Alan Mootnick, the Director, died on Friday. I went to the Gibbon Center on Sunday to do some raking because that was all I could think of to do. It felt like a stupid and small thing, but they’re short-handed and it was something.

I guess several other volunteers felt the same way – I’d never seen the place less in need of raking. Which didn’t mean there was no raking to do, but for the first time I had to look for it.

It was a rainy day, and a sad one, of course. Alan didn’t just found the place; it’s infused with him. There isn’t anything I did or saw there that didn’t remind me of him in some way, and I’ve only been an occasional volunteer. I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone like G., who lives on-site.

G. unlocked the gate and I asked her how she was, which was a stupid question, but it was all I could think of to do.

She was impressively composed, given how long and how closely they had worked together, and said that she was just trying to keep busy, which, given the fact that she was caring for 40 gibbons, I’m guessing she achieved.

She hadn’t lost her pleasure in working with them. She’d left a rake and dustpan in one of the enclosures when she came to let me in. One gibbon was high up, swinging around with the dustpan and happily testing the limits of its noisemaking potential, and some others had gathered around the rake, which they had maneuvered through the chain link until it stuck out horizontally. It seemed like there was more to their artistic vision for it, but they weren’t sure how to proceed.

G. showed me some raking and shoveling spots and suggested that I take a wheelbarrow around and empty each enclosure’s leaf and debris bin.

“You can go around and say hi to everyone,” she said.

I do, in fact, have a tendency to say hello to the gibbons, if possible by name. I am embarrassed by this practice, because I know it’s silly and it’s anthropomorphizing. Each gibbon does get a name, but it’s not like the staff try to teach them their names like you do with cats or dogs. It’s more to help the humans who deal with them, I think. But I usually can’t help but say hello because it feels rude not to. I was a little embarrassed that the Gibbon Center staff had noticed, but G. didn’t seem to mind it.

So I slowly made the rounds with the wheelbarrow and said hi and tried to get a glimpse of everyone, but tried not to stay so long that I faked them out and made them think I had food or anything. U Maung, ever tantalizing, shadowed me along his enclosure’s sunscreen mesh, then swung quickly away when he saw me turn my head to him.

I went by Domino and Tuk’s enclosure – they’re the ones who had had to be separated while Tuk was sick. Domino still looks vaguely melancholy, but Tuk was in good form. She came over to check out the wheelbarrow – I had to quickly move the rake I’d thoughtlessly left within her reach – and then hung there and looked at me for a long time while her baby clung to her. Domino and Tuk’s baby. A happy ending, I thought, then realized that it’s really a happy ongoing. Much better.

I had a moment of eye contact with Betty and saw just a flash of Khusus and her new baby Winston. Drew, the very scariest gibbon, and Tint, her mate, had been placed in a zoo during my long absence this spring and summer. On the one hand, that was a bit of a relief, since she frightens the bejesus out of me, but on the other, it means she’s a puzzle I’ll never solve, so I have some mixed feelings about Drew being gone. Maybe we’ll meet again. I hope I have apples to throw to her if we do. And maybe some sort of plexiglass shield.

There were also a few new residents that I hadn’t met yet. G. had warned that two of the new females were very difficult, but I must have run into the mildest one – she brought a hunk of apple over to see what I was doing and retched at me amiably.

I still love that retching noise.

I heard a new gibbon noise this trip, too. I certainly don’t pretend to have heard them all, but it’s always fun to rack up a new one. In this case, a newer female seemed to enjoy throwing in “Ow!” during the hootfests. But not the injury kind of “Ow,” more the kind a raspy-voiced singer throws into a rock song. Joan Jett, maybe. It makes me wish another gibbon would learn to respond with “Get down!”

Instead they went with lots of whooping. They had a long and impressive competitive singing session while I was there, totally instigated and prolonged by Marlow the siamang. She acts all innocent, but she really likes to stir up trouble. I walked over to watch her puff her throat out while she sang and totally caught her mother Karenina making the face that you’ve seen on every parent who has a teenager with an electric guitar.

Yes, I know: Anthropomorphizing.

In addition to my raking duties, G tasked me with collecting the bigger rocks that had been washed free by the rain and chucking them into the stream bed. That’s one of the reasons I like going to the Gibbon Center: It reminds you of the simple satisfaction you get from things like heaving a good-sized rock and hearing it thud.

Also, collecting rocks can leave you with a very arty-looking wheelbarrow. Doesn’t this look like the owner is just about to run off and do a driftwood sculpture or some bark rubbings or something?

No, I did not run over a staffer who ended up clinging to the wheelbarrow. Those are my empty work gloves.

I don’t know if you’ve been in the field of gibbon entertainment as long as I have, but rock gathering is pretty high on the list of interesting things. I did the bulk of my rock-gathering next to Parker and Pierre, who were as intent an audience as I’ve ever had. Pierre is used to me now. He still tries to get my attention, but doesn’t shriek and carry on like he used to. Parker is still the quiet one, usually in the background. Even though Pierre seems to be settling down in general, she still looks like maybe she could use a quiet afternoon to herself, drinking tea and reading murder mysteries.

Gibbons wore fauxhawks before fauxhawks were cool.

Here’s another young male, curious about me, but not into direct eye contact. That’s frustrating to humans, but it’s only polite in gibbon.

This guy did a lot of whooping.

He seemed generally good-natured and I look forward to handing him his food one day. That will be a while, though – I need more training before I can handle feeds on my own, and there’s way too much going on for that, so I have busted myself back down to raking and lifting heavy things and, well, whatever they need.

I was happy and relieved to see how many volunteers seem to be rushing in with the same intent.

Here’s the thing: Every now and then I get bummed out and stop believing that it’s possible to really do anything in this world. It feels like politicians are too cynical, the bad guys have too much money and power, the gatekeepers are too caught up in their same old ways of thinking, and even striving against them is useless anyway, because the forces of entropy and inertia and general foulness just roll back over anything you manage to start.

I was upset when I heard that Alan was dying, but I was also terrified that everything he had worked so hard to build would get blown apart without him there to spearhead it.

I shouldn’t have worried so much. You don’t spend 50 years trying to preserve something you care about as much as Alan cared about gibbons and not think about what will happen to them when you can’t anymore.

The Gibbon Center will go on. They have staff – G. is amazing, and C. is a dynamo – and volunteers and a board and plans for years into the future. And they have care methods to share with other zoos and programs. And so many gibbon babies born this year alone.

And if all Alan Mootnick had left behind was that – the Center and the program and the peer education and the school tours and the describing and naming gibbon species and the extensive sharing of knowledge on how to keep one of the planet’s most endangered animals healthy and breeding – it would be an incredible legacy on its own.

But even more than all that, the Gibbon Conservation Center is a reminder that it is possible to do real, lasting good. It may not be possible to change the whole world at once, but you can, in fact, carve out a corner that you’re passionate about and make it tangibly better. It’s even possible that people will help.

It is possible to do good that outlasts you. It is possible to create a happy ongoing instead of just a happy ending.

And that, in the end, is the point.


Alan Mootnick, the founder and director of The Gibbon Conservation Center, died early this afternoon.

He leaves behind a lifetime of studying and working to preserve one of the world’s most endangered species, not to mention an incredibly successful program of caring for and breeding gibbons and many healthy happy residents at the Center.

I will miss him.

So Drew.

Drew is probably the most infamous resident of the Gibbon Center. She doesn’t like women – and especially hates new women – and she’s been known to yank out tufts of her mates’ fur. I can’t say that she’s inherently mean, though; Drew loves N, the other permanent staff member, even though N is a woman. In fact, N can get away with stuff that even the Director can’t.

G told me that she’s seen Drew sitting on N’s shoulder. I have no idea if she was messing with me or not. Gibbons are big. Hoolock gibbons can get to be two and a half feet tall, and somehow Drew seems bigger than that, like maybe five or eight feet tall. But anything’s possible.

I had a brief, shining hope that Drew would see me, instantly sense my pure intentions, and add me as the second name on her exalted list of people she actually likes. But instead she hated me on sight.

Good lord, she’s scary. I don’t even remember what her mate looked like, though I know he must have been there.

G’s plan was to distract Drew while I scurried over to make the food drops, but I only barely made it before Drew came thundering over. I tossed the apple chunks and my dignity into the little box and dodged back out of her reach. (Or out of what I thought was her reach. G corrected me back a pace. Gibbon arms really are way longer than you expect them to be.)

I’m still trying to work out why I was afraid.

I was never really worried that any of the less friendly gibbons would seriously try to hurt me. (Though, yes, there is always the possibility that they could accidentally succeed.) They have serious teeth, but none of them ever made a move to bite me. And I knew by the time I got to Drew that the grabbing is more startling than painful. Besides, it seems to be much more of an attempt to send a message than to really cause pain.

I think the key difference between the human and the gibbon perspective here is that I automatically assume that gibbons aren’t a part of my social hierarchy, but they aren’t so sure.

(I can only imagine how I would feel if I were in what is, let’s face it, a cage all day, even if it was a really nice roomy cage with plenty of branches and places to hide. [The cause of getting space for even roomier enclosures is always in the forefront of everyone’s mind at the Gibbon Center. You can help with that.] So, yes, I can see where I might get fairly focused on the people who were bringing me food and how our rankings worked out. Or even on pushing their buttons for the hell of getting a reaction.)

Part of my fear came from G’s anxiety over me getting grabbed. I don’t know if she was worried about me saying screw it and not coming back, if she knew something I didn’t and was genuinely afraid of me somehow getting hurt, or if she just felt like it was a failure of teaching or hostessing if I got too banged up.

