. Stay off the foot. Not much we can do for a busted little toe. Take some aspirin, keep the foot elevated, and soak it in hot water. Put some tape on it.” “But I’ve got an important business meeting in a few minutes, and I can’t even get my shoe on.” 129

“Don’t wear a shoe,” he said, excusing himself to attend to a paying customer. I rang Carrotte’s room and asked if he’d go out and buy a large pair of soft shoes. A few minutes later, he returned with the ugliest pair of bargain-brand tennis shoes I’ve ever seen. I slipped on my Calvin Klein jeans, a silk shirt, a Harris Tweed jacket, and the black and white jumbo sneakers. Somehow, my size 8 feet didn’t look quite right in size 11 gunboats. I looked like Willie Shoemaker standing in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s footwear. We Meet The Brass With Carrotte’s help, I hobbled down the hallway to the elevator. Downstairs the Whiz Kids stood fidgeting around three women at the far end of the lobby. I gritted my teeth against the throbbing pain in my foot and limped across the marble floor for the introductions. The three women were from the production company called Women At Work. Their business card showed a street construction sign. The head woman at work was a feisty blonde named Cindy. She offered me a firm handshake, eyeing me from head to toe. Her glanced rested a bit too long on my tennis shoes. “Welcome to the Electric Circus,” she said. Her piercing green eyes seemed to stare straight through me. I got the feeling she was trying to figure out why a lame actor in huge shoes was worth $1,200 a day. Her partner, Gail, had a fresh round face, and straight brown hair to her waist. She wore a long gray skirt and boots. The outfit reflected her post-hippy Princeton background. The third girl, Sheila, seemed to resent my minor celebrity status and acted as though I was trying to pick her up in a singles bar when I said hello. At the front desk, a heavy-set man in a white flannel suit stood talking to the hotel manager. Cindy identified him as Jim Willy, the idea man behind the Electric Circus. Mr. Willy had closely cropped black hair, a tanned face, and the body of a retired NFL fullback. He shifted his weight and leaned against the counter. He had a deep, scratchy voice that sounded like hundred dollar bills being wadded up in a fist—his rap, pure high finance. “...Should be pulling in at least 75 grand a day, million two in operating funds,” he said, signing a sheet of paper and handing it to the manager. He nodded his head and ambled over to meet us. The moment he shook my hand, I knew we were in trouble. It was the kind of handshake you give to your ex-wife’s divorce lawyer. “Let’s eat,” said Jim. The Whiz Kids cheered and voted for pizza. I suggested the gourmet room in the hotel, thinking only of my aching foot and empty stomach. Jim opted for a “nice little spot—just around the corner.” Six blocks later, I limped into a plant infested eatery. I ordered a teriyaki steak and a double vodka tonic for my throbbing toe. Jim sat at a nearby table with the Whiz Kids. As the meal progressed, I learned from Cindy that many of the Circus plans were still being worked out. “What about the twenty-four city tour?” I asked. “We’re working on it,” said Cindy. 130

Jim joined us for drinks after dinner. “Questions?” he said, not meaning it. By this time, I’d become completely anesthetized by the vodka and a carafe of red wine. “I need a check for $1,200,” I said, trying to sound casual. “Cindy will cut you a check tomorrow,” snapped Jim. “Is the gorilla cage ready?” Jim rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “Hummmmm...I forgot all about it. I’ll have to see what I can do.” “What about promotion?” “Stick around the hotel tomorrow,” said Jim, “I’ll have someone get in touch with you.’ I thought it rather strange the promotional visits had yet to be arranged, but before I could question Jim further, he left. Cindy shrugged, brushing a strand of hair from her face. “Jim’s under a lot of pressure, he’ll be okay once we open.” I hoped she was right. Impromptu P.R. Gorilla Style By noon I still hadn’t heard from the public relations firm, so I headed up to the rooftop pool for some more Boston sun. I had just finished applying a coat of Coppertone when the pool-girl summed me to the phone. “Don, Mark Anderson with Images, Inc. We’re in the lobby. We have a taping at Channel two in thirty minutes—you ready?” “Now?” “Yes...didn’t they call you from the production office?” I yearned for the efficiency I’d grown so accustomed to in Japan several weeks ago. “I’ll be right down,” I said. Seven minutes later, Carrotte and I stumbled out to the street and loaded the gorilla suit into the back of Mark’s Continental. We squealed away from the Collonade Hotel with the trunk lid flapping up and down behind us. Mark spoke in PR lingo. “Boston’s a tough market, Don, and you have to hit them hard and fast. Don’t forget the copy points. Five hundred games, great food, rock bands, and of course, the ape. We need this show to keep the client happy.” Half-an-hour later, we arrived at CVTV, channel 2. Mark ran inside to announce our arrival. “Carrotte, get Don dressed!” he yelled as he disappeared into the reception area. I waived the clause in my contract that called for a dressing room with walls and a door. The 90-degree sun had melted the pavement into a sticky paste. I stripped to my shorts and began climbing into the ape suit when a police car pulled alongside us. A stern-faced officer rolled down his window. He glared at me for several seconds before he spoke. “What’s going on here?” “I’m the American Tourister Gorilla, the one from the luggage commercials on TV—we’re doing the news here. I’ll be on in a few minutes.” I struggled to pull the ape suit over my exposed buttocks. 131

The cop lifted his mirrored sunglasses over his brow and frowned at me. “You have any I.D.?” Carrotte showed him my wallet, and I got an ape photo out of the trunk. “Want me to sign it?” I said. “I don’t want a picture of that ugly thing. You better get inside, I don’t want to answer any complaints about a naked guy climbing into an ape outfit.” I nodded in agreement. The cop raced his engine and burned a small strip of rubber on the blacktop driveway as he sped away. Mark appeared at the station entrance and gestured for us to come in. Carrotte crammed the head and arms on me. Sweat and suntan oil dripped down my back as I waddled towards the studio. “My broken toe is killing me,” I moaned. “Twelve hundred a day,” said Carrotte pushing me towards the door. Mark stood in the lobby with a young producer named Carol. I walked towards her snapping my gorilla teeth; she backed away, swatting at me with both hands. “No, no, no...NO! I’m sorry, Mark, but I told you I don’t like surprises. We can NOT put him on the five o’clock news!” “But Carol, you have to! He’s Congo Bongo, the video playing gorilla. He’s the star attraction at the Electric Circus,” said Mark, trying to grab her arm. “I don’t care if he’s the starting pitcher for the Red Sox. Mark, we can’t put him on!” Carol backed down the hall, shaking her head. “We’ll be at the opening, we’ll see him there.” I tried to impress her with a muffled verbal resume, but to no avail. We slouched back to the car, defeated. A newsman drove past us and yelled out his window: “Hey cutie, you look like my mother-in-law!” I flipped him off with a big rubber ape finger. He looked back at me with a shocked expression and drove off. When a snarling, sweat-soaked ape gives you the finger, it’s a gesture to be reckoned with. “I’ve got an idea,” said Mark, not wanting to waste PR time, “stay in the suit Don, we’ll head over to channel 6, and storm the building. You can hand out the press invitations.” A trickle of sweat seeped out from my fur neckpiece and dripped on Mark’s plush leather seat. “I think Don needs a drink of water,” said Carrotte. “I know, I know, but we’ve got to get him to channel 6 before the news crew goes on the air.” We tore out of the parking lot and sped down the expressway towards the station. We pulled alongside a white Toyota with two teenage girls inside smoking a joint. I snarled at them and put my finger in my ape nose. They swerved over a lane, nearly hitting a produce truck and disappeared behind us. When the human body experiences a rapid loss of electrolytes through sweat, strange things begin happening to the brain. I sensed I was reaching the danger zone and could no longer be held accountable for my actions. 132

Mark slowed to look for the exit. Some jerk in a red sports car laid on his horn. He zipped around us, trying to pass on the right shoulder. Had he known he was messing with an ape losing electrolytes, he might have thought twice. He blew his horn again. His lips began to form an obscenity, but when he saw me, his face froze. “Hang onto my waist,” I yelled at Carrotte, “I’m going after him.” The window glided down. I lunged at the sports car, growling and snarling—vicious teeth snapping at the driver. This was true American supremacy. No little Japanese import was going to push our Lincoln off the road. The driver’s eyes bulged wide. He swerved out of my reach as I swatted at him. I felt like King Kong on the Empire State Building batting at planes. The young bearded driver cramped his wheels, narrowly missing the guard rail, and careened out of control down the exit ramp. From my viewpoint in the slow lane above, I could see him staring up in disbelief as we drove past. I gave him a clearly human “up yours” gesture and dropped back into the car. “I think you better get him some water,” said Carrotte. Mark gave me a worried look and nodded his head. We pulled into a restaurant parking lot, which stood a few hundred yards from the television station. Carrotte fetched a plastic cup of water for me. Mark decided he had to leave us, as he had a “client” meeting back at the office. “My assistant, Joe, will meet you guys here in a few minutes,” he said, waving goodbye. Ten minutes later, Joe arrived. He was a handsome kid in his early twenties. He might well have passed for a catalog model in his blazer and slacks. After a round of business-like handshakes, the three of us trudged off to the station. We walked down the edge of a busy street filled with rush-hour computers. An elderly couple stopped to take my picture, and some kids in a Camero threw a bag of french fries at me. By the time I got inside the station, I was exhausted. The sun and my 50-pound suit had taken their toll. The lack of organization on the PR tour was coming out of me in sweat. The star ape had been reduced to a circus freak passing out flyers for a teenage carnival. I decided to see just how much I could get away with in the station. Joe babbled instructions to me as I loped down the station hallway. I paid no attention to him. A secretary crossed my path on her way out a doorway. I grunted at her. She dropped a stack of newspapers, shrieked, and crashed into a water cooler. “Don, be careful!” yelled Joe. I didn’t look back. I hung a sharp left, knocking a photo of past broadcasters to the floor. Through a double glass door, I could see the production headquarters. About twenty people bustled about in preparation for the evening broadcast. I charged through the doors with a loud crash. A timid-looking woman in her fifties sat chatting with a gray-haired man in a double-breasted suit. As luck would have it, she was about to eat a ripe yellow banana. I lunged at her, tearing the banana from her trembling hand. I shook the fruit at the gaping onlookers 133

and fired it at a photo of President Reagan on the wall. The banana splattered inches from his head. The newscasters fell silent. I ran up to a curvy blonde secretary and eyed her amble figure. From the corner of my eye, I could see Joe cowering behind a file cabinet. He looked ready to run for the street. A husky black executive began laughing hysterically. Taking his cue, the rest of the staff joined him in mirth. One fellow in a red windbreaker was not so pleased. “Just what in the H-E-L-L is going on here?” he said. Carrotte stuck an invitation to the press opening in his hand. I backed the screaming blonde into a corner. “Is he real...oh God! He’s SO scary...is he real?” she squealed. Half the guys in the room had probably wanted to jump her bones at one time or another, so I figured I’d give them a thrill. I grabbed the blonde by the waist and picked her up—she kicked and twisted in my arms. A huge Dolly Parton breast jammed into the mask, obscuring my view. I tossed her in the air and adjusted my grip. Her skirt had worked itself up over her shapely thigh, revealing a slice of pink undergarment. We might well have been filming a scene from King Kong. Only instead of holding Faye Ray in my palm, I was wobbling under a Loni Anderson look alike. She began kicking and screaming, so I carried her into a nearby audio room and plopped her down on a long table. I pounded my chest and began kissing her neck and arms. The male employees’ cheered. But the poor woman looked terrified, so I stepped back, allowing her to escape. She ran into an adjacent office and locked the door. A bald fellow wearing a sweater and red suspenders said: “I’ve wanted to do that for years. She loved every minute of it!” One of the cameramen said, “She’d been really disappointed if he tried anything. That suit ain’t got no dick on it! I rooted around the studio for a few more minutes, before Joe managed to whisk me out a side door. Spent and breathless, I collapsed in the van for the ride back to the hotel. We’d managed to pass out a few fliers, and quite possibly laid the groundwork for a sexual harassment lawsuit, depending on the blonde’s state of mind following her encounter with Congo Bongo. A Trip To The Circus After a two-hour nap, I caught a cab to the Exposition Hall to inspect the Electric Circus. The Expo Hall is a massive, flat concrete structure, covering about four acres of land. It was originally designed for home shows, boat shows, and trade exhibitions. The interior had been partitioned into various theme areas. Battle Zone contained video games that involved calculated violence. The Jungle room held Congo Bongo, Donkey Kong, and other games that involved animals and insects. 134

An area called Small Spaces was reserved for “munchie” games like PacMan, Ms. PacMan, Baby PacMan, and Super PacMan. The Car Room was for games that tested one’s skill on the race track. Both the west and north ends of the hall had huge stages for the twenty rock bands scheduled to play. Two bands would play simultaneously throughout the day. A long row of fast-food booths had been erected against the south wall. Trucks pulled in and out of the loading dock. Beefy rock and roll roadies pushing dollies zig-zagged past me: their cargo of speakers and video games rattling as they went. When the machines were plugged in, the air became filled with electronic static. Ping Ping—Voom Voom—Zap! Zap! Zap! Tiny computerized voices filled the air. “THE FORCE LUKE! USE THE FORCE.” The Whiz Kids were all there, madly racking up practice points on any machine that caught their fancy. The games were free, and employees could play them as long as a paying customer wasn’t waiting. Jim Willy strode through the hall. He grinned from ear to ear—his three-year dream about to come true. “By this time tomorrow, we’ll have a mile-long line just dying to get in,” he said to me with a wink. Before I could ask him for my advance money, he turned away and disappeared behind a wall of chattering gaming machines. I found the Congo Bongo challenge area, hidden in the northern bowels of the arena. No cage, no seats, and no dramatic lightning. Just two dead Congo Bongo machines resting on a six-inch platform. I couldn’t see any evidence of the promised jungle ambiance: only a cold and barren concrete room. I tried to envision hundreds of kids pushing their way to the stage for a glimpse of the famed and dangerous gorilla, but all I could see was a guy in dirty jeans and a work shirt holding a hammer. Carrotte and I wandered over to the production office to await Cindy’s arrival. Rumor had it that she would soon be arriving with our checks. I snuck around to the back door and eavesdropped on the production meeting. “We’ll need 3000 people a day to break even,” said a voice. “No problem; we’re going to do 6000 easy,” said Jim. Suddenly the door swung open and a sharp dressed fellow in his early twenties stepped out. An attractive girl in tight jeans and a Norma Kamali sweatshirt trailed behind him. Carrotte told me he was one of the money people behind the show. He was in for about $200,000. The main investor was a man bearing the name of a famous chemical company. For legal reasons, I’ll refer to him as Mr. X. He’d dropped a cool million into the production. By midnight, there was still no sign of Cindy. I felt tired, hungry, and a bit suspicious. We checked with Gail in the office. “She’s at the lawyer’s office with Dr. X. She’s trying to get the money released. She’ll be here. Trust me.” I pictured Dr. X fighting off Cindy and his attorney. “No, no, I won’t sign. I’m not going to give a lame gorilla $1200 a day!” At 12:45 a.m. Cindy arrived. A small crowd of payees rushed towards her as she pushed through the double glass doors. 135

“Here’s your check,” said Cindy, handing me an envelope. Those are three of the nicest words a performer will ever hear—certainly right up there with “Here’s your cash,” and “You’re very talented.” The amount was correct, but I realized I’d still have to drive into the financial district in Boston to cash it. I called my agent, David, back in San Diego, and woke him up. “Don’t work until you cash it. They’re supposed to pay you cash—not a check. So how’s it look?” he added as an after-thought. “I don’t have a good feeling,” I said, “There’s no organization—no dressing rooms, no fan for the ape, no media coverage—but maybe it’ll work. By this time tomorrow, we should get a good idea of the audience.” “Call me tomorrow,” said David. He was naturally worried as he had five other acts booked for the circus. Their airline tickets had yet to arrive in San Diego. Opening Day Carrotte and I arrived in the lobby at 8:00 a.m. for our ride to the arena. Jim Willy’s step-son, Danny, was our driver. He greeted us at the door. “Hey... what’s happin’? Whoa, check it out,” he said, spinning around to stare at a female pedestrian in leather pants. Danny was a good-looking nineteen-year-old Italian, with black shagged hair, flashing brown eyes, and a disarming smile. His interests were simple—sex, booze, and rock and roll. The Whiz Kids poured out of the elevator and filed into the rented Dodge maxi-van. Something about them looked different—then I realized what it was. They all had haircuts. Jim had arranged a group discount with a former military barber. A grim mood prevailed. A sullen kid from Phoenix tapped Danny on the shoulder. “Hey, when’s your old man going to pay us?” “Probably never,” laughed Danny as he popped a Foreigner tape into the sound system. URGENT, URGENT, URGENT wailed the lead singer at ear-splitting volume. We passed a beautiful girl sitting on a bus bench. The Whiz Kids didn’t give her a second look. They were much more interested in the asexual world of computers and electronic media. When we arrived at the Expo Hall, I discovered I had nowhere to dress. For some reason, a dressing room is always the last thing a non-theatrical promoter thinks of. I’d dressed in everything from a plush Art Deco bordello in Caesar’s Palace to a broom closet at a San Diego elementary school, so naturally, I considered myself flexible on the matter. Cindy suggested I use the first-aid room, next to the main entrance. The interior decorations in the first-aid room included an eye chart and a color diagram of the Heimlich maneuver. Another poster showed a nurse treating a shock victim. A gray hospital bed rested beneath a cabinet filled with gauze, medical tape, and assorted antiseptics. In the far corner, I spotted a toilet and a sink. “We’ll take it,” I said to Cindy. 136

“You’ll be on in about an hour,” she said. “I’ll need you to greet the people when they come in.” Carrotte began spreading out the tools of his profession on the bed; one slightly matted ape-hair brush, a package of safety pins, a tube of Krazy Glue, a pair of scissors, a 64-ounce bottle of baby powder, a can of Nestle’s black Streaks and Tips, and two packs of Marlboro cigarettes. In the midst of applying my black eye make-up, I funny thought struck me. “Hey Carrotte, suppose some kid overdoses on LSD, where would they take him?” “Probably here,” he said, carefully brushing the ape whiskers. “And what does he see when they drag him into the room?” Carrotte pondered this all too likely situation for a moment. “A giant mountain gorilla drinking Pepsi through a straw, and a bald guy brushing his ass.” Carrotte giggled at the thought as he hurried to lock the door. To psyche myself up for the show, I put the opening theme to Conan The Barbarian in my cassette player. I wiggled into the ape torso. Carrotte zipped me up and attached the remaining appendages. Jim Willy had predicted several thousand kids would be pushing and shoving to get into the building for the grand opening. I imagined the security guards, with arms linked, trying to hold back the anxious gamers. I could almost see the new Ferrari and the Malibu beach house I would buy when the tour ended. We opened the door and slipped out to the foyer. Through the glass doors, I could see twenty-five, maybe thirty kids waiting patiently in single file for admittance. Suddenly the ape suit grew heavier and the visions of the car and beach house vanished. Cindy led me up to the ticket booth. The double doors swung open, allowing the kids to enter. They ignored me as they rushed towards the machines. Most of them were young males in their early teens. Gone was the theory of the family audience; even the expected boy/girl date groups failed to show. A news cameraman arrived, and someone said, “Say hello to the nice gorilla.” I snarled into the lens, before lumbering off to the first aid room for a break. Our friend Mark, from the PR office, stuck his head in the door. “That was great, Don, I can’t wait to see you play Congo Bongo.” Shortly before noon, we departed for the Congo Bongo debut. The arena rumbled with distorted rock and roll from two loud bands. One was a pop group from Boston, called the Donnie Thayer Band. They blasted new wave pop from a stack of Marshall speakers behind them. When their song ended, two girlfriends, a roadie, and a small boy applauded. The second band was a group from Lawrence, Kansas, called Lance Powers and Neutron. They had a self-produced album of rock tunes, all based on video themes. The musicianship was decent and their leader, Lance, had a strong voice, but the songs were weak. Arcader Invader, Asteroids Forever, and Video Lady— all heralding the joys of hanging out in a video arcade.


Lance’s father, Bill Powers, managed the band. I introduced myself. He shook my rubber hand and led me behind the stage. “Lance is a song-writer, Don. He doesn’t do this stuff anymore. But Jim Willy wanted arcade tunes, so for $10,000 a week, we do what he says. Beats the hell out of bar gigs!” Carrotte dragged me away to the Congo Bongo set. We walked around a concrete partition and stopped short—the Congo Bongo room hadn’t changed since yesterday. No bamboo cage, no super trooper spotlights, and no screaming crowd. In fact, the only person present was a guy wearing a tuxedo and a top hat. He was attempting to plug in the Congo Bongo machine when I touched his shoulder. “We’re here,” I said. He turned slowly, caught sight of me, and jumped back with a shout. “Jesus Christ...don’t do that to a man with a hangover. You must be Congo Bongo.” I assured him that I was. “Okay, look—there’s a bit of a problem. The electrician can’t get the backup machine working.” “So, what does that mean?” I said. “You’ll have to play the challenge matches yourself.” “But I’ve never played Congo Bongo, plus I’ve got eight pounds of rubber of each hand. I can barely open the dressing room door, let alone play a video game with a control stick and a jumper button!” “It’ll be fine, just fake it. By the way, I’m Joel Mackey, the Emcee for the challenge matches.” Carrotte gave him a worried look. “I’m supposed to be Don’s trainer, what should I do?” he asked. “Just hit him with a stick every once in a while,” said Joel picking up the microphone. “Ladies and Gentleman, step right up and challenge Congo Bongo, the incredible gorilla. That’s right, just step right up!” His voice echoed throughout the concrete enclosure. The room remained empty. I grabbed the mike from him and stuck it in my ape mouth. “See thirty-five sex-starved amazon beauties perform fellatio with a gorilla.” Still no response. Joel went back to working on the broken machine. I sat on the platform in the classic thinkers pose. Carrotte decided to take matters into his own hands. “I’ll get us a crowd,” he said, trudging off towards the Battle Zone game area. He returned a few minutes later with a pudgy teenage male, wearing plaid slacks and a Black Sabbath T-shirt. A similarly built woman waddled behind the kid. Carrotte signaled me to start acting like an ape. Behind Carrotte, I could see two Hispanic girls dressed in matching red sweaters. When the girls caught sight of me, they screamed and backed up. The closer I drew to them, the louder they yelled. “Is it real?” said one sister, “I ain’t going any closer to that thing!” They pulled and twisted at each other, trying to decide if I was safe. The fat kid stood watching me with hands akimbo. No true Black Sabbath fan would be caught talking to a gorilla.


“Say hello to him,” urged Joel. I growled. The kid rolled his eyes with contempt. Joel cleared his throat and picked up the microphone. “Ladies and Gentleman, which one of you will dare to challenge Congo to a game?” “This is stupid,” said the fat kid. His mother nudged him closer to the game. “Go go, Andy, play him,” she said. Carrotte picked up a stray piece of wire and began poking me in the ribs. “Congo—play game Congo—bad Congo!” “Kiss my ass,” I mumbled from under the mask. One would not expect a gorilla actor to have an ego problem, but I did. It bothered me that these people didn’t know I was the famous ape from the movies and commercials. I’d been spoiled by the good times with American Tourister. Here, I felt like some fool in a hot suit. Gone were the autograph hunters, the network television interviews, and the hundreds of fans. Carrotte read my mind and mouthed the words “twelve hundred dollars.” I pushed the start button and racked up 30 points on Congo Bongo before the ape on the screen crushed my little man’s skull with a barrel. Andy stepped up to his machine. He ran up 7,000 points before his little man fell into a hole and was gorged to death by a rhinoceros. The game ended shortly thereafter, with Andy defeating the legendary Congo Bongo 14,500 to 110. Back in the dressing room, I collapsed on the hospital bed like some great beached whale, while Carrotte stepped out to get hot dogs. Too hot and tired to remove the suit, I gazed up into the blackness of the inner ape skull. I drifted slowly into a deep state of altered consciousness. A vision of my deceased parents appeared. They peered down at me from a fluffy pink cloud. “You’re the best ape in the world. We’re both very proud of you, Donald.” They didn’t seem to mind I failed to become a doctor, or a lawyer, or a baseball player. Marcel Marceau drifted by shaking his head. “You are excellent at zee mime, don’t waste it as zee monkey.” My acting teacher from the Pasadena Playhouse appeared. I stood by his desk fighting back the tears while he advised me to give up acting. I saw myself flying over his office. I held wads of money in each hand and waved it in his face. “You were wrong—I probably make twice your salary,” I heard myself say. A knock at the door brought me back to reality. Carrotte entered carrying an armload of hotdogs and drinks. After lunch, we returned to the Congo Bongo room for our second show. The machines looked like futuristic caskets in the dim light. Joel rushed out from behind the curtain. “Good news, folks, the third machine is fixed! Now all you have to do is move the controls. Chris, the Congo Bongo champ, is behind the curtain.” “Let’s use the house public address system, and really get a crowd,” I said. Moments later, Joel’s voice boomed throughout the hall. “Ladies and Gentleman, step over to the Jungle area and see the incredible Congo Bongo—the video playing gorilla. You’ve seen him in Trading Places, The Howling, and on the American Tourister luggage commercials, now you can personally meet this famous beast!” 139

Seconds later, a crowd of about thirty people arrived. Andy and his mother stood patiently waiting next to the machines. “Ready for another whipping,” said the kid as he spits into his hands and rubbed them together. Little did he know that the world’s best Congo Bongo player was only five feet away, hidden behind the Oz-like curtain and ready to trounce any players who thought they could beat me on my electronically tethered game station. “Sure, kid,” I said, “but you better be good. I’ve been practicing.” “Hey, he talked—he talked!” yelled Andy, looking around for someone to confirm his discovery. Joel glared at me. I felt as though I’d told the kid there wasn’t a Santa Claus. “Who are you?” said the kid poking at my face with a stubby finger. “The last thing you’re going see in this lifetime if you don”t stop poking at me.” I’d long since lost the apelike stance; now I stood erect—a million years of evolution erased in a minute. Carrotte hurried over to start the machines. The kid racked up 4000 points before a snake killed his little man. I approached the machine and punched the play button. My man leaped into action; up the waterfall and punched out the ape—2000 points, over the labyrinth and past the snakes and gators—4500 points, through the desert past the charging rhino—10,000 points—on and on went the little man, easily avoiding every danger in his path. The kid stared open-mouthed at the screen. When the game ended, I had 59,000 points to his 8,000. Congo Bongo had regained his pride. Behind me, I could hear the crowd murmuring in disbelief. Back at the production office, an earnest discussion was taking place. I cleared my throat and stepped into the room. Jim Willy, the Women At Work women, and two male staffers sat stern-faced around a table. They ignored my entrance. Cindy looked around the table and said, “We could call the schools—offer them discounted tickets.” Jim tapped his chin with a pencil. “It’s the Hall and Oates concert...that’s where all the kids are. We’ll do better tomorrow.” Everyone began throwing out ideas to increase the attendance. “Hit the beaches with flyers!” “A good rainstorm and we’ll pack the place.” “Extend the hours, cut the price.” I moved closer to the table and waved my ape hand in their faces. “Excuse me, but the Congo Bongo game isn’t working out. There’s nobody at it.” The silence grew louder. “How about if I just wander around and play with the people?” Jim nodded his head, obviously preoccupied with greater problems. “Yes, ah... fine, fine. Just wing it for now.” A red phone rang next to him. He snatched the receiver off the cradle. “No, Jim’s not in,” he said, hanging up the phone. “Damn agents!” I slunk from the room, feeling like a $1200 a day liability. The kids in the arena were interested in only one thing. Video games. And they were determined to get their nine bucks worth. Even the rock bands were failing to draw a crowd. 140

I noticed a small girl playing a machine. She was in the midst of a vicious round of Sinistar. I tapped her on the shoulder. Without looking up to see a $35,000 gorilla, she said, “Cut it out, I’m only three bombs away from killing Sinistar!’“ For the remainder of the afternoon, I wandered about creating less interest than a stray quail at a zoo compound. The New Hotel When we returned that night to the Collonade, we discovered that we’d been moved to a cheaper hotel. The Back Bay Inn had the warmth and charm of an abandoned bowling alley. As our taxi pulled up to the front steps, I noticed a dark-haired young stud attempting a descent. He wore a black leather jacket and a gray silk shirt, open to the navel. A maze of gold chains dangled against his hairy chest. He staggered towards us, clutching at the stair railing for support. He looked desperate. It was the kind of desperation I’d once seen on a friend’s Bulldog after he’d consumed a bowl of liquid foam latex. The young stud gestured weakly at our cabbie, spun on his heels, and retched onto a Boston Globe newspaper rack. Carrotte and I dragged our suitcases down the hall past a crowd of dripping teenagers in bathing suits, who had decided to “party” next to the Coke machine by my room. Outside at the pool, Jim Willy sat slouched in a lounge chair. He appeared to be nursing a tall drink. The inner-hallway reeked of vomit, stale sweat, and industrial-strength disinfectant. My room proved even less appealing; thin walls covered with cracked yellow wallpaper surrounded a green sticky carpet. The room was about the size of an Amtrak birth. I entered the bathroom and brushed the shower curtain aside. A half-dozen sassy fat roaches eyed me with contempt as they drank from a puddle of brown water. A nobless black and white television sat on a swiveling metal arm. Its height was so extreme that proper viewing could only be accomplished by standing on the bed. A dusty shredded curtain dangled from a rusted rod in the living room. I yanked the curtain open to reveal a panoramic view of a large truck in the parking lot. ED’S TIRE SERVICE was my view. I thought for a moment that the truck had been painted with yellow spots, but then realized they were only fly droppings on the window. On the ceiling, I caught sight of a strange-looking bug. It appeared to be a cross between a cockroach and a silverfish. When I turned on the light, the bug began running schizoid time trials on the frayed plaster runway. I flipped on the air conditioner. A terrific clanking roar escaped from its grill—a sound much like what you’d hear if you threw a #10 monkey wrench into a dryer and turned it on. Beneath the roar, I heard the tinkle of a phone. After three rings, I managed to locate the device. The phone was securely attached to the wall by a foot-long cord. It rested conveniently on the floor near the head of my bed. They only way to use the phone was to lie face down on the pillow. I picked it up. “Don. Jim. Meet us at the pool. We’re having a meeting.” 141

