The first time that I felt monkey goggles slip over my eyes was in college.
I had just watched a Discovery Channel program about the differences between chimpanzees and bonobos. One common behavior discussed was displaying. When a chimpanzee was agitated or excited, he (of course, he) would “display.” That is, he would pick up a stick and hop around banging the stick on the ground and on tree trunks, making loud noises and carrying on in a faux-aggressive manner, sort of “working it out.” Or something. Sitting there watching the television, the displaying chimp looked, um, pretty wild and kind of silly.
I decided to go for a run. It was winter. I went to the university gym. At the time, it had a new, elevated indoor track. The loop wasn’t that big. So, you had to run around it a lot. The only thing to look at, going round and round, were the other runners or people playing either volleyball or basketball on the courts down below. Back then, going for a run meant six or seven miles. That translated to a lot of laps.
At some point, monkey goggles fell over my eyes. As I watched the guys below playing basketball, it struck me how incredibly similar their behavior was to the chimpanzees in the show. It was incredible how many times a player, having just made a difficult basket or blocked a shot in some splashy way, would “display.” He’d run around the edges of the court, whoop really loudly, slap teammates’ hands, pound his chest. Without monkey goggles, it would have just looked like normal guy behavior on a basketball court. But, with the goggles on, the displaying basketball player looked, um, pretty wild and kind of silly.
Ever since then, every once in a while, the monkey goggles slip back on. Instead of seeing things…
F: Daddy, what are you typing?
D: Just a little observation…
F: What’s an observation?
D: Something that I noticed one day on the way to work. See, I was watching…
F: Daddy, can I ask you something?
D: …um, yes. What?
F: I have to go potty.
D: That’s not a question.
F: Oh. Can I go potty?
D: Of course.
F: Okay. Thanks.
Instead of seeing things from an everyday point of view, the goggles make you feel like you are separate, watching people’s behavior as if they are just very smart primates. Unremarkable behaviors, seen through those lenses, become bizarre.
Take the woman on BART. She got on a stop after me. She sat down in the seat directly opposite me, our knees almost touching. She opened her over-sized purse and took out a mirrored compact. Monkey goggles slipped over my eyes as I watched her. First, she took something out that had some mud in it. The mud kind of matched her skin tone, maybe a little darker. She dabbed her finger into it and rubbed the mud all over her face. I imagined that she must be happy not to have to scout along the riverbed to find just the right mud patch for this project. Someone else has found it and put it in that bottle for her. She had bottles of other muds. She dabbed a couple here and there. I’m not really sure why. She also had a container of slightly lighter color (I think) dirt. It didn’t come from the riverbed. It must have come from a drier patch of the forest. But, again, someone collected the dirt and put it in a cute little container for her. During this whole mud and dirt process, she kept eyes fixed firmly on the mirror, never once seeming to notice or care that I watched her through my goggles.
At one point, she took a stick out of her purse. It must have fallen from a very special tree. When she rubbed this stick on her eyebrows, something dark rubbed off, maybe a little bit of the stick’s bark, really emphasizing her eyebrows. She pulled out what looked like it should be a prized possession: blue dirt! I have never seen blue dirt in the wild, but someone has and somehow it ended up in that purse. She rubbed just a touch of it over her eyes. That blue dirt was really something until she whipped out a tube of bright red mud. As she rubbed that mud all over her lips, opening her mouth at odd angles, staring into the mirror, smacking the lips together to even the red mud out, I couldn’t help but wonder where a monkey gets blood-red mud…until I started speculating that the only way one could is if the mud actually had some blood in it. She dropped her precious tubes back in her sack, checked out her painted face in the compact while primping her hair here and there, never once looking at me, watching.
With monkey goggles on, she didn’t look kind of silly. She looked really silly. Stupid actually. Sitting there staring at her face in a shiny piece of glass, so pleased with all the dirt and mud that she had just smeared all over it. As dumb as a chimpanzee would look on the side of a river, staring at herself in the passing water, after drawing lines on its face with a stick and rubbing blood on its lips. Cuh-razy creature.
But, ten minutes later, standing up, about to disembark, glancing back over at her, monkey goggles gone, I thought, huh, she’s pretty. In the normal range, but pretty. And, I had kind of a weird respect for her for being so completely unselfconscious about applying her face in public, perhaps doing so in front of strangers every day.
BART is fun.
(Later, when I express that I don’t have a picture to go with my “observation,” they ask and I explain in the shallowest of terms. Cory heads off to her room and returns with a stuffed monkey. Fisher finds some toy Sally Jesse Raphaels. Done.)