Another chunk of my fear came my own general nervousness over not wanting to mess up horribly and be sent away from the Center in disgrace, which is just as likely to overwhelm me when I’m wondering if I’m somehow cleaning the cutting boards wrong. (Spoiler: Yes.)

But a big chunk of my fear came from a place that’s completely irrational but entirely reasonable if you trace it down to its deep dark origins: It’s a primal reaction to a freaking wild animal charging at you.

I’m pretty sure that I screwed up in flinching and showing that I was afraid of some of the gibbons. It won’t make future feeding rounds less dramatic. A dog doesn’t keep barking at the mailman because he keeps coming to the door; it keeps barking because the mailman apparently gets frightened away each time.

So I may well have set up a cycle that feeds on itself, and that’s bad.

On the other hand, I think it would be a much stupider mistake to blithely assume that I know what the gibbons will or will not do. They are not tame, and they are not predictable.

So I think I have some ground to make up, not to mention some bucking up to do, but I also think I picked the medium-sized screw up instead of the disaster. I’ll take it.

After Drew and her mate, we moved on to Parker and Pierre. Pierre seems to be an adolescent. He also pitched a fit, but in a different way.

He probably would have been happy to have frightened me, but I think he would have taken any kind of attention. He scampered around and hooted and thrust his groin out, but didn’t take any shots at me. And I was able to hand food to the long-suffering Parker without too much trouble. G predicted that Pierre will settle down once he gets used to me and I agree.

Next was a family of five or maybe 327. It’s a nice bunch, very easy to hand things to, but there are a lot of them and the younger boys move around a lot. I worry about everyone getting his or her fair share and the overthinking threw my counting off. And then I tried to put too many apple slices in my hand at once and dropped a couple in the dust. It’s easy to wipe or hose them off, but it still feels discourteous somehow. I’ve waited tables. I still want everyone to have a pleasant meal.

The other tricky aspect to feeding this family is that their enclosure has a chain-link overhang high overhead that they love to sit in. It’s a good spot and they look down at you with an air of perfect contentment similar to the one you’ve seen in cats when they achieve Up High. (The gibbons are a little less smug about it, though. The gibbons just assume they belong up there, whereas a cat is pretty sure it’s put one over on you.)

The overhang is roughly midway down the length of the enclosure, which means it’s tempting to cross under it to get to everyone and put food in the different boxes. One would be a fool to do so, though.

Gibbons are almost completely arboreal in the wild, which means they have not evolved to give any thought to consequences when they go to the bathroom. “Go to the bathroom” becomes a particularly ridiculous euphemism here. The “bathroom” is down, and good luck to anything with objections down below. In fact, part of the nine daily feeding rounds involves checking to make sure no one has cheerfully pooped straight into his own water container.

What I’m saying is that I have screwed up and will continue to do so, but I do not intend to make the mistake of  casually walking or standing directly under the gibbons’ overhang.

And having tempted Fate by typing that, I really should throw a change of clothes into the trunk of my car.

Next were the siamangs. They are a mother and daughter, Karenina and Marlow, and I adore them.

Siamang gibbons are the ones with the neck pouches and the most amazing hooting volume. They can make quieter noises too, like a charming little jug-band sound that seems to come up when they’re happy but looking for a little excitement.

Karenina is a grand old lady. She’s got wrinkles on her face, especially around her eyes, which for some reason was surprising to me. But the wrinkles are only one aspect of her high-status charm. She accepts her food with immense dignity, like a benevolent duchess. She’s got the common touch, though, and is perfectly fine with making hand-to-hand contact. I wish she could hold teas.

Marlow is also sweet, but less sure of me. Karenina appeared to have sussed me out right away and decided I was OK. Marlow comes out to get her food and accepts it easily, but definitely gives me a thorough looking over. I wish there were more time for general hanging out with the gibbons. These are two of the many that I’d like to learn more about.

(But that, too, presents a dilemma. As I’ve mentioned, primates don’t really like being stared at. It’s an aggressive thing to do. I’m sure I’ll learn my boundaries better as I go.)

The final enclosure of the feeding round was Sasha and Asteriks and their daughter Lucia. Sasha dislikes men and can be unpredictable with women, but G predicted he’d be fine with me.

Ha, ha! Wrong. Sasha let me get right up close, then stook a swipe at me. He wasn’t nearly as aggressive as U Maung or Drew, but I did end up tossing him his food instead of handing it to him. He’s used to that, and is, like so many of the gibbons, really good at catching.

But he was calm or uninterested enough to let me hand Asteriks her apples directly – or maybe it’s just that she’s the one who’s really in charge. I’ve seen evidence of that.

Lucia is still nursing, but is getting interested in trying the solid food. A little chewing, a little spitting. Asteriks seems like an excellent mom. And a fierce one.

And then there was just enough time to scrub out the buckets and get ready for the next round.

The afternoon brings bananas, peas, and green onions. (I just learned that I am in a minority in the United States for calling those “scallions.”)

Bananas are trickier than you might think. They seem like the easiest thing in the world to handle, but their pleasant softness makes them a problem. Gibbons don’t care if they drag their food against the chain link when they accept their banana halves, but the keepers sure do – the residue dries and hardens and has to be laboriously scrubbed off later.

So in passing over the bananas, it’s important to make sure that my hand goes inside the fence instead of their hands coming out. It’s also a good idea to avoid handing food to a gibbon who’s very high up, because then if it drags the banana against the fence, the keeper who’s scrubbing it off later will have a hard time reaching.

Khusus prefers to take her bananas from very high up, thank you very much. G was patient with me, but I wasn’t firm enough about making Khusus come to me and clearly had an aggravating smear rate. G also had a technique for peeling three bananas at once, which was bad-ass, in a gibbon keeper sort of way. I got reasonably competent at it, but definitely need to practice.

I was more comfortable with my second round in general, but more nervous with the hostile gibbons, I tried (and failed) not to show it. My progress with U Maung was exactly zero.

Once again, G tried to distract Drew while I dropped off the food. She didn’t manage to get me, but hearing her come pounding after me was like a freaking horror movie. Aliens, to be exact. The fact that she can speed-clamber sideways and from above is unnerving. And did I mention that she’s huge? OK, I recognize that she may not in fact be huge, but my brain has decided she is.

Asteriks was hilarious. Many of the gibbons got mildly annoyed at the extra complication and time I took in insisting on passing their delicious banana halves through the fence instead of putting them into their outstretched hands, but Asteriks really wasn’t having it. She sat in one place and accepted her food, but soundly scolded me each time, upbraiding me with loud squeaks and chirps.

I stand by my assessment of Asteriks as an excellent mom, but I bet she’s a stern one too.

But it was Marlow’s reaction that threw me the most. I handed her some scallions, then a big bunch to the magnificent Karenina, and then G told me to take the last few left back over to Marlow.

Instead of accepting her scallions, Marlow presented to me.

By which I mean she swung around, bent over, and pressed her hindquarters against the cage at me.

If that sounds like a brazen sexual solicitation, it’s because it is. I froze in bewilderment for a second, and then a thought flashed into my head that maybe I was reading too much into it. I realized I wasn’t when G laughed a split second later.

“Looks like she wants you to give her more than onions,” said G.

I went with just giving her the onions.

But at least I know that one of the gibbons really likes me.

I ended my afternoon shift by helping to clean the kitchen as obsessively as I could. Human food and gibbon food is prepared in the same small kitchen, so as you can imagine there’s a strict segregation of cutting tools and cleaning implements. I asked a lot of stupid questions, but I told myself that’s probably better than wiping down the countertops with the wrong sponge.

I expected to stick around to hose down the cages, but G sent me home. I think she was worried about burning me out. Or maybe she was just done telling me things.

I thanked everything that moved for taking the time to train me. It felt like a lot, but they seemed reasonably happy with the investment in return for having a spare set of hands from time to time.

The director walked out to unlock the gate for me. I mentioned something about U Maung, and the Director corrected me on my pronunciation. I’d been thinking his name sounded about like it looked on the feeding chart, but I was a fool. It’s properly pronounced “Oo Mao,” and his full name is U Maung Maung, like the chant in the song “Surfin’ Bird.” I like it. It definitely goes with his energy.

The Director joked that maybe U Maung (Maung) would be nicer to me once I started saying his name correctly. Then we said our goodbyes and I hit the road back to L.A.

It was early evening when I got home, and I was so torn between eating, sleeping and bathing that I thought my head might explode. I have no memory of which order I did the eating and showering in. Just that it took a Herculean effort to type out a few notes to keep everything straight before diving into the sleeping part.

I took a brief moment to admire the way my bruise was already shaping up – I named it the Gibbon Badge of Courage – and then crashed into a good and dreamless sleep.

I got there early. And prepared. Sunblocked, hatted, unscented-deodoranted. Similarly unscented hair pulled back in a tough-to-grab low ponytail. Pen and paper for taking nerd notes, BPA-free water bottle locked and loaded.

I was ready.

And early.

Too early. I pulled into a little strip mall on the way to kill time so I’d get there only dork-early instead of psycho early.

This was it: Keeper training. G. was going to take me on my first feeding round.

We started off in the kitchen, of course, doing food prep. There were no peppers this time, just a ton of apples. And not just any old apples. The folks at the Center have done some incredibly precise calculating with the gibbons’ diets. Gibbons eat a lot of fruit, but not necessarily the kind you can buy in mass quantities at a produce store in the States. And they’re prone to diabetes, just like people are, and the Center wants them in their absolute best health so they can make more little gibbons.

