HUMOR: Eat Like an Ape

I arrived as quickly as I could, and found Sheldon practicing dumbbell sweeps in his living room. From the vaulted ceiling hung a heavy old-fashioned climbing rope, bringing back for me at least the long-repressed horrors of junior high gym class when the less glandular or more cerebral were mercilessly bullied and jeered while an oafish man with a whistle laughed.

“He wants to bring a truck tire inside,” Amanda said. “I don’t think I could handle that.” We watched as Sheldon switched to push-ups. “Also, he hasn’t gone to work in weeks.”

“I don’t need to,” her husband shouted.

“Careful…” Amanda said. “His hearing is very acute.”

He jumped to his feet. “How are you doing, Pete?” His handshake was tight and dry. I would hardly have recognized him a month or two ago. A formerly heavy, florid man, Sheldon sported a trim waist and powerful, rippling neck. His eye sparkled. I didn’t know how old he was, about fifty I think. He looked fifteen years younger. Easily.

He clapped me on the back. “Let’s have a smoothie.”

While he sliced rutabagas and apples Amanda pulled me aside. “I was okay with the vegetables. He was actually right about that. I never felt better, and it’s amazing what you get used to. And the blueberries and walnuts, and unsalted black beans and navy beans and mushrooms and bags and crates of pineapples and oranges and apples. We can hardly carry it all out of Vonn’s. It looks like we’re going to the zoo, and Sheldon went and bought a second refrigerator, just to hold it all.

“But now he thinks the house should be some kind of gymnasium. We’ve got weights and dumbbells everywhere. And he’s got books. Books on weightlifting. Books on yoga and aromatherapy. And books and DVD’s and tapes about monkeys and what they eat and studies he ordered from universities, and also research papers and treatises on Orangutans.”

Orangutans?

“He’s obsessed with them.”

You mean monkeys? I asked her.

“Orangs,” Sheldon called out. “There is a difference.” He chomped on a sheaf of kale. He told me they have almost an identical genome with humans, and eat nothing but fruits and vegetables. They never get sick. They live to old age, climbing, loafing, eating and loving. It’s a blueprint for the rest of us, he said, and I, for one, am following it.

“You’re his attorney,” Amanda said. “Can’t you do something?”

“Like what?”

“Sue him or something?”

“That’s not how it usually works.”

As it happened I would be seeing Sheldon again, and this time under more professional circumstances. He may be eating like an ape, but his hold on business remained firm. A business partner had refused to pay his bills, and Sheldon developed a typical lightening response, directing me to quietly purchase stock in his company. After we’d acquired the appropriate percentage we voted ourselves a seat on the board and fired the partner. After paying off his debts we sold the company, pocketing a handsome profit.

I visited Sheldon again in his home. The place was like an oven. From the ceiling hung vines, and eucalyptus and palmettos sprouted from pots. He pulled a banana from a banana tree. “Where’s my money?” he asked.

“I thought you were into relaxing and loving,” I said, handing him the check.

“I am. But I’m not into losing. Orangutans are actually winners, the biggest winners there are.”

He directed me to the climbing rope, and asked if I wanted to give it a try. There was something about him, a sort of excess virility, that made me feel I should not disappoint him. Also the fact he was my best client. I took off my sport coat and loosened my tie. After two minutes of wrestling with that nasty, prickly thing and gaining not a foot Sheldon pushed me aside. He seized the rope and went up like lightning, hand over hand, stepping off onto his second floor balcony. Then he dove back and caught the rope one-handed, swinging about the room and yodeling like Tarzan.

“Where’s Amanda?” I asked.

Sheldon dropped onto a coconut palm and climbed down. “She’s at the library. She hasn’t gone the whole ape. Not yet.” As for himself, he was never leaving the house again. There was no reason. “The office runs better without me. It’s a tremendous discovery. I’m making more money than ever, and I’ve never been happier, ever.

“I’m worried about Amanda, Shel. She seems unhappy with the whole monkey thing.”

I knew better. Any hit of criticism brought an avalanche of rebuttal, filled with more facts and figures, details and technical data than even I, as a lawyer, could decode. For the last time it’s not monkeys, he said. It’s apes. The great apes. Did I know orangutans mate for life? I didn’t, did I. They grow old together, and die within hours of each other. Now that’s love.

I picked up my portfolio. “Try to listen to her.”

Oh, and another thing, he said. “Orangutans never argue.”

True to his word Sheldon never set foot in his office. No one ever saw him downtown, but we heard a great deal from friends and rivals about his lifestyle. One week I heard from Jenkins, his accountant, that he planned on buying an old fitness club and turning it into a rainforest, replete with humidifiers, sprinklers and grow lights. Someone else said he was raising macaws and Brazilian parrots, and another that he had planned a year-long trip to Borneo, to study equatorial primates.

Anything seemed possible.

The windows were steamed over when I called on him on a warm and rainy June day. I carried some papers for him to sign, something that could have been done more easily by overnight courier, but I wanted to see how things were working out. Whistling, I rang the bell. Call it professional curiosity.

Sheldon and Amanda flung the door open. The place steamed like a jungle, and parrots flew. They were entirely naked, and hairy as apes.

At least Sheldon was. He’d grown a beard, and his body was covered with a luxuriant growth of curling dark hair, tinged a bit lighter at the tips. I must say they looked beautiful, like an Adam and Eve, and not much older, either.

“Peter! How wonderful,” Amanda cried. “Do you want to take off your clothes? We encourage that.”

I declined. We sat by a pool of water and drank with our hands. They didn’t use plates or forks anymore. Too much work. Amanda said she saw the light after Sheldon threw out the furniture and converted the whole house into a fully-functioning jungle. There was no more housework! They slept in hammocks. No kitchen to clean, no dishwasher to load and unload. Nothing to cook, nothing to buy, when you’re hungry you just reach up and grab a mango or papaya. No clothes or linen to wash. What woman wouldn’t like that?

Just out of sheer exuberance the two climbed the rope and raced each other around the house, laughing, jumping, leaping limb to limb and vine to vine. Then Sheldon signed my papers on a rock. As I stepped from the house he shook my hand and spoke warmly. “We’re happy, Peter. We’re finally happy.”

My money says it won’t last. Sheldon was recently appointed to a seat on the utilities commission, and something tells me the dress code is a little different than it is at home. Their daughter, Katherine, is coming at the end of summer for a visit. She’s a librarian in Webster, Iowa. I don’t know about you, but I can’t picture any librarian walking around an indoor jungle naked.

So you might want to head over to their house while the whole thing is still a rain forest. You don’t have to take off your clothes, not if you don’t want to. I recommend leaving them on, especially if Sheldon insists you try the rope. The thing is as prickly as a porcupine, and the view from below can’t be good.

Richard Donnelly

Richard Donnelly lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Classic flyover land. Which makes us feel just a little... superior. Mr. Donnelly's first book is 'The Melancholy MBA,' published by Brick Road Poetry Press in Columbus, Georgia.