I had occasion a few years back to appear on a late-night talk show with a chimpanzee (long story, never mind). As he held my hand in his own warm, hairy dry palm, I really was overwhelmed with a rush of lovelike symptoms. The chimp seemed unbearably sweet, and wearing a pair of diapers to prevent any on-set accidents only made him more so. Still, I demurred when the trainer asked me if I wanted to step up our level of physical contact and actually dandle him in my arms. It's not that I wasn't tempted. I was immediately taken in by those empathetic brown eyes surrounded by benevolent wrinkles. What I was feeling was the same complex firing of neurons and synapses that ascribe human emotion to the furry, the liquid eyed, the infantile. Disney and his team of animators figured this out long ago (I still can't watch the scene where Dumbo visits his incarcerated mother). But I could not rid myself of the fear (completely well-founded, as it turns out, given the recent stories of chimps in the news) that he might at that moment revert—as is his right as an animal—to his dominance-seeking nature and decide to tear my face from my skull. My desire to cradle this clingy, warm-thoraxed being in my arms was triggered because he so reminded me of a toddler. Get it? A human child. The kind of creature who might grow up to become an oncologist, a public school teacher, or yes, even a Grand Theft Auto–playing, Mom's-basement-dwelling disappointment.
Not far from my apartment, within a stretch of no more than 500 feet, there are two doggie gyms where Gotham's canines who aren't getting enough exercise running through the city's parks, or are neglecting their all-important doggie glutes and abs, can go for a workout. What can I say? This appalls me. But do I wish these Gilded Age inanities ill? Quite the contrary. I hope they stay open and prosper, but only to the extent that they provide jobs for folks who need them. It's not a contradiction. It's not even a paradox. I have no problem with animals, I just like people more.
David Rakoff is the author, most recently, of the book Don't Get Too Comfortable (Doubleday).
Next: David Rakoff on "Letter to N.Y." by Elizabeth Bishop
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