So the first thing I learned is that an apple is not just an apple. Red, green, and yellow apples have different sugar contents and the gibbons get them in varying amounts and combinations, depending on their needs. And they get cut up differently, sixths for the red apples – essentially a lemon-cutting job, though somehow G. wasn’t blown away by my technique – and big, juicy quarters for the yellow and green apples.

Then G. gave me an apron, a walkie-talkie, and – whoa – a can of foaming hand sanitizer.

Gibbons aren’t just prone to diabetes, you see. They’re prone to human diseases – even colds – and of course they can catch contagious diseases from each other.

Which meant that every time I touched a gibbon or its enclosure, I had to sanitize my hands before I went back to the bucket. Every time.

I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to find the one activity on Earth that requires me to sanitize my hands more than selling adult videos did.

On the other hand, I sanitized my hands all day because I was touching the gibbons so much.

As in handing them their food. All afternoon long.

G. stayed with me, of course. Part of her job was to train me in proper procedure, of course, but she probably spent more time on teaching me the personalities of the different gibbons. That, really, was where the tricky part came in.

You can’t assume that one gender or the other will be dominant, and you can’t assume that everyone will react to the food rounds in the same way or to new people in the same way. G. Coached me through it as best she could.

“Give her her handful and then give him his fast, no, fast, or she’ll chase him away!” She said at an early cage.

I was nervous about screwing up, but I got him his food.

(Food, yes, everybody’s names, no. I’m still learning.)

I know Khusus, though. She’s the matriarch of a family of Javan gibbons.

“She sounds like a queen,” I said after seeing her name on the chart.

“She is,” said G.

Khusus has strong opinions about apples. She likes the yellow and green ones better than the red, and she’s not afraid to grab you by the shirtfront if she thinks she’s been shortchanged.

About the grabbing: Gibbons are really good at it. They hang and swing from things all day long. Their hands are more elongated than ours, and are sort of hook-shaped even in a resting position, and their arms are strong and, in proportion to human anatomy, even longer than the hands. Gibbons are born for grabbing.

So while I was never really worried about a gibbon hurting me, I certainly noticed when they grabbed. It’s powerful and startling. Khusus grabbed my shirt and yanked hard enough to pull me off balance.

Next was Reg, a male Javan gibbon who has no mate yet. He’s an interesting mix of shy and aggressive; he was the one who liked to build up speed and then carom up against the bars to startle me (Or get my attention?) while I was raking. Reg understands feeding time, though. He slows down and reaches out very carefully to get his food. I like Reg.

Then we went to see Domino, the Victorian ghost. He still had his wistful face, but he was definitely happier. He and his mate were being reintroduced to each other. She wasn’t in the same enclosure, but they were next to each other and could touch through the bars. They pressed up against each other through their adjoining wall and looked into each other’s eyes.

“Are you in love again?” G joked.

And I know that using words like that is anthropomorphizing, but they looked damned close to that. They were happily mated, at least, and it was good to see them together.

And then it was time to go see Betty and U Maung. G mentioned U Maung’s poor reputation with new people, but I was secure in a quiet wash of smugness. She didn’t know that U Maung had gently held my toe last time, that he and I had shared a quiet Interspecies Moment.

I moved forward confidently.

And U Maung flipped out.

He hooted and slammed up against the bars to try to intimidate me. He swung in over and over to block Betty’s access to us.

I’m weeks late getting this blog entry up. Partly because there was so much to absorb and try to explain, but I think it might be mostly because of this:

This is the part where I admit that U Maung is kind of an asshole.

I’m not saying that I dislike him or that I’ll stop trying with him. I’d still like… What? A friendship? A connection? A good working relationship?  I’ll go with “an understanding” and leave the many possible eventual meanings of that word to sort themselves out. I’d like to develop at least enough of an understanding with him to feed him peacefully, and to get to know Betty a bit. She gets overshadowed.

(On the other hand, what I want is hardly the point. This is about trying to be some small shred of help to an organization that’s trying to preserve some of the most endangered animals on the planet. Who happen to be our evolutionary cousins. It’s not about my personal goddamned growth.

And making human-gibbon connections is arguably counterproductive; the idea is to get them to bond with each other, and to see each other as mates [and rivals], not humans. To that end, the Director interacts with them as little as possible. I wonder if I could stand that.

That said, if I volunteer to feed and rake up after your cat, I would naturally try to make friends with it and want it to feel comfortable around me, so… That’s a fair approximation of the internal monologue that’s running through my head pretty much the entire time I’m at the Gibbon Center, every time. Welcome to my world.)

As U Maung slammed his feet against the cage to see if he could rattle me, I moved in with his handful of apple slices. G warned me about getting close for him to grab my hat. I didn’t give a rip about my hat, because who wears clothes they care about to a primate center? But then I wondered if she was less worried about the hat itself than the idea that U Maung and Betty might rip it up and chew on it and accidentally swallow a bit, and as I was wondering if I should clarify that point, I got my arm too close instead of my hat.


U Maung caught me square on the forearm and then swung away.

It startled me more than it hurt. I did end up with a bruise that stayed pretty impressive for a week, but honestly putting the antiseptic on the places where his twisting motion broke the skin hurt more than the grab itself.

But it did throw me a little. What the hell, U Maung? I couldn’t figure out why he was OK with me alone, but went nuts when I came by with one of the keepers. And why flip out when I he knows I’m coming with food? Interspecies relations aside, it’s just poor strategizing.

We moved on to a gentler soul, Truman. He’s an older adolescent male, one of JR’s large family. Truman has gotten old enough that he had to be moved out of the family enclosure, once again to an adjoining space that has a wall in common so he’s not completely removed from his parents and sisters. But still, it must be puzzling for him.

Truman is very careful and polite when I hand him his food. Almost grave. He’s one of the most likely to brush fingertips with you while you’re handing him his food. I love their strange, long hands. Our hands with a touch of Doppler effect. The skin on their palms and fingers reminds me of the bare pads on a cat’s foot.

And then a tricky enclosure, JR and her mate and daughters. They’re all very nice – I just worry about getting the right amounts to everyone because there are so many of them. There’s a lot of counting portions, and a certain chunk of my brain is occupied with HOLY WOW GIBBONS RIGHT THERE GIBBONS, so it’s less easy to keep track than one might think.

This is getting long, and I haven’t even gotten to Drew, who scares the bejesus out of me.

More of Day 7 to come.

If you think my writing looks different, it’s because I finally got all my shots and tests done. I feel like I’m the Woman of Steel now, immune to damn near everything.

The disease and parasite tests made me nervous, of course. I didn’t really have any reason to believe that I’d picked up any tropical diseases or hitchhikers in my travels, but that didn’t stop me from vaguely worrying about it in the back of my mind:

“Ms. Davis, the good news is you don’t have to redo your hepatitis B shots. The bad news is you’re turning into a bat.”

But I’d managed to settle myself down completely by the time I had to go back in and get my tuberculosis test read.

The nurse looked at my arm, then got out a little piece of plastic with a bunch of circles cut into it. She put it on my arm.

“OK,” she said as brightly as she could, “Your TB test is positive. You’re going to need a chest X-ray.”


I mentally composed the “Hey, guess what! You’ve been exposed to TB!” e-mail to my coworkers while the nurse went out for a minute. She returned with an older woman who was either a doctor or an über-nurse.

“No,” said the new arrival. “You read the size of the bump, not the redness.” She ran her finger along my arm to show the nurse. “See? She doesn’t have a bump.”

Apparently the nurse wasn’t used to dealing with someone who has such delicate, porcelain skin. I felt relieved, if a little less macho.

I re-started my heart and thanked the doctor/head nurse. My nurse (who did everything else really well, I should note) finished up, gave me a tetanus booster for luck, and promised to fax my records and remaining results to the Gibbon Center.

A little over a week later, I got an e-mail from C, the volunteer coordinator: “When can you start training?”

I restrained myself from replying “Eeeee! Leaving work right now!” and instead started an e-mail volley on when would be best for everyone.

…Until the Mayday call for volunteers went out. G was delayed out of town and N had reinjured her knee, which meant the two most experienced residents wouldn’t be on site for a week or more.

They really needed people who had already been trained as keepers, but I figured I could do some grunt work to help take the load off the trained volunteers so they could focus on the gibbons. So I signed up to go in this Saturday for a few hours of – wait for it – raking.

I’m getting better at prepping for the Gibbon Center. Hair pulled back, grubby clothes, hippie unscented deodorant (gibbons are much more sensitive to smell than we are and don’t seem to like chemical fragrances), sunblock, reusable water bottle, lunch box with a few snacks, check the car fluids, and GO!

…And only realize about 20 minutes away from home which thing I’ve forgotten. This time it was my hat. It’s a long afternoon in direct sunlight, so I stopped at a store not far from the Center and bought a cheap baseball cap. It was black with a couple of bright white Chinese characters on it. According to the tag, it said “Happiness,” but I don’t read a word of Chinese. Still, it was cheap and had a good brim, so I took the calculated risk and figured I’d only wear it at the Center, so what was the harm?

I pulled in to the parking lot to find one other car there. It looked like a dad who was waiting for his kid to finish up. He was hanging out with the window halfway rolled down and was reading a newspaper in – OH, GOD, CHINESE!

I decided to just brazen it out and gave him a nod, hoping my hat didn’t secretly say “Idiot,” or “Tea Party Nation,” or “Happiness is Chickenbanging!”