I stepped out to the pool area and was nearly bowled over by an enormous girl in a one-piece aqua bathing suit. She whooped and launched herself over the pool. She hung for a moment in the air and then belly-flopped into the water. Pool siders tucked their feet and covered their drinks in a futile attempt to avoid the wall of water that poured from all four sides of the pool. The girl surfaced and surveyed the damage with a smug grin. A pair of angry rock and rollers shook the water from their permed locks. Jim waved me over to his table. “Should sign her up for the circus,” I said. Jim gave me a deadpan stare and introduced me to his mother and step-father. They were both in their seventies, chain smokers, and had that worn leathery look of hearty drinkers. They told me they’d met in a nursing home a few years ago, and just decided to get married. The old man had a bad leg from the war, and his wife had back trouble. They’d flown from New Jersey to see Jim’s show. Somehow the topic of modern youth arose. “Goddamn communists are behind the drug problem today,” said the old man, “got all these kids smoking LSD and God knows what.” Jim’s mother waved at her husband, changing the subject. “You know Jim’s a good boy. He sets his mind to something, and by golly, he does it.” We talked about some of the television shows I’d done. They were most impressed that I’d once worked as a disco-dancing extra on General Hospital. Although it was after midnight, the poolside bar was doing great business. The musicians hovered over a slender brunette, who lay beneath them on a lounge chair. She caught my eye and smiled through the forest of spindly legs. Mrs. Willy continued her running bio on Jim, so I tuned her back in. “...and then he worked for the Carter campaign. He’d been a corporate what-cha-ma-callit—one of those people who get new people from other companies.” “A head hunter,” said her husband, leaning forward to light a Pall Mall. “Yes, that’s right. You name it, and Jim’s done it—one darn thing after another. I can’t keep up with him anymore.” I noticed that Bill Powers, the manager of Nutron, had cornered Jim, and was pushing him for the band’s advance money. Jim slipped away and rejoined us at the table. “We’ll do better in Cleveland,” he said, handing me a giant-sized gin and tonic. “How’d we do today?” I asked. “Terrible—seven, maybe eight hundred kids, and a lot of those were free passes.” Jim tipped his drink, downing the full twelve ounces before coming up for air. “I’m meeting with a potential backer at 7:00 a.m. He’s going in for a halfmillion. Behind us, a huge electric bug killer hummed, its fluorescent light beckoning to the kamikaze moths and mosquitoes that hovered about in the warm night air. Every few seconds, a terrific popping sound shattered the night air. Another moth zapped into oblivion by a lethal blast of electric current. 142

“We’re going to expand the show,” said Jim. “Company in the states and one in Europe.” Overhead a double pop exploded. Young lover moths reduced to a sprinkle of powder. I got the feeling that we, too, were moths about to be zapped by the Electric Circus. The meeting broke up when the motel manager shut off the lights. I stumbled back to my cell, still clutching the watery remains of my drink. The motel manager slapped Jim on the back and turned to flick off the bug zapper. The Show Might Go On Early the next morning, I caught a taxi into Boston to cash my checks. They went through without a problem. “These people have much money in this account?” I asked. The bespectacled banker frowned and punched the account number into his computer. “They look pretty healthy so far.” The next two days of the circus proved no more successful than the first. I decided to pass the downtime between gorilla sets, by attempting to play at least one game on every machine in the arena. Five hundred machines in all—ranging from two dozen Pole position games to a single lonely pong machine. By the end of the third day, I’d played over 350 machines. PacMan, Galaga, Galaxian, Tempest, DigDug, BurgerTime, Zaxon, Star Wars, Joust, Dragon Slayer, and numerous others with names I can’t remember. My right palm was raw from twisting the joysticks. My shoulder ached from cramping the steering wheel on Pole Position, and an ugly blue blister appeared on my left thumb from shooting lasers on Star Wars. Back at the first-aid room, I lay on the bed and closed my eyes to escape the electronic blips. An evil face surrounded by a star (Sinistar) flew across my eyelids. “Run—Run—I am invincible!” Ms. PacMan danced across the void, followed by an endless race track, filled with exploding cars. Cartoon apes threw barrels—a creature with a giant head and a weird pair of feet growing from his neck, hopped on a stack of three-dimensional cubes. Bombs and laser blasts exploded against the back of my skull. At last, I fell asleep. Two hours later, I awoke from a vivid nightmare, involving a ghoulish video creature who devoured the brains of teenagers. I dressed and hurried out to the parking lot. Jim’s son, Danny, was waiting in the shuttle van to drive us back to the hotel for lunch. The Whiz Kids piled into the van. “Hey, when’s your old man going to pay us?” queried Ken, the Zaxon king. “Yeah,” echoed another voice, “I gave up a $500 a week job for this shit!” Danny just laughed and gave the kids a helpless shrug. “I haven’t been paid either,” he said. Back at the motel, a crowd of about 30 people was gathered at the front desk. I asked Bill Powers what was going on. “Don, I can’t believe it. The hotel locked us out of our rooms. We can’t even get our guitars out for the show.” “I think it’s over Bill, we sailing on a sinking ship.” 143

He thrust his hands deep into his pockets and shook his head. “I don’t think so. We’ve got to have faith.” I realized he was facing the strong possibility of losing the $10,000 due his band, so I nodded in agreement. “You’re probably right, must just be a mix-up,” I offered. Things were starting to get ugly. One of the guitar players pushed his way to the front desk to confront the manager. “Get my goddamn room open, or I’m going to kick the fucking door down!” Jim Willy’s mother sat alone on a lobby couch. “I need my medicine,” she whimpered, “I’ve been sitting here for four hours.” The bass player for one of the gospel bands cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “If you don’t open those doors, I’m going to open them for you!” The once jovial backslapping manager pushed his way towards the front of the mob. “You can all thank that bastard, Jim Willy, for this,” he said. “I’m supposed to be paid $3000, and I haven’t seen a damn cent. When he pays the bill, I’ll open the rooms.” One of the younger Whiz Kids started to cry. “I want to go home,” he sobbed. Danny arrived from the pool. He took me aside as if to reveal some secret information. “Don, old buddy, can you loan me ten bucks? I haven’t eaten since yesterday, and the restaurant won’t give me any more credit.” “What about your dad?” “Shit...he’s broker than I am.” I reached into my pocket and handed Danny a crumpled five-dollar bill. He grinned and headed for the pool snack bar. Outside, a squad car pulled up and two rookie cops stepped out. They moved hesitantly into the lobby, and like a scene from Chips, asked, “What seems to be the trouble here?” After hearing several versions of the story, it was decided that the musicians could remove their guitars, and Mrs. Willy could retrieve her medicine. The rooms would otherwise remain padlocked, until such time as Jim Willy could come up with the money. Jim, by the way, was nowhere in sight. Danny entered the lobby, his spirits replenished by a dip in the pool, two mustard dogs, and a rum and coke. He agreed to drive us back to the circus. Inside the arena, rumors of the show’s demise spread like the red death. I called David Belenzon in San Diego. “Grab the next plane out of town,” he ordered. I decided to hold out a few more hours in hopes of getting at least one more check from Cindy. I climbed back into the ape suit and headed for the few remaining machines I’d yet to play. An hour later and I’d successfully played every machine in the Electric Circus. At eight o’clock that evening the entertainers held a crisis meeting. Our longoverdue checks still hadn’t arrived, so we voted on a no-pay, no-play plan. By early evening the bands began packing their equipment. Outside, red and blue police car lights strobed against the plate glass windows. All equipment inside the hall had been frozen by a court order. The police refused to allow anyone to leave the 144

building, as they feared the promoters might try to pull the video games and make a run for it. Cindy emerged from the production office. Her eyes were moist and red. “I’m sorry. There won’t be any more checks, I tried.” She hugged Carrotte and me goodbye. I stepped outside and asked a policeman if I could remove my gorilla suit. “No, everything inside is secured until further notice,” said the officer. I explained that my ape suit was indeed my own and essential to my well-being. “Sorry, son, but until we can determine who owns what nothing leaves.” I removed a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet and folded it into a square in my palm. The officer spotted the bill and said, “Of course, if someone were to come out the door right now with a trunk, chances are I wouldn’t notice him.” I passed the money with a clandestine handshake and beckoned to Carrotte inside. The officer turned his back while Carrotte and I loaded the ape trunk into a waiting taxi. Back at the motel, we learned that the mysterious Dr. X had liberated our rooms with a $3000 cash payment. A wake was underway around the pool. I quickly packed my belongings and joined the mourners. Shortly after 11:00 p.m., Jim Willy made an appearance. With head held high and an expanded chest, he strode to the bar. He flexed his thick hands like a gunfighter and ordered a double gin and tonic. I couldn’t help but admire him, despite the fact that he owed me over $4000. Many promoters would have opted for a midnight escape to Jersey. Jim walked to my table and sank his heavy frame into a metal lounge chair. He smelled of gin and Aqua Velva. Without looking at me, he said, “If you want to hang in with us for a few more days, we should get the financing we need.” “From the Doctor X guy?” “No, he’s pulling out. We’ll have to look for outside help. “ “I’d like to Jim, but my agent isn’t too pleased with the way things are going.” “Screw your agent...if you want to stick around, I’ll do what I can.” Jim stood up slowly and crossed to the bar for a refill. A group of angry musicians swarmed around him. Bill Powers slipped into the vacant seat and slapped me on the knee. “We’ll be pulling out in the morning. We’re meeting with an attorney to file suit for our money. It’s $500 per act. They’ll put a freeze on the circus bank account. Do you want in?” “I suppose I should, but I sure hate to sue old Jim, seems like he’s already paid a high price for his idea.” “Don, you’re not suing Jim, you’re suing the money people. Hell, we haven’t seen a damn cent since we got here!” I was one of the only entertainers to see any money at all. I had managed to cash three checks totaling $3600 and had another check for $2400 in my wallet. “Let me get back to you on that,” I said sadly to Bill. 145

The next morning I arose at dawn, loaded the gorilla trunk and my luggage into a cab, and headed straight for the Bank of Boston. By 9:01 a.m. I was inside, cashing my check. As the teller counted out my cash, she was interrupted by the manager. “This account has just been frozen—don’t pay anyone else.” My timing was perfect. Another two minutes and I’d have lost the $2400. I tipped the cabbie with $10 and a dozen free passes to the Electric Circus. “I hate video games,” he said, tossing the tickets on the dashboard. “Me too,” I said. At the airport, I was informed that my pre-paid ticket to Los Angeles was no longer valid. I slipped them a VISA card. Double checked the 24 hundred dollar bills were still in my jeans pocket and climbed on board. The jumbo jet roared down the runway and thrust itself skywards towards the West Coast. I sat next to the members of the Gap Band, who were returning from a concert tour. “What’s your gig?” asked one of the singers. His two-yearold daughter sat next to me, drawing pictures of a shark on my Electric Circus program guide. “I’m an accountant,” I said, trying to avoid conversation. I was just too tired and depressed to explain why I’d run away to join the circus in an ape suit. *** “Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to and therefore does not partake of society is either a beast, or he is a god.” —Aristotle



Springfield, Illinois Feb. 1985 I’m standing on top of a brand new Toyota pickup in my gorilla suit. I’m holding a sledgehammer. There are a half dozen people wandering around the lot looking at the cars. Walt Wagoner, owner of Wagoner Mazda, is inside the office on the phone; he’s calling the Toyota dealer across the street. He steps out of the office door with his hand held high overhead as though he’s about to start a race. I look across the street where the Toyota salesmen are congregating behind a plate glass window and looking in my direction. One of them is holding a pair of binoculars up to his eyes. Walt drops his hand. I adjust my stance on the hood and hoist the sledgehammer onto my padded shoulder. I beat my chest with one hand, and then I slam the hammer down on the pickup’s shiny brown hood—a reverberating metallic crash echoes across the frozen lot. The roof buckles and shards of paint fly in every direction. Walt is doubled over in hysterics—he slaps at his leg and signals for me to continue. The Toyota staff across the street don’t seem to be laughing. After several more vicious swings with the sledge, I collapse breathless onto the pickup roof. Five o’clock commuters are whizzing past on their way home. Few seem to notice that there’s a gorilla with a sledgehammer sitting on top of a smashed-up pickup. My manager, Fred Puglia, has arranged the Mazda Gorilla promotion. I’m booked at $1000 a day for two days. Advertisements are running in the local paper and on an easy-listening radio station. I’m double-billed with several small rodents from the Henson Robinson Zoo. Tomorrow there will be a drawing for a free dinner for two at one of Springfield’s finer gourmet restaurants. I’m back in the office about to remove the gorilla suit when Walt Wagoner and a salesman named Jerry approach me. “Don, listen, we have this great idea. We’re going to storm all the major dealerships in town—call it gorilla warfare. We’ll take one of our trucks. You can ride in the back.” Before I can refuse, they push me out the door and load me into the back of a blue Mazda pickup baring the Wagoner logo.


“Hang on,” yells Walt as we squeal out of the parking lot. We hang a right on Dirksen Parkway and head towards the local Chevy dealership. It’s getting dark and a light snow is beginning to fall. People are honking and waving as we whip in and out through the traffic. We pass a flashing bank sign that reveals the temperature to be 28 degrees. My hands are starting to freeze and my rubber ape feet are slipping on the icy truck bed. Walt taps on the brakes and roars with laughter as I go sliding around in the back. Without warning, we swerve across the highway divider and lurch into the Chevy lot. Walt commanders the truck up a loading ramp so that his headlights are burning right into the showroom. He flashes his lights and blasts the horn. Jerry lowers the passenger window and cranks the volume of the in-dash cassette—it’s Springsteen hollering “Born in the USA.” The Chevy dealers run to the doorway and stare out at us. I jump up and down, beating my chest. I point at the new cars in the showroom and do a mime of a gorilla laughing. A bald-headed man in a gray suit is shouting and gesturing at us. I can’t make out what he’s saying due to the muffling effect of being inside a heavy gorilla head and the music blasting from the truck. But I’m guessing by his body language it’s “get the fuck outta here!” or something to that effect. He’s charging towards us and just before he reaches the edge of the ramp, Walt throws the Mazda into reverse. I slip on the ice and go sliding across the truck bed like a hog on roller skates. I cling to the tailgate as we bounce back onto the highway. The raid is repeated at the remaining six or seven dealerships in the neighborhood. At the end of the rampage, Walt decides a beer would hit the spot, so we cruise into a pizza/video parlor. The Friday night teen crowd is just arriving. I follow Walt and Jerry inside. A path to the counter clears and I stand in line behind Jerry. He’s about six-three with broad shoulders and a bushy afro haircut, so I’m hidden from the counter girl’s view. Jerry places our order and steps aside—the girl lets out a high-pitched shriek that drowns out the electronic beeping of the video games. She throws her order pad in the air and races outside, holding her hand over her eyes. Jerry gives me a Coke with two straws pinched together so I can get it through the ape mask and into my mouth. I gulp it down and stroll over to finish off an abandoned game of Burger Time. I’m racking up points like crazy when this stringy-haired kid in a Rambo T-shirt starts kicking me in the leg. I spin around and swipe in earnest at him with a chilled rubber ape hand. The kid jumps back and crashes into a booth filled with children celebrating a birthday. Sodas topple over and splash tiny legs. A little red-headed boy starts crying and that sets the whole group into a flood of tears. They are howling and knocking each other down, trying to get away from the terrible gorilla. “Let’s get out of here,” says Walt, no doubt sensing the adverse publicity, should the chaos be linked to his dealership. We back out of the joint like fleeing bank robbers and jump into the truck—Walt and Jerry in front, and me, like an over148

sized family dog, in the back. The red-headed kid runs out and gives me the finger as we speed off into the night. Back at the Red Roof Inn, I try to watch a program about the Nazi invasion of France, but the sound of the heater is wiping out the sound on the TV. I turn the volume up, and somebody in the next room begins banging on the wall. I turn the TV off, but the banging continues. Maybe they think the clanking heater is a machine gun from the TV soundtrack. I’m getting ready to put the ape suit on and kick their door down when I hear the faint sounds of lovemaking intermingled with the banging. It’s the headboard whacking against the wall, so I put the Nazi show back on, remove my notebook and write a poem about a guy riding across the country on a Continental Trailways bus. Saturday morning. It’s clear and cold outside. I lumber down to the office for coffee and stale donuts. The donut box is empty, except for a chip of pink icing. A sticky brown ring lines the empty Mr. Coffee pot. In a foul mood, I drive my renta-car across town to Wagoner Mazda. There’s a crowd of twenty-five or thirty people anxiously milling around the showroom. Half of them are kids. A pair of little boys in matching sweaters tear across the floor and slide by me on the polished linoleum. In the corner, near a silver RX7, I notice a row of small cages on a table. A young blonde woman with her hair pulled back in a ponytail is pointing at one of the cages. “... and this little fellow comes to us all the way from...” “Morning Don,” says Walt, offering me a firm handshake. “Hey Walt, do I have time for a cup of coffee?” I ask. He glances at his watch and shakes his head. “We’ll get you some later—better get into the suit, these people are excited to meet the ape.” I shuffle off to Walt’s office, where his secretary begrudgingly helps me into the clammy suit. Twenty minutes later, I knuckle-walk into the showroom. Chaos breaks out— kids are screaming and even the adults are backing away, apparently thinking I’m a real gorilla. An understandable assumption, considering my $35,000 dollar suit and the fact that the event was also hosted by a professional zoo staff. One of the salesmen cups his hands to his mouth and yells, “He’s just a silly man in a gorilla suit... it’s okay!” He grabs a little boy by the hand and drags him over to me. “Mr. Gorilla, say hello to Anthony.” “Hello, Anthony. How are you today? I’m a nice gorilla,” I say in a robotized cartoon voice. The kid’s eyes grow wide and he stares at me in disbelief. “You’re not real,” he says, trying to convince himself. “Oh yes,” I say in my normal voice, “Mr. Gorilla is very real and he’d very much like some of that very real coffee that mean old Mr. Wagoner promised me.” The salesman slithers away to discuss the virtues of owning a Mazda 626, and the kid races over to his mother and grabs her hand. “Mommie, Mommie... the gorilla talked.” 149

When the gorilla’s novelty begins to wear thin, I wander over to a couch in the corner for a self-appointed break. Walt’s secretary comes out of the office, clutching a Styrofoam cup of coffee with a straw. For a brief moment, all is right with the world. I pick up the auto section of the Springfield newspaper. I’m greeted by a half-page ad featuring a large photo of me in the gorilla suit. The caption and story read: WAGONER MAZDA FIRST ANNUAL GORILLA WARFARE SALE! Save the gorilla charity, take a demo drive Friday or Saturday in any new or used car and we’ll make a donation to the Henson Robinson Zoo. Come out and SMASH the Ford or Toyota on our lot and make your own donation to the zoo. Mr. Gorilla will be present at Wagoner Mazda all day! Register for an evening of dinner & dancing (for you and your date) plus a chauffeur-driven limousine. Walt sticks his head out of the office and motions for me to get back to work. I toss the paper aside and hurry outside. I jump up on the Ford sedan and begin smashing away at the windshield with the sledgehammer. My efforts prove effective—within a few minutes, motorists are pulling off the highway to get a better look at the berserk primate in action. Next to the Ford is a sign which reads: $5 A SWING—MONEY GOES TO THE HENSON ROBINSON ZOO. A pair of hollow-eyed fellows, sporting tattoos, approach the car. The taller of the two plops a handful of change into the bucket and steps up to the Ford. “Okay, Monk, cough up the sledge,” he barks. I hand him the implement and curl up on the roof while he goes to work. He rips off about twenty blows in succession, causing me to bounce up and down on the roof. When his aggression is spent, he hands the hammer to his buddy. “Hey Seth, five bucks says you can’t knock that door off in twenty swings!” Seth sticks a Marlboro between his lips, lights it, and begins slamming away at the open door. His technique is flawless, and after maybe ten or twelve swings, the door comes spinning off its hinges. A small crowd of onlookers breaks into applause. Seth pockets the fiver and the two men saunter over to a faded blue Mercury. The crowd begins to mutter in appreciation of the two men as they drive off in a cloud of exhaust smoke. A father in wire-rimmed glasses and a St. Louis Cardinals sweatshirt approaches with a frail-looking little boy in tow. He carefully places a crisp fivedollar bill in the donation bucket and hands the sledgehammer to his son. The kid starts whining in protest. “I don’t want to hit the car,” he wails, but the dad urges him on. “Don’t you want to help all the nice animals at the zoo?” “Noooooooooooo,” moans the kid. After several rounds of bartering, the kid is convinced it would be in everyone’s best interest for him to hit the car. He drags the sledge across the asphalt, making a raspy scrapping sound. The crowd moves back. The kid picks up the sledge with his hands gripping the handle just short of 150

the head. Then he pivots on his heels like a golfer coming out of a sand trap and the hammer arcs around towards the front tire. I try to yell out a warning, but I’m too late—the sledgehammer ricochets off the hard rubber tire and smashes the kid in the knee. He drops to the ground shrieking in pain. The father scoops him up in his arms and followed by the crowd, they hurry into the showroom to view the caged animals. I slip down from the roof and climb into the back seat of the dented Ford. I manage a half-hour sweaty nap before I’m awakened by a heavy metallic blow somewhere above me. I blink awake. It is Jerry holding the sledge and laughing. He dangles a bag of fast food in the window and says, “Lunchtime, monkey man.” Back in the employee break room, I take the ape head off and pull out of the sweat-soaked rubber arms. I chomp down a Wendy’s burger and fries and then suit back up for what I think will be my last set of the day. The crowd has grown to about forty people. Walt is back in his office writing up deals and the salesmen are gliding around pretending to be interested in the noisy children. One of the local radio stations has set up a remote broadcast in the front portion of the showroom. A deejay with thick black hair and bad skin is talking into the microphone. “You’ve still got plenty of time to get down there to Wagoner Mazda to meet the gorilla and some wonderful little animals from the Henson Robinson Zoo.” A portly woman in a heavy winter coat grabs me by the arm and says, “Over here, big fellow, I want a picture.” She leads me over to the animal exhibit. Brandy, the zoo attendant, hands me a terrified little creature she refers to as Barret the Ferret. I stroke Barret’s tiny walnut-shaped head. He twists his body into the shape of a question mark, makes a high pitched squealing sound and bites me on the end of my rubber finger. Barret has failed to recognize our biological link. With great care, I manage to straighten Barret back into a form resembling the photo on his cage. The lady fumbles with her camera as the zoo staff people crowd in next to me. The camera clicks, the flash flashes, and the ferret squirms out of my grasp. He slithers down my leg, skitters across the polished linoleum, and disappears beneath a corner couch where a young mother is attempting to change her baby’s diaper. I plop down on the floor with my back resting against a stack of small cages. Suddenly I feel something poking at me through the wire mesh. Brandy bends down and peers into my eyes. “I think you’ve made a friend. The armadillo likes you, want to meet him?” The armadillo is not exactly a beauty contestant, but he does have a certain appeal. That is if you consider a dwarf piglet wearing an army helmet appealing. I figure a grown man in a gorilla suit can never have too many friends, so I agree to a brief visitation. His cage is opened and armadillo somersaults out the door, landing upside down with a sharp cracking sound. He’s on his back and flailing his tiny legs in the air like a battery-operated toy. I notice his long sharp toenails, which in his 151

natural habitat would enable him to dig deep into the earth. But in his present environment, no such escape is possible. Brandy quickly rights the little fellow—he twitches his long snout, wiggles his hairy ears and begins rooting away at my gorilla leg. She swoops him up from the floor and he starts thrashing about like he’s been removed from his mother’s teat. She senses his desperation and reluctantly lowers him back down. He heads straight for my sweaty crouch and begins burrowing his way into a rip in the suit. “He thinks you’re his mother,” says Brandy with a knowing wink. “He thinks I’m his girlfriend,” I offer. The armadillo continues butting his head into my groin. “He likes the warmth and the darkness,” says Brandy. “Armadillos have very little vision.” “That would explain the attraction,” I mutter, patting the armadillo’s quivering crustaceous shell. After several hours of aimless wandering through the dealership, I’m summoned over for the big prize drawing. A goldfish bowl, filled with folded entry tickets, rests on a card table near the broadcast area. I stand aside while the deejay introduces the prize, “And now the moment has arrived. Some lucky couple is about to win a chauffeur-driven limo ride to Bauer’s Restaurant for dinner and dancing—all courtesy of Wagoner Mazda, located at 1709 South Dirksen Parkway here in Springfield. Mr. Gorilla will now select the winner.” The deejay signals for me to withdraw the winning ticket. I try to cram my big ape hand into the jar opening, but it doesn’t fit. I make a desperate grunting sound and wave the bowl in the deejay’s face. “Mr. Gorilla seems to be having a problem with his manual dexterity. We’ll have a winner in just a minute folks.” He slips a cassette in the player and waves Walt Wagoner over to conduct the drawing. Walt’s manicured hand slips neatly through the bowl opening and the winning entry is withdrawn. The Mel Torme song ends. The room falls silent. And the deejay clears his throat. “Ladies and Gentleman the winner is...Mr. and Mrs. Ed Frogay or is that Froggie?...from New Berlin.” I ape hoot into the microphone until the deejay finds another cassette. A moment later, a phone rings in the inner office. “It’s the Frogays,” yells Walt’s secretary from the doorway. “Tell them to hurry,” says Walt, “they’ve only got an hour till the limo arrives.” He turns and pats me on the shoulder. “I can’t wait to see you riding in the limo with the Frogays!” “But... but I’m not going with them, am I?” I ask “Of course you are,” answers Walt, “didn’t Fred tell you, you’re part of the grand prize. Dinner and Dancing with the gorilla, I thought you knew.” Walt hurries off to write up another deal. I stumble outside and sit down on the curb to watch the traffic. I’ve been in the suit for nearly eight hours, and now they want me to accompany a couple named Frogge to dinner. 152

By 6:30, there’s still no sign of the Frogges. “Give ‘um another five minutes,” says Walt to the limo driver. “If they don’t show up you can go home. They’ll have to find their own way to the dinner.” Two images flash before me: one is the Frogges bent over a flat tire on the roadside, and the other is me stepping into the motel shower holding an ice-cold beer. Several more minutes pass—then a pickup with a single working headlight pulls into the lot. The Frogges have arrived. They climb out of the pickup and stand blinking in the glare of the dealership’s lights. Mr. and Mrs. Frogge appear to be in their mid-fifties. He is wearing an ill-fitting dark suit, with the buttons strained against the swell of his massive belly. His tie is a faded red affair with leaping fish as the motif. He has thick rough hands and a round, weathered face. A thatch of wiry gray hair is sticking out in several directions from the top of his head. Mrs. Frogge is dressed in a blue evening gown, which appears to have been designed some time back in the late forties. She is stout and seems unsure of her step as she wobbles towards me. “Say hello to our famous Gorilla,” says Walt, leading me towards the couple. “Don... ah I mean Mr. Gorilla, I’d like you to meet the lucky winners... the Frogges!” “That’s FROG...GAY” corrects the woman while lightly touching her hair. “I can’t believe we won. This is SO exciting!” Her husband nods in agreement. After a few more minutes of introduction, Walt loads the Frogges and me into the limo and we head off to Bauer’s restaurant for dinner and dancing. I’m sitting scrunched up in the backseat with the Frogges on either side of me. The driver cranks up the heater and we glide on in silence. My temples are pounding and my eyes are burning, from being in the suit for nearly eight hours and from the heat of the limo. My tongue feels thick and heavy, and the roof of my mouth is as dry as a camel’s kneecap. The Frogge’s seem reluctant to converse with an ape, so I break the silence. “What do you folks do out in New Berlin?” “We’re semi-retired,” says Mrs. Frogge. “Where are you from Mr. Gorilla?” “Los Angeles.” “We were out there once,” she offers. “We went to Disneyland. I just loved that ride where all those pirates jump out at you.” “And them dancin’ bears...boy they was something, weren’t they, honey?” adds her husband. “This must seem pretty tame compared to Disneyland,” I say. “Oh no,” says Mrs. Frogge, “this is fantastic. It’s the greatest thing to happen to us in years. We’ve always wanted to go to Bauer’s, but we don’t get into town much. Plus, it’s kind of expensive.” The couple seems to be joyfully overwhelmed by the spontaneity of the event. I feel as though I’ve been divinely sanctioned to articulate the evening. In years hence the story of how grandma and grandpa Frogge rode in a limo with a famous gorilla will be passed down from generation to generation. A faint odor 153

of mothballs wafts up through my gorilla nostrils, and the thought fades as Mr. Frogge reaches up to straighten his tie for the big arrival. Ten minutes later, we pull into Bauer’s parking lot. Walt is waiting by the front door to welcome us. We squeeze out of the limo and trounce up the stone steps to the restaurant. The place is packed, mostly with senior high school girls and their fathers. A banner over the entryway reads WELCOME—FATHER DAUGHTER NIGHT—1985. The Frogges and I are introduced to the owner, who eyes me with considerable trepidation. After a brief wait, we are led to a special reserved table in the back. Sometimes I forget just how authentic my gorilla suit appears to other people. As unlikely as it is, some people actually think there’s a real gorilla walking down the aisle. Heads twist to gape at us—fork-loads of food hang suspended under gaping mouths, and voices fall silent as I lumber past the tables. Bauer’s is located a block away from the state capitol building and caters to an affluent political crowd. The interior is done up in a mixture of dark wood, brass, plants and political portraits. The lighting is minimal, with candlelight adding to the ambiance. Not the type of establishment accustomed to hosting a gorilla. We are seated at a center table next to a large group of girls in formal dresses. A special over-sized chair is brought in to accommodate my over-sized posterior. The Frogges unfold their rose-colored napkins, the candles are lit, and the water is poured. Our waiter smiles politely and takes our drink orders. I order a double banana daiquiri with three straws—the Frogges order champagne. The young girls at the next table stare at me and giggle. Five daiquiris and an hour later, our main course arrives. The Frogges are busy with their steaks and I’m playing with a plate full of leafy greens. I can’t eat, because of the restrictive design of the ape mask, so I’m forced to draw my nutritional sustenance from the booze-soaked bananas. The Frogges are chattering away about the hazards of crop rotation in Southern Illinois. And I’m getting blasted. I jump up from the table and stagger over to visit the high school girls. “Oh God—get him OUT OF HERE,” screams a sweet young blonde in a black satin gown. I reach out to stroke her hair a la King Kong and Fay Wray. She lunges back and her plate of veal cordon bleu flips off the table and onto her father’s lap. A tuxedoed waiter appears out of nowhere and escorts me back to our table. A few minutes later, Walt Wagoner appears and ushers the Frogges and me out of the restaurant. He leads us across the alley to Bauer’s auxiliary disco. A slick-looking top-forty band is pumping out Rick James’ disco hit, and singing, “She’s a Very Kinky Girl.” I grab Mrs. Frogge by the arm and surge out onto the dance floor. The hipsters step aside, obviously recognizing a drunken primate when they see one. I bump and grind next to Mrs. Frogge with my finest dirty dancing moves. She manages a somewhat tamer step, more suited to Lawrence Welk than Rick James. Without warning, the room begins spinning, and I feel the 154

daiquiris rising in my throat. Gasping for air, I collapse on the dance floor and yank up the ape mask, letting in a welcome blast of smoky disco oxygen. One of Walt’s drivers is summoned and I’m quickly whisked away to the Red Roof Inn. I awake four hours later, still wearing the gorilla suit body. Someone has successfully removed the gorilla head, arms and ape feet, and placed them in a neat pile in the corner. The television is spewing out a sheet of hissing snow. In less than three hours, I’ll be heading south to St. Louis to appear as the bassfishing ape at a boat show in the convention center.



