This story is dedicated to all the animals confined at the San Francisco Zoo. May they, and all the animals in all the zoos across the world, gain their freedom one day soon.
I am a mandrill.[i] I have hairy arms and hairy legs and I live here at the zoo in San Francisco. The San Francisco Zoo is located beside the beach. I can taste the salty ocean and I can hear the waves crashing along the shore at night. I have never seen the ocean, but when I was a child my mother said that the ocean is like the blue sky except with water which is held down upon the earth, and that the endless waves flow into sand like continuous ripples similar to those that appear in the puddles of my enclosure. My mother saw the ocean when people took her from the jungles of Togo where there were waterfalls to the San Diego Zoo where I was born. I remember my mom saying that because she was captured for the purpose of being kept in captivity, and not for the purpose of being killed for bushmeat, I was lucky. And that’s what my name is: Lucky.
When the summer sun is up in the sky, like it is now, many people come to see me and the other animals that live at the zoo, which is open every day. There are three other mandrills in this enclosure, and the visitors will watch us do anything. The people laugh and cheer when we’re rambunctious, combative, homoerotic, urinating, or eating. They yell us, mistakenly refer to us as baboons, and make offensive monkey noises. And children are the worst because they scream, “Lucky! Lucky! Lucky!” People regularly toss pieces of garbage or food into our enclosure. One day, a map of the zoo fell in and I kept it to study. The wall of the enclosure is made of concrete and is very high; you can’t jump over and it like the tiger jumped over his wall. He escaped and killed people and then he was killed by people.
The best period of time at the zoo is late-afternoon into the evening, when everyone goes away and leaves us alone. After the zoo closes, we have a couple hours of daylight to ourselves before dusk sets in. During these quiet times, the animals are calm and you can hear the cars driving by on Sloat Boulevard and rushing along the Great Coast Highway, (if you look at the map, you can see that these two roads border the zoo). It is said that the giraffes can view the Great Coast Highway from their enclosure, and that immediately beyond the highway lies the ocean where the pelicans fly. When night falls, I sit and close my eyes and I either think about things or I don’t think about anything. The sounds of the cars become waterfalls and I listen to the crashing ocean waves. Sometimes, I start to rise up, and through my closed eyes I can see the stars above me and the map of the zoo which has expanded enormously in proportion below me. From such heights I look west, but I never see the ocean because I have not seen it before and am not really up so high. Then the black lemurs, which are nocturnal and occupy the neighboring enclosure, begin to stir and screech, thus dragging me back down to earth and ruining my thought process and sleeping patterns to such detriment that I curse at them to go back to Madagascar.
The second best time at the zoo is feeding time, which takes place at the same time everyday and is about to happen now. The shining sun is out and the visitors are excited, as are my hungry companions and I. The gate opens and here comes old Bill, the nervous zoologist, wearing the same stupid clothes and carrying the same old monkey chow. We watch him from behind a second gate, which only unlocks after Bill’s finished dishing-out our food and leaves back out the first gate. Bill’s always nervous when we get excited about eating – he thinks we’re yelling at him and is afraid that we’re going to hurt him, which we would if we could get to him, but the second gate prevents us from doing that. Bill is done pouring the monkey chow into bowls and he leaves through the first gate, which closes but makes a different sound that usual. The second gate – our gate – automatically unlocks and pops open, so we four mandrills rush through to eat our monkey chow.
As I’m eating, from the corner of my eye, I look at the first gate, which appears different than usual. I shuffle over to the gate, bringing my bowl of food with me. The reason the gate looks different is because it’s ajar. I tug on the gate and it opens! Holy shit, Bill left the gate open! What a fucking idiot. I look at my gorging peers and they’re not seeing this, so I leave. I walk down a concrete corridor, turn a corner, and there’s old Bill, putting away the bag of monkey chow. I’m gonna get him. He sees me running and he screams like a little chimp as I leap onto him and ride him down. He’s so funny. He’s trying to stop me from ripping apart his skin but he’s not very strong because he can’t even stop me. I show him my big canine teeth and he’s pissing his pants so I sink my teeth into his ribcage and he’s hollering. I think he fainted because he stopped moving. Blood and monkey chow everywhere.