The Director, supervising the apparent offspring of the guy in the car, was happy to see me. I liked to think that was because of my new Trainee status, but it was probably because they were really hurting for people. The day was hot and bright, so the gibbons were lethargic and sticking to the shade, making the place seem extra deserted.

After a few parting instructions for the kid who was busily pruning the lower trunk of one of the trees, the Director took me around the grounds. “Nice shoes,” he grinned, noticing my Fivefingers shoes for the first time.

I’m not sure why everyone associates my shoes with ape or monkey feet. I do it too – it’s one of the reasons I like them. But really all they do is shape very closely to my very human, short-toed feet. It’s like we’re all so used to pretending humans don’t have toes that we forget about them.

The Director led me past an enclosure that seemed to be empty, but in fact was home to a very sad gibbon named Domino who was hiding in his sleeping house.

“I had to take his mate away,” The Director explained. “He saw me catch her.”

Domino will be reunited with his mate as soon as he’s done with a course of medication he’s on, but there’s no way to explain that to him. I have a hard enough time taking a scared cat to the vet. I can’t imagine having to separate a bonded pair, even for their own good.

We continued around the grounds and I realized that the Director was giving me a to-do wish list that was based on a superhuman estimation of my raking abilities.

The main difference, though, was that now we knew the gibbons and I couldn’t get each other sick. I wouldn’t be going inside the enclosures, of course, but the Director was asking me to rake inside the barriers that surround the enclosures.

As in where the keepers go.

As in really, really close to the gibbons.

But still, I needed to bring us both back to earth: I asked the Director for his priorities as a gentle way to indicate that maybe this all wouldn’t get done. And then I started working on the picnic area like a grownup instead of indulging my inner child and working on the less visible rightupbythegibbons areas.


Still, the picnic area meant that I was well within eyeshot of Betty and U Maung, who made no secret of their interest.

Soon we had a good game of look/look away going that was increasingly more look than look away. I think that’s been a good accidental side effect of my long raking apprenticeship: The gibbons have been able to get used to my presence gradually. Or at least the ones near the picnic area have.

After a while, the kid finished pruning and came over to help with the raking. I said “Hi, I’m Ali,” and he formally introduced himself with his first and last name. He looked like a nice kid, about junior high school age.

And, like almost all the volunteers at the Center, he was a quiet type.

“So,” I hazarded, “Are you doing a service project, or do you just like apes?”

He gave me a nanolaugh. “Service project,” he said. Then he went back to raking.

He wasn’t great at raking – he wasn’t slacking off or anything, but he didn’t have a real sense of strategy about it, and wasn’t terribly thorough. I found myself wrestling with that adult dilemma of whether to let a kid feel good about what he’s contributing or to make him feel bad by going over what he’s already done so the thing is done well.

I was able to hold off until he left. Well, mostly.

And soon enough, it was legitimately time to rake right by Betty and U Maung’s enclosure. U Maung dropped to the ground and watched as I got closer.

Then he reached his hand out through the fence, palm up, and waited.

I carefully held the rake over to him so he could feel the interesting springiness of it. He toyed with it for a few seconds, then held his hand out again.

I took a sidestep closer.

U Maung grabbed the leg of my jeans and tugged at it, then felt the texture of my shoe. I was expecting an ankle grab, but no. Instead U Maung reached out, grabbed my big toe, and very gently held it.

I stood there, motionless. He held on for a while, then swung away. I scooped up my raking pile and moved away too. It was enough.

I went back to my raking. H, a brand-new live-in volunteer, stopped by to introduce herself and compliment my progress. Every now and then, I think about what my life will be like if my raking trajectory continues.

“Who is that enchanting creature?” passing strangers will whisper to each other, “The one with the back muscles that ripple like mighty, fighting pythons! Who is she?”

H went over to feed U Maung and Betty, and I noticed that once again U Maung swung aloofly in another part of his cage like he’d done when I helped N. with the feeding round. That was possibly because H is brand-new, but I wondered if it was the effect of two human females being nearby at the same time. Maybe U Maung was trying to keep us from fighting over his magnificence?

I have no idea. He is, as always, a mystery. But a mystery I’m happy with.

I moved over by the enclosure of a Javan gibbon who at first was either less bold or less curious about my raking, contenting himself with trying to startle me by building up swinging speed and then kathooming up against the fence.

After a while, though, he too gave into the temptation of munching and watching because I was the only thing going. I am gibbon TV.

But something else was happening. I could hear Domino the sad gibbon moving around on the other side of the opaque tarp that was up on that side of his enclosure. He couldn’t see me, but he could definitely hear me and could probably smell me. (In fact, after a my afternoon’s raking, he could almost certainly smell me. Turns out when they call that hippie deodorant “unscented,” they mean the deodorant, not you.) At any rate, he was trying to figure out what was going on.

Soon enough, I was raking on the other side of his enclosure. I expected him to stay hidden, but he didn’t. Domino peered out at me from a shady corner of his enclosure, looking like a Victorian illustration I’d once seen of a miserable ghost.

I focused back on my raking and he gradually came out. Soon he was swinging wildly on his rope and even clinging to the side of his cage to get some good staring in.

I said “Hi, Domino,” but tried not to be too intrusive. I also tried not to anthropomorphize, but I couldn’t help but think that he sure looked mournful. I tried to figure out how to rake in a cheerful, optimistic manner.

We were coming near to the end of my afternoon and the Director came by to thank me for helping out. I let him know that Domino had been active and he seemed pleased. He was also happy with my progress, even though it was only a dent in what he’d been hoping for.

I said I’d be back in a week or two and he said “Good, I hope so.”

And then I went home to take a very long shower, heavy on the scrubbing.

Even my big toe. There will be plenty more of that later.

“Will you still come if it rains?”

It’s an adorably Southern California question, and one that still surprises me. It was the response the Director sent when I e-mailed asking if they needed any help at the Gibbon Center on Saturday.

I assured him in my East Coast devil-may-care way that I didn’t mind a little rain and made my plans to come in.

Devil-may-care, yes, but not crazy: I added another 50% to my driving time estimate to allow for my fellow drivers losing their minds in the rain and dug out a waterproof jacket and some sturdy boots with a good tread. The Gibbon Center is a dusty place, and a couple of days’ worth of L.A. mist and drizzle sounded like a few acres’ worth of mud.

By Saturday, the drizzle had become a fairly steady patter. As I drove up, I wondered what they’d have me do, since raking was definitely out.

You’re ahead of me on this one, right?

I called the main phone when I arrived and the Director made sure that I really did have a good jacket with a hood and offered me some rubber boots before coming out to meet me at the gate. He handed off a wheelbarrow and asked me to take it out to the Dumpster while he went to grab me some tools.

The Gibbon Center feeds its charges a carefully balanced variety of produce, including lettuce, apples, and millions of peppers, but I was faintly delighted to see that the wheelbarrow’s main cargo was banana peels. The ape-with-a-banana thing is a silly and inaccurate stereotypical image, except when it isn’t.

I wheeled the barrow back inside the gate and met the Director, who had a shovel and… A rake.

He pointed me to an empty enclosure with some leaf debris in it and I hopped to.

I’ve read that the 200 Inuit words for snow thing is bullpuckey, but whether it is or not I get where the concept comes from now. I am refining my raking knowledge into kinds and degrees of raking: short, dipping strokes to get leaves out of puddles, long, light strokes to get the leaves but not the mud, and chaotic, multidirectional, absolutely goddamned futile strokes to try to get the leaves out from between the fence and the inexplicable slab of concrete.

And then there is cosmetic raking, a project that I started working on when I realized that I had the exact opposite of the usual problem that comes up with mopping: Footprints left in the mud.

I worked from the corners toward the door in a pattern that I hoped looked vaguely Zen gardenish, but in the end I was forced to admit that it was just an illustration of the fact that Woman against Nature is not a fair fight.

No matter, though. N, one of the assistants I’d met before, came over and asked if I’d help her carry buckets as she went around to feed – she’d hurt her knee and the muddy day wasn’t doing her any favors.

Cool! I agreed immediately and she said she’d come and get me when she needed me. She walked away and I realized that I hadn’t stepped out of the enclosure to talk to her and had, in fact, been clinging to the chain link fence with my fingers. Project Not a Psychopath: Shaky.

Still, I was excited about getting to help her with the food buckets and to make a full round and see of all of the gibbons.

Or, rather, mostly all. Drew, another new mother at the Center, was finally taking good care of an infant after rejecting her first few. (Those had been bottle-fed and cared for by the keepers.) Drew hates women and especially hates new women, and so I had been instructed to stay yards and yards away from her lest my newness somehow throw her off. I did my best, and tried to even stay out of her eyeline. Which I think marks my first day of actually hiding from a gibbon.

N handed me a bucket full of apples and we set off on her careful rounds. I tried to strike a balance between friendly chat, interested-questions-about-the-gibbons-without-making-too-much-damn-shop-talk, and, you know, shutting the hell up.

I was glad to get a closer look at the gibbons, even though the rain seems to make them miserable. They could hide in their little plastic houses – and a few do – but mostly they wrap their arms around their knees and stare out at the world in a way that suggests that they are working up to writing some despair-filled primate poetry or maybe forming an emo band.

We started off with a couple of families of Javan gibbons, who seemed to be a little less shy than the hoolock gibbons I’d been hanging out near last time.

Less shy indeed: N handed one of the Javan gibbons a red apple slice instead of the kind she preferred and she hurled it on the ground.

Then, as N turned away, the gibbon grabbed the shoulder of her jacket and yanked her so hard that for a second I thought it was about to punch her. And N did nearly lose her balance.