Springfield, IL Summer, 1985 I elbowed my way out of the American DC-IO and stumbled down the rampway towards the main terminal of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. I surged into the flow of evening rush hour commuters, intermittently checking my back pocket for my crumpled ticket to Springfield—capitol of Illinois, resting place of Abraham Lincoln and home of the Sangamon County Fair. Several hundred yards short of the concourse, I paused to rest. I was instantly struck from behind by the wheel of a tailgating luggage cart. I whirled to survey the culprit, and in doing so, smashed a silver-haired gentleman in the back with my 40-pound shoulder bag. “Damn it, be careful,” he snapped without turning around. “Sorry,” I mumbled to the stocky Greek in a flowered Hawaiian shirt, who was bent over inspecting his luggage. He adjusted his load, stood up with a grunt, and swerved past me, muttering in his native tongue. I hobbled like Quasimodo to the snack bar and collapsed on an orange Naugahyde chair to collect my composure. Despite my ten years of city dwelling, I’ve remained uncomfortable in crowds. I probed the contents of my bag for damage, but everything seemed in order. My belongings might well have been extracted from an 80s time capsule marked TRAVELING APE ACTOR. They included a pair of rubber ape feet, a pair of Nike wrestling shoes, a mini vodka bottle, a hairdryer, five mystery novels, mainstay toiletries, a yard of synthetic fur fabric, two unmailed utility bills, an Aiwa portable AM-FM cassette player and eleven tapes; five for my mime show and six for personal enjoyment—Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Van Cliburn, Erik Satie, a rock version of Carmina Burana, and a heavy metal band from Seattle called Queensryche; a Brother portable typewriter, a video cassette tape of Trading Places, socks, underwear, and a pink jockstrap which had acquired its color in a washing accident involving a red Kent State sweatshirt; two blank Spiral notebooks, and a tin of Skoal chewing tobacco to help quell a nicotine fit. (I’d quit smoking several weeks before the trip.) Taking a deep breath, I merged with the exodus. Seconds later, I found myself wedged in the corner of the main terminal gift shop. At the magazine rack, I 156

flipped through a Playboy to see if any of my favorite authors were in the issue, and then glanced at the headlines of a national gossip magazine: “BIGFOOT TERRORIZES OREGON TOWN,” “ALIENS RAPED MY WIFE,” AND “JKF IS ALIVE.” I bought a Chicago reflecting sticker and a sixty-cent roll of wintergreen mints. With thirty minutes left to squander, I trudged off to the tiny Britt Airways ticket counter at the far end of the concourse. Britt is a “friendly” little commuter company—their July flight magazine featured an article on the Britt family, and a photo of their first aircraft. I love flying on small planes...probable because of the exhilarating feeling I get when they land. On a recent flight to Abilene, Texas, I flew on a rickety old cactushopper, whose wings appeared to have been patched together with frozen pie tins. It was one of those great flights where the pilot helps load your luggage and then buys you a drink in the bar when you land. We boarded the plane and the lone Britt stewardess cheerily told us to fasten our safety belts and advised us that our seat cushions could be used as a flotation device. I gazed out my scratched, dollhouse window at a stray wire dangling from the wing. Quickly returning to the flight magazine, I looked to the smiling faces of the Britt family for reassurance. As we taxied down the runway, I noticed a screw jiggling loose in the seat ahead of me. Reaching across the narrow aisle, I tapped a heavily jeweled lady on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” I said, giving her a reassuring “Britt” smile, “but the screws are coming out of this seat...would you happen to have a nail file I could borrow? She fumbled nervously in her snakeskin purse and handed me the tool. Britt flight 713 quivered and wobbled hesitantly into the cloudy Illinois sky. The throbbing engines seemed to be saying I think I can, I think I can. We climbed for a few thousand feet and then hit a wind gust, which caused the plane to lurch from side to side like a New York subway car. The errant screw worked loose, shuddered for a moment, and plopped into my outstretched palm. With a deft flick of the wrist, I secured the vital part to its base. I winked at the ashen woman and tossed the nail file into her open purse. “I used to fly these things,” I said with professional calm. She offered me an ice cube smile and quickly looked away. Flat squares of patchwork farmland fell away beneath us as we bounced upwards. Suddenly the plane began to buck as we surged through an angry bank of cumulus congestus. The experienced flyers hooted and cheered; the rookies clung to their seats like grandparents on a roller coaster. I finished my Sprite and filled the plastic cup with a splash of pirated Smirnoff from the American flight. It’s strange how you often review your past during turbulence. I suppose this self-scrutiny works as a kind of subconscious soul cleanser...based loosely on the stewardess’s statement involving “...the unlikely event of an emergency landing on water.” It seemed rather ironic to me that ten years ago, to the day, I had been the 157

official mime artist at the World’s Fair in Washington; and now, a decade later, I was about to take another detour on the road to stardom by appearing at a county fair. I grabbed the stewardess by the arm and ordered a double. The short flight continued without incident, and a few minutes later, we skidded to a halt at the airport. “Welcome to the Springfield area,” recited the stewardess in a monotone. Why is it that airline personnel always say “area”? New York area, Los Angeles area—is it to cover themselves in case they’ve landed at the wrong airport? The proper name of an airport could be most comforting to the jet-lagged traveler. In this sarcastic state of mind, I deplaned to the rain-soaked tarmac. No marching band, no banners, and no motor speedway beauty queens with flowers. Nothing to herald my arrival except for a dark threatening sky. I ran a sweaty hand through my disheveled airplane hairdo and popped a wintergreen mint in my mouth to mask the vodka vapors. After a twenty-minute wait in the baggage claim area, I was met by a preppy looking college kid named Jim and a sullen girl dressed in faded jeans and a gray sweatshirt. We crammed my gorilla steamer trunk in the back of a black Dodge Laser and drove through town on our way to the Sheraton Motor Inn on Stevenson Drive. Springfield is a comely city with abundant parks, tree-lined streets, and a compact downtown featuring an odd mixture of old and new architecture. Jim pointed out the most obvious attractions: Lincoln’s home, a college, and the State Capitol Building. I was more interested in finding a bookstore, so I just nodded my head in blind recognition of the historic sites. The Sheraton Motor Inn looked more like a Travel Lodge than it did a Sheraton. Motor inn—those are the words to watch out for! Is nothing sacred? Soon we’ll be seeing Waldorf Astoria Motor Inns, and Russian Tea Room Drive-thrus strung out across America like so many gas stations. Jim parked the Laser at the motel entrance and tossed me the keys. “All yours,” he said proudly, “courtesy of Landmark Chrysler-Plymouth.” Two motel guests were already admiring the car as we moved towards the office for check-in. After a brief inspection of my room and a quick shower, I was ready to visit the fair. Outside it was hot and humid with the smell of rain in the air. Not favorable gorilla weather—but all in all, I felt pretty good about my state of affairs. I had a high-tech new car to drive, with a great four-speaker stereo and electronic fuel injection. I searched through a maze of country FM stations until I came upon the unmistakable strains of Robert Plant singing Stairway to Heaven. I cranked the volume, rolled down the windows, and squealed out of the parking lot towards the 55 South entrance. Ten minutes later, I was out of the city, cruising at 70 MPH through unbroken farmland towards the fair site. The grounds are located about 15 miles west of Springfield on the outskirts of New Berlin; a curiously dusty town hosting some 800 dwellers if you include the family dogs. In the distance, I 158

could see an open field surrounded by a few houses and a tall circular grain silo. A freshly painted wooden sign welcomed me to the fair. I parked in a graveled lot adjacent to a barn-like structure baring the words COMMERCIAL EXPO. Next door stood a large gray building which housed the production office, and various exhibits ranging from American flag chocolate cakes, to still life fruit paintings and dried vegetable dolls. Outside in the darkness, fireflies danced about in anticipation of the forthcoming festivities. In the far corner of the field, several workmen were busily constructing a large canopied stage. A man on a tractor drove past me, towing a trailer load of PortaSan toilets. Off in the distance, I could see two bouncing figures approaching on a three-wheeled electric golf cart. As they drew nearer, I could make out the friendly faces of my manager, Fred Puglia, and his assistant Mary. Fred, I should mention, was also the new promoter of the fair. He’s an olive-skinned Italian with a round face, a witty sense of humor, and a firm handshake. Fred’s God-given gift is promotion: the kind of man who could sell a hairbrush to a bald man, or an ape to a jewelry store—the latter of which I’ve seen him do. He’s affectionately referred to as “Mr. Hype” in Springfield. I became a believer when he produced my first mime concert in town. We drew over 3000 people, most of whom had never heard of me before. “Don, welcome to the fair,” he said, giving me a bear hug. “Hop in. I’ll give you a quick tour of the grounds.” I climbed into the cargo bay of the cart, and we careened around the Expo Building to the field. He pointed out assorted chalk marks where concession stands and the carnival would soon be erected. At the southernmost corner of the field, he pointed to the large wooden stage I’d seen earlier. “That’s our celebrity stage...where Silvia, Mo Bandy and Buddy Rich will be performing.” “Where will I be working?” “Most of your shows are in the Expo Building.” “What’s on tap for tomorrow?” “Don, don’t you ever read the letters I send you? We have you scheduled for a press conference...right in front of the Capitol Building downtown.” “Should I dress up?” “Oh no, you’ll be in the ape suit,” said Fred turning away to answer his hissing walkie-talkie. Sensing my letdown, Mary gave me a friendly punch on the shoulder. “You’re the surprise mystery guest,” she said. “The media have no idea who’s going to show—we’ll have a limo pick you up at the motel at 11:30 a.m. The Press Conference The next morning I overslept by two hours. I crawled out of bed and into my gorilla suit—a painful event for someone who requires an hour of yawning time, and two cups of coffee, just to answer the phone. 159

I sat, like an anxious gladiator awaiting battle, on the edge of the bed. My ape helmet resting on my furry knee. The only thing missing from this picture was a bearded psychiatrist and a cartoonist from the New Yorker. Jim arrived promptly at 11:30 and completed my misery by attaching the ape head to my suit with three heavy-duty safety pins. I crashed out of the room like a drugged zoo bear and waddled out to the awaiting stretch limousine. Jim introduced me to the driver, Frank, a robust portly man with an auburn walrus mustache. Despite the heat, he was dressed in a darkblue suit and cap. He opened the door and motioned me inside. “I’ve got the air conditioner on, but it doesn’t work too good until we get going.” “How warm is it out?” I queried in a muffled.voice. “About 85 degrees...very humid,” he said, looking sympathetically over his shoulder. “You must get pretty damn hot in there.” “Yep,” I said, trying to yawn against the fiberglass restraints of the inner mask. We drove down Sixth Avenue in silence towards the Capitol Building. On the sidewalk, pedestrians strained to see behind the limo’s tinted glass, probably in hopes of catching a glimpse of a visiting movie star or a major state official. “I’ll bet you get some pretty interesting passengers in your line of work,” I said to Frank. He looked back at me through the rear-view mirror. “Sure do, yesterday I drove Miss Sangamon County. Boy, is she ever a honey—and the day before I had the county’s two oldest citizens.” “How old were they?” “Hundred, hundred and four...something like that.” As we drew nearer to the Capitol Building, I began to feel the effects of the heat. I started sweating like a sumo wrestler in a steam bath. Adding to my discomfort was an ape-sized headache and a strong desire to urinate—a big problem when the zipper is in the back of your ape suit. We glided to a stop under a tall oak tree, which shaded a bricked enclosure next to the State Capitol Building. Jim hopped out to check on the media people, who were in the midst of the press conference. Frank had parked the limo in a red zone, some fifty yards from the proceedings. There looked to be about twentyfive reporters in attendance, armed with television cameras, tape recorders, and notebooks. A few hopeful faces looked in our direction. Frank and I began a conversation about the Springfield Cardinals baseball team when we were interrupted by a knock on the window. Through the tinted glass, I could see the stern young face of a policeman. “Sorry, but you’ll have to move the car,” he said to Frank, “This is a no-parking zone.” Frank lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. “Officer...I think you should speak to the gentleman in the back,” he said, pushing down the rear window button. I took his cue and lunged at the policeman with a terrible roar. The poor fellow leaped backward with a squawk, his nightstick clattering to the ground. He 160

bent cautiously forward to retrieve the stick, eyeing me all the while. “Jesus, is that thing real?” he said, getting to his feet. “Of course he’s real,” bellowed Frank slapping the dashboard to emphasize his delight. “Well, don’t be too long,” said the cop. He turned and walked away, shaking his head. Moments later, Jim appeared from behind the elm tree and motioned for me to make my entrance. I climbed from the limo like Clark Gable at a movie premiere and waddled through the repelling crowd. “Who are you?” asked a young reporter as he stuck a pocket Dictaphone in my face. I just snorted. “Probably the mayor,” said an elderly black lady to her friend. A three-wheeled motorcycle beckoned to me from the back of a nearby trailer. Realizing the potential for a strong visual image, I hopped on board. Fred pushed through the crowd and introduced me as the star of various horror films, and the American Tourister luggage commercials. For the next fifteen minutes, I answered questions about my simian career. The interview ended when I mentioned feeling faint. The reporters scurried off to reveal their findings to the citizens of the greater Springfield area. I started to climb back in the limo when Frank stopped me short. “I’m afraid I can’t take you back,” he said with a tone of genuine remorse, “I’ve got a funeral at one o’clock, and it’s a quarter to already.” Realizing I would be of little consolation to the mourning loved ones, I opted for a ride home in a beat-up VW with Jim and his friend Danny. Getting a rotund ape into the front seat of a VW might be likened to stuffing a loaf of bread into a catsup bottle. At last, it was decided that my head would have to stick out of the sunroof, so in this undignified manner, I returned to the Sheraton. As we pulled into the motel parking lot, I noticed the marquee: WELCOME SPRINGFIELD HIGH—CLASS OF ‘58. I figured a mad dash through the banquet room might just prove to be a fitting antidote to a dull morning. I burst through the front door and pounded my chest—the room erupted in a burst of screams, and frenzied squeals of delight. I grabbed a sweet-roll from an obese lady bearing the name “Hazel” on her tag. At the far end of the room, I snared a pitcher of orange juice from a stunned waiter and then quickly escaped through an emergency exit to my room. After breakfast, I changed into my swimming trunks. I had every intention of going swimming, but I made a fatal mistake. I turned on the television. I was instantly hooked on ESPN’s endless onslaught of weird sporting events: two kickboxing karate matches, an obscure European stock car race, and several rounds of women’s handball from Anaheim, California. Three hours later, I emerged from the room with bloodshot eyes. I staggered to the pool for the last rays of afternoon haze. Dinner consisted of a triple deck club sandwich and fries. For entertainment, I watched a horror film called Swamp Thing and two horrendous R-rated features; 161

Summer Camp and The Beach Girls. The plots were routinely interrupted by the obligatory removal of a buxom female’s upper body garment. I tried several times to change the channel, but some unseen evil force held me in the chair. When the last topless lovely dissolved into the sunset, I leaped up and mercifully turned off the set. For a nightcap, I picked up a Ross Macdonald mystery novel. The clarity and beauty of the writing helped to erase the TV sludge that lingered in my brain like flashes from an instant camera. I set the novel aside after two chapters and was about to turn out the light when I remembered to check the next day’s performance schedule. I scanned the fair’s brochure, Mo Bandy and Silvia, main stage; The Globe of Death, Springfield Cardinals baseball clinic, and Don McLeod, The World’s Greatest Mime on the outdoor pavilion. I froze. Now I know I’m a good mime, but the world’s greatest? Not even ONE of the world’s greatest, or an internationally recognized, or a leading mime artist... but THE world’s greatest. That’s pressure to be pretty damn good. It was of little consolation that I’d be following Barrett Deems, The World’s Fastest Drummer. I jumped out of bed and whipped off thirty quick pushups in hopes of tightening my midsection. Opening Day I awoke the following morning, July 4th, to a massive electrical storm. Black swollen clouds hammered the city with blinding lightning flashes and rolling blasts of compressive thunder. I threw on my clothes and dashed across the flooded parking lot to the motel restaurant. I arrived too late for breakfast, so I settled for the businessman’s lunch and coffee. On a chair next to me, I spotted the morning edition of Springfield Register. The cover photo revealed a group of reporters surrounding a gorilla on a motorcycle. The headline to the story read: Promoters Hire Furry Fellow to Help Save Fair. I was admiring my picture when the waiter peered over my shoulder. “It’s amazing what they can get those apes to do,” he said, sliding a limp salad in front of me. “Wonder where the hell they got him? “Probably Hollywood,” I replied. He smiled knowingly and filled my coffee cup. Outside, the storm had passed. Off to the west, I could see bright patches of Biblical sunlight filtering down over the approximate setting of the fair. Sure enough, when I arrived at the fair 20 minutes later, the grounds were steaming in the warm afternoon sunshine. The site had been totally renovated in the past 48 hours; strips of red, white, and blue bunting danced in the warm breeze, and on the far end of the grounds, a string of concession booths stretched across the midway like a procession of covered wagons. A polished antique tractor stood patiently by while a curious child ran his tiny hands over its huge rubber tires. Bleating sheep and squealing pigs began shuffling about in the livestock area. A mounted policeman rode past, followed closely by a gaggle of waving 162

clowns in a “funny” car. The Springfield Municipal Band was in full swing on the pavilion stage. And in the background, I could hear the legendary country-rock band, Pork & the Havana Ducks, singing their classic bar song—“Pukin’ In The Parkin’ Lot.” The morning turnout was small, mostly elderly couples strolling about. Fred whisked past me on a golf cart. The ever-present walkie-talkie pressed close to his ear. I stepped into the production office to inquire about my dressing room. Mary suggested I use the men’s room over in the Adult Building. I expected the Adult Building to be a display area for edible underwear and marital aid products, but instead, it displayed an elaborate electric train exhibit and a wall of homemade batiks. The north end of the building held a makeshift theater that consisted of a bare stage and rows of folding metal chairs. To the left of the stage stood the men’s room. A lanky production assistant named Janet entered the building and approached me with caution. “I’m sorry Don...it’s the only space we have left.” “Isn’t this a public restroom?” “Well, not really,” she said hesitantly. “Can I at least take the sign down?” “No, we’re not allowed to do that...I guess you can just lock the door. I don’t think anyone will bother you. No one uses this bathroom much. You’re on at 2:00 p.m. You better start getting ready.” I rolled the ape trunk into the bathroom and locked the door behind me. I was in the midst of unfolding a card table in the concrete foyer when a loud knock echoed throughout the room. I ignored it, but the relentless pounding continued. It took the knocker a good five minutes to finally tire of his banging and settle for an outdoor portable toilet. I stripped to my shorts and began applying my clown white makeup, as my first set of the day was a mime performance when a deafening metal pounding exploded on the door. Suddenly the door shuddered and popped squarely off its hinges, exposing me to a group of senior citizens watching a cooking demonstration on the stage. All eyes drifted from the Caesar Salad to the seminaked mime. I stood clutching a tube of mascara, clad only in whiteface makeup and a pair of red bikini shorts. I waved and the crowd quickly looked away. A leathery old man in overalls appeared in the doorway. He held a hammer and a screwdriver in one hand, and the three door pins in the other. “Who the hell are you?” he said scowling at me through thick eyeglasses. “The World’s Greatest Mime,” I snapped. “Huh?” “One of the entertainers,” I said, clarifying my position. “Can I ask why you just tore the door off my dressing room?” “I’m Jim, the maintenance man for this building. You can’t lock this door. We got senior citizens who need this room,” he said, gesturing to a shaky looking gentleman in a windbreaker who stood grimacing behind him. 163

“Hank here, he’s got bladder trouble...he’s on medication and he got to use the john!” I stepped quickly aside and motioned Hank towards the inner bathroom. “I’ll just be a minute,” he said, shuffling past me. Jim replaced the door and advised me again to keep it unlocked. The World’s Greatest Mime Show was far from a sellout. Janet introduced me to a crowd of four hundred empty chairs. A lonely grandmother sat in the far corner of the open-air pavilion struggling with a chili-dog on a flimsy paper plate. Janet looked at me and shrugged helplessly. “I better call Fred...there’s nobody out there,” she said. Moments later, Fred appeared leading a reluctant group of some twenty spectators towards the stage. My half-hour performance ended with a smattering of applause. On my way back to the dressing room, a dusty-faced kid ran up to me and started taunting me with an endless chant of HEY CLOWN, HEY CLOWN, HEY CLOWN. I restrained a strong desire to throttle him on the spot and slipped into the rear entrance of the Adult Building. I began to remove my makeup when the door sprang open, this time supported by its hinges. A scraggly looking fellow in work pants and a winter jacket entered. He adjusted his CAT cap and pushed a thatch of curly red hair behind his ear. He torched a Camel filter and leaned heavily against the wall. “I come over here to guard your stuff.” “Are you with security?” “Nope, I’m just a janitor...been on unemployment for two years...seemed like a chance to meet some entertainers. I like performers. Whada’ you do?” “I’m a mime and a gorilla.” “Oh yeah...what’s a mime?” “Do you know Marcel Marceau?” he shook his head. “Mime is acting without words. Sort of like Charlie Chaplin.” “Oh yeah, he’s great, I love his stuff. You do that huh? Where you from, Springfield?” “Los Angeles.” This was the magic word. Now the man was impressed. “You mean they brought you all the way out here...just for the fair?” “Sure,” I said, “I travel all over the world. This is nothing.” “Hey, could you give me an autograph?” he said, flipping a long gray ash on the floor. I signed a piece of notebook paper for him. He slid down the concrete wall and settled on his haunches to study my signature. “Next time you get a break I want you to come over to the house for some brews. You can meet my old lady, she’s really cool. I got a whole bar set up in the living room.” “Sounds good,” I said, trying to sound sincere. The door burst open again and a young, muscular black man entered. “You were hot. That was one great show!” he said, offering me a complicated ethnic handshake. “I’m Larry Mattox the Jump Rope Wizard. I’ve been featured on Real People—the TV show.” “You do tricks?” I asked. ` “Yeah, watch.” He intertwined his fingers and jumped back and forth through the loop of his arms. “I got a problem though,” he said, cracking his knuckles, “I 164

lost my jump rope on the bus and I’m on in a couple of minutes. A quick search of my gorilla trunk failed to turn up a rope, so we called Jim, the maintenance man who had so skillfully removed my door. He found a twenty-foot section of clothesline in the storeroom, and Larry and I hand braided it into a makeshift show rope. Larry whipped off a blur of rapid test jumps; slapped my back in appreciation and walked out the door. A Walk Around The Grounds I changed into my street clothes and went outside to explore the fair. The last time I’d attended a county fair was back in high school. My parents drove me to the Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show in Boonville, Calif. I remember several odd things about that trip; Brian Keith, the actor, playing darts at the carnival, and two people who fell out of a double-decker Ferris wheel. The father died and the daughter was rendered a paraplegic. I’ve avoided all “fun” rides ever since. The Sangamon county fair was on the endangered list. In 1983 the attendance was less than 10,000. Fred had been hired to save the fair because of his promotional skills. In past years the fair directors had relied on local talent and limited special events. Fred, on the other hand, had gone all out by hiring expensive acts and spending heavily on advertising. So far, his plan seemed to be working. You couldn’t pick up a paper or turn on a television in Springfield without hearing something about the fair. The morning crowd had been slim, but by midafternoon they started arriving in droves. Near the front entrance, I noticed a crowd gathered around a 1981 used Ford Fairlane. I strolled over and asked a clean-cut kid in a Levi jacket what was going on. “We’re trying to win the car,” he said, looking over his shoulder at me. “You gotta keep both hands on the car, and both feet on the ground...whoever goes the longest wins the car.” Twelve teenagers clung to the car like leeches to a cow’s leg. They laughed and joked among themselves as the minutes on the timing clock ticked away. “Can you take breaks?” I said. “We get five minutes every hour, to piss or whatever.” I made a note to check back on this event later. I wandered through the livestock exhibit, past snorting pigs and a sleepy pair of goats in a tiny pen. Chickens and turkeys scratched and pecked at loose bits of straw. A docile mule flicked his ears at the sound of a motorcycle in the distance. I stepped over a moist, steaming pile of horse manure and made my way towards the sound. A giant porous metal sculpture stood on a grassy area next to the Celebrity Stage. This could only be one thing, the Globe of Death. Its purpose soon became clear; two helmeted men, dressed in black leather, pushed their Honda 250’s up a short ramp and into the bowels of the globe. An assistant slammed the ramp shut 165

behind them. The riders revved their engines and began rocking back and forth in unison at the base of the metal ball. A pregnant woman in yellow stretch pants ran past me towards the globe. Two small boys and a potbellied man clutching a giant pretzel trailed behind her. “Hurry up Amel...they’re going to start,” she yelled. Amel rushed by me like a fullback bent on the end zone; he cleared a path with his right shoulder while protecting his pretzel with both hands. The cyclists raced their engines again, and when they were satisfied that everyone within hearing distance was in attendance, they began the show. They slowly circled the interior of the metal globe, gradually increasing their speed until they became a blur of whirling metal, passing within inches of one another like ball bearings in a gyroscope. I fully expected the globe to break free from its mooring and careen across the midway. The crowd roared with approval as the riders began a suicidal figure-eight pattern. Gradually they slowed their speed and came to a rocking stop at the base of the globe, where they proudly saluted the crowd with clenched fists. The crowd broke up, and I strolled off to the concession area. Anxious concessionaires beckoned to me from the windows of portable huts and trailers. The greasy aroma of frying food drifted through the air. Cheeseburgers, double cheeses, falafel’s, corn dogs and hot dogs on a stick, Chinese food, chicken gizzards, cotton candy, candy apples, and pink popcorn. Everything needed for a good case of heartburn. I settled for a double cheeseburger and a large Bud draft before returning to the dressing room. Larry, the Jump Rope Wizard, sat slumped against the wall in a folding chair. His hands were shoved deep in his pockets and his feet were curled behind the legs of the chair. He appeared to be doing an impression of Atlas supporting the weight of the world on his shoulders. “Larry, what’s wrong?” He raised his head and looked at me with moist eyes. “Nobody wanted my autograph,” he said fighting back a tear. “The Michael Jackson impersonator had a line of fifty kids.” “Was he any good?” “Yeah, he looked just like him, but man, he ain’t original! I worked hard to be the best I am the best.” “Larry, you can’t let these things get to you. I just did a show at a college last week where I got a standing ovation, and here I got upstaged by a chili dog. If you know you’re good and you enjoy performing, that’s what counts.” He wiped his eye with the back of his sleeve and got to his feet. “I guess you’re right, but it really killed me that people would want his autograph over mine.” “Forget it. Just try to make your next show that much better.” “Hey, Don, you’re a big star aren’t you? You travel all over, you must be a star. Can I have your autograph?” 166

“I tell you what,” I said, digging in my duffel bag for my Instamatic camera. “I’ll take a picture of you and you can take one of me, and we’ll both sign them, deal?” Larry’s face exploded in an ecstatic grin. “Deal.” Outside, on the open-aired pavilion, a group of young girls in shorts and high heels were rehearsing for the Miss Sangamon County Beauty Pageant, which was scheduled for the following evening. They wobbled across the stage in single file. Each girl approached the microphone and rehearsed her speech for the contest. Not wishing to appear to be a voyageur, I slipped away and entered the Expo Building. Inside were four long rows of booths offering everything from aluminum siding to flip-up sunglasses. Being a habitual collector of useless junk, I decided to see how much loose reading material I could acquire for the dressing room. I visited booths offering health food products, moving van services, hair care products, and fertilizer supplies. I even paid a visit to a local Republican candidate who shook my hand and gave me a bumper sticker. He seemed genuinely glad to meet me until I told him I was a California Democrat. Across the aisle was a TV satellite dish booth. Two salesmen in the booth motioned me over. They stood next to a color TV monitor, which at the moment was featuring highlights of the Old Timers baseball game in Washington, D.C. I started to watch when the younger of the two salesmen took my arm and drew me closer to the screen. His partner stepped in close behind me to shield the screen form the public. “Check this out,” he said, switching the cable to a porno channel. A comely young woman dressed only in ankle bracelets was getting overtly personal with a male bodybuilder. The poor fellow was strapped hand and foot to a crude set of stocks. The bearded salesman snickered and gestured at the ten-foot high dish outside. “Buy one of these rigs and you can watch her every night.” I declined the offer and settled for one of their brochures. At 9:00 o’clock that evening the 4th of July fireworks began. They proved to be mildly exciting, with the usual “ohs” and “ahs” from the crowd. I decided to leave when a smoldering piece of casing fell out of the sky and landed on my shoulder. On the drive back to the motel, I thought how lucky I was to be free, an American, and a working gorilla with a job even George Plimpton couldn’t get. The Next Day When I entered the fair the next morning, I checked in on the competition for the car. Twenty-five hours had been marked off on the time clock. The clean-cut kid I’d spoken with the day before, and a petite brunette girl were the only participants left. The boy yawned continuously and shifted his weight from side to side like a horse in a trailer. 167

