Tim Woodward is recovering from surgery so today’s column is a Woodward Classic, originally published in The Idaho Statesman in 2007. His regular columns should resume in two weeks.
One of the last things a happily married person expects to be involved in is a love triangle. It happened to me during a recent assignment.
The participants in the triangle were myself, a woman named Andrea Zollweg – and Elvis.
Elvis is a formidable individual. His sudden, seemingly unprovoked attack on me erupted with such intensity that if he hadn’t been locked up I’d have feared for my life.
The fact that Elvis is a 13-pound spider monkey is beside the point. He may be small, but he’s as scary as any animal alive.
My assignment was a Labor Day story about people who do what some would consider dirty jobs. As part of her job as a zookeeper at Zoo Boise, Zollweg has to clean up after the animals.
The zoo was where photographer Joe Jaszewski and I met Zollweg and Elvis. Joe, who arrived there ahead of me and was taking photographs when I arrived, later confided that he’d had the benefit of an advance warning.
“They said I shouldn’t even look him in the eye. I didn’t dare raise a camera to him.”
There wasn’t time for him to say that as I stepped into the monkey compound, however. All he managed to get out was a whispered, “Don’t make eye contact!” I thought he was talking about Zollweg.
No eye contact? Why wouldn’t he want me to make eye contact with her? She didn’t look intimidating at all. Just the opposite, in fact. A friendlier more cheerful person would have been hard to imagine.
“Good morning,” I said, reaching to shake her hand. “I’m Tim Wood …”
That’s when one of the monkey the cages exploded. Elvis, its occupant, leaped onto its door, clenching its wire grate with his fingers and toes and shaking it so violently it looked like the hinges would tear loose. His body rocked back and forth like Richard Simmons on amphetamines. I was about a yard away with my back to him and had no idea the outburst was coming.
It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that I came out of my skin. I may even have temporarily lost the power of speech. But I categorically deny wetting my pants.
As if hurling himself against the cage door wasn’t enough, Elvis was shrieking like a deranged “American Idol” contestant.
“I’m going to have nightmares about this,” Joe said.
“Is he always like this?” I asked Zollweg,
Impossible as it seemed, that made Elvis even angrier. He slammed himself against the cage door with such demonic fury that we’d have been justified in calling an exorcist. Forgetting Joe’s advice, I briefly made eye contact.
Two things about that were unnerving. One was that Elvis’s eyes were a psychotically vibrant shade of blue. Who ever heard of a monkey with blue eyes?
The other unnerving thing was that those vibrant, blue eyes seethed with hatred. Every fiber of Elvis’s being was focused on annihilating me. There wasn’t the slightest doubt that if he’d gotten out – and the wires of the cage door suddenly looked way too flimsy – he’d have finished me off in less time than it takes a pit bull to finish a Slim Jim.
“I’m going to have nightmares about this,” Joe repeated.
Elvis calmed down a bit when we left the cage to go to the visitors’ area, where Zollweg revealed the shocking truth.
“I’ve worked here long enough that he thinks I’m part of his harem,” she said.
“Harem? You’re joking.”
“No. He sees you as competition. Watch this.”
She put her hand on my shoulder for about half a second, long enough for Elvis to erupt in another gymnastic fit of rage.
Asked how Elvis and her husband got along, she smiled playfully and said, “My husband doesn’t know about me and Elvis.”
At that point we opted to leave the monkey compound, ostensibly to watch her and a coworker clean the “rain forest.” In truth I wanted to put as much distance as possible between myself and the glowering primate, who smoldered and simmered while conversing with some other spider monkeys. My guess is that he was bargaining for some wire cutters, or possibly an AK-47.
I left the zoo that day feeling limitless gratitude to the designers of the cage door that had held firm against Elvis’s assault. True, he’s just a spider monkey, not a lion or a tiger or a baboon. But never have I witnessed anything close to his consuming, murderous wrath. Compared with that, lions and tigers seem almost gentle,
Later, Zollweg told me Elvis’s age. He’s 40, ancient for a spider monkey
An old man, in other words, long past his prime.
I think I’m going to have nightmares about this.