N seemed unfazed and explained that that family was particularly fussy about their meals. Noted.

I took the incident as an important wee reminder that gibbons are real live wild animals with strong opinions rather than the adorable arboreal elves I’d been lazily turning them into in my mind.

That said, there’s only one incident I’ve heard of in which a gibbon punched a keeper. J told me about it my first day: One of the assistants walked up to an enclosure with food and instead of reaching out for it, the gibbon shrieked at her and punched her squarely in the chest.

She stepped back and was stunned by its behavior until she saw the rattlesnake slither past her boot.

So the gibbons have your back. They’re just going to mention it if they don’t like the apples. I figure it’s an OK deal.

N and I got up to U Maung and Betty’s cage. Betty came over to get her fruit, but U Maung swung around ostentatiously in another section of their enclosure. N turned to me.

“He doesn’t like you,” she said. “Don’t worry, he doesn’t like 90% of the people who come here.”

I was ever so slightly stung. I started to mention that I’d done a lot of raking near their enclosure last time, and I felt like we were old friends –

N warned me not to get too close to them, saying that while Betty has one of the sweetest dispositions at the Center, U Maung is one of the meanest gibbons you’ll ever come across.

“We’ll see about that, Buster,” I thought as we moved away. U Maung had some explaining to do after toying with my affections like that.

N and I were nearly done with the round when I saw C the volunteer coordinator come out with a woman I hadn’t seen before. I started over to say hi, preparing to introduce myself again, when she boomed a “Hi, Ali!” across the center.

She introduced me to S, her “latest victim,” a veterinary student who had come in from Australia.

I realized that I’m in an interesting position at the Center: Other than N and G, the two main assistants, the volunteers who had been there when I started were going or had already gone home. To S, I was a veteran, but she’d be well past me in training in a day or two.

I’m somewhere between new face and fixture, and I can tell that my continued presence is something of a puzzle. I’m not studying for an advanced degree or doing community service or here for an adventure vacation or doing anything that’s explicable at all, really. I just like the gibbons and stop by when I can. And they figure OK, what the hell, we could use a little help with the raking.

I’m glad I’ll be getting my tests and shots done soon so I at least won’t be a perpetual noob.

But for the moment, noob I am.

N slipped off her rubber boots and went into the kitchen to load up the buckets for the next round while I, in my clumsier lace-up work boots, waited outside. I stood near the cage with some of the hand-raised juveniles in it, watching them as they shyly peeked out at me from behind the barriers.

They make adorable high little proto-whoops, almost peeps, and I was pretty happy to stand and watch them for a minute. But the Center isn’t really a standing around kind of place. The Director walked by and asked if I’d seen the tree trimmings he’d just lopped off.  I explained that I hadn’t cleared them yet because I was in the middle of a bucket run with N.

But it made more sense for S, the new volunteer to make the rounds so she could start learning the routines and the protocols for dealing with the gibbons, so I was quickly busted back down to Yard Girl. I hoped that S had managed to get a nap in at some point between flying over from Australia and slogging through the mud.

I turned to go take care of the tree trimmings and the Director suddenly softened.

“I mean… Is there something you’d rather do?”

Getting snippy about which volunteer work I’d deign to do seemed like missing the point in a big way to me, so I said no and headed off.

The Director had done some brisk work on one of the trees, because seriously, fuck peppercorns, and so I started filling the wheelbarrow with leaves and branches to take to the Dumpster for mulching.

For the first couple of loads, I was feeling proud that everyone at the Center seems to trust me to work independently around the place, but then I realized that the mud made it possible for any infant with pointing skills to track my movements.

(“Blast it, Holmes! Where can that branch-stealing scoundrel have got off to?” “It seems, to me, Watson, that we might start with the inch-deep wheelbarrow track and the boot prints.”)

The branches I was loading up were on the other side of the enclosure I’d been working near last time, and sure enough, soon U Maung had sauntered over as close as possible to certainly not watch me.

Within seconds, we had a stellar, perfectly timed game of look/look away going.

Oh, U Maung, you bitch.

I cleared wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of branches, chatted just long enough to puzzle the new Antipodean arrival, and took one more load of wet leaves and generalized muck to the dumpster, then realized that it was 4:00 and I had to head back to L.A. and get ready for a party.

Fortunately, I was exactly as covered in rain, sweat, and mud as I had hoped to be for the day.

I put my tools away and checked in with N to let her know I had to leave. She looked disappointed and said she had been just about to offer me the chance to hose gibbon piss out of the enclosures with her.

I was disappointed too, and then I started inappropriately laughing because we had both thought of that as a treat.

I was worried that I had failed a test by not sticking around for the cleaning part, but then I fired up the car and saw the Director suddenly illuminated in my headlights, waving and grinning hugely.

I got out of the car to say goodbye. He was standing inside the Center’s fence and we were separated by a little gully that was, with the day’s unusual rain, getting close to becoming a creek. As the rain turned into a real live downpour, the director suddenly got uncharacteristically chatty, telling me his plans to dig out the stream bed and about how he’d done one before to save the Center’s parking lot.

He’s usually taciturn, like most people I’ve met at the Center, but suddenly he was almost bubbly. He talked stream and I listened happily while I graduated from damp to soaked. We said goodbye again and he thanked me for coming and I said thank you back. Which I know is weird, but I always do that when I’m leaving the Center because it’s the closest I can come to what I mean.

So I drove back to L.A., looking forward to the party and to walking proudly mud-caked past my nosy neighbor so he’d really have something to think about and especially looking forward to 2011, when I will be allowed to hose gibbon excrement out of cages.

I hope your New Year is everything you’ve been dreaming of as well.

I have a possible correction to make.

Things about which Gibbons May, in Fact, Give a Rat:

1. Raking

…Though, to be honest, it’s hard to tell.

I set off for the Gibbon Conservation Center this week with my usual modest goals: No massive engine oil stains, and only intermittent looking like a psychopath.

I’d e-mailed ahead to G. to make sure Saturday would be a good day to come by and help out. I hadn’t e-mailed her before, so in order to help her place me I mentioned that I was a volunteer who had been by a few times and that last time I had raked and “chopped some things,” which sounded better than “had a quiet psychological meltdown over how big to make the pepper chunks.”

G. said to come on by, so I guess the pepper chunks were acceptable.

…Or it could have been that the Center was short-handed. When I got there, G. and I seemed to be the only people around. She opened the gate for me and explained that a film crew would be coming Monday, so there was lots of – wait for it – raking to do.

Since my last visit, the grounds had been thoroughly re-blanketed in peppercorns. Moderate, brisk physical activity for the day: check.

G. helped me pick out a good rake, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow and pretty much left me to it, which made sense. It wasn’t like I was going to run out of things to do. Whatever you are having for dinner tonight, please put some pepper on it. The trees really, really want you to have some.

I was pretty pleased with the arrangement. I knew I was being useful, the day was cool and lovely, and the light was hitting everything at a stunning angle, making the trees look positively BobRossian.

So I wheeled my way to the picnic area and hopped to and prepared for a quiet day of being near to but ignored by gibbons.

…Except that I quickly realized that for some reason I had an audience this time. U Maung, a male hoolock gibbon who had deemed raking completely Dullsville last time, had moved to the ground to get a better look.

I have no idea if it was because he’d noticed I was new or if he’d noticed that I wasn’t entirely new or if it was just the only thing going that day, but suddenly my raking was getting a thorough assessment.

My first impulse, being a reasonably friendly human, was to look back at him and smile. That was, of course, the wrong impulse. U Maung threw up his arms and bolted to the other side of his enclosure.

(I love it when gibbons go bipedal and run, by the way. By our standards, they have really long arms, so they tend to get them out of the way by lifting their arms up over their heads. It makes them look adorably extra-startled to me. Here’s someone else’s YouTube video to give you an idea of the posture I’m talking about.)

So anyway, I’d screwed up and I knew it. To much of the primate order, eye contact can be fighting words. On our side, staring feels like just looking at – or maybe even trying to connect with – a beautiful animal. On theirs, it’s essentially like a stranger is walking up to the enclosure and saying “You want a piece of this? Do you? DO YOU?” over and over.

I refocused on my raking and U Maung took a little time to readjust. Soon he was back, sitting behind the green mesh that helps protect the gibbons from harsh direct sunlight, but close up against it to get a good look. I behaved myself better and tried not to notice the intent little shadow.

After a little while, I either proved myself interesting enough for a direct look or moved irritatingly out of eyeshot; U Maung moved out from behind the mesh.

…Though, of course, it wasn’t really me he was looking at. He’d just happened to find some very interesting leaves and rocks on the ground at the nearest point to where I was working and really needed to take a careful inventory of them right then. If I happened to be in his eyeline when he glanced up, well, that was my fault, not his. In fact, U Maung made it clear that it had nothing to do with me and I really don’t see why you’re making such a big deal about it. God.

Me, I behaved myself better this time. I stuck to my raking and got better at only looking at U Maung out of the corner of my eye. It felt good to know that, should I need them, I was developing some important spy skills.

U Maung’s mate, Betty, occasionally swung by or dropped in (literally, in both cases) to see what the big deal was. She seemed less curious about me, but bolder about showing it to the extent that she was. (Though she certainly employed the “NOTHING GOING ON! I AM JUST LOOKING AT THESE PEBBLES OVER HERE!” ruse at least once.)

I don’t know if their different reactions to me were due to personality or gender.

Gibbons are definitely keyed in to what gender the humans around them are, which is impressive to me – I certainly have a tough time with the gibbon species that don’t employ the handy color-coding that some of them use.