The girl stood twisted in pain next to the car while her mother massaged her shoulders. She looked like a punch-drunk fighter trying to make it out for the last round. Their efforts had caught the attention of the local media. A newspaper reporter stood by recording the final moments. “What’s the scoop on these two,” I said. The reporter adjusted his glasses with the tip of his little finger and leaned close to me. He jerked his thumb towards the yawning boy. “Kid’s trying to win so he can join Up with People. He needs two grand, or else they won’t take him.” “What about the girl, she looks pretty tired?” He leaned even closer to me, and whispered as if he were revealing Watergate secrets. “I got ten bucks on her, but she’s fading fast. She lost her roommate, and she needs the car to commute back and forth from college.” “Does the runner-up get anything?” “Yes, a good night’s sleep and a sore back.” This was my big day: two World’s Greatest Mime Shows, and one lengthy gorilla outing on the schedule. I played the first mime show to a handful of screaming kids in the Expo building and then hurried off to change into the gorilla suit. I had one leg in the unzipped suit when the door opened and a genuine cowboy in full regalia entered. He glanced at me, did a quick double-take, and then ignored me. Maybe he’d been around livestock too long and found nothing unusual about taking a pee in front of a hairy ape. He shook, flushed, and carefully washed his face and hands. “Do you know what time it is?” I said, trying to get a response. He paused at the door and examined his watch. “Yeah, I do,” he said, shutting the door carefully behind him as he left. My dresser from the production office failed to show due to an unfortunate accident involving her golf cart and a retired shoe salesman, now on his way to the hospital in Springfield. I recruited an elderly lady with blue hair from the batik display to pin me up. She took to the task with ease, making me feel like a small boy being buttoned up for a winter outing. She stepped back to examine her work, “You look lovely, just lovely,” she said, meaning it. I liked her better than the cowboy already. Once outside, I ran over to the Expo building and terrorized the Republican candidate, then knuckle-walked to the production office. I waved at several shrieking babies who were thrust in my face. One, in particular, caught my attention. He looked to be a yearling at best. He smiled and chirped, secure in the safety of his stroller. Little did he know he was about to be swooped up in the air and shoved directly into the arms of a life-sized gorilla. “Anthony...say hello to the nice monkey,” said his father pushing the doughy kid into my arms. His mom gave me a worried look. “I’m not sure it’s such a good idea,” she said. “He’s got to learn some time,” said his father letting go of Anthony. A long shiny strip of spittle dripped from the baby’s mouth. It hung glistening in the 168

sunlight for a moment and then plummeted down to form a dark bubbly circle on my dusty rubber ape foot. Baby Anthony remained happy until he saw my face. He shrieked as though he had just been visited by a demon from hell—arched his tiny back and twisted out of my arms with a terrific jerking motion. I lunged for the airborne baby and caught him by the ankles. He dangled upside down like a writhing tuna on a rope. The angry mother snatched the screaming kid out of my hands and snapped at her shrugging husband. “You idiot!” Sensing a major argument brewing, I slipped away from the murmuring crowd. I figured the nasty turn of events required a quick retreat, so I had no choice but to steal a golf cart from the production office. I careened through the gaping crowd and headed straight for the petting zoo at the far side of the fairgrounds. The Petting Zoo Incident The petting zoo was located next to the livestock pavilion. A half-dozen small pens housed animals that the visitors and their children could pet through the wooden fence. One donkey, a miniature horse, a brown and white calf, a yew and two lambs, several pigs and chickens, and one empty pen filled with straw. I parked the cart behind the Budweiser stand and snuck towards the empty pen. Luckily, the zoo area wasn’t crowded, as it’s rather difficult to sneak anywhere wearing an ape suit. A long-haired kid in a cut-off Levi jacket spotted me as I ducked past the beer stand. He grabbed the proprietor’s arm, who at that moment was busy drawing a draft. “You sure that ain’t ape piss your sellin’...I just seen a goddamn gorilla run outa’ your stand!” The bartender plunked down the kid’s brew and shook his head. “Seventy-five cents, take it or leave it.” I vaulted over the three-foot fence and curled up in the straw. My face strategically hidden from view. I didn’t have to wait long for my first visitors. Nearby, a nice looking white bread family with two kids were cooing and poking at a hibernating sow. “Eeeeyou...he’s ugly,” whined the little girl. “Let’s kill him and make pork rinds,” snarled her brother, kicking a piece of bark at the pig. The father ran his fingers through his thick yellow hair and stared at the pig. “Damn thing must weigh two-three hundred pounds,” he said, sounding like an adding machine. Obviously this family were missing the aesthetic value of the animals. I decided not to disappoint them. I’ve never been lucky in terms of being at the right place at the right time to land the big jobs in show business, but I’ve always been extremely fortunate in falling into bizarre situations. Sometimes I look for these situations, but more often than not, they just occur. Once I was in the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport waiting for my luggage when I overheard a businessman talking to his partner: “Look at that darn bag...looks like the Tourister gorilla got a hold of it.” 169

I quickly reached into my shoulder bag and put on the actual head of the American Tourister gorilla from my costume. Then I tapped the gentleman on the shoulder. “Excuse me for interrupting,” I said, showing my teeth, “but I AM the American Tourister gorilla.” I took the head off and handed the gaping stranger my card which, read: Don McLeod—AKA the American Tourister Gorilla. To this day, the look on his face remains as one of my favorite moments in show business. Probably not as good as getting the Academy Award, but awful damn close. Curiously enough, I felt another such moment beginning to form as I burrowed deeper into the straw. I pulled bits of straw around my arms and legs, so the only thing visible to the family would be a large lump of brown fir. They moved closer and stopped at the adjacent pen. I could hear the muffled sound of the brother blowing raspberries at the mule. “Hey, donkey you’re stuuupid!” jeered the little girl. Suddenly the family fell silent. In the background I could hear the bleating of a lone sheep and the distant twang of a country band on the main stage. The family shuffled through the straw to the edge of my pen. “What the heck is that?” said the male brat. The father cleared his throat and spat. “Looks like a bear or somethin’, “ he said in an authoritative voice. Someone in the family started kicking the fence. “Hey, wake up, bear,” yelled the male kid. Without warning something hit me on the back. It felt like a small rock or a stick. “I said, WAKE UP BEAR!” screamed the kid again. I awoke and much much more. I jumped to my feet with the fury of a starving, rabid rhinoceros. With a terrible growl, I grabbed the kid and yanked him over the fence into the pen. I picked him up by the shoulders and gave him a good shake before dropping him onto the straw at my feet. Gone were the rosy cheeks of youth. The boy’s face held the pale blueish pallor of mortal fear. The kid’s legs were churning in midair as he leaped over the fence. And by the time he landed on the other side, his parents and sister were fifty yards away. So much for the theory of paternal instinct to defend their young in the hands of adversity. I patted the mule on the rump and climbed from the pen. I jumped on the golf cart and tore off through the infield towards the carnival. The Carnies My arrival brought forth a volley of shouts from the carnival hucksters. “Hey, monkey! Over here,” yelled a tattooed fellow in a sweat-stained shirt. A willowy kid at the baseball toss joined in. “Hey, ape, come over here...have a free throw on the house.” He aimed the velocity speed gun, and I shot-putted the baseball towards the target. A crowd of teenagers began forming behind me. Soon every booth operator in the carnival wanted the ape as a drawing card. I picked 170

up a dart and was about to throw it at a wall of balloons, when an oily little man, who looked like Peter Lorre, grabbed my arm. He raised himself up on his toes and whispered in my non-functioning ape ear. “I think we could make some real money together, give me a call.” I stuffed his business card into my mouth and escaped through the crowd to the golf cart. I fearfully realized that the man was probably right—we could make money together, and I’d end up as a sideshow attraction in some sleazy circus. Right alongside Rubber Girl, The Armless Man who shaved with his feet, and Little Ervie, the famed dead whale on ice, I’d seen at the California State Fair in Pomona several years ago. As rumor has it, some fellow found a dead baby whale on the beach in Oregon. He raced out and scooped up the whale, placing him in a refrigerator truck. He later placed him in a block of ice where he remains today; a featured attraction at numerous carnivals throughout the country. I raced through the crowd like Mr. Toad on his wild ride, as visions of me sitting behind bars in a carny sideshow flashed across my brain. I could almost hear the scratchy tape-recorded voice of the barker announcing my capture. “Step right up folks and see the incredible beast from the darkest jungles of Africa. This terrible beast is not to be trusted, keep your young ‘uns back!” I tried to slip into the dressing room unnoticed, but to no avail, for I’d timed my entrance during the middle of a beauty makeup seminar. An attractive middleaged lady stood on the stage, applying a cosmetic make-over to a portly woman in a flower print dress. I hopped on the stage, grabbed the makeup brush from the trembling demonstrator, and began applying powder to the terrified woman in the chair. I figured it would give the woman something to tell her husband when she got home. Several women in the back started booing at me. Apparently, they were taking this event pretty seriously, so I slunk off to the men’s room for my transformation into a dehydrated human. Twenty minutes, later I stumbled out of the Adult Building disguised as a normal citizen in jeans and a sweatshirt. Beauty Pageant Outside, a huge crowd jammed the open-aired pavilion. They were awaiting the start of The Miss Sangamon County Beauty Pageant. Brian, a production assistant, pushed through the crowd towards me. “Don, how would you like to help me?” “What do I have to do?” “Nothing but watch the girls, we need to make sure some goon doesn’t try to grab them during the show.” I weighed the benefits of viewing seventeen-year-olds in bathing suits versus the beach girl movies on cable television. “Sign me up,” I said, stepping over the rope into the VIP area. 171

The county fair may be dying in the Midwest, but the old fashioned beauty pageant seemed to be doing just fine. The crowd had begun stomping their feet in anticipation of the show. “What’s the delay?” I asked Brian. “We have to wait for the sun,” he said. The setting sun was shining under the rafters of the pavilion and into the spectator’s eyes. When the crowd’s displeasure began to reach the danger level, it was decided to move the mid-show entertainment up to opening act status. A woman from the American Appaloosa Society introduced a troupe of young ladies, all of whom were Appaloosa owners and contestants in the upcoming horse show at the Illinois State Fair. A lengthy fashion show of western riding wear followed. A pubescent male behind me grew impatient for the main event and hollered at the stage: “Get off—we want the babes!” Moments later, the pre-show ended and the local DJ took the stage. After a short speech praising the organizers of the pageant and the obligatory introduction of the former queens, the spectacle began. Thirty young girls in flowing formal gowns emerged from the wings with Busby Berkeley precision. Each girl gave a brief description of her habitat and favorite hobby. I viewed the remainder of the event with mixed emotion; on the one hand, these girls where being judged purely on their appearance (there was no talent contest). Certainly not a victory for the women’s movement of the ‘80s. Yet, there remained a wholesome quality about the pageant, which I found refreshing. A small-town community celebrates its most beautiful females. At 10:15 p.m. a slender brunette with silky hair and an attractive overbite was selected as the queen. She would reign over the fair for the remaining three days. The losers shuffled off, draped in the consoling arms of their loved ones. The queen and her “runners up” stood smiling and laughing on stage, surrounded by bubbling family members, photographers, and friends. The crowd dispersed quickly, leaving a sea of paper cups and crumpled programs behind. I waded through the debris and exited into the parking lot. Big Mime Show Day The following morning I awoke to a desperate voice on the phone. “Don, this is Mary at the Fair. We’ve got a problem. Landmark Chrysler Plymouth have just sold your courtesy car. They need it back.” “How soon?” I mumbled. “Right away, one of the salesmen will meet you in a half-an hour. He’ll bring you another car.” I switched the Dodge Lazer for a beige Plymouth Duster, put my pajamas back on and went back to bed. 172

The next two days of the fair passed without incident. The crowds were large and well behaved. But on the closing day, I sensed excitement in the air when I entered the grounds. The production office buzzed over the success of the fair, and the raffle for the new Lincoln Mark IV was only hours away. I’d foregone buying a ticket because I figured it wouldn’t look good for the ape/mime to win. However, any ethical doubts I had were erased when the wife of a major fair official took me aside and asked if I’d go in with her on 24 tickets. “Come on honey, we’ll split the car if we win...it’s only $20 apiece.” I settled for six tickets. When I dropped my tickets into the wire box, I got a strange feeling that this was to be my lucky day. The feeling was so strong that I quickly bought another $10 worth for myself. I started thinking about cashing in my airline ticket and driving the glorious Lincoln home. I had three shows that day, the first of which was my big mime show on the Coca-Cola Good Times stage. After carefully applying my whiteface makeup, I climbed into a pair of black parachute pants and a new-wave sweatshirt. My mind raced back to the day in 1972 when I opened for Fleetwood Mac at the San Diego Sports Arena. Ten thousand fans waving lighters in the dark and screaming with approval for my band. And today I estimated I’d be playing to a least 1500 people, all seated on the grass and cheering for the “World’s Greatest” mime. As I neared the stage, I could tell I’d overestimated my drawing power by about 1400. A smattering of people sat by the stage, leftover from the Christian rock band who proceeded me. I started up the steps to the stage when someone grabbed me by the arm and spun me around. Two burly bare-chested fellows tried to shake my hand. “Hey, you’re a mime...far fucking out,” said the red head. “I’m Carl and this here’s Danny. What ya doing?” “I’m doing a show in a couple of minutes—stick around.” I said hoping to keep them friendly. “Far out...can ya hold on a minute? I gotta get us some more beer,” said Carl. He paused a moment to contemplate the task. “Danny, you get it. I got the last three rounds!” Danny stumbled off toward the beer stand. A dishwater blonde with stringy hair and bad skin stood behind Carl. She wore cut-off jeans and a baggy tank top. Carl ignored her although I got the impression she was his girlfriend. “You wanna blow some weed? We got some killer shit...smoked some already, man are we fucked up!” The girl nodded her confirmation. Carl was so ripped his eyes appeared to have developed a thin layer of film over them. “I dig mime,” he said, sloshing a splash of beer on my pant leg. I motioned for them to be seated and mounted the stage. A garbled announcement came over the public address system: “Ladies and gentleman...Don McLeod the World’s Greatest Mime on the Coca-Cola stage. 173

I stalled while a few people wandered to the perimeter of the stage. After five minutes, about 150 people stood looped around the viewing area. Carl and the girl sat with their feet resting against the edge of the stage. Danny staggered through the crowd carrying an armload of beer. I was about to start when I noticed a problem. The canopy over the stage was supported by a thick aluminum pole, which was permanently placed in the center of the stage. My show would have to be played on either the right or left half of the stage to avoid the pole. Pork, the country singer, had dealt with the problem by draping himself around the pole with a mike in one hand and a beer in the other. My show required the use of both hands and a clear line of visibility for the audience. I moved to the right of the obstruction and motioned to the sound man to start the music. Just as the first few notes of my opening number began to play, the air was shattered by a new PA announcement. “Ladies and gentlemen, the finals in the motor cross bike championships are about to get started at the Grandstand.” An announcement proclaiming the Second Coming couldn’t have produced a stronger reaction; the crowd dropped half-finished cups of beer, spun on their heels and stampeded through the concession area towards the grandstand. When the dust had settled, I counted fifteen people in attendance, including Carl, Danny and the dish-water blonde. Angry and depressed, I somehow got through the show. “Far out...you’re incredible!” yelled Carl throughout the performance. The rest of the crowd clapped politely. I finished the show with a dramatic piece about the creation of the world, which offered a few too many possibilities for Carl to handle. He wobbled toward the stage and hung his heavy forearm over my shoulder. “You’re just too fucking far out, man...that creation freaked me right fucking out.” “I’m glad you liked it,” I said, pulling away from his smoldering cigarette, which lay dangerously close to my right cheek. “I work at the state hospital over in Jacksonville,” he said, pointing incorrectly to the north. “I could get you a show there easy, an there’s a bar in town thata’ be great. You’d blow those fuckers away!” I thanked Carl for his interest and tried to slip away. “Hey man, I’ll meet ya later when you come out. We’ll get high, an I’ll tell ya about the bar.” I waved goodbye and sprinted to the dressing room. This time I locked the door. Twenty minutes later, I snuck out a side door and checked for Carl. He was draped over the beer stand counter and seemed to trying to focus on the doorway to the Adult building, where he expected me to appear. More Gorilla Antics At six o’clock I did my final show. I had a choice of doing a mime set or the gorilla, so I decided on the gorilla. Since I’d received a complaint regarding the petting zoo incident, it was recommended that I be escorted on the golf cart by 174

Brian, my friend from the beauty pageant. We decided to first pay a surprise visit to the Demolition Derby. With me now in full gorilla regalia, we sped over to the grandstand area and whisked past a waving security lady to the dirt track. The crowd went wild at the sight of a gorilla racing around the track on a golf cart. The security lady began frantically yelling into her walkie-talkie. I could imagine her conversation; “We got a renegade gorilla loose on the track. I need a backup unit with a tranquilizer gun and a net. No, he’s not on foot, he’s driving a golf cart!” We completed one lap and bounced up the entrance past the stunned guard and down into the holding area where a surly group of demolition drivers was revving up their battle scared automobiles. Several idle drivers spotted me and starting motioning for me to drive over to them. I wanted to, but Brian sensed they were a bit too liquored up to be trusted. “Don those creeps would just as soon beat you up as look at you. Let’s get outa here.” I spun the cart around on two wheels and buzzed off towards the safety of the main fairgrounds. Not to be denied, one derby driver ran after us waving his arms and shouting. “Hey, come here, ape, get your hairy ass over here!” He pulled up short of our fleeing cart, wadded a Coor’s can in his fist, and hurled it in our direction. We shot past the Ferris wheel and the Zipper, hung a right at the production office, and headed south towards the Booze Brothers concert on the main stage. The Booze Brothers were an excellent band, molded after the infamous Blues Brothers of Belushi and Aykroyd fame. We entered in the midst of a rowdy, footstomping number. I leaped on the stage and began dancing with the lead singer. I went into my best break dancing routine and ended the number by spinning on my back in center stage. The ovation was tremendous. I took several bows and then dove headfirst into the crowd. I landed heavily on about six people, who offered only minimal resistance to my fall. The major blow breaker being a shirtless, barefoot reveler who, by all appearances, had passed out on the grass several hours earlier. I bounced off his chest and rolled across his face. He groaned, shook his head, and looked up at the ring of human heads staring down at him. He turned slowly around to see what had so rudely awakened him, and came face to face with a sweaty, panting ape. “Excuse me,” I said in my most controlled human voice, “I’ve had a slight fall.” Remembering a scene from an old war movie, I reached over and gently closed his eyes. His head fell heavily to the ground and his mouth dropped open. After the concert, it was announced that the drawing for the car would take place shortly. People poured in by the thousands. Tight-lipped faces watched as Miss Sangamon County reached a delicate arm in the barrel and withdrew the winning ticket. 175

I didn’t win. The new Lincoln went to one of the demolition drivers. A teenage girl next to me threw her ticket stub away in disgust. “Jeff ’s old man is a millionaire. It isn’t fair. He shouldn’t win anything!” Her boyfriend nodded in agreement. “Yeah, my sister knows him, says the guy’s a real jerk.” Brian tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I’d like to meet the famous drummer Buddy Rich as a consolation prize. “Sure,” I said. We drove behind the stage and parked next to a large touring bus. Buddy and his road manager were playing catch with a softball. Fred stood nearby, checking his notepad. I waited patiently for Buddy to notice me. “Don, good to see you,” said Fred, “I’d like you to meet Buddy Rich.” Buddy turned around and looked at me without any reaction. Just another fan, the ape suit didn’t faze him. “How you doing?” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed your percussion work,” I said, trying to sound sincere behind 40 pounds of foam and fir. “Thanks,” he said, turning away to toss the ball. Fred took me aside and introduced me to the pilot of the Atlas hot-air balloon. “How about going for a ride?” the pilot asked. “It’s a little windy, but we’ll follow you with a truck, and bring you back when we land.” I weighed the possibilities of being blown all the way to Chicago and decided to pass. “How about me getting in the speedboat instead?” I said. (Atlas Van Lines owns a world-class speedboat, which was on display next to the Expo building. Brian drove me over to the speedboat. I climbed into the cockpit and posed for some photos with the driver. An excited parent decided it would be grand if I could hold his child in my arms for a photo. Here I was, 35 years old and a college graduate, wearing an ape suit and standing 12 feet in the air on a speedboat holding a baby. Below, a line of parents bearing armloads of small children had begun to form. I felt like a faith healer trying to rid the infants of some dreaded disease. The driver knelt on the bow and handed the kids to me while the photographer rolled around on the ground to get the best angle. Car wreaks, double suicides, an ape on a boat with a baby—it was all the same to him. The session ended when the last baby was returned safely to his parents. The Frog Croaking Contest I packed the ape suit in the trunk and headed back outside for dinner. Behind the Adult building, I noticed a strange green and yellow booth surrounded by several hundred people on a portable grandstand. A dozen males were lined up in front of the booth. They stood facing a man wearing a yellow frog tee-shirt and a green frog cap. He barked out instructions through a distorted P.A. system.


“All right, are there any more contestants for the frog croaking contest?” I moved closer to get a better look. “You sir, how about it? Want to give the croaking contest a try?” I looked behind me and then realized he was pointing directly at me. When I was a kid, I used to practice an annoying croaking sound that drove my parents crazy. I accomplished the sound by sucking air forcefully backward down my throat while mouthing the word ORRRRRaaaaaack. I hadn’t attempted the sound in nearly twenty years, but the technique remained fresh. Blushing slightly, I stepped into line. The other croakers offered up weak gutless sounds that more resembled a person saying croak than the actual sound of a frog. When my turn came, the frog chairman asked my name and occupation. I just smiled and said nothing. He stuck the microphone into my face. I exhaled and sucked hard, mouthing the “orrack” word. A lengthy resonant series of croaks emitted from my throat. The crowd broke into spontaneous applause. I was the undisputed winner of the frog croaking contest. The chairman handed me an extra-large yellow tee-shirt with the words I CROAKED AT THE FROG CROAKING CONTEST printed in green across the chest. After viewing a crate full of toads, I shook hands with the losers and headed for the production office to tell Fred about my new found talent. I thought he might be able to market me as a frog croaker. I recreated the sound for him. He smiled absent-mindedly and said, “That’s nice,” as he picked up a ringing telephone. On the way out of the fair, I stopped to check on the car leaning competition. The Up with People want-to-be kid had won the car, with a time of 36 hours. The girl had dropped out earlier in the morning because of back cramps and a dizzy spell. Back in the production office, I said my goodbyes to the staff and picked up my check. Driving back to Springfield, I realized just how good this road-less-taken life of mine was. I now had enough money to live on for at least a couple of months, and enough money to buy all the new novels I’d been eyeing on the New York Times Book Review pages.



One thing I learned from working in a gorilla suit is that once the sweat starts pouring out of you, and you begin to see floating white spots, you are about to either pass out or begin hallucinating. The latter happened to me on the set of Mom Can I Keep Her, a low budget film about a boy who adopts a gorilla who has escaped from a carnival attraction. I’d been running around an auto parts junkyard in 103-degree heat when the hallucinations started. My dresser/assistant helped me back to the trailer, removed my ape head, and placed a wet towel over my face. The power was out in the trailer, making the heat even more unbearable. “Hang in there, buddy,” said Larry, the assistant, “I’d get you out of the suit, but they need you back for another scene in a few minutes.” I mumbled something about quitting the gorilla business, and then slipped into a full-blown acid-like visionary memory of my former life before I ever began playing gorillas. It went something like this: July 1968 I’m back in my childhood hometown of Manchester, California. I’m 19 years old, back on the old rickety wooden porch sipping homemade lemonade. With my disillusioning year at the Pasadena Playhouse acting school behind me, my thoughts return to baseball. I close my eyes and imagine myself standing on the pitcher’s mound over at the high school. A gust of cool ocean air swirls across the infield and kicks up a puff of chalk just beyond the third-base bag. The air is pungent with the smell of Cypress trees, which surround the baseball diamond. We’re leading the Anderson Valley Panthers 1-0 with two outs in the top of the ninth. I’m working on a two-hitter, but the Panthers have a runner at third and their leading slugger at the plate. I hitch up my baggy pants and glance into the stands. A dozen or so spectators, including my parents, are looking on. Mom gets to her feet and yells, “Come on, Donald, strike him out!” Dad spits a shot of tobacco juice under the stands and punches the air with his fist. A heavy-set kid steps into the batter’s box and paws the dirt with his cleats. He looks out at me and pounds the plate with his bat. I have a two-strike one-ball count on him, but he’s just blasted my best curve for a 350-foot foul. The kid glares


at me as if to say, “the next one’s going to be fair.” His teammates are perched on the edge of their dugout yelling insults. “Hey, McLeod, you’re all washed up!” “Hey pitch, hey pitch, hey pitch . . .” “It’s Pearl Harbor time. Better go home to your momma!” I stand on the mound and peer at our catcher, Dick Hollaway. He signals for a curve. I shake him off and walk towards home plate to discuss the pitch. As we meet, I notice we are standing in a bright ray of sunlight, which has found its way through a hole in the trees behind first base. Dick gives me a quizzical look. “What the hell you want me to call,” he whispers, “you only got three pitches.” “Just stay here, we gotta stall until the sun hits home plate.” “What?” I gesture towards the impatient batter. “Fatty just creamed my best curveball. When the sun gets in his eyes, I’m gonna throw him a high hard one.” We whisper back and forth for a few seconds as the sun creeps towards the batter’s box. The umpire strolls out and removes his mask. “Come on, McLeod, I got dinner waiting. Let’s go!” I twist my face with mocked pain and rub my shoulder. “I think I’ve dislocated my shoulder. I don’t know if I can finish.” “Come on. You only need one more out.” “All right, let me take a couple of practice throws,” I say, continuing to rub my right shoulder. “Okay, but make ‘um quick,” he says, turning back towards the plate. The sunlight has now slipped to within a few feet of the enemy. I stall for a few more seconds and then make two feeble tosses to Holloway. The stage is set as the ray of sunlight is now glancing off the umpire’s bright orange chest protector. The fat kid digs in at the plate and defiantly rotates his wrists around the bat handle. He is in that awkward station in life between adolescence and manhood. He appears pudgy, but if the last ball he’s hit off me is any indication, he is about to burst forth into manhood at my expense. He raises his thick neck and squints as a flash of light glances off his batting helmet. I wind up and fire a wicked sidearm fastball towards the plate. The kid pulls back and in doing so, leans into the blinding sun. He cocks his head to avoid the glare and manages a weak off-balanced swing—more suited to a librarian at a Sunday picnic than to the cleanup hitter for the Anderson Valley Panthers. The ball whizzes past him and smacks into Holloway’s outstretched Rawlings. “Strike three yer out!” bellows the ump. The kid throws his bat away in disgust and stomps back to the dugout. A numbing, euphoric energy rushes through my body. I hear the echoic sound of the crowd cheering, and blink at the hazy images of my teammates as they rush to congratulate me. Home plate is now in shadows as the miraculous ray of light vanished behind the trees. 179

The joyous walk back to the old wooden gym will prove to be one of my final memorable moments in organized baseball. I finished my senior year with a .410 batting average and a 7-2 pitching record. I had a brief tryout with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The tryout was casual at best; I pitched batting practice to the subs and rookies. My nervous system got the best of me and I hit two promising players. I was quickly invited to vacate the field. Despite my unsuccessful tryout, I decided to give baseball one more try. I enrolled at California Western University in San Diego as they had a strong baseball program and the campus was located on the scenic Point Loma coastline. I impressed the coach at tryouts and made the team as their fourth pitcher. My new career got off to a slow start; after thirty-one games, I’d pitched just two innings. I’d allowed five hits, three walks, a couple of runs and only one lousy strikeout. My biggest mistake was in choosing a school that had two of the country’s top pitchers in attendance. The left-handed Allen brothers were ranked number one and two on the national N.A.I.A collegiate pitcher’s list. Both brothers had minuscule earned run averages, blazing speed and pretzel curveballs. Our third starter was a broad-shouldered fellow named Bill Lockhart. He had a tendency to be wild, but his ninety mph fastball kept him in the starting rotation. I was what the coach called a short relief man, but I knew the title was merely a euphemism for “last resort.” Since we rarely played more than two games a week, the Allen brothers had little trouble handling the pitching, and if relief was needed, Lockhart got the call. I sat in the dugout and listened to my hair grow. By early May, the team was 24 - 7, and well on the way to a district championship playoff. We had a weekend series in Pasadena. I toyed with the idea of quitting, but then decided to stick around for at least another week, as I wanted to visit my acting friends from the Playhouse. I called my habitually dormant friend, Eric Hesles, to announce my arrival. “Don, buddy... I can’t wait to see you. We’ll have a little get-together at my place to celebrate!” So my plan was set. A free trip to Los Angeles at the expense of the ball team. Coach Potter gave me special permission to stay with my parents during our stay. The rest of the team were assigned to a motel, and subject to midnight bed checks. My parents lived over 400 miles north of Pasadena, but I figured what the coach didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. And Eric was almost like a parent to me. We arrived in Pasadena on a cloudy Friday afternoon. Coach Potter released us on our own recognizance, but not before issuing a stern warning, “You can do anything you want, as long as it doesn’t involve booze or broads. And make sure you’re back in your rooms by 11:00 p.m.” Most of the players planned a trip to Dodger Stadium to catch the game. I planned on a quiet night with a few old friends. I left Eric’s phone number with the team captain and shuffled out of the lobby to await my ride. Ten minutes later, I spotted Eric’s old baby-blue VW careening 180

down Lake Street. Eric was not at the wheel. The driver was an acquaintance of mine named Shawn, a handsome young actor with a villainous smile, chiseled cheekbones, and shoulder-length ebony hair. He ran the VW up on the sidewalk next to the motel and lay on the horn. “Get in Slugger,” he said, pushing open the dented passenger door, “it’s PARTYEEEEE time!” A half-smoked joint hung from his lower lip like a growth. I tossed my duffle bag in the back and slipped down low in the front seat. “Where’s Eric?” “Sleepin. He’s got rehearsal tonight till eleven, so he figured you could eat at our place, and we’ll run you over there later. What the fuck ya doing playing baseball?” asked Shawn. The way he phrased the question, it sounded like I had joined the priesthood. “Had to try it again. It used to feel real good to strike a guy out.” “You wanna feel good smoke this,” he said, shoving the smoldering joint in my face. Not wanting to disappoint him, I took a short drag and returned the joint. Enveloped in a cloud of blue-gray marijuana smoke, we zigzagged down Colorado Blvd., turned right on Los Robles, and screeched to a halt in front of a shabby brown house. “We’re in the basement,” said Shawn, “first door on the left.” “Where you going?” I asked, still feeling a little concerned about my loyalty to the baseball team. “Just to pick up some party supplies,” he said with a wink. “Make yourself at home—door’s open.” An elderly woman in a rocking chair sat watching me from her vantage point on the front porch. She rocked steadily, propelling herself with a well-practiced thrust from the toes of her right foot. She scowled as I tried to slip past, so I waved and said hello. She folded her arms defiantly and continued to stare in my direction. I got the feeling she didn’t care much for her tenants or their friends. I ducked through an overgrown rose-bush archway and hurried down the stone steps to the basement entrance. The door was ajar, so I stepped inside. A pungent odor of incense filled the darkened room. When my eyes adjusted to the light, I noticed two dim forms lying on a stack of paisley-covered throw pillows. The male form belonged to Shawn’s roommate, Eddie Delminico. Eddie had a lanky frame, curly brown hair, and a dark mole on his cheek. He was nude. He was sleeping on his side and emitting long peaceful sighs as he exhaled through parted lips. Eddie’s left leg lay draped across an attractive blond girl. She was clad in a pair of yellow bikini briefs and a tangle of waist-length hair. A ravaged baggy of marijuana lay next to them on a redwood burl table. And in the far corner of the room, a handful of colored pills rested on a paperback copy of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing In America. Vintage Ravi Shanker droned from the Hi-Fi and a cube of incense smoldered in an ashtray by the window. 181

