The Chimp Diaries
When I was a junior in high school, I had the biggest, asshole-iest boyfriend on the planet. His name was Trent. He was a despicable, dumb-as-a-sack-of-doorknobs stoner who constantly "borrowed" money from me to buy weed and booze. He slept around behind my back, cutting a wide swath through an impossibly homely legion of inbred-looking townies (I had the pleasure of meeting one of them when she approached Trent and me at a high school volleyball game and demanded that he return her Metallica T-shirt). Trent also composed horribly misspelled love letters to me that I treasured enough to tie up in a neat bundle with a yellow ribbon like I was a damn war bride. (If I ever come across any of his saccharine, hackneyed missives, I'll post them here so we can all have a good laugh.) The guy was a loser. A loser who had a sexy baritone voice and looked like a young Harrison Ford, which was enough—-for about six months—-to make me turn a blind eye to his encyclopedia of personality flaws. Hey, I was a typical adolescent: shallow, obsessed with appearances, chock full of hormones and bubbling over with displaced romanticism. Don’t judge.
When Trent and I were about three months into our stormy love affair, my friend Angela started dating a guy named Mike. Mike and Trent were sometimes friends, sometimes enemies in that odd, dysfunctional small town sort of way. In the looks department, Mike was just sort of...okay. And the dude definitely wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, he made Trent seem like an intellectual by comparison. But Mike treated Angela a hell of a lot better than Trent treated me (which isn't saying much, but at least it was something). Angela and Mike's romance lasted roughly four months, ending rather abruptly when Mike sat Ange down for that time-honored “I love you, but I’m so confused, let’s take a break,” speech, which he evidently already had down pat.
In the meantime, Trent and I also called it quits. Or, rather, at the urging of my friends, parents, and virtually everyone else who recognized Trent for the cruel and emotionally-stunted halfwit that he was (i.e. everyone but me), I summoned him to our special secluded make-out spot on the campus of my boarding school and tearfully informed him that we had to break up. I also gave him a well-rehearsed “I Will Always Love You”-type speech that I won’t go into here, because (to quote the great Paul Feig) just thinking about it makes me want to build a time machine, set it to 1991, hunt myself down and kick my own ass for all the preposterous bullshit that I spewed that night in the name of twisted teenage love.
But it didn't end there. For any of us.
Soon after our break-up, Trent and I embarked on a bizarre quasi-"friendship" that saw me spending countless hours glued to the phone, listening to him bitch about how miserable he was since I gave him the boot. He even passive-aggressively threatened suicide on more than one occasion, a ploy that I (naturally) fell for each time; angst-ridden, drama-addicted teen that I was.
While I enabled Trent's whiny douchebaggery by lending a codependent ear, Mike decided that he and Angela could still go out on dates together—maybe see a movie or go on a picnic at Patoka Lake—as long as it didn’t mean they were, you know, “back together” or anything heavy like that. In other words, Mike wanted all the benefits of a girlfriend without all the pesky obligations that come with actually having a girlfriend. He also didn’t want anything to distract him from his new favorite pastime: getting shitfaced with his friends. This was, coincidentally, the same hobby that caused Trent to stand me up on more than one occasion when he and I were supposed to meet at the local pizza joint to try and “talk things out.”
One day when Angela and I were sitting around the lunch table with our high school posse and bitching about our respective sort-of-boyfriends/sort-of-exes, we had a breakthrough that would forever change the way we looked at Mike and Trent. I made a comment about how much both of them liked to hit the sauce. Then our friend DeAnna (who, like the rest of our group, harbored a palpable disdain for the Terrible Twosome) offered up this sage observation: “You know, alcohol kills brain cells, and those guys don’t have that many to begin with. If Trent and Mike keep it up, pretty soon they’ll be nothing but chimpanzees.”
Angela and I stared at DeAnna. Then we looked at one another and burst out laughing. Both of us were so addled with frustration and hurt feelings about these lame alcoholics-in-training that we loved and hated with equal intensity; both of us so tormented by unanswered questions (why did these men-children treat us like emotional tetherballs? And why did we let them?) that we pounced on DeAnna’s chimp metaphor like two starving pit bulls on a plate of raw meat. After months of enduring figurative poo-flinging from our onetime paramours, we finally had an explanation for their selfish, asinine behavior: Mike and Trent weren’t figurative poo-flingers, they were literal poo-flingers. They had recklessly slaughtered so many of their own brain cells that they had actually devolved, and only their most primal instincts remained: sleeping, eating, shitting, fucking, and (especially) drinking.