But gibbons know who’s what when it comes to humans, no matter what bulky clothing you happen to be rocking. Those that have had a lot of human contact, like Sasha, tend to see humans of the same gender as potential rivals or threats (which can make it tricky to, for example, go in and clean their enclosures). Betty didn’t seem threatened by me, just less curious and less shy. And less, for lack of a better term, flirty.

I slowly filled my wheelbarrow with  peppercorns and only occasionally screwed up and looked at U Maung directly, sending him flailing off to another section of his enclosure. It occurred to me that this was a lesson I’m still learning when it comes to dealing with hominids in general.

But still, I was in an amazingly chipper mood. I had a good game of look/look away going, I had hit a point where G. trusted me enough to putter around productively on my own, and I was getting to know the lay of the land a bit. For example, I was able to make a correct guess as to where to find the right kind of broom when I needed to sweep peppercorns out of the cushion crevices of the lawn furniture in the picnic area.

One couch/glider presented me with a puzzling conscientious worker dilemma: Obviously, I wanted to get the picnic area as clean and shipshape as possible for the film crew. But the couch in question was under a pepper tree branch, and that branch apparently has a very precise spot on it that is the best place in the entire universe for a bird to sit.

The two outside cushions were – once I brushed off all the peppercorns – pristine. The middle one was so crusted with bird poop that some passing classical statues turned away in disgust.

Giving the seat a really good cleaning would deprive visitors of crucial information and leave someone sitting under the Turd of Damocles.

I ended up knocking enough off that it no longer looked like Tippi Hedren had been visiting, but not so much that a reasonable person wouldn’t take the hint.

And, my bird poop interlude over, it was back to peppercorns.

A little before feeding time, the gibbons started up with the competitive singing. It stands to reason that I will get used to that one day, but I hope I don’t. Being in the middle of it is amazing. When it starts, I almost have to stop raking and smile way too much.

I endeavor to love all gibbons equally and I don’t want to cast aspersions, but I’ll just say this: Those siamangs are instigators.

The hootenanny seemed to start up in anticipation of G. making the rounds with the food bucket, which feels like it makes sense to me. G. knows the gibbons well – she’s even bottle-fed a few infants – and she’s the lady with the food, so eye contact is a different deal with her.

The gibbons are waiting by the little food bin when she arrives, but she always tosses the first chunk to them directly before putting the rest in the box. Gibbons are such natural fielders to me that it’s a little astonishing to watch. I know that eye-hand coordination is their thing, but I hadn’t ever envisioned them playing catch.

But they look like they were raised on catch. They don’t so much pluck the fruit out of the air as melt it out, like it was headed straight for their hands all along. It’s such an easy movement they almost look bored by it.

I’d moved to a different plane for my raking by then, up on the rise of the ground where U Maung and Betty’s enclosure was. I got a brief impression of what it must be like to be a baseball player as the two of them openly watched me work while munching huge bites of apple. I’ll admit: I got a little nervous and worried about choking.

(I also felt an urge to give them a little bucket of popcorn or a couple of hot dogs, so it’s a good thing neither of those things were around. I’m fairly certain both are contraindicated for a healthy gibbon diet.)

Had they gotten used to me? When G. came around again, I asked if it would be OK to take a picture. She said yes, but not to get so carried away with getting a shot that I got close enough to get gibbongrabbed.

I was careful, but had a new puzzle: Gibbons can’t possibly fully understand what a camera does, but they certainly seem to know that it’s looking, and maybe even turbo-looking.

I needed a camera with a little swiveling periscope. Focusing while looking directly at the gibbons was clearly a loser move. So I stood sideways next to U Maung – TOTALLY JUST LOOKING AT SOME INTERESTING LEAVES AND NOT AT HIM – and finally managed to make our look/look away game intersect just long enough to get this.

You know you want eyebrow definition like that. Just admit it.


And then, for variety, some leaves.

After I’d been there for a few hours and was starting on my second wheelbarrow, G. came by and asked if I’d seen the new arrival.

What you can’t see in that video is a three-day-old baby gibbon. Her mom, who you can see, is J.R., a good and careful mother. I wanted to see more of the baby, but I admired how carefully J.R. kept her little one knee-and-arm cuddled into warmth while still holding her own in that family squabble.

G. and I chatted a little and eventually J.R. moved to a new spot in the enclosure, giving us a quick glimpse of her newborn – tiny, pink, and already better at clinging and grabbing than I’ll ever be.

G. went back to her rounds and I went back to my leaves. I had the picnic area looking good (or at least much better), the space I was working between two enclosures was looking something damn close to leaf-free, and my second wheelbarrow was getting satisfyingly full. I felt dusty, happy, and faintly smug in the knowledge that I had Accomplished Things.

…And then I wheeled around the corner and saw what in deference to more delicate sensibilities I will call a duck-ton of peppercorns.

I thought about how many peppercorns there were left to rake and about the fact that the trees in the picnic area were still, even then, continuing to drop peppercorns on the spots I’d already done and about distant planets with no rakes or shovels that were just filling up with more and more peppercorns.

And in that moment, I understood that there is no defeating the peppercorns. There is only striving.

And at least leaving little rake marks all over creation to let the world know you did your best.

G. came over to let me back out and seemed pleased with the progress. I tried to give one last sideways glance to U Maung and Betty, but they were hidden away, already bedding down in preparation for shattering the dawn with competitive hooting.

But no matter. I had gotten a little video of them earlier that encapsulates my afternoon near their cage pretty well. Enjoy U Maung, Betty, and some excellent brachiation.

I’m trying to budget responsibly for the upcoming one-two punch of shopping and mandatory unpaid time off around the holidays (I’m a freelance contractor), so I still haven’t gotten my lab tests done.

It’s tempting to knock them off one at a time so I’m at least making progress, but if I want to go to the lab that gives a Gibbon Center discount, that would mean multiple trips up to Santa Clarita just to get a shot or some blood drawn and then drive home.

I’m pretty sure that polar bear from the Nissan Leaf commercial would amble up and slap me.

So I’m still doing what I think of as my apprenticeship: I show up and do grunt work when I can. I dropped an e-mail asking if anything needed doing this Saturday and the volunteer coordinator said to just drop by and also to get going on the lab tests because they’d decided they liked me and wanted to train me up. Aww.

So after my morning erranding I hopped into the car and, in a new personal best, did not get any hideous grease stains on myself on the way to the Gibbon Center. A small victory, but a sweet one.

I arrived to a much quieter Center than the last time. So quiet that I wasn’t sure how I’d get in. The fence was locked tight and I stood and stared at the no trespassing signs for a bit. C., the volunteer coordinator, had said to just catch someone’s eye when I arrived, but it looked like I’d managed to hit between feedings.

I looked at the sign that notes the Center is patrolled by dogs, listened as the gibbons did a little exploratory hooting, and thought about how hilariously bad an aspiring thief’s night would become once his first twig snap woke up the 40 apes who can be heard up to two miles away.

Eventually, a woman came near enough to the gate that I could give a little wave and get her attention. She walked up just as my new Endhiran ringtone went off and sent a loud “Boom, boom, boom! Robo-Da Robo-Da!” across the peaceful landscape.

Project Not a Psychopath: Shaky.

I swatted at the phone and explained who I was and I., a volunteer I hadn’t met yet, properly left me standing at the gate and went off to ask if it was OK to let me in.

She returned with G, the highest-ranking staff member, who said I could come in and help rake stuff. So I did.

There’s a lot of raking to do at the Center. The trees don’t have a fall leaf drop like on the East Coast, of course, but the grounds do have several trees, including Brazilian pepper trees, which shed leaves and pink peppercorns everywhere.

I looked them up later, and apparently those pink peppercorns do get sold as fancy table pepper in lots of places. We were raking them up and wheelbarrowing them to a Dumpster for mulching. I don’t know why the Gibbon Center isn’t jumping on that marketing opportunity: Fannee Doollee’s Jolly Gibbon Pepper!*

*Probably has not been peed on by gibbons. We think.

I was teamed up with I. and issued a rake and started following her to wherever she decided to take the shovel and the wheelbarrow. I was the noob and didn’t want to further intrude on her process – my presence had already made her take out her iPod earbuds out of politeness.

I thought about my subordinate volunteer position and imagined explaining myself to the parents of a potential date or perhaps haughty members of the British aristocracy.

“Well, in my spare time I’m a yard girl for some very nice gibbons.”

“I see… Well, I suppose it must be nice to be in a position of trust like that.”

“Oh, I’m not their A-list yard girl… I’m more of a back-up yard girl… An auxiliary yard girl, really.”

“I see.”

I almost started giggling at the imagined frosty look down the nose on that one, but managed not to do so out loud because when it comes to Project Not a Psychopath, one must remain ever vigilant.

I chatted with I. for a bit while we had nearby leaf deposits. She was German, from Cologne, and had come to the Gibbon Center to volunteer because she had 10 weeks’ vacation. Wow.

I asked her what she did and goinked for a second at her answer.

“You’re in a convent!?”

“No, sorry, I said I’m an accountant.”


“I wanted something different.”

We agreed that she’d gotten it. And then we raked some more.

Things About Which Gibbons Do Not Give A Shit:

  1. Raking

The last couple of times I’d been in, I’d either been doing unusual stuff around the place or was in a crowd of new people, so I was at least intermittently interesting. This time the gibbons pretty much ignored us. Raking they are used to. Raking happens all day long (“When in doubt, rake,” said E. later), and the man or woman with the food bucket makes for much more interesting watching.