The girl shifted and rolled onto her right side, exposing a firm, peach-sized breast. I quickly turned my head, more out of respect than from a lack of interest. A shaft of golden sunlight crept through the frayed curtain edge and splashed over a Jimi Hendrix poster on the opposite wall. A swirl of incense smoke drifted into the light, paused momentarily to perform its hypnotic dance, and then drifted lazily towards the ceiling. For a moment, I lost all sense of self. I couldn’t be a baseball player...the concept of sport simply failed to exist here. My fateful chameleon personality took over—I had a sudden urge to disrobe, smoke a joint, and cuddle up to the sleeping girl. The thought of Coach Potter walking into the room caused the orgy image to fade like a scene change on a home movie. I thought about returning to the motel, but then realized I didn’t even have a room there. What would I say to the coach? That my parents weren’t home? A dedicated Olympian would have headed for the door, but I decided to stay and see what developed. A grimy string bearing a silver peace sign clasp dangled from the ceiling. I pulled the string and a naked bulb flared on overhead. Harsh hundred-watt white light illuminated the room. Eddie awoke with a start. “What’s going on?” he said, shielding his eyes with his forearm. He squinted at me for a moment before recognition set in. “Donnie, what are you doing here?” I filled him in on the details of my visit while he struggled into a gray caftan. “Who’s the girl?” I asked, trying to sound casual. “Patti. She’s our roommate. Man, this Gold is good stuff,” he said, gesturing towards the bag of marijuana. “Gives you the wildest dreams.” Eddie reached over and slapped Patti on the rump. She murmured and reached back to scratch her thigh. Eddie gave her a second slap, and she sat up, blinking into the light. “Patti, this is Donnie—he’s an old buddy— used to be an actor. Now he’s playing baseball.” “Far out,” said Patti stretching her arms out over her head and exposing her breasts in the process. She smiled at me, yawned, and got to her feet. Our introduction was as casual as a chance meeting in a supermarket. “‘When’s your game?” asked Eddie. “Tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.” “Good, then you have time for a smoke,” he said, picking up a packet of Zig Zag rolling papers. With a few deft flicks of his wrists, he produced a tightly rolled joint. I took several sociable puffs. Thirty minutes later, I found myself anchored to the floor, studying the liner notes on a Doors album. Shawn burst into the room, carrying a bag of groceries. I waved him over to me. “Shawn... I gotta talk to you!” My voice sounded foreign and distant. “What’s the deal with Patti?” He grinned at me like the Cheshire Cat. “She’s cool. A beautiful, free-spirited flower child. How’d you like the smoke?” I felt my dry lips stretch across my face 182

to form a guilty smirk. “You’d never make it in a poker game,” said Shawn giving me a slow-motion cuff on the cheek. “Relax, we’ll cook you up a feast.” Patti, now wearing a short rose-colored kimono, busied herself in the kitchen with an electric mixer. Eddie and Shawn stood in the corner, cutting greens for a salad. “Anything I can do to help?” I said. “Yeah,” answered Eddie with a sly grin, “you can be in charge of the music.” I retreated to the living room and flipped through the record stack. Jefferson Airplane, The Charlatans, Moby Grape, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Blues Project, Stones 12 x 5, and the Strawberry Alarm Clock. I chose the Alarm Clock album. I placed the nickel-weighted tonearm on the record and settled back to the strains of mellow acid rock. “Incense and Peppermints, the Color of Time,” droned the singer. Shawn and Eddie drifted into the room carrying plates of steamed vegetables, a platter of steak, a bowl of tossed green salad, and two bowls of mashed potatoes; one large community bowl and a small single-serving bowl, which they carefully placed in front of me. They seemed to be sharing some secret joke as they kept breaking into fits of laughter every time I took a bite from the potatoes. I figured they were just high and found the meal humorous. Patti ate in silence without looking up. “Donnie, you ever tripped?” said Shawn through a mouthful of salad. “Yeah, once rounding second after a double, but the guy threw me out before I could get back to the bag.” Shawn’s mouth exploded, sending a shower of partially chewed salad over the table. With eyes shut and pinched lips, he hooted and slapped the carpet like a downed wrestler. “Donnie— you’re beautiful!” he gasped, “Your innocence kills me.” “He means acid. Have you ever taken LSD,” snapped Patti, irritated by my ignorance of drug culture jargon. “No,” I answered, “but I’ve heard a lot about it.” “What did you hear?” said Eddie picking up bits of Shawn’s chewed lettuce and arranging them in neat rows at the edge of his plate. “Tim Leary said in Time Magazine that it alters perception and consciousness. He said that a simple act like driving on a freeway feels like you’re going over a colored waterfall in slow motion.” “Would you like that?” asked Eddie. “Maybe... I don’t know.” “Donnie...don’t get excited,” said Shawn, “but you’re about to have your first acid trip.” “What do you mean?” “Eddie and I figured you’d like to have a good evening, so we put a couple of hits of Window Pane in your potatoes.” I swallowed a bit of steak and tried 183

to comprehend the situation. So far, I felt fairly normal, except for a lingering fuzziness from the afternoon pot. “Well, you know me...always up for a new adventure. What’s going to happen?” I asked, leaning back against a lumpy throw pillow. “Who knows,” said Shawn. “That’s the beauty of the trip—just go with the flow. As long as you stay cool, you’ll have a great time.” “Images,” said Eddie downing a gulp of Coke, “Everything you look at or think about will seem like the greatest event in your life.” “Sounds like I should pay you guys. When will I start to feel something?” “Twenty minutes, maybe an hour. Depends on the person,” answered Eddie. “How long does it last?” Eddie gave Shawn a nervous glance. “Eight, ten hours if you’re lucky.” “What about my baseball game?” “You’ll be fine by then, don’t worry...besides you aren’t playing anyway, are you?” said Shawn. “Probably not.” “Then relax, we’ll go into Hollywood and then over to Eric’s for the party.” “You guys didn’t take any, did you?” I asked, hopefully. “Are you kidding,” giggled Shawn, “the three of us dropped before dinner... in a couple of minutes, we’ll be trippin’ our brains out.” Patti scooted across the carpet and settled beside me. “Just groove with it Donnie, you’ll be fine.” Then she got up and motioned Shawn into the kitchen. Once there, she began whispering to him, but I could hear her as clear as if she were speaking into a megaphone. “You guys are really assholes. I told you not to give him any—what if he freaks out?” “Hey, hey, hey... cool it,” whispered Shawn, “we gotta get Donnie back where he belongs. Baseball’s not where it’s at, man. He’s too good a guy to lose. We need his mind.” Patti shrugged at Shawn’s logic and drifted back into the living room. I glanced at the wall clock and noticed it was 8:14; my teammates would now be downing hotdogs and beer, rooting for the Dodgers. The drug began to take effect in a series of mild visionary waves. Strange little oddities crept into the room, like the tongue-flicking paisley lizard, which had materialized on the Persian rug. I glanced at the salt shaker and noticed that it had sprouted a distinct set of arms and legs, which were kicking away at the air like a poisoned cockroach. I looked down at my left hand. My veins had turned green and were visibly undulating towards my cuff. Suddenly insignificant objects began to acquire deep meaning and an alarming sense of being. A simple yellow pencil on the table became a Cinerama of potentiality: a fragment of fallen tree, capable of transmitting human thoughts to the page, a tool to capture history, a madman’s weapon, a suicide note, a grocery list—then the image broke and I spotted several tiny gremlins disguised as Gideons (of hotel Bible placement fame). My jaw dropped in amazement as I watched them pole vault out of a bureau drawer and 184

land in a giggling pile below on the carpet. They multiplied and began tumbling out from every crack and crevice in the room like creatures from a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Somewhere a voice said: “Are you okay?” It sounded like an airport P.A., only much much slower. I turned and nodded my head at Eddie. My bobbing head made me feel like a plastic bouncing dachshund on the dashboard of a square-wheeled ‘58 Pontiac. “He’s FINE...finefinefinefine,” mumbled Shawn. He lay in the corner, holding my baseball glove a few inches from his face. Shawn rubbed his head and stared slack-jawed at the glove; his face held all the ponderous wonderment of a tribal bushman examining a transistor radio. The glove lost all its functional meaning—old news-reel clips of ballplayer’s gloves flashed before my eyes in decreasing chronological order and ended with the pulsating image of Shawn as a Neanderthal man holding up a strip of bison hide. I looked down at my dinner plate—Andrew Doubleday sloshed about, ankledeep in gravy. He was drawing a baseball diamond in the mush—his tool, the eraser end of a giant number 2 yellow pencil. I pushed the plate away before any further drama could develop and crawled hand over hand into the corner. My brain exploded with a tidal wave of bizarre images and sounds. The slightest audio refraction kicked off a labyrinth of concepts and ocular delights. I lost all concept of time. Shawn suddenly bounded up to me like an imp in the forest. He held a box of Kellog’s Rice Krispies in one hand and a cereal bowl in the other. He giggled and dropped into the lotus position in front of me. “And now for your listening pleasure, I will conduct a symphony in puffed rice.” He tapped the bowl against the cereal box. Like utter fools, Eddie, Patti, and I stared wide-eyed at him as he began to pour the rice. A roar exploded as the rice careened down the waxed lining of the package. The puffed cereal hung suspended from the lip of the box, and then dove with avalanche force into the porcelain depths of the bowl. The sound was deafening. Patti rose up, as if summoned by some mystical power, and fluttered over to the record player. She fumbled with a record and managed, after several attempts, to center the disc on the spindle. With a terrible scratching sound, the record began to play. The room roared with the agonizing screams from some horrible hell creature. Shawn and Eddie fell against the wall, giggling with delight. I managed to pick up the album jacket, in hopes of finding the source of the sound. It was a sound effects record. The selections read like the credit roll on a bad movie: mean cat in alley, bullfrog, jackhammer, man falling downstairs, baby crying, sneeze, and assorted coughs—all sounds capable of driving a normal listener to the brink of insanity with prolonged exposure. As we cowered from the blast of screeching sounds, I became aware of yet another sound. It could best be described as a moist repetitive thumping sound, 185

like someone banging a ripe cantaloupe on a table. I pointed to the door. “Sound... not on the record.” The others heard it too and responded by racing into the bedroom and shutting the door. The thumping continued. Eddie stuck his head out the door and yelled, “See what it is!” As I crossed to the door, I made the mistake of glancing at the wall mirror. My face was covered by a red and white checkered design, which strangely resembled the plastic table covering. I grabbed the doorknob and opened it by bending sharply at the waist and twisting my body towards the floor. I half expected my feet and legs to float up to join the rest of my body, but they thankfully remained planted in the carpet. I knew it would be too much to ask for a caller to be greeted by a levitating stranger. I inched the door open and peered up into the thin, wrinkled face of the landlady from upstairs. Her head was haloed by a showering glimmer of colored lights from the street lamp behind her. She blinked and squinted at me through a pair of thick bifocals—her eyes magnified to twice their normal size. “Shawn, is that you?” she asked. “Ah, ahhhhh...no! I’m Don.” She stared at me from behind a lumpy brown grocery bag, which she clutched to her breast as though it contained the crown jewels. “I live in San Diego,” I heard myself say. “Oh, that’s nice. My sister-in-law lives down there. It’s such a beautiful city.” “Are you from upstairs?” I said, already knowing the answer. “Yes, dear, forty-five years in July. My husband died years ago, and I’ve been here alone ever since.” She was so sweet and charming. I found it hard to believe she was the same scowling woman I’d encountered earlier. All her features seemed magnified like her eyes. Long strips of flapping flesh dripped from her neck and her lips had been all but swallowed by her gums. Her hair was pinned up tight on her head and had the yellowish hue of a faded newspaper. She wore an out-dated print dress and a loosely knitted purple shawl that hung from her shoulders like a limp python. “I saw you...I, I...ah...I mean, I waved at you earlier,” I heard myself say. “Oh dear, you mean I didn’t wave back? I’m so sorry, but I’m as blind as an old bat at high noon. Darn cataracts took most of my sight. Now I have to wear these awful things,” she said, widening her eyes for emphasis. “I’ve always liked big eyes,” I said. “I was over at the Safeway, and I brought you kids some dates,” she said, reaching into the bag. As she did so, the bag began twitching and squirming. I leaned closer to see if I was hallucinating (which I was), or if the bag was actually moving (which it was). The old woman extracted a circular package of dates and was about to hand them to me when I noticed a tiny pair of hands grasping the top of the sack. I drew back in horror as a wrinkled furry face appeared between her hands and stared at me. 186

The creature lunged at me and grasped my face with its leathery fingers. A miniature rubbery thumb jammed into the soft tissue of my nostril and four spindly fingers wrapped themselves around the bridge of my nose. I was certain the thing was a Martian, and the old lady merely a pawn for its mad quest to rule the earth. “Barney—let go! Let go this minute—is that any way to say hello?” She tugged on a tiny leash and the creature relaxed his grip, slipping meekly back into the sack. “What the heck was that?” I stammered. “Barney’s a spider monkey. He goes everywhere with me. He must have thought you were Eddie, cause he always pulls Eddie’s nose,” said the lady. “Well, I best be going. Here are your dates,” she said with a chuckle handing me the plastic container. I suddenly realized that our entire conversation had been accompanied by the blaring sound effects record, an obnoxious collection of jet take-offs, squealing car tires, and a long section of hospital operating room sounds. The poor woman must have thought that Shawn and Eddie were practicing surgery in the back room. I said goodnight to Barney and the lady and bolted the door shut behind them. My three drugged cohorts were in hysterics in the bedroom as they’d witnessed the proceedings through a crack in the door. Our activities of the next hour escape me, but I do recall examining Patti’s baton twirling trophy as though it were the Holy Grail. Sometime around 11:00 p.m., we all piled into Eric’s VW and wove our way over to Eric’s apartment on Crescent Street. Shawn parked the car under a shedding Eucalyptus tree, and we bounded up the stairs to 209. The party was in full swing. And I was zonked. The essence of every moment and object I encountered was amplified a thousand times. Voices and sounds were distorted and the apartment walls seemed to be visibly pulsating with nervous party energy. Some forty or fifty people were chattering away inside, with a few stragglers hanging over the iron railing out front. Some faces were vaguely familiar as they had been classmates of mine only a few months ago. The others, I either failed to recognize or didn’t know. A six-foot-three Cherokee, named Sonny, was draped on the kitchen counter sucking on a Budweiser. A male dancer, named Tony, dramatically waved a flowing wrist past my face as he described a ballet performance he’d seen at the Civic. A black-haired beauty named Susan, stood massaging the tanned shoulders of an English actress named Penny. And a boisterous kid called Ralphy was boring two wispy blondes with his famous old man impression. My friend Eric, the host of the party, had yet to appear. Familiar faces buzzed to and fro muttering things to me like, “what cha been doin’, welcome home, and heard you was an ‘athooleet’!” I was obviously answering in some foreign tongue, for Eric, who had just arrived, was quickly whisked over to greet and counsel me. He had huge green eyes and a shiny black 187

Elvis pompadour hairdo. He put his arm around my shoulder and asked me what I’d taken. I failed to respond as I was too busy hallucinating on his nose hairs to comprehend the question. Patti overheard Eric, and rallied to my side, throwing her arms around my neck. “Shawn and Eddie put some acid in his food...but he’s having a great time!” she said. Eric pushed her away and drew me aside. “You alright, buddy?” His eyes seemed to dance with brotherly concern. “I’ve got a game tomorrow—got to get in shape,” I said. I dropped to the carpet with boot-camp-efficiency and began doing pushups in rapid succession. Someone wearing cowboy boots stepped on my hand, but I kept going. It took the gentle touch of an actress in a gray silk pantsuit to finally slow me down. I looked up in time to see Eric escorting Shawn and Eddie to the front door. “Don’t you ever fuck with my buddy again,” he hissed, slamming the door shut behind them. Eric motioned the pantsuit girl aside and began discussing some clandestine plan with her. It was nearly 3:00 a.m. and the drug seemed to be getting stronger. Normal speech and simple comprehension were still beyond me. Word of my condition spread quickly through the party. Everyone had an answer to try to bring me down: “Just stay calm, try to walk it off, Take a Demerol, Try a cold shower.” Eric walked over and eyed my condition for any signs of change. “Don, I’m clearing everyone out. Pam and I will take care of you.” Pam, the girl in the silk pants suit, began adopting some kind of Freudian sexual mother role, as she rubbed my shoulders with the palms of her slender hands. “You’ll be fine,” she purred into my ear. She smelled expensive, like the cosmetic counter in a high-end department store. She had soft white skin and the petite, lithe body of a ballerina. Her hair was cut short in a French bob, framing her large blue fawn eyes, tiny sharp nose, and full lips. I also noted that she had rather large breasts for such a small frame. Gradually the revelers drifted away, and I found myself nestled next to Pam on the couch. “Are you coming down yet?” yelled Eric from the bedroom. “Not really, I feel like one those Tesla coils from a Frankenstein movie...feels like sparks are shooting out me! Kinda’ like a nail between two magnets.” “Oh Dear,” said Eric in an earnest tone. “We’ve got to get him to relax,” said Pam stroking the base of my neck with a long red fingernail. Eric, now clad in a blue bathrobe and slippers, sashayed into the kitchen. He gave me a delighted smirk, as if to say I know what’s in store for you, and removed a four-pack of Champale from the refrigerator. “Have one of these,” he said, “they always knock me right out.” I downed the pint of golden effervescence with a few quick swigs and looked at the wall clock. It was 4:30 a.m. I had to be at the ballpark in three and a half hours. 188

Trying to quell an acid trip with Champale is like trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun. My gray cells, mildly diverted by the alcohol, suddenly switched from the kaleidoscopic pattern on the ceiling to an unsettling fascination with Pam’s anatomy. Some drugs and herbs are said to heighten the sexual experience, but LSD is not one of them. Most of my fellow baseball players would have easily voted Pam “a total fox,” but unfortunately, I was too spaced to appreciate her finer canine qualities. Instead, I became engrossed in an intricate study of her individual parts—tiny hairs on her upper lip quivered like wheat in a gentle breeze, and her cavernous nostrils bore down on me like giant suction cups. Eric reappeared from the bedroom, carrying a blue wool blanket and a pillow. He tucked the pillow behind our heads, spread the blanket over us, and flicked off the overhead light. Pam’s soft features began to glow in the hazy, particle-filled light. “You’re beautiful,” she said, drawing me close, “but I wish you weren’t so screwed up.” “Yeah,” I said, meaning a thousand different things. Pam slid her leg over my thigh and pressed her warm cheek against my chest. She parted her lips and nibbled playfully at my shoulder. Here I was in the midst of a romantic fantasy and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. I silently cursed Shawn and Eddie and decided to give it one more try. I reached down and mechanically stroked her knee cap. Pam kicked into overdrive; she twisted her weight on top of me, bent forward at the waist, and began rhythmically whipping her hair across my chest. It felt like someone was flogging me with the silky tassels from an ear of corn. My mind raced through a series of bizarre images, a long line of peasant women waiting their turn to beat me with a varied assortment of garden vegetables. I tried to divert my attention to the normality of the female breast. I fumbled with the top button of Pam’s blouse. She brushed my hand away, whipped the garment over her head, and tossed it to the floor. She leaned over me, supporting herself with a stiff right arm, while deftly reaching behind with the left to remove her bra. She bent forward, allowing her full breasts to fall, like bags of warm sand, against my chest. I tried to caress them, but found myself probing at them as though I were testing produce. “Oh yes—oh yes,” moaned Pam grasping at my dormant crotch. The scene was turning into high comedy for me, and heavy drama for Pam. It was like patting the head of a dog that’s humping your leg. “Yes, yes—Oh yes,” she gasped as she undulated against my hipbone. “Not working,” I stammered. “Yes, yes,” she repeated breathlessly, pumping up and down like an out of control supermarket ride. Suddenly she cried out “Oh, oh, ahhhhh, OWWWWWWWWWWaaaaa,” and collapsed heavily against my side. For the next two hours I lay watching Disney characters run over her body. Mickey and Minnie appeared on the small of her back and set up a picnic. Goofy, 189

wearing baggy red swim trunks, materialized on her shoulder. He pinched his long snout and dove into the darkness behind the couch. By seven in the morning I felt like somebody had sawed open the back of my head with a butter knife, and filled me with industrial waste. The hallucinations were still present, and although they were somewhat milder in nature, they were starting to get ugly. Harsh morning light poured into the apartment, burning my dry eyelids. I woke up Pam. She moaned and struck out at me with a limp fist. I shook her a little harder and said, “I gotta get to the game. Can you drive me over?” “Get Eric,” she muttered, dragging the blanket over her tousled hair. Eric was known to sleep like an ox skull in the desert. I shook him and pounded on the mattress, causing his head to bounce up and down on the pillow. But he slept on. Pam was my only hope. I raced around the room in a panic, gathering my effects. I had my duffel bag, but I’d left my baseball glove on the floor at Shawn’s house. With time running out, I grabbed Eric’s blue robe from the bedroom and wrapped it around Pam. “Hey come on...I’m sleepin’,” she moaned. I found her car keys in her purse, then picked her up and dragged her out the door and down the steps to her car. I plopped her down in the passenger seat and fired up the red corvette. In checking the rear-view mirror, I was happy to note that no vegetation had spurted from my head during the night. But I did look terrible none the less—bloodshot eyeballs, pasty-white skin, greasy, matted hair, and a two-day growth of beard. Twenty minutes later, we squealed into the parking lot at Pasadena City College and stopped behind the team bus. I yanked my bag from the back and tossed the keys to Pam. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled, “I’ll make it up to you... if you want to stay for the game—” “I hate baseball, and I hate you,” she snapped. A group of well-rested ballplayers stood ogling Pam as she crawled over the console to the driver’s seat. “Whoa McLeodie...where’d you get that little honey,” said Jim Allen, our star pitcher. Pam yanked Eric’s robe over her exposed thigh and threw the Vet into reverse. She gave me the finger, and tore out of the parking lot, leaving a long strip of burning rubber in her wake. Coach Potter strolled over to me and smiled like a gunslinger in a saloon showdown. He cleared his throat and spat sharply into the gutter. “Just what the hell you been doing, McLeod?” “I’m ah... sorry... am I late?” “You were supposed to meet the team at the motel, and I suppose you’re going to tell me that broad was your sister.” It sounded logical, so I nodded my throbbing head. “Get your goddamned uniform on—you’re starting!” 190

“I’m...what?” “You’re pitching the first game. We found out last night we have to play three games. A rainout and our scheduled doubleheader,” snapped Potter. I briefly debated a fainting spell as it seemed the only way out. But even that was impossible as the drug had me wired like a telephone relay station. I felt my mouth drop open as I stared at Potter. “Believe me, I don’t want to start you,” he said, reading my mind, “but the Allen’s are pitching the twin-bill and I gotta keep Lockhart for relief. Now get dressed!” I climbed into the team bus and fumbled into my uniform. Potter eased his heavy frame up the bus steps and leaned his red face into the aisle. “And get a haircut hippy, you look like shit.” He dropped back down off the steps and waddled towards the field. By game time, the temperature had risen to muggy 85 degrees. I straddled the mound and completed the remainder of my allotted warm-up tosses. Our opponents were a scrappy bunch of power hitters from La Verne University, originally founded by members of the Church of the Brethren. The players all had crew cuts and cleanly shaved faces, and that smug look of athletes who believe the Lord was on their side, even in a baseball game. These were “must-win” games for both teams, as we were both battling for a playoff berth in the District II, N.A.I A. Finals. Smoggy Southern California sun burned down on me, drenching my body in a sticky sweat. The effects of the LSD were still lingering on—one moment I could see clearly, and the next, I was blinded by a dancing series of flashing lights in my brain. “Play ball, batter up,” yelled the burly umpire. About a hundred fans sat clustered in the stands behind home plate. They appeared to be supporters of the La Verne team. The first batter was a spidery built Latin kid. He crossed himself and spat into his hands. Our catcher, Larry Bora, squatted behind the plate and signaled for a fastball. In the midst of my high-kick windup, I noticed that Larry had, quite without warning, turned into a toad. There he was—an ugly gray mass—dressed for some odd reason in catcher’s gear. I momentarily staggered as I released the ball. It sailed a good ten feet over his head and crashed with a resounding echo against the wire backstop. “Goddamnit, McLeod, settle down,” yelled Potter from the bench. Larry returned to human form and called for another fastball. I served it up with a slow, deliberate toss. It floated up to the plate like a volleyball and the Latin kid drilled it off the 340 sign in left-center field for a stand-up double. I walked the next hitter on four straight pitches. Coach Potter walked out of the dugout and met Larry and me at the mound. He placed his arm over my shoulder and gave my rump an encouraging pat. “Come on, Don, you can do it. Just give ‘um your best stuff and keep the ball low.” I grinned like a man being told 191

a joke on the gallows. To focus, I glanced down at the dancing faces on my shoe tops. The kid on second base yelled into the approaching hitter, “Kill him, Bobby, he ain’t got nothing.” Home plate seemed a hundred miles away. Larry signaled for a curve. My hands were sweating, and the baseball felt like a soggy grapefruit to the touch. The next hitter was a powerful lefty, who slightly resembled Mark McGuire. I broke off my best curve. The ball drifted toward the plate in a wide lazy arch and headed straight for the batter. He tried to duck, but the ball curved in and whacked against his plastic helmet. The wandering sphere ricocheted over the backstop and was grabbed by a lady in the stands. Bobby staggered to first base shaking his head. The bases were now loaded with no outs. A sudden wave of nausea rushed over me and I dropped to one knee on the mound. I tried to cover my illness by pretending to tie my shoelace. Larry rushed out from home plate to see if I was actually the same person he knew from San Diego. “Forget the scouts, McLeod, just throw strikes!” “Scouts?” “Yeah, couple of pro scouts in the stands, but don’t let them bother you. Come on,” he said, jogging back behind the plate. A muscular, steely-eyed African American guy dug in at the plate. He pawed at the dirt like an angry bull eyeing a rookie matador. His muscles looked like they’d been forged out of concrete with a shovel. He looked up and grinned at me. It wasn’t friendly. The first pitch went low for a ball. My second offering was a fat change-up, which was instantly rocketed off the right-center field fence for a triple. Three runs scored, and I’d yet to record even a strike, let alone an out. I prayed for Potter to rescue me, but he left me in for one more try. My friend, and fellow reliever, Bill Lockhart, was now throwing heaters in the bullpen. Potter strode back and forth in the dugout, audibly cursing. My teammates sat slumped on the bench with their hands over their eyes, unable to watch the carnage on the field. Perspiration dripped into my eyes. I wiped at my face with a sweaty forearm in a feeble attempt to erase a chemically induced blue elephant, which kept appearing in the corner of my peripheral vision. I took a deep breath, shook off the vision, and stared in at a raw-boned kid with red hair and freckles. He had a silly, lost expression on his face, so I figured he might be a sucker for a knuckleball. Rearing back, I tossed up a perfect “knuckler.” It wobbled up to the plate like a drunk butterfly. Red stepped back and swatted the ball on a line towards my head. Instinct broke through and screamed at me to get down. I lunged backward, bending sharply at the knees, and dove for cover. In a reflex defensive action, I threw up my borrowed glove and turned my head as the missile bore down on me. The ball careened off the heel of my glove, grazed my right temple, and disappeared overhead. Red ended up on second with a double. I lay twisted on the mound like a car crash victim. My glove lay in the dirt by the mound, and my cap lay 192

several feet behind the mound. My temple burned from the blow. Moments later, an ominous dark shadow fell over me from above. It belonged to Coach Potter. His face looked like a bag of chisels about to explode. He yanked off his cap and slammed it onto the ground at my feet. “McLeod, you bastard, I’m getting you out of here before we get so goddamned far behind that we’ll never catch these guys,” he screamed. I felt like the kid that General Patton had slapped on the face for being a coward. I got to my feet, gathered up my cap and glove, and stumbled off towards the dugout. I sat alone at the far end of the bench, contemplating how long it would take to transfer to the theatre department at California Western University. We lost the game, and I left the team the following Monday. Thus ended my dreams of being a big-league pitcher. But I still play a pretty good left-field on my local softball team. Who knows, maybe there will be a scout in the stands one day.