I can hear footsteps rushing down the hall. Let’s go see who’s coming. Oh boy, here come the zookeepers. Two of them, both male, appear and then stop in their tracks as they gape at me. They’re scared because I’m showing off my bloody fangs, my hairy blue chest, and am jumping around the hallway like a lunatic. They’re posturing is not nearly as threatening, they’re just backing away and stuttering into their radios. Hey, look at that, here come the other mandrills, all three of them, running bloodthirsty down the hall. It took them long enough. Sometimes I think I’m more evolved than they are. Oh wow, they’re really tearing apart the zookeepers. Good job guys. The zookeepers sure don’t like being bit. But what do you expect? What did you think happens when you confine us to an enclosure like a bunch of ants forced to endure the same, bleak grind everyday? You’d be discontent, too, wouldn’t you?
Well, I’m sure zookeepers with mace, tazers, and tranquilizer guns will be arriving any minute now, so I’m gonna go down this hallway and push this door open and here were are. Check it out, I’m in the gift shop! Boy, people sure do scream when I’m out of my enclosure. Look at them scuttling away like cockroaches. Look at all this cheap shit they sell here. Here’s a mandrill stuffed animal. He’s so cute, I’m gonna keep him. Run, people, run! It’s so funny how they run faster and startle when I act crazy.
Alright, I’m going outside. Let’s see, where are we? If those are the pink flamingos, and that’s the carousel, then Sloat Boulevard must be this way. What a beautiful day to be a mandrill. Everyone’s looking at me and my fabulous ass. Say, what type of furry monkey is that up there in the eucalyptus tree? Hey! Wake up, you lazy piece of shit! That fat kid’s got an apple. I’m gonna get it. Look at him waddle. Uh oh, fatty escaped into the crowd…oh well. I’m going this way. There’s a big pond here, but it’s not the ocean. Oh wow, look at the pretty ostrich. Wait, is that an ostrich? It’s got black feathers and has a colorful head like the colors on my ass. I showed him my stuffed animal and he’s strutting away. Oh well…
Great, I can hear the cars on Sloat. There are sirens too. This pathway leads to a fence, and sure enough, there’s Sloat Boulevard! The crowd of people behind me gasp as I hold my stuffed animal in my mouth and climb the fence. I cut my hand on the metal thorns and then jump down onto sidewalk. Woo hoo, I’m out of the zoo!
Look at this place! Here are parked cars to jump on and the ground is all cement, and the streets are lined with endless rows of rectangular enclosures. Geez, people really fucked this place up. Watch out people, I’m going to the beach! They’re running away faster because of all the blood that’s dripping down my hand. I step off the sidewalk and onto the road where speeding cars swerve out of my way. I look down Sloat Boulevard and stop walking, for I see the ocean in the distance – there’s so much water and it’s all white and blue. How many bathtubs do you think you could fill that all that water? A million? No, probably not a million… Good God, what have I been doing with my life?
I accidentally drop my stuffed animal and I pick him up and walk down the road. I lurch past people in their cars and am transfixed by all that bright water out there. I look at the people around me and see that they don’t care about the ocean. The cars are speeding down the Great Coast Highway and a cool wind blows across the coast. Behind me, there are cars with sirens and lights; before me, cars are moving dangerously fast, but then they start to slow down and the people inside stare at me. I’m going across the Great Coast Highway and I can’t see the ocean anymore because of the sand dunes before me.
I climb up the sand dunes and surprise a group of people lounging amongst the beachgrass. The people jump up and back away. I’m closer than I have ever been to the ocean. The waves roll in and flow out again and again; the pelicans are flying above. I keep walking along the warm sand and my hand hurts so I sit down near the edge of the lapping water. I can feel the people gathering in back and watching me. Why is everyone so afraid of me because I’m different? Don’t they know that they’re animals, too? I lick the salty blood from my hand as I watch the marvelous waves. The ocean is just like my mom said. And as beautiful as it is, I know it’s not my home. So I wonder where my home is and if I’ll ever get there. I look down at my stuffed animal and he’s so cute. I tell him: You know, you’re lucky, too – because I took you out of that gift shop and now you don’t have to stay trapped in there anymore. Now you get to be my friend and you can see the ocean. Look.
I can hear more people gathering behind me now. There’s some commotion and the stern voices of men telling other people to back away because he’s extremely dangerous. I hear some people cry out in protest and then several horrible blasts ring out. I’m in pain and warm blood flows across my body. It hurts. I slump down and the ocean and horizon turn sideways. The waves persist as I hold my stuffed animal. The world fades from light to dark, and I hope that I get to go home now.
[i] People commonly mistake mandrills as baboons. A mandrill is a primate closely related to the baboon and both species were once classified in the same genus. Mandrills are typically larger than baboons and have colorful muzzles and behinds (think Rafiki).