I did get to hear the gibbons make some fun new (to me) sounds: A sweet “You bringing that food over here?” hoot that sounds like a combination of a soft dog’s woof and a dove coo, and a wondrously disgusting retching sound that would have made any thirteen-year-old proud.

I. and I weren’t super chatty, partly because it’s silly for two people to rake in the exact same spot, and partly because as a rule people don’t seem to sign up to volunteer with the gibbons because they’re extroverts who are gagging for some small talk.

We did get back to chatting a little more as we wheeled the leaves and peppercorns to the Dumpster and tried to keep everything reasonably contained as the wind blew debris into our faces so hard that the surgical masks we were wearing only sort of worked.

“This is your vacation?” I asked again, and I. started laughing. I didn’t think she’d really have wanted to be lying on a beach with a book, but it might have crossed her mind for a fleeting moment.

I. seemed to decide that on the balance she was glad I showed up – she wanted to get into town to get on the Internet, and didn’t mind having an extra pair of hands helping things along.

We raked up another wheelbarrow apiece, E. returned from an expedition and said a friendly hello, and then I. declared things pretty well raked into submission.

We put away our tools and went into the kitchen – my first time in – and G. looked me up and down and showed me where I could wash my hands.

“And face,” she added after a moment.

We pitched in for the understandably obsessive kitchen wipedown routine, and then I was at a little bit of a loss.

I had said I’d give I. and E. a lift into town so they wouldn’t have a long and circuitous bus ride standing between them and their Internetting, but I wasn’t really certified to do any part of the end-of-day routine. Diseases can species-jump between humans and gibbons, so I still can’t get very close.

I stood and watched – from a proper distance – a few juveniles who had been hand-raised while E., who is English, asked me how “getting my jabs” was coming along. She’d gotten hers in England, so they’d all been either cheap or free, and she said her jabbers had kept throwing things in.

“I got a ton of jabs. I think I’m immune to everything now,” she said cheerily.

E. went off to do her part of the chores, and I looked at the Javan gibbons and the siamangs for a minute. I was just edging off to get my bag and ask if I could take a few pictures when I. found me.

“G. says you can cut up some peppers,” she said.

A treat or a test? It didn’t matter. I trotted back off to the kitchen.

The Gibbon Center, as you might guess, goes through a lot of produce. G. opened the industrial-size fridge, pulled out a comically huge bin with more yellow peppers than I’ve ever seen in my life in it, and asked me how much time I had.

After reassuring me that it was OK to handle the gibbons’ food as long as I washed my hands thoroughly, she selected a huge colander’s worth of peppers and told me they take the seeds out and then usually cut them up into fifths.

Here’s the thing about me and bell peppers: I’m not crazy about them.

More specifically, I’m taste-sensitive to them for some reason. If bell peppers are in something I’m eating, I can’t taste anything else. Even if it’s just a tiny bit in a sauce or a few slices on a pizza. It just becomes a bell peppauce or a bellizza.

That gets old, so as a rule I don’t cook with them. Which means that cutting up bell peppers was a little more of a challenging pressure situation than it might have been for most people.

You want some lemons cut up? I will cut lemons for you for days. I like fresh lemon juice on and in lots of food and I’ve worked as a bartender, so I can cut the hell out of some lemons. Zipzipzip in to lovely little sixths and no need to ask about the center slice so they can rest perfectly on the rim of your glass because who do you think you’re dealing with here?

It was my first piece of daily sidework at my first service bar job and I got, if I do say so myself, impressively fast at it. In fact, the other bartenders remarked on it more than once.

I was a wonder to behold until the day someone helpfully sharpened my knife without mentioning it to me and I went zipzipzipping through my thumb so fast that the pain didn’t even quite register until the puddle of lemon juice seeped in.

If I recall correctly, what I said was “Nyeaarghmph!” because I was a professional and was trying to be discreet. And then I did some discreet bleeding while everyone tried to figure out where the band-aids were – the elevator scene from The Shining is a good approximation – and then I patched myself up and finished cutting my bucket of lemons while the little bastards finally got their revenge by sending lemon juice over, around, and through every thumb cut barrier I could dream up.

And I still like them better than bell peppers.

So my point is that I still felt like I was in a bit of a pressure situation, another stage in my ongoing audition for the Gibbon Center, and I found myself at a bit of a loss.

And the “We usually cut them into fifths” thing threw me. As you have doubtless noticed, bell peppers tend to divide themselves up into four lobes, or maybe an occasional three. The five-slice guideline was exactly enough to blow my mind.

I found a cutting board and something close to the right knife and distracted myself by obsessing over seed removal.

I didn’t want to waste produce, but the keepers had mentioned that the gibbons aren’t shy about it when they don’t like something. I had visions of the keepers ratting me out and the gibbons all whipping peppers at my head the next time I showed up.

So I opted for a thrifty-yet-obsessive level of seed removal that one might adopt for a small child with an allergy and/or a wicked temper and got cutting, with only the renewed, constant worry over what an acceptable fifth was to distract me.

Eventually I settled down into the Zen of repetitive tasks and thus into a much more satisfactory actually-cutting-things-to-being-a-lunatic ratio.

I finished just as the other ladies were ready to go, and I said goodbye to the center, sadly pictureless, but reasonably satisfied that I’d completed all my assigned tasks to the best of my ability.

And even my car was relatively clean, with the only debris inside the remains of a hasty-but-healthy lunch and OH, GOD, TWO COPIES OF MY BOOK RIGHT THERE IN THE PASSENGER SEAT.

Project Not a Psychopath: DANGER! DANGER!

Fortunately, I. took the front seat, and just stacked them in her lap under the notebook that was also there and either failed to notice the cover, didn’t make the connection, or decided to be very polite about the whole thing because I was saving her a pain-in-the butt bus ride.

I dropped the ladies off and drove home, happy after a good day’s work.

I even treated myself to a slice of pizza, which I bit into exactly as I remembered that I’d recently covered my hands in bell pepper juice.

Two-mile limit be damned: When I listen carefully at those moments, I’m almost certain that I can hear the gibbons laughing.

So while I’m putting bits of money aside to pay for the various lab tests I need to get before I can start training as a volunteer keeper, I’m trying to at least put in some useful scutwork at the Gibbon Conservation Center.

This week I dropped the volunteer coordinator a note and asked if they needed anyone on Saturday, and she said that it was Make a Difference Day and thus a big crew was expected, so come on by.

So could I make it there by a little before 9 a.m.? Urgh. Damn gibbons and their early hours.

You might be assuming that this time I was able to at least avoid getting hideous grease stains on myself moments before taking off. You would be wrong. Curse you, new jar of healthy peanut butter with your stupid stupid layer of oil on top!

I did get there in plenty of time this week. Enough time to stand around with a crew of 40 or so other volunteers. Enough time to realize that they all knew each other… Because they were all from the same college… Where they all seemed to be in their freshman or sophomore years. And I would be spending the morning just trying to, you know, blend in.

Project Not-Creepy: FAIL

I said hi to E. and N., keepers who had been there the last time I came by to help out, and they once again gave me a friendly welcome. We spent some time finding appropriately sized work gloves from a big barrel and milling around while we waited for some stragglers to find the place, and while we did we were lucky enough to hear the gibbons start singing.

Gibbons, like all primates, are territorial, and one of the ways they mark off their own little chunk of turf is by singing. You know those old bumper stickers that read, “If you can read this, you’re too close”? Same deal, only it’s “If you can hear me, back the freak away.” Only it’s different if the gibbon is singing a solo instead of half of a duet… I’ll get into that later.

Anyway, while the Conservation Center is saving up to get a bigger chunk of land, right now the gibbons are by necessity on much smaller patches than they’d be staking out in the wild. So when one starts singing to show his or her turf-having prowess, everybody feels the need to join in.

It’s like the “We got spirit, yes we do! We got spirit, how ’bout YOU!” cheer, only about eleventy million times more awesome. There are some siamangs at the Center, and they are the loudest land mammals in the world. No joke – they inflate their neck pouches and you can hear them from two freakin’ miles away.

Anyway, standing in the middle of everything when the gibbons get going is glorious. And weird. Especially for the college students, who had not necessarily been tipped off to the possibility of that happening.

The Director of the Center arrived and, in groups of 20, we piled into the back of his unmarked van (Savvy Potential Serial Killer Victim Test: FAIL) and were dropped off on the other side of the hill from the gibbons to start the day’s work.

People complain that Southern California does not have seasons, but that’s not true. We have four, like everyone else. They are: Perfect, Two Weeks of Godawful Hot, Two Weeks of Inexplicable Rain, and On Fire.

It’s that last season that gets tricky.

Especially if you are out in the hills with 40 endangered gibbons and no particularly good way to evacuate them quickly.

So our job for the morning was to clear brush so that during On Fire, things would not be so much on fire near the gibbons. Even if the Center itself isn’t in danger of catching on fire, the gibbons tend to take issue with things near them being on fire, as you might imagine.

So we swarmed and denuded a hillside.

It was a good day for it, nice and cool, and it was an excellent group, with a heavy percentage of people who could step back, take a look at What Needs Doing, and then go start doing it with a minimum of fuss.

It’s satisfying work, clearing brush. Mostly mindless, yet undeniably productive. I can see why a certain ex-President favored it. I pulled dry weeds and twisted apart dead scrub. After a while, I devoted myself to filling trash cans with the dry wood and brambles that people up higher on the hill were throwing down and dragging those to the dumpster. E and N were standing on top of the ever-expanding nest, stomping it down so we could throw on some more.