My agent called with a job I couldn’t refuse. I had a six-month offer to appear once a week on the popular Argentine television show “Ritmo de la Noche 1994.” This was a long-running variety show, which was a hybrid mix of “Solid Gold,” “America’s Funniest Videos,” and “Saturday Night Live.” It ran on Sunday nights from 9:00 p.m. to midnight and was filmed in a large multi-purpose studio in Buenos Aires. I was to appear with my famous gorilla and would be teamed up with a trained chimpanzee named Junior. $50,000 for the six months and all expenses paid by the production company. I moved my part-time girlfriend into my house in Los Angeles to care for my dog and cat in my lengthy absence. The first show I did upon arrival was not with Junior as we hadn’t had time to meet to go over the many comic sketches the producers had planned. In this first show, I was part of magician Franz Harary’s pre-taped illusions. Franz was well known in Latin America for his grand spectacles, such as making a 747 disappear. So it was decided he would make the gorilla disappear in various scenic locations around the city as part of the season’s opening show. I’d already done a relatively good job of making myself disappear in Hollywood for the past few years, by not going to any auditions, so vanishing on camera in Argentina seemed right up my alley. The first illusion had me reading a newspaper on a park bench and then PRESTO—no gorilla, the second one was more involved; I sat hunkered down on a soccer field. The curtain is raised in front of me, and PRESTO I’ve vanished and in my place are six scantily clad Ritmo de la Noche dancers. I believe there was even talk of Franz making the 42 foot Christ peace statue on the border between Argentina and Chile disappear, but the idea was nixed for two reasons: One being that it was over 700 miles away, and then up a steep trail to the mountaintop border, and the second being the concern that if Franz was deemed to possess divine powers, it might be offensive to both the Catholic masses and Jesus himself, should He happen to be looking in on the proceedings. I was disappointed this idea didn’t happen, as many strangers have often asked me if I’ve found Jesus, but no one has asked if I helped make him disappear. We drove around the city to the different locations, filmed the illusions, and then went to the studio for the first live show. Franz did his big high techno show 194

that night and the following day, he returned to Los Angeles. I wasn’t in the live portion of the first show, just in the pre-shot video clips. On the Monday of the second week, the producers called me at the hotel to say they were assigning an assistant to help me get around the city, as my history for getting lost had preceded my arrival. This was turning into a fantastic job—I had the whole week off, except for the occasional days where I’d be taken to various locations to film comic bits with Junior the Chimp. Working one day a week and late at night, my dream job to be sure! I sat reading in my second-story room, which overlooked Revolution Blvd, the main thoroughfare in downtown Buenos Aires, when I heard a bold knock on my door. “Hello, Don gorilla...I’m here to help,” said a distinctly feminine voice in nearperfect English. I had expected the assistant to be a male, so when I opened the door, I was shocked to see the person behind the voice was a stunning beauty with distinctly female attributes. I guessed her to be about twenty-five, five foot four, with a curvy athletic figure. She looked me up and down, flashed a warm smile and said, “Hi, I’m Carmen. I’ll be your assistant for as long as you need me.” I must have been momentarily transfixed by her because she tossed back her long black hair and gave me an impatient look. “Can I come in—or would you rather I stayed outside?” “No, no...of course come in. I’m sorry, I guess I was expecting a teenage guy in dirty jeans and a Metallica T-shirt.” Carmen wore a gray velour sweatshirt, skintight jeans and high heeled black boots that went up to her knees. She brushed boldly past me and strode into the room like she’d lived there for years. There was something vaguely familiar about her—she physically resembled Elaine from the Seinfeld TV show and a young Salma Hayek, the Mexican actress, both in looks and in her mannerisms and movements. Quick-witted, confident, and exquisitely sculpted. “You don’t like my clothes?” she asked, striking a pose like a tango dancer about to begin a routine. “I do...yes, you look...ah...perfect. Please have a seat.” I said, gesturing to a chair by the small desk in the corner. She ignored my suggested seating arrangement and plunked down on the end of the bed. “Mind if I take off my boots? My feet are killing me. It’s six blocks to here from the subway station.” “Please, make yourself at home,” I said. She yanked off her boots, tossed them in the corner, and vaulted up to the head of the bed, where she removed a pillow and placed it behind her back. “So, what did they tell you about being my helper?” “Not much,” she said, “just that you’re a famous gorilla from America, and you’re going to be on the Ritmo show, and you get lost a lot and don’t speak much Spanish.” “I sound rather like a hopeless case,” I said. 195

“No, I can tell you’re a man who knows what he’s doing. You wouldn’t be here if that weren’t true,” she said with flirtatious twinge to her voice. “I’m here to help. Whatever you need, wherever you want to go, just let me know and I’ll take you there. And I’m going to help with dressing you in the gorilla suit too.” “How long will I have the pleasure of you being my assistant?” “They didn’t say. I guess as long as you need help getting around.” “Let’s start with dinner. Are you hungry?” “I’m starving...but I don’t have any extra money for food. They only pay me 380 pesos a day, and I don’t get that until the end of the week.” “That’s about twenty-five U.S. dollars...not much. No worries, dinner is my treat. Now please take us to a typical upscale Argentinian restaurant. Not one for tourists.” Carmen’s face lit up with excitement, then gradually changed to an expression of concern. “I’m not here to take your money. Just to help you get around the city.” “This isn’t my money. It’s the production company’s money. So I can do whatever I want with it. I want to take you to dinner!” She jumped off the bed, pulled on her long boots, and finger-combed her hair in the desk mirror. “I know just the place. It’s only a few blocks from here.” Carmen and I made a brisk walk down Reconquista Ave and turned left on Cordoba Street. Every few steps, I paused to examine the uniquely Europeaninfluenced architecture or to observe the faces of people in the sidewalk cafes. One of the joys of being a first time visitor to a country is that one notices the little things locals may have taken for granted for most of their lives. I pulled up short at an open-air newsstand. Row upon row of magazines and newspapers, as expected, but what caused me to stop was a major section of the newsstand devoted to pornography. All the magazines offered fully nude women and men in provocative poses. None of the images hidden by discretely placed wrappers you see in American nudie mags and none of the black bars over women’s breasts you find in Japan. Here the porno was out in the open and available for anyone to peruse at their leisure. “You like porno?” asked Carmen “No, not really—I’m just surprised at how open and available it is on the newsstands. In America, it is usually hidden on the bottom shelf, or in dark little shops with the windows blacked out.” “Really?...Here it is not like that—nobody cares.” Next, I stopped at a candy shop and peered in the window. Countless different candies of every shape and design imaginable, and all unique to anything I’d seen back home. Carmen grabbed my hand and led me away, like a mother pulling a loitering child away from a toy display. “Come on, Don, we’ll never get to the restaurant if you stop at every shop you see.” She was easy to follow as she strode boldly through the early evening street crowd. Latin women have a way of walking that is unique to any other culture. 196

Her firm well-rounded buttocks seemed to sway with just enough sass to let me know, she knew where she was going, and subtly enough to not draw unwanted attention from strangers. She was a good three or four paces ahead of me when she made a sharp left turn and gestured to a glowing double side of beef rotating on a rotisserie in the front window. “We’re here,” she announced and pulled the heavy glass door open for us to enter. We took a table in the back. The restaurant was lit with lanterns on the walls, and its dark wood interior gave off a radiant warmth. Considering the display photos on the menu, it appeared a small herd of cattle had been needed for all the various cuts of beef. “What do you recommend?” I asked. Carmen barely glanced at the menu before saying, “Number seven—that’s what my dad always used to order. But it’s kind of expensive. Are you sure it’s all right if I get that, too?” “Of course, you’re my guest. And just so you know, I don’t expect anything from you other than friendship. I invited you to join me because I like your company. Now pick a really good Argentinian Malbec.” I noticed Carmen’s eyes getting moist and she turned away and wiped them with the corner of her sleeve. “I sorry,” she said, composing herself. “It’s been over a year since I’ve even been in a nice restaurant like this. My mom and I haven’t had any money this year. We both lost our jobs due to the financial troubles in our country. I’m just so happy to be here...and to have this job helping you.” I reached over and squeezed her hand. She gave a sad, apologetic smile. For a moment, her confident, slightly tough girl attitude vanished, and she seemed just a vulnerable young woman, overcome with gratitude. Our waiter arrived, and I ordered two number seven dinners and a bottle of Nicolas Catena Zapata wine. I forgot all about the pending gorilla job. My attention was captivated by this enigmatic young women, who’s being seemed so vibrant and puzzling. Her gestures were quick and precise, like some ever-alert exotic bird feeding in a forest. I could tell she was tactile by nature as she periodically touched my forearm as she spoke. Spanish guitar music wafted from the hidden house speakers. Flickering light from our table candle danced across her face, and I imagined her suddenly springing up, clapping her hands, and launching into a fireside gypsy dance. I put both hands to the side of my head and snapped my fingers as a kind of salute to her fiery personality. She laughed as she picked up her wine glass and said, “Salute! Senor gorilla.” I instantly liked her. “How did you learn to speak such near-perfect English?” I asked. “My best friend growing up was from England. So I learned mostly from him and from English books and American movies.” “But isn’t that unusual? I’ve noticed few people here speak any English at all.” “It is true, many study it in school, but don’t speak it. I’ve always been passionate about English. That’s how I got the job as your helper!” 197

Two new male waiters arrived with our meal. Steak dinner Argentina style— as all there was on my giant metal platter was a huge piece of sizzling beef. The platter was at least eighteen inches wide and the cut of meat nearly as big. No side dish—just plate, steak, and a knife and fork. “My God, I’ve never seen such a huge cut before. Aren’t there any vegetables or rice or something that come with it?” I asked Carmen. She laughed shaking her head. “No, this is how steak is served in Argentina. Vegetables are extra—a side dish, but most people don’t mix them when having a really fine steak.” I hadn’t been much of a red meat eater for some time, but I rolled up my sleeves, and like a true carnivore, attacked the hunk of beef with fervor and a tiny bit of regret for the fine animal who had given its life for our dining pleasure. After a long slow dinner, Carmen and I made our way back to the America Park Hotel. Although it was almost 11:00 p.m., the streets were packed with people, some seated at outdoor cafes, all seeming to be wide awake and full of energy. People of all ages talking, laughing, and fully engaged with one another. “I’m a night-owl by nature, but how is it that all these people have so much vitality at such a late hour on a weeknight?” “We take a siesta in the afternoon, usually from 12:00 p.m. to about 4:30 p.m.” “I do that at home all the time, maybe I was an Argentine in another lifetime,” I say. “You are a crazy gorilla man,” said Carmen, taking my arm in hers. “Is it all right if I come up and see the gorilla costume?” Back in my room, Carmen took off her boots and plunked down on the end of the bed for the gorilla suit show and tell. I went over all the dressing steps and the radio control movements for the face. What struck me about her was her pure excitement over the prospect of being my gorilla wrangler, and her earnest attention to my instructions. By the time I’d finished with the gorilla demo, it was nearly 1:30 a.m., and I was concerned about how she would get home safely. “I’m really tired,” she said with a yawn. “Would it be okay if I stayed here tonight?” She said this as casually as if she were asking what time it was. “Well...sure...ah, if you’re okay with that. I only have one bed as you can see and no couch.” “I’m small,” she said with a big smile, “and I won’t take up much room. I don’t want to go all the way home, because I don’t get along with my mom and her boyfriend is there.” “Just to be clear, I want you to know I don’t expect anything from you Carmen. You can trust me.” I said. “Oh, I knew that, or I wouldn’t have asked to stay.” She peeled off her tight jeans, took off her sweatshirt, and tossed them onto the floor. Then she crawled under the covers. “You do whatever you normally do, it won’t bother me.” I stripped down to my underwear, flicked off the lights, and got into the extreme 198

left side of the bed. I managed to quell any impure thoughts I had and was about to fall asleep, when I felt her roll over and snuggle up to me, with her head on my shoulder. “Thanks for everything,” she whispered in a sleepy voice and then she fell sound asleep. I lay awake with this beautiful woman next to me, and I tried to figure out if she was really a great judge of character, or if she was far too trusting for her own good. There was something vastly right about this moment. It was simply two human beings of the opposite sex, who respected each other and needed to sleep. The next morning we awoke around 10:00 a.m. Carmen decided she’d need to go home to get some fresh clothes. It was a day off for me, so I decided I’d do a bit of exploring on my own, and then Carmen would join me later in the afternoon. I set off on foot in search of a bookstore called La Librería de Avila. Buenos Aires has close to 750 bookstores—roughly 25 bookshops for every 100,000 inhabitants. As a major city, it ranks number one in the world for having the most bookstores. There are several reasons for this: At the turn of the century, there were many immigrants and owning a book became a cultural status symbol, plus Argentina has for decades, had a more-than-passing fascination with psychoanalysis. Thus self-knowledge and internal exploration go hand in hand with reading. I set a goal of visiting as many of these stores as possible during my expected six-month residency. Thanks to a few locals on the street, I found the Avila Bookstore. It didn’t much matter to me that most of the books were in Spanish. After three hours, I had barely scoped out the first floor and lower level when I realized I had to get back to the hotel to meet Carmen. But I wasn’t concerned with leaving, as I knew I had six more months to come back. I bought a couple of books by Jorge Luis Borges and Ariel Dorfman, and sped-walked back to the hotel. Carmen was waiting for me in the lobby. She sat, curled up on a couch, reading the tattered copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that I had given her earlier in the day. She looked beautiful as the rays of afternoon sunlight fell across her long, raven hair. I wished I had a camera to capture this moment, but since I rarely traveled with one, I would have to allow her image to burn itself into memory. She looked up with a glowing smile and flashing dark eyes that seemed to capture each moment with an intensity I’d never seen before. “I like this man,” she said with genuine excitement. “He has a beautiful mind.” “I knew you would like him. He speaks to all people of all ages and places. It’s sad, but most Americans your age don’t read books anymore.” “How do they learn about themselves and the world, if they don’t read?” “Well, there are exceptions, of course, but our education system stresses so much importance on specific careers, and the knowledge required to succeed in those fields, that they only read books related to those fields. They have no time or desire to learn from literature. “I don’t think I would like living in America very much,” said Carmen. “Here, everyone reads, even the very poor. We read to learn and for enjoyment.” 199

“The young people in America mostly play video games and have Walkman headphones on; then when they marry, it’s television and movies.” “You don’t like those things?” asked Carmen. “Not so much. I’m a book person. But all my success has come from T.V., movies, and commercials... so I guess I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth!” I said. “What? I don’t understand?” “Sorry...it’s an old English saying, came from the 1500s. Specialists could tell a horse’s age by looking at his teeth. Means if something is given as a gift, it is bad manners to question its age.” Carmen laughed and bared her teeth at me. “You have lovely teeth...no need for me to look beyond your smile.” “It’s siesta time...let’s take a rest and then I’ll earn my pay by showing you around the city.” I spent the next two days with Carmen exploring the sights of Buenos Aires. It was a magical time, and it didn’t seem to matter where we went or what we saw. She could have taken me to a McDonald’s burger joint, and I would have been just as thrilled to sit and watch her movements and listen to her sensual husky voice. I did my best to mask my growing feelings for her, but in retrospect, I believe she saw through my attempts to be a gentleman. I all but forgot about the upcoming T.V. show, the bookstores, and my obligations back home. I didn’t want to fall in love with a wild child from another country, as I was still in recovery from my breakup with my longtime partner, who ironically was also a Latina, and from Chile. But the heart rarely listens to the mind’s rational thoughts. I was becoming infatuated with this enigmatic young woman. Carmen. Just her name conjured up exotic images. I immediately had thoughts of the opera heroine of the same name, of the haughty and defiant flamenco dancers in smoky underground cafes, and of Lorca’s brilliant essay on the quality of Duende—a kind of charismatic infectious energy often found in the antediluvian dancers and musicians from Spain and Argentina. Carmen—dark red like freshly spilled blood or the flare of a bullfighter’s cape. On Saturday night, the day before my first big show, Carmen and I sat drinking red wine at a back table in a near-empty cafe. She, finding a companion, who like herself, was steeped in the intoxication of literature, poetry and all things lifeaffirming and artistically inspired. I learned from our conversations that she was well-read and knowledgeable on a vast array of subjects. It was the first time in my life I’d met someone who shared my passion for great books and all the mysteries they contained. What puzzled me was how this beautiful being, with all her knowledge, physical charm, and seeming enlightenment could be living in near poverty, and be so genuinely grateful to be my assistant. There must be something I was missing about her—perhaps she was just too strong of a personality and too headstrong a woman to take orders from men, in what still appeared to be a mildly patriarchal society. Was it infatuation I was feeling, or something greater? Feelings I hadn’t felt in decades for a woman. 200

The next day was Sunday. The day of my first appearance as Charlie the gorilla, with his partner in mayhem, Junior the Chimp. Carmen and I arrived at the television studio for our first run-through. The producers told me they were working on numerous scenarios for me and the chimp. We would go shopping for bananas on a bicycle, go to a nightclub and try to pick up girls, visit the local zoo, and another idea in development where I would rent a jeep, and Junior and I would spend a day at the beach. These segments were to be filmed during the week (one or two days at the most) and then we’d also have a live segment in each show, in which there’d be interaction with various guests on the show. It sounded like great fun. I was already thinking of what a wonderful time I was going to have with Carmen for the next few months. For our first show, I would come out as the gorilla, holding hands with Junior, and there would be some kind of interview conducted by the show’s host, Marcello, and one of Argentina’s top television comedians. Apparently, it didn’t seem to matter that I couldn’t understand what the comedian was saying. I just had to nod and shake my head and do some improvised action with Junior and all would be well. Even Carmen couldn’t figure out what they wanted, so it was left to fate as to what would happen on the live show that evening. The show aired live from 9 p.m. to midnight all over Latin America on Sunday nights. Ritmo de la Noche was immensely popular and viewed by millions of viewers each week. The producer, director, and the chimp’s trainer spoke little English, so we had to rely on Carmen to exchange information. First step was for me to get into the suit, so they could see how it looked and then introduce me to Junior so we could establish a rapport. I put on my under-the-suit black unitard, blacked out my eye area, and Carmen zipped and snapped me up for the big show and tell. I knuckle-walked and ran around the set, to wild applause and shouts of “Qué maravilloso! Increíble, Como un verdadero gorila!” Charlie the gorilla was an instant hit. Now came the fun part—getting to meet and play with Junior the Chimp. His trainer went to the back of the set, and moments later returned, carrying Junior over his shoulder. The chimp was preoccupied with looking at the set and the lights and hadn’t yet seen me. His trainer managed to untangle Junior from around his neck and motioned for me to hold him. I reached out and gently took hold of Junior. For a moment, he seemed calm in my arms, but when he turned his face towards me and got a first look—he went absolutely ape shit. His eyes popped wide open and he let out a series of horrifying shrieks like he had just seen the devil himself. In a feeble attempt to calm him, I said, “It’s okay Junior. I’m Uncle Charlie, your new friend. I’m a nice gorilla.” I hadn’t bothered to consider that Junior likely didn’t speak English or even Spanish for that matter, but it was too late. He screeched again, like he was being tortured with a hot poker—then let out a pulsating piss stream, and violently faulted out of my arms and ran screaming around the set, crashing into a chair and table, and finally to the outer portion of 201

the set, where he made a frantic climb up a scaffolding pipe, where he hung by his arms on a maze of electrical cables, and continued screaming, intermittently pissing and defecating. The trainer ran around calling to Junior, who at this point was perched about thirty feet up in the rafters of the studio. The poor little fellow was still screaming his head off, so I stepped out of his line of sight. The director and producer just stood back, shaking their heads and speaking in urgent tones with Carmen. She hurried over to me. “Don, the chimp thinks you’re a real gorilla. We’ve got to get you out of the suit and let him see that there’s a person in the suit.” Several more production people appeared on the set, one of whom spoke broken English. “Hello, I am Jorge, the assistant of directing. Muy importante for Junior to... ah, how you say...become friends to you. Please come to dressing area. And hide gorilla costume, por favor.” I could see Carmen was doing her best not to explode with laughter, so I gave her a gorilla hug, and we walked hand in hand to the backstage dressing room. “Please be relaxed,” said Jorge, “We bring Junior to you when we get him down.” With Carmen’s help, I got out of the ape suit, put it back in the trunk, and took a seat on a chair next to a wooden table. I was beginning to get a vague deja vu feeling, as I recalled a commercial I’d done years earlier with six chimps on a grassy knoll somewhere in Montreal, Canada. The set up being that a gorilla and some chimps were just hanging out in a meadow, when they suddenly see a guy with some kind of fruit drink, and they all jump up and chase after him. Problem was, the chimps were terrified of the gorilla, so the only way they could get the shot was for the trainers to sit holding the chimps facing them away from me to keep them calm. Then I was brought in from behind, the camera rolled, and the trainers jumped up and ran out of the shot. Once the chimps turned and saw me, they raced off screaming in all directions with me running after them. With careful editing, it was made to look like we were running towards the fruit drink. I remember it took the trainers over an hour to round up all the chimps, so my track record with chimps was 0 for 1. About an hour later (the time it took to coax Junior down from the scaffolding) there was a knock at the door. It was the aforementioned staff, along with Junior and his trainer. He seemed calm now, so I figured they had either tranquilized him or given him a session with one of Argentina’s finest psychoanalysts. The trainer placed Junior in a chair and pushed it up to me. The chimp began making happy gurgling sounds and took my index finger in his hand and squeezed it. “Hello Junior, I’m Uncle Charlie. You’re a very handsome young man.” Junior leaned in and stuck his finger in my ear, sniffed it, and then gave me a prickly lip kiss on the cheek. Things were looking up. Junior had transformed from a terrified wild creature into an almost human ball of sweetness. For the next ten minutes, we bonded as only an English-speaking mime and an Argentinean chimp can do. He made raspberry fart sounds, and I 202

mimicked him with similar gestures, facial expressions, and chimp sounds. I could see us gallivanting all over Buenos Aires, doing fabulous things on our buddy adventures. Junior and I were going to be the next big thing in Latin American television comedy. Jorge said, “Now you slow put on suit, so Junior can see it as his friend Charlie/ Don in the suit. Carmen and I brought out the pieces of the suit, arms, feet, undermuscle suit, outer hair suit, but kept the gorilla head in the trunk just to be safe. Junior tried on the arms, made a high-pitched laughing sound and shook his head in delight. He sniffed, probed and stroked each part of suit, and seemed to be enjoying the interaction. I took a deep breath, signaled to Carmen to help me into the suit. Junior watched with riveted attention as I put on each section of the costume. We asked the trainer to remove the gorilla head from the trunk and show it to Junior, with the hope that he wouldn’t associate it with the horrible gorilla that an hour ago had sent him shitting and pissing into the rafters. The trainer cautiously placed the gorilla head on the table in front of Junior. We all held our breath. Junior sniffed the head, made another raspberry sound. I took the head and reached my hand inside to show him there was nothing to fear inside. I held the gorilla head up and over Junior’s head so he could look inside. He looked up into the dark hollow of the head, then poked his head into the ape head. The room exploded with stifled nervous laughter. Here was a chimp partially wearing a gorilla head—and our entire future on the T.V. show depended on him liking to be around Uncle Charlie. “Okay, Mr. Don,” said Jorge, “you put on head—mas slowly, so he see that you are still man.” I lifted the gorilla head up over my own head and then lowered it so Junior could see I was still his benign friend. Junior seemed to think this was amusing, or at least that was my interpretation of his expression and body language. Now came the critical point. I would pull the head down over my own, and the transformation would be complete. Nice man Don/Uncle Charlie gently transitioned into the full-on gorilla. Done so cautiously that even a mistreated pit bull wouldn’t be alarmed. “It’s okay, Junior,” I whispered, “Don, your friend is still here.” I slowly lowered the ape head down and over my face until the eye holes lined up with my own. Junior’s eyes went wild again, and when I open the gorilla mouth just enough to show the teeth, Junior exploded like he’d stuck a knife in an electrical socket. “YIIIIIIIIII aaaaaaaaahhhhhh ackackayyayayaeeeeeekkkk,” he shrieked as he flipped backward out of the chair and went crashing around the room, knocking over a potted plant, and smashing into the walls like a mental patient off his meds. His trainer tried to corner him, but Junior wasn’t about to be caught, even in the confines of this small room. We were doomed as a comedy team. That much was clear. I yanked the head off, but it was too late. I half expected PETA to burst through the doors and arrest 203

me for cruelty to animals, or more specifically to Junior. The trainer finally got Junior calmed enough to swoop him up and rush out the door with him. Junior could not make the leap to understand I was the same person, with or without the gorilla head on. The second the head went down over my eyes, Junior only saw a gorilla. There was no bridging the gap on the visual. He could figure out how to open locks, drink from a glass, ride a bike... but one thing he couldn’t do was to understand how a person could turn into a gorilla and yet still be a person. The gorilla head with the teeth was the problem, so I knew I’d be working solo for the bit on the first show. “Maybe if you spoke Spanish to him,” offered Carmen. “The only things I know how to say are I want another beer, you’re very beautiful, and where’s the bathroom.” She slapped me on my ape chest and said, “Tu es muy malo gorila!” Jorge stuck his head in the doorway. “You will do scene without Junior tonight. You start in two hours.” I removed the suit with Carmen’s help and plopped down on the floor with a towel over my head. I was still optimistic the gorilla could do all the scenes in future shows they had discussed with me earlier. It would just have to be without Junior. Carmen and I went to the edge of the bleachers to watch the first part of the three-hour live show. The portion of the set I’d be working on was a multifunctional outdoor street scene with colorful false-front buildings. And facing this area was a grandstand that held about 500 frenzied fans, all waving red and green pom poms. Off to the right was a mini-soccer field (where an actual game was about to start with Argentine all-stars and crazy mascots). Tonight’s musical act was the Scorpions, and the festivities would be led by the show’s founder and super hyper MC, Marcello, who was already in place and shouting to the crowd in rapid-fire Spanish. My bit was still unclear to me, but no one seemed worried. I got back into the sweaty gorilla suit, and Carmen led me to the edge of the stage where I would enter on her cue. The Scorpions were to play their hit, “Wind of Change,” right after my bit with Marcello and the comedian, and they were waiting in the wings with me. I rushed over to them and told them I had all their albums on vinyl. By the looks of their faces, I could tell they thought I was insane. An English speaking gorilla chatting with a German rock band in Argentina. I was starting to ask them about their new album, when Carmen rushed over and grabbed me, “Don—you’re on. Go out now!” I think the scenes premise, based on what Carmen had told me, had me as the long-lost cousin of the comedian, and I was in town to stay with him. It was total chaos—the crowd began screaming in delight when I entered and were somehow following the dialogue between the two men. I knuckle-walked around the set, sniffed the host’s butt, simulated eating flowers from a vase, and generally ran amok until Marcello said in English, “Goodbye, Uncle Charlie!” I stumbled breathless off stage and crashed into Klaus Meine, the lead singer from the band. He high-fived me as I staggered over to Carmen and gestured for her to get my 204

head off. With all the racing around on the set, I was about to pass out from the heat. Show one was over for me, with only 23 more to go. We packed up the sweat-soaked gorilla suit, and one of the production assistants drove us back to the hotel. It was after 1:00 a.m., but many restaurants were still open, so we opted for empanadas in a little mom and pop cafe close to the hotel. We sat alone at a back table and talked for several hours. As we were walking back to the hotel, Carmen spontaneously grabbed my arm, and we playfully lurched down the sidewalk, linked like two old friends. Back at the hotel, I bribed room service to get us a bottle of Merlot, which fueled our conversation for several more hours. It was almost sunrise when we both decided we should sleep, as it had become apparent we could stay up another full day just talking, but I had a television interview at noon the next day, so we called it a night. She slipped out of her jeans, magically removed her bra from under her sweatshirt, and crawled under the covers. The minute her head touched the pillow, she was out like a sleepy puppy. I brushed a strand of her shiny hair away from her face and kissed her on the cheek. The next morning the phone jangled us awake. I squinted at the clock radio. It was just after 10 a.m. I fumbled the receiver up to my ear. “Hello, Mr. Don...it is Jorge. I am sorry I have some bad news.” “What—Junior committed suicide?” I asked, rubbing my eyes. Silence. I leaned close to Carmen and tilted the receiver to her ear, so she could hear Jorge’s conversation. “Ah...the producers and Marcello decided that Uncle Charlie and Junior not going to work.” “I figured that after last night. So they will just have me solo as the gorilla for the rest of my contract?” “No, I’m sorry...you will have to go home. They are going to only use the chimp. It is much cheaper to have only Junior as he is local.” Carmen sat up in bed with a worried look as she sensed from my response that something bad was being revealed. “Is the television interview still on?” I asked “No,” said Jorge, “it is canceled. We will send a driver to take you to airport. He will come at noon. He will have your ticket to Los Angeles. 3:00 p.m. flight.” “What if I lowered my fee? Would they maybe consider keeping the gorilla?” “No es possible,” said Jorge slipping into Spanish. “I will need to get paid, and what about Carmen?” “We will send someone with your money. Carmen is free to go also. I am so sorry.” I thanked Jorge and slowly hung up the phone. “Who would have thought that six months of our lives could all be changed because of a chimp,” I said with an uncomfortable laugh. Carmen didn’t say a word. She just rubbed her hands together and stared at the phone on the nightstand. At that moment, I realized I didn’t really care about losing the job; it was the thought of losing Carmen that consumed me with emotion. 205

“This always happens to me,” she said, this time revealing self-doubt I hadn’t seen before. “I’m cursed. My mom was counting on me working even for a few more weeks to cover our expenses.” I didn’t know what to say at that moment, so I got up and began putting my belongings into my suitcase. Carmen slipped from the bed, drew open the curtains, and stood staring out at the Monday morning bustle on the sidewalk below. Carmen and I stood outside on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, with my suitcase, carry-on bag, and the gorilla trunk. No one from the production office had arrived with my money. I was beginning to think I might never see a cent when a black Mercedes pulled up to the valet area and a stocky, muscular guy in a dark business suit got out and approached me. “Senor Don?” he asked in a gruff voice. “Yes, that’s me,” I said. He reached into his inner suit pocket and produced a thick white envelope, which he handed to me, and without saying anything, he got back in his car and sped off. Carmen looked away, not wanting to intrude on my transaction. I opened the envelope—$4000 US dollars in crisp new hundred dollar bills. They had paid for two weeks of work with a bit of a severance bonus. I took out $300 and put the envelope in my front pocket. Just then, a white utility van pulled up. It was my ride to the airport. Carmen was watching me with a quivering lower lip. I went to her and put both arms around her drawing her close. She clutched the back of my jacket with both hands and pressed her face against my neck. I could feel her whole body trembling as she fought to hold back her emotions. “Carmen...you’re maybe the most wonderful woman I have ever met. I didn’t say this before, because I didn’t know how you would take it, coming from an older man like me. I wish I could take you home with me.” “I wish that too, Don. I didn’t want to say how I felt about you either—I was afraid you’d think I was only playing you for the job.” The driver finished loading my gear into the van and shouted, “Vamanos, Aeropuerto!” I pulled back from Carmen and held her at arm’s-length by the shoulders. “I’m afraid I’ve fallen in love with you and it’s breaking my heart to say goodbye.” I pressed the bills into her hand and said, “I want you to have this. Maybe it will help with the bills.” She shook her head, and with tears now flowing down her cheeks, she kissed me on the lips. I hugged her tight one last time and turned to board the van. As we pulled away from the hotel, I looked back to wave goodbye, but Carmen was already running in the opposite direction in her long black boots. It would be the last time I would ever see her.