And thus began something I like to call The Chimp Diaries.
Our entire posse—but particularly DeAnna, Liz, Angela and I—fully embraced this miraculous new theory that explained exactly why Mike and Trent sucked so badly. We made grunting jungle noises when we passed each other in the school hallways. We bit our tongues and choked back laughter in science class when Mr. Lawrence made reference to anything remotely simian-related. Angela and I even took to calling each other Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall* and frequently exchanged greeting cards featuring chimps on the cover. DeAnna stoked the flames of our gleeful mockery even higher by claiming that she was “working with” Mike and Trent in an attempt to develop their higher brain functions.
“I talked to Trent on the phone today, and he said he was eating a banana,” I told her. “I think he peeled it with his feet!”
DeAnna nodded knowingly. “Yes,” she replied. “He’s making progress.”
DeAnna’s scientific “study” of Mike and Trent also inspired a memorable prank phone call. Immature? Absolutely. Funny? Oh God yes. The four of us gathered in DeAnna’s room while she dialed Mike’s number. His father answered, and DeAnna put on her best professional-sounding adult voice:
“Hello, may I please speak with Michael?”
“Eh, he’s not home right now,” said Mr. Mike’s Dad. (We’d been expecting this answer, guessing correctly that Mike was out painting the town with his merry band of primates.)
DeAnna cleared her throat. “All right then. May I leave a message?”
“My name is Jane Goodall, and I was calling to check up on some research I did with Michael,” DeAnna said, while the three of us huddled around her, laughing into our pillows. “Will you be sure to tell him that I called?”
“Will do hon. Bye.”
Angela never heard anything from Mike regarding a message from the mysterious Ms. Goodall. I’m guessing that Mr. Mike’s Dad hung up the phone, shrugged, cracked open another Coors sixteen-ouncer, and went back to Wheel of Fortune.
One of us (probably Liz, who was quite resourceful) got hold of an old cassette featuring a track called “Tarzan Boy”. It was a 1980’s song by Europop one-hit-wonders Baltimora, most notable for its ridiculously catchy “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh” chorus. (Fun fact: aging Gen-Xers may recall that the tune was later used in a 1992 Listerine commercial.)
I remember Angela and me joyfully singing along with the song’s goofy refrain and bouncing off the walls of my dorm room like…well, like monkeys. Considering Mike and Trent’s callous treatment of us and their laissez-faire attitude toward life in general, the lyrics were oddly prescient:
You're far away from nothing
It's all right
You won't miss home
Take a chance
Leave everything behind you…
Looking at the words now, I’m reminded of Angela’s epic poem, inspired by “Tarzan Boy.” Her sweeping sonnet “The Chimp” was penned one day when she was bored in study hall. She passed it to me in class and I loved it so much that I kept it for a few days so I could read it over several times before giving it back to her. Sadly, the bit below is all that my mind has retained of Angela’s half-sincere, half-mocking verse:
Swinging through the trees
Where the branches will lead him...
I remember that there were several stanzas; it actually filled an entire page. I don’t know whatever became of it, but I’d sure as shit sell the gold out of my mother’s mouth for a chance to read that thing again. I’m hoping that Angela still has it safely stashed away in a box somewhere, waiting to be rediscovered.
Meanwhile, just as our chimp obsession was peaking, our junior year of high school came to a close. Angela, Liz, DeAnna and I went back to our respective hometowns for the summer. By the time we returned to boarding school for senior year, we had (thankfully) left our Tarzan Boys in the dust. Although Angela and I were able to move on and eventually upgrade to better boyfriends, we still occasionally shared a laugh over our wasted efforts with “the chimps.”
EPILOGUE: Angela is now a happily married mother of three, Liz is a middle school teacher in Chicago, DeAnna married Ian Shane last year and is now a therapist in the Twin Cities, and I am, well, ME.
*I don't mean to detract from the work of these two amazing women. Also (in hindsight), calling Mike and Trent "chimps" is an insult to chimpanzees; a highly intelligent and complex species. See Goodall's excellent documentary Chimps: So Like Us.