I tried introducing myself to the people I was working with, but it was clear that I was only digging myself deeper into the Hole of Creepy, so I let it go. Instead, I grabbed a can and started gathering up some root chunks that the Director was breaking up and tossing down the hillside.

He noticed with approval, and began tossing them in my general direction. We made nodding eye contact, and he seemed pleased when I picked up on his silent communication: “It will be useful if you continue to pick these up. Do not be clonked in the head.”

So I did, and was not clonked.

My day job is paper-pushy and officey and inexplicable-rules-handed-down-by-the-legal-departmentsy. It was good to pull things and carry things for reasons I understood. And even to get scratched by stickers. And to get dirty.

Great grimy heavens, did I get dirty.

I did that thing where I opened my mouth to say something, then closed it, then had the sensation of crunching something – that something being dirt – many times. I handed armloads of wood and brush up to the keepers, and was rewarded with root-clumps showering into my hair.

Later I washed my hands before eating and (on the first pass) had the perversely satisfying experience of turning the soap and the sink a foul, stinky gray.

I kidded myself that I’d be able to launder a much-beloved, battered pair of jeans back into service, but finally put myself (and them) out of the misery of suspense when I ripped the hell out of them on a bramble. In a way, it was kinder.

I chatted with the keepers at each armload or canful and spent some time watching my workmates and re-learning that oh, God, early college flirting is very nearly as earnest and painful as high-school flirting, and being glad to be well out of it and managing to say “Oh, honey, don’t do that – I promise he knows” only in my head, but mostly I focused on picking up the next thing and clearing the hill and – hey, is that the gibbons singing again? – and working some more.

I made sure I was the last one working when time was finally called, and I stayed behind with the keepers to help pile up the tools.

That was partly because I really do want to help somehow, however I can, but if I’m honest with myself, that was also because people are primates too, and I wanted to claim some turf: I’m not just here for the day. I’m going to be one of you. Or at least something closer to it.

And I felt good as we banged back in the last vanload, me and the Director and the keepers and the tools. They were friendly and welcoming and fun. And then I jumped out of the van to help and completely, utterly failed to work the gate release mechanism and reminded us all that it’s not my turf yet, not by a long shot.

But I’m happy to get to visit it every now and then.

The director led us on a tour of the enclosures and there the gibbons were, peering at us and wondering what we were up to this time before getting back to something more fun, like spinning around and around on a rope. Wouldn’t you?

The best piece of information I learned is that gibbons do learn to recognize their keepers on sight – and can even pick them out of a crowd years later.

I’m looking forward to the day when I learn the hoot-and-gesture combination for “Hey! It’s that nerdy one!”

Not that that’s what it’s about. Human-gibbon bonding is actually counterproductive in a way. But the back of my brain can’t quite let go of it. Not just yet.

We said our goodbyes and I said I’d be back in what I hope was a motivated-yet-not-creepy-way, and then just as I made it to the car, the gibbons started singing again.

It’s not the full force of being right in the middle of it all, and it’s not the hilarious rise-and-fall-and-then-one-instigator-starts-it-all-over-again of the full six minutes I recorded, but if you’d like to hear about a minute of terrific gibbon cacophony, go on and click over here.

And so, at last, it was time to go home.

I could not have been happier.

Or filthier.

Saturday I was scheduled to go help set up for today’s fundraiser at The Gibbon Conservation Center. This would be my first time visiting and my first time meeting anyone, not to mention the fact that my application was still under review, so I wanted to make a good impression.

I fretted way too long about whether to wear my Vibram shoes or not. I love them with an intensity that should perhaps be reserved for things other than footwear, but they seemed like they might be just a tad on the nose for my first day at a primate conservatory.


Seriously. I love them.


Plus, I wanted to make it clear that I understood that I was there to do grunt work, to carry heavy things, and to bear it cheerfully if those heavy things occasionally got dropped on my foot.

So I wore sneakers.

Google Maps showed that the Center is about an hour from me, and up to an hour-twenty in traffic. But this is Southern California. They should just put a little infinity symbol by the “in traffic” estimate.

I had fulfilled my first two goals of looking sane, clean, and ready to work and giving myself plenty of time to get there. Now all I needed to do was responsibly top off the fluids in my reliable-but-elderly car.

Which went great until I dropped a cap. It rattled down into the depths of my engine bay… but not deep down enough to rattle out the bottom. I snaked my arm ridiculously far down into the car and spidered my fingertips around to find the cap.

It had flipped and caromed more than once on its way down, and now couldn’t be drawn back up along a straight path.

My car had decided to make sure I would arrive at the Center with full mental alertness by giving me a spatial relations test.

I eventually got a B. And all it took was covering both arms from nails to biceps in engine grease.

I ran back to my apartment to wash up and discovered what the laundry commercials mean when they say “stubborn grease stains.” None of them would fully come off my skin. Or at least not before I really, truly had to leave.

So much for clean and plenty of time. Well, at least the faded grease stains were sort of covering up the faded club stamp from seeing my friend’s show the night before.

But I made it out the door and onto the road past the gauntlet of L.A. drivers who don’t know where they’re going and the ones who think it’s more efficient to noodge out and block the progress of 50 other people by making left-hand turn across four lanes of traffic without a light instead of just making a quick right around the block (Left-turn-across-traffic people! There is research to prove you wrong! Heed it! Plus the rest of us hate you! ) and I got there right on time instead of plenty early.

Relieved, I parked and glanced, too late, at my back seat. It contained a lab coat that I’d used for a video short and needed to return to a friend and an umbrella my little sister gave me that was designed to look, when sheathed, like a samurai sword.

Awesome. So much for the not-looking-like-a-psychopath project.

But there was no time to worry. Another woman pulled up, asked if I was Ali, and cheerfully announced that she was my “jefe” for the day. She was the first of a series of people that I met and liked immediately.

And then there were the gibbons. Enclosed, of course, and well away from human contact, but lots of them, all over. Right there.

The staff at the center understood, and my jefe took me around to gawk and be happy for a little bit. She said she was the same, and that she still can’t help but stop whatever she’s doing and listen when the gibbons start singing in the morning.

I was nowhere near early enough for the singing – that’s around dawn – but I got to hear plenty of hooting and chattering and chirruping. It was an incredible range of sounds. And I got to hear a lot of them. The gibbons were very interested in our setup work.

They watched us intently most of the time. I tried not to stare, because staring is usually the equivalent of fighting words in the primate kingdom, but a handsome Javan gibbon checked me out pretty thoroughly, so I took a few moments to look back. He reinforced my theory that there is nothing that is not terrific about gibbons.

The gibbons approved of, or were at least interested by, the setup work with the rental tents and tables, but definitely didn’t like it when we moved some lawn furniture out of its usual spot. We were sharply upbraided for messing with their turf.

The most vocal of the crew that day was Sasha, a white-cheeked gibbon who had come from the Moscow Zoo. He shared a cage with Asterix and their baby. Sasha does not like men, and certainly does not like them near his enclosure.

My chief for the day explained that Sasha’s hen-tuts and sharp chatters were only the beginning: If a man sticks around too long, Sasha pees on him. “Do not underestimate his power or his aim,” she warned wryly.

That story leads to a stereotypical mental image of thuggish male domination, but it doesn’t quite work that way. Male and female gibbons are very close to the same size, so there isn’t an imbalance of physical power. At one point, I saw Asterix yoink a beautiful big lettuce leaf right out of Sasha’s hand and he just sat there and accepted it. She’s still breastfeeding, so she trumps him on food. Asterix also showed off the excellent trick of swinging happily around the cage while holding a piece of apple in each foot.

I love my human speech and brain and typing and all, but I’m still not entirely convinced it was worth giving up the prehensile toes.

As interesting and unusual as the setup was, the gibbons were much more interested in their keepers. Three graceful ladies constantly and damn near silently made the rounds, keeping everything clean and raked and feeding the gibbons nine little meals a day to mimic the rate of food they’d get while foraging.

I was less graceful, but I happily hauled and set up tables and helped set up tents (Everybody grab a leg and PULL! Now put your foot on the little tab and pushslidepushslidepushslidedammitdammitnowaitslideCLICK! It’s up!) and did a surprisingly good job of not (outwardly) flipping out over how spider-intensive some of the stuff we pulled out of the garage was and got coated head-to-toe in dust in what felt like a good and productive way.

My chief, and, eventually, her chief, did a great job with us volunteers, whipping us into order for each new task and then demanding – DEMANDING – that we take a break and look at gibbons for a bit when we finished. No arguments on either side.

The volunteer coordinator is exactly the person they need for that job – extroverted and direct and funny and kind. I talked with her nervously for a bit after she’d ordered me to stop working for the day so I wouldn’t burn out. I’d thought and re-thought my application a dozen times over the past couple of weeks, wondering if I’d been too flip or too geeky or too into the gibbons or too anything, really.

“Your application was outstanding!” she announced, assuaging my fears and causing a wash of pure academic geek pleasure I hadn’t felt since high school.

I had passed the not-a-creep test and the willing-to-work test. I can go and help out when grunt work is needed.

…And I can start getting the medical tests I need to be trained as a volunteer keeper.

It will take time and trust, of course – these are some of the rarest primates on the planet, and no one gets dropped right into the mix. But she said she could tell I was the right sort, and the starter grunt work would be with an eye towards keeper training.

And maybe in the meantime I can do some more compatible-with-the-day-job stuff like help out with their Twitter feed.

So, yes: I am embarking on a journey of maybe possibly perchance one day earning the privilege of shoveling gibbon poop.

I could not be happier about it.


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