I’m in first class, sucking down my second round of complimentary Mimosas on an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Los Angeles. I’d just finished a three-day promotional tour of department stores and television appearances as the American Tourister Gorilla. During the flight, I struck up a casual conversation with my seatmate, who turned out to be the president of Souza Tequila. He thought it very funny to be seated next to the Tourister gorilla and for the duration of the flight, we chatted about our perspective occupations—somehow making tequila and smashing suitcases had a few things in common. As the 747 lurched to a stop on the tarmac, he asked for my business card. “I’ve got a couple of great ideas for a promotion Don,” he said with a big grin. “I’ll be in touch.” We went our separate ways in the terminal and I figured I’d never hear from him again, as I’ve learned that more often than not, people you meet on a plane quickly move on with their lives and that’s the end of the connection. I’d also learned that once I revealed my identity to a seatmate, I could be pretty sure there’d be a lengthy string of questions, and then my propensity for dramatic and comical stories about my travels as an ape would kick in. The more mundane the traveler’s occupation, the more they seemed interested in how someone would end up as a full-time gorilla. And the questions were almost always the same: “What’s the suit made of? How hot does it get in there? What made you decide to become a gorilla? What movies have I seen you in? How did you study to be a gorilla?” So if I needed to rest or attempt to read, I’d just tell my seatmate that I was an accountant, and they’d quickly return to their inflight magazine or simply drop off to sleep. This was before the days of all access mobile devices, where half the passengers now days have earphones stuck in their melons, and rarely disengage from them until the flight lands. Some people are wonderfully organized and know months or even years in advance what they plan to do. I have never had that desire or skill. In retrospect, almost everything meaningful in my life has occurred as if guided or sent to me from some unknowable force. Those of religious persuasion might say it was God’s will, and those more inclined to a less hopeful outlook might just say “Shit happens,” and leave it at that. In my view, the universe is intelligent, if not terribly compassionate, in that it has given us Einstein and the Armadillo, Robin Williams, and spicy brown mustard. I’ve attempted to allow this intelligence to come to me, rather than trying to control it and seek it out with excessive planning. 207

A couple of months later, I was busy at home writing my first book of poetry and a screenplay when the phone rang. It was the Bob, the Souza Tequila guy I’d sat next to on the plane on my return from Dallas. “Don... great news! We’re planning a big promotion to launch our new product—Souza Sangrita. We’d love to have the gorilla help us kick things off. “Sounds delicious... what will the gorilla’s role be?” “Pretty straight forward... we arranged for you to visit seven of the top bars/ nightspots in town. It’ll be you and five of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, plus our execs in a stretch-limo. We make quick visits to each bar, give away shots of Souza and the new mixture to the patrons. Press will be there—maybe TV. Girls pose with the famous Ape and the guests. Everyone wins! The Cowboys love it, the girls are excited, and I’m guessing you might be too!” “You read my mind. I’ll start packing right now!” Two weeks later, I’m in my suite (yes, they gave me a suite and not a normal room) at the downtown Marriott. In my haste to accept the assignment, I’d forgotten to tell them I’d need an assistant to help me dress. I’d also forgotten to tell them I’d need fresh air breaks between at least a couple of the nightclub appearances. Basically, I’d forgotten everything except the vision of me riding around in a limo with the Cowboy cheerleader babes and hanging out with them in VIP nightspots for a tawdry night of adventure that might make for another chapter in my book. I managed to get myself almost fully into the ape suit, including the head, but I couldn’t get the long zipper up on the back of the suit. On several occasions when I had to undress or dress without a helper, I’d figured out a way to make a hook out of a common wire coat hanger, which I could poke through the zipper hole and yank the industrial-sized zipper up or down as needed. However, the hangers in my suite closet were all the polished wood kind with thick gold hooks and were too big to function as an ape suit zipper apparatus. I thought of calling the concierge to send someone up, but the limo with the promo team was due in five minutes and I’d agreed to meet them out front at valet. So I did the most logical thing I could think of...I stuck my head out the door and scanned the long fifthfloor hallway for an emergency helper. Two men in business suits and wearing Hindu turbans were walking with their backs to me towards the elevator bay. “Gentleman...ah...excuse me! Excuse me...” They turned slowly and did a notunexpected double take. “I need some help—please! It’ll just take a second.” “I can see my friend that you do need help,” said the shorter of the two. “I gotta get this zipper up—I’ve got a gig in five minutes and I can’t reach it. Could one of you zip me up?” I spun around to show them it indeed was a case of an unzipped gorilla. “What is this zeeper?” said the taller guy. “May I ask what is this for?” “You mean the zipper or the gorilla suit?” “Yes, yes, what is this gorilla for?” 208

“I’m doing a gig with Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, you know famous football team... and it’s for a tequila company and we’re going to some bars... ah... I have to really hurry. Please can you zip please?” And I did a brief mime of the required zipping action. “Oh, yes... we can help.” Without thinking, I reflexively turned around so they could access the zipper and my heavy room door swung shut locking me out. “Oh fuck... ah never mind. Just zip!” They slowly and methodically began fumbling with the zipper. And after several failed attempts, I felt it struggle into place, catching wads of ape hair in its wake. “Thank you, thank you. May you both live long lives and have many children,” and with that, I raced down the hall to the elevator. I had no time to get another room key, and retrieve my vital ape supplies, which included my cell phone, my civilian clothing for the trip home, my wallet, room key, water bottle, towel, make up remover and business cards. I was the preverbal naked ape. I figured I could get back into the room later and the rest would work itself out. I raced through the elegant lobby, as heads spun around, bellmen froze in their tracks, and children were drawn close to disbelieving parents. The automatic doors lurched open, and I was outside at valet. There was not a limo insight. One of the more playful valet guys said, “Can I have your ticket? What are you driving?” “I’ve lost everything—I was just in Vegas and the craps table has it all. You haven’t seen a stretch limo pull up here by any chance, have you?” And right on cue, one of the longest most opulent stretch limos I’ve ever seen pulled around the entryway and up to where I was standing. The valet guy looked both shocked and impressed. He gave me a sweeping bow and gestured to the back door. Thumping sounds of disco where pumping away inside, and then like a scene out of a James Bond movie the moon roof glided open and a stunning blonde holding a bottle of tequila emerged through the roof and yelled out: “Come on monkey man get in—we’ve got some partying to do!” “Enjoy your evening, sir,” said the valet, and he pulled open the back door for me. I slapped at my chest and ass area to indicate I didn’t have my wallet for a tip. “I’ll take care of you on the way back... I forgot...” The interior of the limo housed five beautiful professional cheerleaders and four of the Souza executives. Mark, my contact for the airline flight, was beaming and laughing. “Welcome, Don, oh my god, you look even better than on the commercials. How great is this? Okay, driver... to Carlos & Pepe’s we go!” He introduced everyone and we all high-fived each other. “We started the party already, Don, so you’ll have to catch up.” One of the girls poured me a shot of Tequila and I attempted to throw it into the back of my ape head, as my mouth was about four inches behind the lips, teeth, and foam tongue of the realistic mask. About half the elixir made it into my gullet, and I shook my head, grabbing a lime wedge and stuffed it into the mask. The cheerleaders were all wearing their game time uniforms—or lack thereof. Their outfits consisted of white boots with blue stars, the tiniest of hot pants that 209

left their butt cheeks sticking out, and blue and white blouses tied below their readily visible and ample boobs. They had obviously started the party without me and were giggling and falling all over each other and myself, who was seated between them on an oval leather couch seat. The Sousa guys were sitting facing us and attempting to keep things under control. We sped away from the Marriott and jumped on the expressway towards our first stop. About ten minutes into the trip, I heard a loud bang, originating from underneath the limo. Everyone fell silent. We glided to stop on the side of the expressway, and the driver slid open the divider window open and stuck his head through. “Sorry, folks... I think we blew a rod. I’ll have to call headquarters and have them send another car.” It was clear there was only one thing we could do—continue the pre-promotion activities. One of the girls opened the sunroof and she and I climbed halfway out and began waving at the passing flow of rush hour traffic. The cheerleader shook her blonde mane and began hugging me and kissing my rubber ape cheek. Drivers blew their horns in approval, and female passengers glared at the fleeting spectacle of public debauchery. Half an hour later, the replacement limo arrived, and the girls, execs, and booze were transferred into the passenger area. We pulled back onto the expressway and sped off to our first promo stop: the aforementioned high-end Mexican restaurant Carlos & Pepe’s. Once inside, it didn’t take long for a small crowd of patrons to gather around the Cowboy girls and the ape at the bar. It was announced that a round of tequila and Sangrita (Sousa of course) was on the house. The Sangrita was a non-alcoholic mixer that was being promoted, but it came with shots of tequila. The bartender brought me a chilled glass filled with the red liquid and a double-long straw. I took a long pull on the glass and could feel my lost electrolytes being slowly revived. About halfway through the drink, two of the girls thought it would be really funny to dump their full shots into my glass. It was a delightful beverage, and with the cheerleaders laughing and playing with my whiskers... I was compelled to have a second round as I posed for photos with the customers and the girls. Mark and the Sousa brass stood around us toasting the seemingly successful first round of a full night’s activities. “Okay gang, we’re behind schedule. Back in the Limo,” announced Mark. The pronouncement produced a mixture of cheers and boos from the crowd. They wanted more girls, more ape, and most likely, more free booze. Arm in arm with two blondes, I led the way out of the joint, waving and blowing kisses to a chorus of “good byes” from the owner. Our second stop, Club A I believe was the name, was as the name implied more of a nightclub. It didn’t take long for us to draw a crowd. Five famous sexy women, a very realistic ape, and free booze works almost every time. Moments after we entered the club, the young, upwardly mobile single males swarmed the girls like piranhas on a hunk of jettisoned meat. The female patrons were more 210

interested in me for photos and hugs. A couple of smarmy-looking guys were groping two of the cheerleaders, and Mark was attempting to break them up while Donna Summer blasted from the speakers. One of the female patrons from the club pulled me aside and said “Hi I’m Veronica...whatcha drinking handsome?” I mumbled, “Tequila and Sousa Sangrita.” Another set of drinks and a straw magically appeared, and I sucked down my fourth or fifth round of promotional booze. “I was getting seriously buzzed at this point and began dropping all the cliched pick up lines on my temporary female provider. “Your eyes match the color of my gorilla hair; I hope you’re okay because it’s a long fall from heaven, there IS a banana in my pants, and I am glad to see you...” The girl’s friends were all standing close by and laughing. It struck me as wildly ridiculous that a welleducated grown man would be in a gorilla suit and getting away with outrageous pick up lines on the hottest woman in the club. Somehow, an almost real gorilla has the ability to totally disarm and charm even the most beautiful and elusive of women. But it doesn’t work with men... more often than not they want to challenge me to a fight or light me on fire if they happen to be in possession of a lighter. (Both of the incidents occurred in my gorilla travels.) The sultry bar patron was holding my ape hand and trying to play it straight like she was totally buying my suave stud impression. Finally, one of the Cowboy cheerleaders strutted over and broke us up by yanking me away by the arm. “Sorry honey... he’s ours tonight,” and she belted down a golden shot of tequila as we moseyed back to the Souza cluster at the far end of the bar. With considerable difficulty, the Sousa staff managed to round us all up and cram us back into the limo for our next stop. Tequila Willy’s. This was where the night began to go south for the gorilla. Tequila Willy’s was a super hip and popular dance club with multiple bars, throbbing dance music and an alluring mixture of Dallas’s hippest and most beautiful young people. We were escorted past a long line of people waiting to get past the bouncers and doorman. Cheers and “Go Cowboys” shouts rang out as we made our way inside. Mark wrangled us over to one of the bars and the tequila and Sangrita shots began to flow. I had now been in the suit for nearly three hours, without even taking the head off for a break, and I was perspiring like a priest in a whorehouse, despite the cold weather outside. Sweat was filling the tips of my rubber ape fingers and gathering in squishy gross pools in the bottoms of the ape feet. But being a dedicated professional at all aspects of gorilla promotion, I rapidly sucked down two more tequila sunrises (forgetting to order the Sangrita) and plowed my way through the pulsating crowd to the dance floor. All five cheerleaders gathered around me and we began dirty dancing. The music was shaking the walls, the girls were getting nasty, and random customers moved in just to get a chance to dance with the gorilla. A guy in a velvet suit spun me around from behind and yelled into my ape ear. “I can’t believe I’m fuckin’ dancing with a gorilla and the Cowboy cheerleaders!” I gave him a rubber thumbs up gesture, and dropped to the floor, where I began spinning around on 211

my back like a break dancer and kicking my feet in the air. The crowd circled and clapped me on. Sweat leaked from all the suit openings and stained the floor, but I never quit. Now I was officially drunk. Wasted to be more exact and fueled on by all the hot women, wild music, and the cheering crowd. I stumbled to my feet and staggered into a crowd of dancers, who in a frenzy, began to push, twirl, and whack me on the head with open-handed encouragement. I was no longer dancing, but rather tottering around with the room spinning and faces strobing at me like a bad acid trip. I had to get outside and fast. I charged like a tranquilized rhino through a cluster of people at the front door and collapsed outside just to the right of the club entrance. With my last bit of strength, I managed to pull the ape head up and over my face, where it hung still snapped to the suit, rendering me into a fallen two-headed sweaty monster. “Jesus... what’s that?” said a girl in high heels and a mini skirt as she stepped around me with disgust and hurried into the club. Without warning star-like bolts of light spun overhead, heads leaned in and made grotesque faces at me, and then I passed out—sprawled like a wounded Sasquatch on Tequila Willy’s doorstep. Moments later, a bouncer and two of the Sousa guys dragged me to my feet, and like a fallen NFL running back who had been cold-cocked by charging linebacker, I was carried to an awaiting taxi and stuffed inside. “Get him back to the Marriott City Center and hurry. He’s in bad shape!” The foreign cabbie gave me a disgusted look, took the extended wad of cash and peeled out of the entryway. It was only a ten-minute drive, but I remembered nothing as I was passed out again on the back seat. We pulled into the Marriott entry area and the same valet guy who had seen me depart four hours ago, opened the back door. I poured out of the cab and came to rest on my hands and knees at his feet. “Must of been some party!” said the valet. I barely had the energy to speak, but I managed to blurt out a slurred request. “You gotta help me man... I... I... don’t know my key... isssssn’t here... I need...can you get me to 50...a 4? Front...desk knows—Tourister ape...” “I got you covered,” he said, patting me on the back, and with his help, I wobbled up to the front desk. I flopped down my two heads on the long cool marble desktop and took a series of deep delirious breaths while the valet explained how I’d locked my key in the room and didn’t have my wallet with me. After what seemed like hours, and some Interpol checking on my credentials, the night clerk reluctantly handed the room key card to the valet. Once safely back in the room, the valet guy got me unzipped and helped peel me out of the soggy boozed-instilled suit. I found my wallet piled neatly next to my forgotten supplies, and I fumbled out a twenty, which I pushed into the valet’s open palm. “Thanks SO much, you saved me. Now I’m goin’ to pee for about half an hour.” “Pleasure was mine, sir. Enjoy your stay at the Marriott,” and he closed the door behind him. 212


I can think of few things more anticipatory and foreboding than a high school reunion—especially since it had been thirty years since I’d graduated, and I’d missed each of the preceding ten-year brouhahas. Each time the Xeroxed invite would arrive in the mail, I’d pay my fee, plan my travel accordingly and at the last minute, some higher power would lure me away with the offer of fame or at least a modest paying gig. The first time this happened, I was opening for drummer Buddy Rich at the Sangamon County Fair in Springfield, Illinois. All I had to do was romp about the drunken crowd in my gorilla suit and then do a little dance number during one of Buddy’s many drum solos—$750 plus expenses, so how could I refuse. Ten years later (the reunions were held every ten years) I was packed and ready to leave for the event when Schwarzenegger’s people called and summoned me to Mexico City to puppeteer a Yoda-like creature who lived in the Martian resistant leader’s stomach. The film was Total Recall. Much as I wanted to reunite with my boyhood friends, I couldn’t let poor Arnold down, so once again, I had to cancel at the last minute. I imagined the rumors that undoubtedly flew through the sleepy farming community of Point Arena, California, when word got out I would yet again be a no-show. “McLeod... nah he’s gone Hollywood on us—off doing some big movie and no time for his old friends.” So last year, when I heard my high school was planning a 25th-year celebration, which would span ten years’ worth of graduates, I knew I had to attend. American Tourister, Spielberg, and Lucas be damned—nothing was going to stop me from finally showing up this time. I put the answering machine on, with the volume off, and started what for me is always an arduous eight to ten-hour exercise in futility—packing for a trip, how I envy those loathsome people who can throw a shirt, jeans, jacket, and a toothbrush into a suitcase and be off on a three-day trip without a care in the world. Packing for me has always been forestalled by a plethora of disturbing possibilities. Should I take a suit or would a sport coat and slacks be a better choice? And what shirt with what jeans? And jean color is far from the only consideration—I have about fifteen pair of jeans, all vastly different in cut, fit, length and style. At home, I only wear one pair; a black Lee western cut selection, which over the proceeding months, have somehow acquired my general shape. 213

Problem is, I can only wear them with cowboy boots. With sneakers or oxfords, the legs are too long and give me that unkempt rumpled-leg look, which will not cut it at the big reunion. The problem is I never give in to just packing the boots and black jeans until I’ve weighed the pros and cons of each of the other jeans. My thinking being that I could end up on a wilderness hike, in which case I’d need the loose-fitting multipocketed pair, which would definitely go better with my yet unworn fashionable hiking boots. On the other hand, I could bring my favorite worn-out sneakers if the considered terrain would be suitable, and I was not in the company of any attractive females, who might be so shallow as to disapprove of me, solely on the basis of my out-of-town footwear. I was still in this pre-packing state of confusion when it occurred to me that I also had to consider if the imagined hike might cover any great distance, I’d also need to plan for what articles I’d need to have in those multi-pocketed, loose-fitting jeans. I’m well aware that this over-thinking boarders on neurosis, but I can’t help myself. Some dark internal force compelled me to line up each possible pant pocket item on my kitchen countertop for visual inspection. Nail clippers (the aquamarine-colored one I’d walked eighteen blocks to find five years ago in Osaka, an assortment of multi-colored hair bands should a wind storm whip up, a red pen for underlining poignant phrases from the yet-to-be selected satchel of books I always travel with, a deck of Hokusai Wave playing cards along with an extra joker and an ace of spades to be used as bookmarkers, Walkman, earphones, and a mixture of cassette tapes ranging from Yngwie Malmsteen to Alan Watts, my Webster’s Talking dictionary, rolls of breath mints, a Travelman toothbrush with toothpaste inserted into the squeezable handle, a 2”x2” blank notebook, a pack of cinnamon gum, a tin of Wintergreen Skoal in case of a pickup softball game and a miniature travel alarm clock. And lastly, the all-important expired packet of condoms. I was well into my second hour of pre-pack planning and had laid out seven pairs of bargain sunglasses when my ex-girlfriend stopped by and reminded me I was going to a high school reunion and not to Club Med. I reluctantly agreed, and after selecting a brown-tinted pair of aviator shades, I spent the rest of the evening searching for the perfect selection of reading material to get me through the trip. As the PSA commuter jet thumped down through a cloud bank and wobbled onto the Oakland runway, I began to feel a surging warmth rush through my groin, brought on by the plane’s vibration and my lucid daydream of my first high school sweetheart. Gloria Jensen. Just saying her name to myself, ignited a series of lustful images: she and I entwined in the back of the school bus on the way home from a football game, we had lost 56 to 0 at the hands of the Covelo Wildcats. Her understanding caresses were, at the time, the only thing I could see worth living for. Gloria, running in slow motion around the track as I gazed out at her from the science class window, and Gloria immortalized by the theme song of the same name. G L O R I A... she comes around here just about midnight (which 214

she never did)... made me somehow link her forever to the woman of the night that brought out such passion in Van Morrison’s voice and my fertile imagination. Head cheerleader, nubile goddess, and budding vixen. She had been forever captured in mid-leap on the black and white pages of the Point Arena Pirate yearbook. Her perfect legs coiled beneath the blue and gold pleats of her cheerleader skirt. Her arms were spread wide in a simulated gesture of jubilation, and I emphasize simulated, as there was little about our football team to arouse any real jubilation. At 0 -7, pity was a more common emotion shared by the student body, the fans, and sadly, the cheerleaders. In the yearbook photo, she appeared to be leaping over the roof of the principal’s office, or at least that was the photographer’s intent. What I hadn’t noticed until last night, when I flipped through the pages, was that Gloria also appeared to be visually impaled on the school’s flag pole. Now whether this was an unlucky accident or the spiteful work of her acne-faced rival and yearbook editor, I couldn’t be certain—but putting prurient speculation aside, the photo did contain a certain primitive eroticism, largely based on those lengthy necking sessions in the darkened back section of the team bus, as we pushed our innocence to the brink on those twisted mountain roads on the way home to Point Arena. Ah...sweet sexy Gloria, now a fully matured and undoubtedly gorgeous woman. I whistled a sly little tune to myself as I flipped out my 2-car Budget upgrade coupon to the rent-a-car counter girl. She gave me an understanding smile and handed me the key’s to a brand new red Lincoln Continental. Visions of a sexual escapade with Gloria drifted through my head as I drove through the fog-shrouded outskirts of my old home town. Point Arena is a quiet little town on the scenic Mendocino coast, about 135 miles north of San Francisco on Highway 1. When I attended high school there, the major industries were dairy farms and timber. Now the booming new industry is marijuana, both legal and illegal. The town has about 450 residents and is famous for its lighthouse, which is only mentioned in the most obscure weather reports. It is also the former home of Kenneth Parnell, who abducted a young boy and kept him as a sex slave for eight years in a wooded shack near town until he was spotted and captured with the help of the TV show, “America’s Most Wanted.” I pulled into the parking lot of the Sea Shell Inn and tried to recreate the nonchalant saunter I’d perfected as I walked off the Pirate baseball diamond the day I pitched a no-hitter against the Boonville Panthers. I smoothed my long hair, straightened my spine, and stepped into the office. “Hi, I’m Don McLeod. I’m here for the reunion,” I announced, hoping my legendary athletic achievements might still be remembered by the sour-faced desk clerk. “You got a reservation?” she said, eyeing me with disdain. “No...but I’m Ruby and Wilfred’s boy. Student body president and senior athlete of the year—1966. Maybe you remember me?” 215

“I don’t know anybody prior to ‘87. We moved up here from Merced that summer. If you ain’t got a reservation, you’re plum outa luck. All the motels are booked full—nothing for 50 miles. Everyone’s come in for the reunion.” Being a seasoned veteran of wheeling and dealing in show business, I withdrew a crisp new hundred dollar bill from my wallet, folded it in half and pushed it towards her. “Listen...I’m willing to take anything you can find. All I need is a bed and a sink,” I said, giving her my most sorrowful look. Her beady eyes zeroed in on the hundred like a hovering hawk eying a field mouse. She glanced from right to left and deftly swept the note from the counter like a blackjack dealer raking in a losing cash bet. She pocketed the bribe and turned away from the counter. “Just a minute. Let me check with Bill.” She opened a back door that appeared to lead to their motel residence. I could see Bill’s bare feet propped up on a footstool and the flashing of what looked like a ballgame on the visible edge of the TV. A hand reached down and scratched one foot, there was muffled conversation, and then she returned baring a guilty smile. “You’re in luck— I can give you 107. It was promised to a couple of from Navato, but since they ain’t called and it’s after six, you can have the room.” “Fantastic! I’ll take it.” “You’re across the street,” she said, nodding her head towards a row of ramshackle rooms just west of the highway. “Bill’s got to clean it up, so you might want to look around town for an hour or so.” I thanked her more out of habit than gratitude, jumped in the big red Lincoln and drove up the steep hill towards the high school. I rounded the bend at the crest of the hill and drove slowly past a giant Cypress tree, which still likely held my carved initials somewhere under years of new bark. And then another memory of Gloria crept into my consciousness—me awkwardly caressing her perky breasts under the thick confines of her cheerleader sweater. This innocent memory then melded into an X-rated adult vision of athletic copulation happening back in my room at the Sea Shell Inn. I shook off the thought and pulled into the newly paved high school parking lot. Aside from a new gym, the school remained the same as I had remembered it. There was the erotic flagpole that had forever immortalized Gloria in the 1966 yearbook. I hurried up the stone steps and tried the heavy glass door. To my surprise, it clanked open with a familiar metallic rattle I hadn’t heard in twenty-five years. Countless coats of varnish covered the wooden outer hallway floor, and the distinct aroma of moldy lockers, last year’s textbooks, and a tinge of ammonia greeted my nostrils. The walls were lined with photos of previous graduating classes. I scanned the pictures—and boom! There I was, in the class of ‘66. Young, confident with my hair slicked back under a gob of Brill Cream. Student body president, senior athlete of the year, star drama student, and all-around trouble maker and popular guy. 216

The sight of my boyish, hopeful face brought a knot into my throat and I felt tears welling up: my adopted parents both dead by the time I was twenty, the regrets I had of never being able to express to them how much I loved them, and all the thoughts of the stupid teenage mistakes I’d made were overwhelming. I imagined an asterisk next to my old photo, and beneath it, a digital message board bleeping out my recent history; Chronic day-dreamer, afraid of relationships, can’t commit, insomniac who sleeps until noon, animal lover, vociferous reader, mime, poet, occasional film actor, and America’s foremost gorilla actor. And then in bold red letters the words, NONE OF THIS MATTERS. My hazy vision fell away as a janitor pushing a bucket and mop came around the corner. “Someone you know fellow?” he said with a chuckle. “No,” I answered, swiping at my eyes with the back of my sleeve. “Not anymore.” Back at the Sea Shell Inn, I was relieved to see Bill bicycling away from my room with a basket of cleaning supplies dangling from the handlebars. Standing in front of my room, I noticed a long triangular chunk of glass missing from the window, and the number had apparently been pried from the door, leaving just an imprint of the “7” in its place. I inserted the key and yanked open the door, causing the whole front wall to shake. Inside I was greeted by a scampering Daddy Longlegs and a filthy beige carpet that appeared to have been trampled upon by an army of somnambulant mental patients. The bed, which occupied three-fourths of the room, held a deeply grooved mattress, possibly slept on by a personage of immense weight for countless catatonic nights, giving the mattress center a San Andreas Fault like fissure at its core. And this contraption of repose was covered with a stained and cigarette burned dingy white spread, probably picked up at a rummage sale back in the late fifties. I stepped back and peered at the wall painting for possible comfort. I can only guess it was an amateur artist’s attempt at a seascape rendered in either pastels or finger paint. From afar, it looked like blobs of vanilla ice cream crashing into fuzzy brown lumps, which I guessed were the artist’s attempt at waves breaking against a rocky shoreline. But when I stepped closer and squinted my eyes a bit, it looked like three giant silver-backed cockroaches standing on a series of misshapen ice cubes, so I turned away to look for the TV. There was none. No problem, I thought to myself, Gloria and I would have much better things to do than watch TV. But to the motel’s credit, the tiny rust-stained toilet did have a sanitary wrap around the seat. The cracked tile at the base of the toilet was held together by uneven rows of a brown moldy looking substance, and a lone black pubic hair had curled itself into residence beneath the half-roll of toilet paper, with its business end folded into a neat triangle. The vision of a romantic tete-e-tete with Gloria faded into a deeper concern as to how I’d ever manage to get any sleep in this place. I reflected on my past Buddhist studies in zen simplicity and decided to overcome the limitations of my lodging. So I got undressed and tiptoed into the shower. After nudging a tiny gray slug into the drain opening, I washed up with the miniature soap wedge, dried off 217

on the crisp frayed towel, and put on my carefully selected hip guy jeans and my black boots. I was ready to hit the town for the big pre-reunion festivities. I had figured the town would be teaming with familiar faces, all having the same nervous anticipation as me. But the town street was empty, except for a hairy bearded fellow in a worn checkered parka with a nap sack on his back, who was singing to himself and walking in the middle of the road. A wispy evening fog was rolling in and I breathed in the moist salty smells of sea air. I was alive and almost back home. The night was young. I figured I’d go to the place we always went to meet friends on a weekend—the bowling alley at the North end of town. I fired up the Lincoln and cruised up Main Street. All the old buildings from my youth were still there; the movie theatre with its two large Grecian pillars in front of the tiny box office, the Sorenson general store and a friend’s house I recognized, that was now painted in rainbow colors with a sign bearing the words The Sunburst Cafe. As I reached the top of the hill, a long-bed pickup truck filled with teenagers came screeching around the corner and almost ran me off the road. I wanted to flip them off, when I checked myself and remembered back to the time I had driven blindfolded for five miles on a dare, with my friend Shorty Sutton telling me when to turn and brake, in my old man’s 1960 Pink Dodge Polara with the giant fins and no seat belts. The kids in the truck were quite likely the offspring of some of my former classmates, so I gave them a pass and continued on towards the bowling alley. As I navigated down School Street, I was half expecting curtains to pop open, exposing familiar faces, mouthing the words “He’s back!” Children would be rushed to the window to see me pass. The prodigal son has returned. “Oh my God—come quick! It’s Don McLeod, the Hollywood actor driving a big red Lincoln...” but alas the curtains remained closed and no faces emerged. Just a wisp of fog whirling without purpose ahead of me. Then a strange thought hit me. Maybe there was some kind of curfew in effect—“Stay off the streets, don’t look outside. There’s an actor in town.” Maybe the town’s elders were afraid people would all quit their jobs, drop their loved ones, and run off to Hollywood so they too could get a big red Lincoln Continental and the town’s economy would collapse—all because I’d returned home for the reunion. I laughed at the thought and returned to my role of a svelte James Mason stalking my Lolita, aka the forever sixteen-year-old Gloria. At the end of School Street, I made a sharp right, and there on my left was the bowling alley parking lot—but the bowling alley itself was gone. It had been replaced with a tin-roofed VFW Quonset hut that looked like a barnyard storage unit. I sat in the car with the motor running as the memories came flooding back. The bowling alley had been our meeting place throughout my high school years. We always went there after school and on weekends once the movie theatre let out. We rarely bowled, it was more a place to hang out, maybe playing a few pinball games or sitting at the counter watching pretty Patty Zettler mix up our Cherry Cokes, with those blue and gold fuzz balls bouncing up and down on her tennis shoes as she walked. It was there that I was first caught drinking, or I 218

should say, caught retching up my first four cans of Burgermeister in the bushes behind the building. I was the captain of the football team at the time, and I was caught red-handed by our coach Bob Gatesil, who had gone back to his car to get something and heard my disturbance in the bushes. I tried to convince him I’d just caught a vicious strain of the Asiatic flu, but the stench of regurgitated beer and the crumpled cans around me were a dead giveaway to the real nature of my illness. I was banned from the football team for the next game and forced to sit on the player’s bench in my uniform, with a sign attached to my back that read ON PROBATION. On my graduation night, I’d downed a pint of vodka with my girlfriend, and then to prove my love for her, I had run down one of the lanes and slid feet first into the bowling pins, thus creating the first human strike ever recorded at the alley. The fact that I survived being crushed by the automatic pinsetter remains a vivid reminder that I’d used up yet another one of my possible nine lives during the ‘60s. And then there was the night that I’d gone to the alley when I was home from a college break; Jimmy Reston, a fellow classmate just back from his first tour of Vietnam, took me aside, opened his wallet, and removed a plastic package containing two dark brown wrinkled objects. “Gook ears,” he announced proudly, displaying a tiny pair of shrunken human ears. He turned the package over like it was a rare stamp in a collection to show me both sides. “I cut ‘um off the bastard right after I shot him in the forehead.” And he wondered why I never spoke to him again, or even shed a tear when I’d learned he died in a violent car crash with a redwood tree several years later. Cloaked with nostalgia and haunting memories, I swung the Lincoln around and headed back into town to check out the town’s only bar near my motel. I pictured a row of cheerleaders, either still single or sans husbands, all clustered around the bar in a joyous mood for the pending reunion. They would turn in unison as I entered, gasp and squeal and leap in the air doing the old Pirate cheer, just as they had done when I scored a game-winning touchdown on an unlikely interception against our hated rival, the Mendocino Cardinals. I swung the heavy wooden door open, and the vision vanished. Three crusty-looking old guys sat slumped over drinks, and a rough-edged bleach-blonde in a Raider’s jacket was cackling up a storm with the resigned bartender. His face looked familiar—then I realized he was Lonnie Stornetta, the shy little boy in my mother’s first-grade class. He had been locked in my memory as being small for his age, maybe four foot tall at best with a sweet smile, and carrying his crinkled paper lunch sack in one hand and wiping his perpetually runny nose with the other. Little Lonnie had grown up and out... way out, as he now stood about 6’ 3”, maybe 225 with a massive chest, Popeye forearms, and a bushy blond Paul Bunyan woodsman’s beard. I took a seat at the far end of the bar. Lonnie glanced at me and then did a slow double take. “Sheeeeeeit...Wingard! What the hell you doing here?” (Wingard was 219

my unfortunate nickname garnered as a cruel joke, because a sad-faced Okie girl at school by the same name, had had an obsessive crush on me.) “I’m here for the big reunion,” I said, wondering how after 25 years, my lockerroom nickname had stuck in his mind. “Oh yeah...heard something ‘bout that...shit, what you drinking? Good to see you man!” “B&B and a soda back.” Lonnie chuckled to himself as he scoured the dusty hard liquor shelf. “Shit McLeod—nobody orders them fag drinks around here. You been gone too long.” He splashed a generous pour of the amber elixir into a brandy glass and shoved it towards me. “Where is everyone? I thought the town would be jumping with old faces,” I said. “Don’t know, probably sleepin’...that’s what I’ll be doing soon as I get home.” “Are you going to the reunion?” “Me? Naw, I see those jerks all the time—don’t need to pay twenty-five bucks to see them again. Everybody around here is sick of each other, none of the locals ever go. Just you out-of-towners,” he walked over to the bleach-blonde and gave her a whiskey refill. From the end of the bar he looked back at me with mild excitement. “Hey, I heard you was on some kinda TV show.” I was about to ask which one when his phone rang and he went into a lengthy domestic conversation with someone on the line. By the time he got off the call, I had finished my B&B and was ready to begin my next step of the night. Addressing my question to Lonnie and the blonde, I said, “Either of you know where I might find Gloria Jensen?” Lonnie scratched his beard and said: “Wow...Gloria. You ever bang her?” I gave him a sly grin and shook my head. The woman looked up at me and frowned. “She bartends at the Last Chance Saloon...up the coast in Elk.” I thanked them both, left Lonnie a five-dollar tip, and made my way back to the Lincoln. Elk was about 20 miles north, so I’d need to get a move on if I was going to catch Gloria. As I raced around the hairpin turns of Highway One, I reflected on the way Lonnie had said “Wow...Gloria.” He must’ve known something I didn’t—sounded from the inflection in his voice that Gloria had turned into a pretty hot property. And at that moment, the Lincoln became a white stallion and me, a bedazzling knight riding right up to the steps of the saloon to swoop up maid Gloria, and married or not, rescue her from whatever hardships she might have endured since my departure all those years ago. I would mutter something about better late than never, and we would ride back down the coast to the Sea Shell Inn for a night of unspeakable revelry. I pulled into the Last Chance parking lot around 11:00 p.m. Slapped on a dose of Giorgio cologne from my travel kit, touched up my hair in the rear-view mirror and blasted a shot of Binaca into my mouth. My heart was pounding with excitement—with luck my Gloria was only moments away. I remembered the bar 220

from my youth when I lived with my parents in the town of Elk. It was a dusty, wood building with a small, alcoholic patronage. On most nights, you could see old George Burke’s white-browed dog, Buster, sleeping by the front door. Buster was long gone... and not much else seemed to have changed about the place, at least from the outside. Taking a deep breath, I sucked in my gut and pushed open the door. The once ramshackle joint had an interior make-over, done in polished mahogany with brass trimmings. A huge grinning moose head hung on the wall, overlooking the half-dozen patrons. The taxidermy moose wore a 49ers cap with a cigar stuck in his lips. The walls were lined with photos of burly men in rubber waders—mostly holding various sizes of Steelhead, trout and salmon they had yanked out of the Gualala River. I scanned the bar for my cheerleader sweetheart, but nobody fit the image I’d created for her. A dark figure sat slumped at the far end of the bar, with his head resting in hand; a pair of young tourist lovers were kissing and pawing each other over bottles of Corona, and two lumberjack guys were arguing over the Giants chances of winning the pennant. A skinny wild-eyed woman with dread-locks, who appeared in mid-transition between hippy love child and organic New Ager, was fawning over her bracelet with a shady-looking B-circuit magician looking guy. But no bartender in sight, or anyone for that matter, that could possibly be my long-lost glowing little Gloria. “Excuse me,” I said, “Does anybody know Gloria Jensen?” Several of the drinkers looked up at me, maybe thinking I was here to serve her some kind of warrant. One of the logger guys jerked his head towards a stock room at the back of the bar, indicating she was there. And just as I turned to look, a hulking figure came huffing out of the darkened hallway. Her image more than filled the doorway as she squeezed through, carrying an armload of beer bottles. She looked like she had put on a good seventyfive pounds since high school and had not seen a make-up kit since the end of the sixties. Her hair was haphazardly pinned up with a dime-store barrette, and she was wearing a mammoth grease-stained 49er sweatshirt and a pair of gray sweatpants with the crotch down to her knees. A smoldering cigarette dangled from her curled lip, as she bent down with a groan, and deposited the beer into a refrigerator beneath the bar. When she stood up she was holding two long-neck Buds in each hand and emitting little puffs of smoke from her cigarette. “Gloria? Gloria Jensen?” was all I could manage. “Yeah, that’s me,” she cackled without recognizing me. “Now who the fuck wants to know?” “It’s Don McLeod...remember me? Point Arena High School.” She cocked her head to one side and eyed me suspiciously through the veil of smoke from her cigarette. She clanked the Buds down on the bar to the two logger guys and turned back to look at me again. 221

“Well, I’ll be goddamned...it is you!” For a brief moment, the room went hazy, and I regressed into a crazy acid trip flashback: Bolero is playing on the jukebox in my head, and Gloria reaches up and begins to peel off her fat suit disguise, and once again emerges as the beautiful young cheerleader I’d remembered. She’s running towards me on a white sandy beach, with arms outstretched, a la Bo Derrick, and I’m trying to run towards her, but I can’t as I’ve pulled a hamstring in last week’s softball game, and then she begins to morph into a mud-caked rhino, and she’s charging at me with wild vindictive eyes, and the moose head over the bar is laughing, and puffing his cigar and blowing smoke out his ears and I just want to turn and run—dive through the nearest grimy window and get the hell outta there, but I’ve got manners, so I come to my senses and tell Gloria she’s looking great. “Grab a stool,” she says, “first drink’s on me.” After two stiff Henessys and a Guinness, I’m starting to find her life almost bearable as a person rather than a fantasy. She tells me of the 25 years living in the same town, with three ex-husbands, two of them alcoholics and the third a convicted felon for drug dealing. She shows me pictures of her kids; one is a stunning replica of young cheerleader Gloria, only she has a silver ring through her nose and jet black gothic hair with purple streaks. She’s a coke freak who lives up the coast in Ft. Bragg with a guy who used to be a roadie for the Grateful Dead. I tell Gloria a bit about my acting career, and then ask if she knows whatever became of my old friend, Randy Cassedy. “Oh Randy... yeah, he got all fucked up on heroin in ‘Nam. He’s still around... has a 50 acre marijuana farm up in the hills. Stays under the radar—but he’d love to see you. He don’t have a phone, but I’ll draw you a map.” Gloria takes out a pen and draws an incomprehensible series of backwoods roads, and tree land markers that would baffle even Sherlock Holmes, and hands it to me. She explodes in a minor coughing fit and says “Yeah...I hate this place. Nothing to do but work, sleep, drink and get high.” I notice she’s left out eat, but I figured it was best not to bring up this obvious oversight. “So I hear you’re into some kinda acting.” I rattle off a few of my major credits, and then sensing Gloria didn’t want to to hear about anyone’s success or world travels, I say “But I hate it...Hollywood’s a tough town. Very tough.” She smiled knowingly and headed down to the other end of the bar to water down another dry customer. I was about to disembark when the aforementioned new-age laughing gal cuts me off. “Hi, I’m Pamela. I couldn’t help overhearing you’re in the film business. I just adore the cinema. What have you done? What might I have seen you in?” she says with an inviting look in her eye. Trapped, and not wanting to be rude, I give her my greatest hits spiel with the built-in exit line, but it failed to deter her. She clutched my arm with both hands and peered into my booze-clouded eyes. “Trading Places—you were the horny ape on the train—that’s one of my favorite scenes of all time and the wonderful werewolf in The Howling. I just loved 222

that scene where that whiney city bitch gets her chest ripped open— you were SO lupine in that! And the amazing monkey in those luggage ads! Oh my God, I’m so glad you’re here. We need culture in this area. Will you teach me some mime? Oh I’m an artist too...I paint and I write poetry and make stained glass...” Her incessant babbling went on and on to the point of me wondering if she was on crack cocaine or meth as she was just too amped up to be drawing on natural resources. Over her shoulder, I could see the magician guy watching us with a malevolent expression. I made eye contact and raised my brows in a subtle visual plea for help. He gestured for me to come over. I disengaged myself from babbling Pamela and walked over to his table. He introduced himself as Dr. David Sleep and told me he was the local veterinarian. Told me how he’d been living in Costa Rico, but had been run out of the country due to a misunderstanding regarding the sudden death of a herd of cows after he’d inoculated them for hoof & mouth disease. He’d been down there on a now-defunct humanitarian exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and now was hiding out from both the Feds and a posse of murderous Costa Rican ranchers. He brushed the incident off by saying, “I was hitting the sauce pretty heavy—I musta mixed up a bad batch of serum. Things like that happen all the time in the vet business.” I eyed the drink he’d bought me for discoloration as his conversation moved to the pleasures of country living on the North Coast. Pamela, feeling left out of our chat, hurried over and interrupted us. “Would you like to see my paintings? I have them in the car,” and without waiting for my reply, she rushed out to get them. Dr. Sleep and I had now reached the point of consumption where, no matter the topic, everything we said became wildly funny. We were delving into the Big Bang Theory and the dinosaurs’ demise when babbling Pamela came charging back in with an armload of rolled-up paintings. She undid the tie string, and the paintings sprang free, rolling in every direction across the barroom floor. She scooped up one at her feet and said, “Here’s one I did last night.” It was a hideous purple swirling mass with two eyes peering out of the vortex. “I haven’t got a title yet...any ideas?” she chirped with a quizzical intonation. The word asylum came to mind, but I didn’t say it. The other paintings were equally disturbed; some just splotches of red on black, and others merely a phantasmagorical array of nauseating swirls and patterns. I wondered if she was on commission for the seascape back at my motel. “They’re...ahh...very unique,” I said. “They are all for sale—just tell me which one you want, and name your price.” I stammered out something about being low on cash. “Oh, come on, you’re a big star—you can afford to support a local artist. Where’s your sense of artistic integrity?” I didn’t tell her I’d lost it the time I made 50 grand for playing the Sana Flush Talking Toilet, and I didn’t tell her I’d flown up here on a maxed-out credit card. But I didn’t want rumors to start flying around that I was a cheapskate, so I fished out a crumpled five dollar bill from my pocket and handed it to her. 223

“I really like the one with the eyes,” I mumbled. “Oh, I love you!” she said, “It’s my favorite too!” She threw her arms around me and gave me a crushing hug. Then she bent down and scooped up the eyeball painting, handing it to me like it was a Picasso original. I thanked her and the gods of diversion as she was now engaged with one of the lumberjacks. It was now nearly 1:30 a.m. Dr. Sleep asked if I’d like to stop by his clinic. I tried to decline, but he lured me in with the promise to show me ‘something really special,’ adding that his place was just up the road, and on my way back to the motel in Point Arena. I said goodbye to my ex-fantasy Gloria and snuck out of the bar before Pamela could give me any more paintings. I followed Dr. Sleep’s Land Rover as we crawled around the treacherous Highway One towards his office. If this were any larger town or city, we would have been prime targets for a DUI, but in this remote part of Northern California, I didn’t know anyone who had ever received one, likely because there was no highway patrol, and the town sheriff was almost certainly home sleeping. And surprising enough, the only death in the past five years from drunk-driving was the aforementioned Jimmy Reston, of the Gook ears incident. No Uber, no taxis so everyone just drove whenever they had to, to get anywhere—drunk, sober, stoned or even blindfolded and somehow it all worked out. When you got too old to drive, you just stayed home or hoped a relative would turn up to transport you to the desired location Dr. Sleep turned off the main highway and zigzagged up an unpaved road, to an old two-story building that hung like a ghost house amongst the massive redwoods, which surrounded it on all sides. The bottom floor appeared to be his clinic and was marked by a sign proclaiming the weirdest conglomeration of office hours I’d ever seen: Monday - closed; Tuesday - 10 - 11 am, and 3 - 5 pm; Wednesday - in Fort Bragg; Thursday - 9 - 11 am, 1-3 pm, & 6 - 7:30 pm; Friday - 9-5 and Saturday - all day on 2nd & 4th weekends of each month, and Sunday - closed. I figured he was safe from the Feds & the Costa Ricans, as they’d never be able to decipher when he was in. He fumbled his keys into the lock and we stumbled into the reception area. I could almost picture him wearing a fake mustache and wig and greeting his guests like a sideshow circus barker, then stepping behind a curtain for a quick change into the caring savior of wounded pets. The office walls were thick with official-looking documents of certification and awards. Among them was an old black-and-white photo of Dr. Sleep standing next to Jimmy Carter and holding a lop-eared Beagle with a bandage on his paw. We stepped into a darkened room and Dave (as he insisted I call him) flicked on the lights. The floor came alive with about eight to ten meowing cats with their tails erect and twitching in expectation of their missed feeding time. “Nice kitty, hey big guy...yes, yes, Papa’s home,” said Dave as the cats ran a gauntlet between our legs. I bent down to try to pet any I could reach, but they stayed just out of 224

reach, apparently not wanting to be detained by a drunk and overly affectionate out-of-towner. “Come with me,” whispered Dave, “I want you to see the special ones.” Half expecting to be led into an Island of Dr. Moreau mutant lab, I followed at a safe distance. We entered a small back room where a row of six cages were stacked against the wall. “That’s Sammy,” said Dave pointing out a three-legged Calico cat with a white gauze bandage on his stumped front leg. “He lost his leg trying to reach into a fan, but he’ll be okay.” I wondered by whose standards as it seemed the life of a three-legged cat would be extremely compromised. “And that’s Bruno,” he added, gesturing to a Bassett hound with his entire head wrapped in a bloodstained civil war bandage. Dr. Sleep or I should say “Dave” had thoughtfully cut two slits, one on either side of bandage, which allowed Bruno’s long flat ears to hang out and dangle below his sad brown eyes. “And now for the big surprise I promised,” he said, reaching into the depths of a cage. I peered over his shoulder and saw a large mottled owl, who was hopping from side to side, trying to avoid Dave’s grasp. After several more attempts, he commandeered the owl onto his hand and removed him from the cage. The cats from the other room were gathered at the doorway, watching the proceedings. I guessed they were considering the owl as a potential meal if Dave didn’t hurry and feed them. “He’s a horned owl,” said Dave, “Isn’t he spectacular. Guy hit him with a Chevy half-ton coming over the ridge road the other night. He’s got a busted wing, but I patched him up pretty good.” He pulled the owl’s good wing out, and it stretched to a good two feet. “I call him Oscar. You ever touch an owl, Don?” “Not on purpose. I did get hit by one once. Flew out of the bushes when we were riding home on Choppy Iversen’s Honda bike after football practice. Poor thing got caught in his letterman’s jacket and caused us to crash into a creek bed. Still got the scar,” I said, rolling up my sleeve to display the evidence. “Oh damn,” said Dave noting the cat’s impatience. “I forgot to feed them— here, you hold the owl. I’ll be right back.” Before I could refuse, he grabbed my arm and rolled Oscar off onto my wrist. The pungent aroma of skunk drifted over me as Oscar dug his talons into my arm. “Don’t make any sudden movements. Even though he’s hurt, he can tear your eye out before you can even blink!” Oscar stared at me without blinking. He didn’t register any emotion as his face was not designed with a wide range of expression in mind. I just hoped he wasn’t silently seething inside, and about to relieve me of one or more of my favorite facial features. I found it surprising how light Oscar was, despite his large form. I decided, due to his closeness to my face and the cramping in my shoulder, to slowly rotate my arm away from my body. As I did this, Oscar’s body remained stationary on my hand, but his head swiveled, keeping his stare riveted in my direction. I experimented and found that his head swivel was always proportionate to the rotation of my arm. At one point, I succeeded in getting him to do a fine impression of Linda Blair’s 180-degree head spin from the Exorcist. Oscar seemed 225

to be enjoying the exercise, at least from my perspective. This was certainly a far cry from swooping through the fog-shrouded treetops with a pregnant field mouse in his grasp, but hey, at least he was still alive. I wanted to smile at him, but didn’t as I thought he might interpret my smile as some kind of challenge or disrespect, so I settled for a weak little half-grin while trying to say I love you with my eyes. Eyes that were beginning to tear up from the smell of skunk spray, but I didn’t move to wipe them, as I feared Oscar would register this as an attack move. When Dave returned to the room, I said, “Dave do you have a skunk around here somewhere?” “No,” he laughed, “Oscar was carrying a skunk in his talons when the pickup hit him. Heavy load, flying lower than usual. Skunk probably released his load on the poor guy.” The wounded owl now seemed quite attached to me, both literally and figuratively. He flapped his good wing and slapped the side of my face as Dave pried him from my wrist and returned him to his cage. I asked Dave if the smell would ever come off my hand. “Oh yes...a little soap and water and you’ll be fine.” I washed up and thanked Dave for sharing his animals with me. He gave me a promotional cat flea comb and I promised to send him a set of my gorilla greeting cards. We said our goodbyes, and I drove back to Point Arena with the dense aroma of skunk still clinging to my hand. Back at the Sea Shell Inn, I washed my hand another three times, but the smell remained as strong as ever. Around 4:00 a.m. I gave up, sprayed my left hand with cologne, and crawled into the tortuous mattress crater for a fretful night of agony; after a couple of hours of restless sleep, I bolted awake from a nightmare involving Gloria bending over and ass spraying me with her skunk scent. The next morning, I was awakened by a constant thumping sound coming from the front wall of my room. I rubbed my hung-over head, crawled out from the mattress crevice, and peered out my window. A kid, maybe nine or ten years old, was apparently reenacting the previous night’s Giant’s baseball game. He stood with a tennis ball buried deep in his glove, shook off the imaginary catcher’s sign, and began chanting “Two and two count, one out, bases loaded. Righetti winds and fires.” And wham—the tennis ball slams into the wall next to my window and ricochets back to the kid. “It’s a hot grounder to Uribe, he fires to second, one...“ and the kid pivots and hurls the ball at a nearby concrete wall, it bounces back to him, and he whips it against my room a second time, “And Thompson fires to Clark for a double play—Giants are out of the inning!” The kid is about to start the next inning when I yell out the window: “Hey, could you do that somewhere else? I’m trying to get some sleep in here.” The kid smacks the ball into his glove and says, “It’s noon—and my dad owns the motel.” 226

I give the kid one of my patented madman glares and he moves his game a few doors down. My head was pounding from the mixed drinks, I reeked of skunk, and my fantasy cheerleader had gone to seed. But on the bright side, I still had the reunion itself to look forward to. I got dressed and drove down the coast to visit the house where I had lived during high school. Then I stopped in at the old grammar school in Manchester, which was now up on blocks and had been moved to a vacant lot across the street where it would remain as a historical site—a painful barometer of the aging process. By 3:00 o’clock, my hangover and worn off, which was more than I could say about the skunk stench on my hand. Back at the motel, I showered and put on my dashing rock & roll modified tux, with a bold purple silk tie and headed out to the reunion. There were only five or six cars in the parking lot, so I delayed my entry by driving around town for a half hour. I didn’t want to be one of first ones there and found sitting in a corner alone, drinking warm wine out of a paper cup. When I returned, the parking lot was filled with vehicles, about half of which were pickup trucks with gun racks. I belted down the airline vodka I’d saved for just such an occasion and strolled into the now bunting-draped VFW hall. Fortunately, the lighting was dim as is appropriate for a gathering of forty to fifty-year-olds. Pockets of former students were clustered in every direction, exhorting remarks of ‘Oh my god, it’s you, don’t you look great and what happened to your hair?’ A bored-looking DJ was playing “Run Around Sue” by Dion. So far, I only recognized two people; Winnona Hempfiel, a mousey, shy girl who always sat in the back of biology class, and Leroy Zettler, a heavy-set jovial fellow, who had the nickname of Roast Pig. As I surveyed the crowd, it became apparent I was way overdressed. Most of the men had on short-sleeved shirts and jeans. A few even appeared to have purchased new checkered work shirts for the occasion and then buttoned the top button in an attempt to look more formal. No one came close to matching my LA hipster attire that might well have looked at home on Rod Stewart. I was sucking down a vodka tonic at the bar, when someone in the crowd yelled out over the music, “OH MY GOD—it’s Don McLeod!” Within in seconds, I was surrounded by an ever-widening circle of people, all pumping my hand and eyeing me from head to toe. “I seen you on ‘General Hospital,’ you were great!” “Yeah, we seen you on FightBack with David Horowitz in the ape suit.” “Wasn’t that you in those suitcase commercials?” From the back of the room, someone yelled out, “Hey there’s a star of ‘General Hospital’ here!” I needed to clarify here that I was never a star of the soap opera, ‘General Hospital’—far from it. What they were referring to was a few scenes I’d done as an extra about 20 years ago, in which I served up a drink to Luke of Luke and Laura fame, and a scene in the disco that consisted of me basically just waving my arms at the camera with a few added gyrations in the background. I 227

painfully remember the director yelling at me for lingering in front of the camera. “You’re just moving scenery—it’s not about you as a person!” How anyone had remembered this appearance from 20 years ago was beyond me, but I was enjoying the recognition for a brief moment. One of my wise-guy classmates, John Anderson, blurted out, “Hey McLeod, where’s your wife?” The crowd fell silent, awaiting my response. My first thought was that maybe Lonnie the bartender, had called everyone up and told them I’d ordered a “fag” drink from him last night. And they now assumed I was gay, as I didn’t have a woman draped on my arm, like most of the other males in attendance. I wanted to tell them that I’d lived with the former Miss Chile and former Solid Gold Dancer for twelve years, and she was almost like a wife, but I thought better of it, and just said “I’m kinda between wives at the moment.” This was the kind of Hollywood answer that seemed to appease at least John Andersen, if not the others. I had actually given considerable thought to bringing someone with me, but my choices were all ill advised. A twenty-two-year-old law student stripper, a chemical blonde T & A playboy hostess and a Vegas showgirl, who’d been one of stars of the Lido de Paris show. Each one was more than capable of causing a gossip riot, the likes of which the town had never seen. And there was the cheerleader Gloria issue, which clearly didn’t work, so I was here alone. I was chatting with a couple of guys from the baseball team, when the crowd began to peel back, allowing a familiar face to make his way up to me. It was Toby Stornetta. A senior when I was a freshman, and the coolest guy in school. During that first year of school, he “honored” me by making me his slave for most of the year. He would lead me around the school grounds by the ear, and if I failed to carry all his books, or deliver a message to one of his many female admirers, he’d force me to do twenty-five pushups on the spot. Now, in today’s politically correct environment, this would be a clear case of bullying, but in 1962 it was a normal rite of passage at our school. In fact, it was a twisted kind of endorsement to my character as only three freshmen males were selected as “slaves” that year. The other kids were generally just ignored by the seniors. Because I took the almost daily enslavement with good humor, Toby grew to like me. And there were residual benefits, such as getting to sit next to him on the team bus, surrounded by his female fan club and his other “cool” friends. One “Toby” incident did cause me a lot of grief during the Spring of that year. I played the trumpet in the high school band, as did Toby. I chose the trumpet when I was in grammar school because I loved the horns, draped with banners those Roman soldiers played in movies like Ben Hur. And I had a bugle when I was a kid, which I’d blast away on as I ran around the fields of Elk, pretending to be leading a cavalry charge. Toby was the 1st trumpet player in the band, and he got to play all the cool parts in the songs. I was 2nd trumpet, which meant I’d just play a few supportive notes during any given song. But it wasn’t too bad as I got to sit right next to Toby during practice and the occasional concert. 228

At the annual spring band concert, our band director, Otto Bierwagen, assigned me to play a solo measure, which, if I remember correctly, was from one of John Phillip Sosa’s rousing marches. It was a concert for the parents and family members, who had shelled out the necessary cash for our instruments. And understandably, they had a vested interest in seeing and hearing the results of their investment. On this fateful day, the musty auditorium was filled to capacity and buzzing with anticipation. Mr. Bierwagen took the stage, bowed to a smattering of applause and boos, and turned to face us. He lifted his baton in the air, winked at us, and the band thundered into a rousing rendition of the Sosa tune. Toby played all his parts without missing a note, just as he had not missed receivers in the end zone as the quarterback of the football team. He was so cool, and I was proudly seated next to him. My solo was at the end of the song, and I’d practiced it all week at home, much to the discomfort of my parents and our two Shetland Sheepdogs. The band charged through the song with only a couple of sour notes and then it was my turn. Bierwagen cut the orchestra with a dramatic sweep of his arm, paused for a beat and then raised his arms high overhead—he pivoted on his rostrum and as if he were whipping a chariot horse to victory, brought his baton down and laser pointed it at me. I put the horn to my lips, drew a deep breath, and blew with all my might in a desperate attempt to hit the elusive high C note to launch my solo. There was no sound...nothing, just a horrible silence, disturbed only by the nervous rustling of programs in the audience. Beirwagen glared at me like a rebuked demon and repeated the whipping gesture. I blew again. This time I managed to produce a long, muffled discordant screechy sound, which sounded like a mating tomcat yowling inside of a steel drum. The awful muted note warbled for an eternity as I desperately tried to blow through whatever restriction was lodged in the horn. A moment later, the torturous wail broke apart with a sharp taxi-horn blat, and a chunk of tuna fish sandwich plopped out onto the stage at my feet. The horrified crowd broke into a surging wave of embarrassed mutterings and laughter. My face went from ashen to pink, to a glowing crimson. I turned the horn around, peered into the bell and then looked up and shrugged—the crowd roared even louder. It was at this precise moment I was bit by the preverbal showbiz comedy bug. Toby and his partner in crime, Richard Scarmella who played the sax, were trying unsuccessfully to remain stoic. The band and Bierwagen ceased to exist. I was now in control. The laughter was my narcotic. With each mimed gesture I made to explain to the audience that the problem lay with my instrument, and NOT with me the musician, the more they laughed and applauded. Normally humorless teachers were beating their chests and gasping for air as tears of mirth flowed from their eyes. Small children were stamping their feet and howling out of control. Just as the laughter would die down, I’d bang 229

the horn against the stage, and another chuck of tuna sandwich would plop out, slaying the crowd once again. In an instant, I’d been turned into a budding Jerry Lewis, and I never looked back. In my peripheral vision, I could see Bierwagen smoldering. He saw nothing humorous in the situation. In fact, he probably saw himself riding out of town on a Greyhound bus with his walking papers in hand. This potentially humiliating incident was a turning point in my life. I had discovered that I had the power to make people laugh, and from that moment on, I knew I had to find a way to be an entertainer of some kind. What actually happened that day, was that just prior to the band concert, Toby and his pal Richard had taken a Tuna sandwich from their lunch sack, and with the aid of a drumstick, crammed it into my trumpet and tamped it down, as one might have done when loading a musket. I learned this fact from one of Toby’s spurned female friends, Lidia—a known rat fink and much-revered flutist in the band. She had spotted the whole thing backstage, moments before the show, and was more than happy to spill the news to me. After the concert, I was sent to the principal’s office and after a grueling interrogation, under which I didn’t break, I was removed from the band’s active roster and ordered to pick up trash at lunchtime for the next two weeks. This punishment proved to be a further opportunity to hone my comic skills in front of the entire student body. By not turning Toby in to the wrath of our principle, Bowling Pin Barber, my “slave” status was quickly upgraded to 2nd mate, and the ear pulling ended. The scene I just described played through my head as Toby came grinning towards me by the bar. Toby...lovable prankster, star quarterback, high scoring point guard, home run hitter, and boyfriend of the hottest girl in the school. He reached out and shook my hand, gave me a bear hug, slapping my back. “So great to see you McLeod—hey could you give me an autograph? It’s for my kids. They just love that scene in Trading Places where the gorilla humps that guy’s leg!” I scribbled my signature on a wine-stained napkin, grabbed him by the ear and handed it to him. He gave me that famous Toby grin and headed off to the bar. The group surrounding me broke up and I headed to the buffet line. I was about to sit down with a few of my old classmates, who I’d previously shook hands with, when I noticed one of them sniffing the back of his hand and making a contorted face. Then I saw a second guy I’d also shaken hands with looking at his hand and shaking his head. In a reflex action, I drew my hand to my nose and sniffed—the cause of the hand sniffing became all too apparent. The skunk spray smell from my encounter with Oscar the owl was still on my hand, and now I had spread it like an unseen virus through the crowd. One classmate, Steve Alford, was sharing his smelly hand with his wife, and then smelling items on his plate, to see if either the Lasagna or the Macaroni salad could be the culprit. I could only guess that the alcohol and my nervous palm-sweating and reactivated the dormant stench. I had certainly left my signature on the festivities. 230

Fearing a full-scale investigation into the mysterious skunk stench, I made my way towards a side door and slipped out into the night. The next morning I drove my red Lincoln back down the coast towards the Oakland airport. I realized that not a single person I knew had even seen the damn car, and the thing I was remembered best for was serving drinks on General Hospital and humping a guy’s leg in a gorilla suit. Most important, I had learned that Gloria Jensen would never be sixteen again, and that even owls can have bad luck. I sniffed my tainted hand as a reminder, and thought back to Thomas Wolfe’s famous novel title: You Can Never Go Home Again, and I figured that he was right, but you can always stop in for a visit. MORE GORILLA PHOTOS

Don in his backyard

NYC cabbie gorilla

Sauza Gorilla 231

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The author wishes to acknowledge the publishers of the following publications where three of these chapters originally appeared. Primal Concern—Rattle Literary Journal Synchronicity—Adelaide Magazine Introduction (in slightly different form)—Harper’s Magazine

OTHER B O OKS BY D ONALD MCLEOD Whispers in the Dark—Stone Buddha Books Small Town/Big City—Stone Buddha Books Slow Dancing With Porcupine—not yet released

PRAISES FOR D ONALD MCLEOD “If Woody Allen and Hunter Thompson were molecularly fused and crammed into a state-of-the-art gorilla suit, they might well come up with something similar to McLeod’s observations.” —Harper’s Magazine “Don McLeod is a wonderful mime...he’s the real deal!” —Robin Williams “Don is fantastic... I thought he was a real gorilla.” —Regis Philbin “You’re the BEST gorilla ever...thank you so much.” —Jane Fonda “McLeod’s voiceless, athletic drama (mime) is beautiful, and his gorilla portrayal is pure perfection.” —Hollywood Reporter


Remember the American Tourister Gorilla? The Gorilla in Trading Places? Meet actor and professional mime, Don McLeod. Gorilla Tales chronicles the author’s madcap adventures in movies, television, commercials and live appearances. A two-time Cleo winner for his American Tourister luggage commercials, McLeod brings us up close and personal with movie stars, bad “B” movies, small town county fairs, and an insightful and hilarious visit into the secret world of Japan and Japanese geishas. His touching memories of growing up as an only child in a small town, becoming a local sports hero, and then revisiting the town again after 30 years are worth the price of admission alone.

“Donald McLeod‘s journey as the world's foremost professional primate delivers the ultimate backstage peek into his gonzo adventures. Who knew a gorilla could write with such style and wit? This book is bananas!” —Jeffrey Weber, Author of You Sound Amazing! Every Single Lie Of The Music Business “Donald McLeod’s Gorilla Tales is the best read I’ve had in decades! It’s an adventure from beginning to end. A fun and very unique story of one man’s wildly adventurous life. I highly recommend it!” —Craig Scott Lamb, Founder of the Ape Suit Cinema website

Don McLeod has been a professional mime/movement artist for the past 46 years. He is best known for his work as the American Tourister Gorilla and for his acting work in feature films including the gorilla in Trading Places and The Man With Two Brains, along with his portrayal of TC the werewolf in the classic horror film The Howling. McLeod writes fiction and non-fiction, screenplays, haiku and longer poetry. For five years he was co-editor of the literary journal Vol. No. Magazine. His poetry and fiction has been published in many literary magazines in North America, Europe, and Japan. He lives in Los Angeles with his two cats Benny & Monkey, and a revolving collection of raccoons, possums, squirrels and wild birds.

A Memoir

Donald McLeod

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel the world in a state-of-the-art gorilla suit, get highly paid, and not have to pay for things you break? Then Gorilla Tales is the book for you. McLeod brings these bizarre and humorous tales to life with a keen eye for detail and a masterful use of language. From smashing suitcases on national TV, to frolicking with geishas in Tokyo, to drinking tequila with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders...his stories will captivate even the most jaded reader of literary humor.” —Stone Buddha Books


“Gorilla Tales is a hilarious collection of stories that only a person that experienced a lifetime career as a professional ape could tell. A stranger (and funnier) than fiction world told by the ape master himself, Donald McLeod. Get the bizarre behind the scenes stories (from an ape’s perspective) on the films Trading Places, Tanya’s Island, and The Man with Two Brains just to name a few. Hold your breath, fasten your seatbelt—this is a wild boozy ride through the vivid memories of a master storyteller!” —Adam Meir, Actor, Director and Movement Artist


My L i f e a s a P r o f e s s i o n a l P r i m at e

Donald McLeod

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