Baboon Pirates

Scribbles and Scrawls from an unrepentant swashbuckling primate.

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Location: Texas, United States

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Great Ape Heist Of 1983

Monkey See, Monkey Doo

It should come as no surprise to my regular readers that I've lead a life that's wandered off the straight & narrow from time to time.

Mostly my transgressions involve juvenile japery rather than calculated misdemeanours. I'll gladly risk fines and a night in the hoosegow for a memorable prank.

Sometimes those clever little schemes cross the line between funny and felony, and it's not always easy to see that line, especially at 3 in the morning when you're trying to pry a chimp loose from a cage.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

There were 5 distinct 'crews' I ran with back in high school. Crew "A" was mostly band geeks, Crew "B" was the Shop class stoners, Crew "C" were friends from church and church camp, Crew "D" were kids from my Scout troop, and Crew "E" were my buds from junior high school, now attending a different high school.

With such a wide variety of companions, the possibilities for amusement were, well, quintupled. Some were more eager than others for pranksterism and mayhem. Others were into gaming and hanging out. Others were the ones to choose for drinking purloined beer and sneaking bong hits.

And one of the guys in one of the groups wanted to heist a monkey.

Back in the day, there was a local establishment that dealt in rare animals and their accoutremonts as a sideline to their regular trade. If you didn't know where it was, you'd never guess it was tucked away in an upscale part of town. They dealt in exotic birds, random reptiles, and the occasional primate.

Word got around to the 'hood that there was a new addition to the Animal House. A sizable outdoor cage had been added, one with a securely locked steel barred door. Occasional bike trips past the building revealed nothing.

One weekend I got a call from a friend I'll dub "Rabbit". Rabbit had been by the store to pick up bird food for his doves (Rabbit was an amateur magician) and he had spotted the cage's new occupant. A full grown chimpanzee.

Rabbit LOVED chimps. I can't count the hours he'd talked about having a chimp of his own, that he could dress up in little suits and walk around to classes and to the mall.

Rabbit swore that this chimp was miserable in the cage, and needed to be set free for humanitarian (chimpanzitarian?) reasons. I was more easily swayed by emotional arguments at that age, and to my 14 year old brain, busting a chimp out of the pokey seemed a noble task.

Now, I didn't want a chimp. I already had a dog, and it was no prize. Still, the mental exercise of how to get the ape loose appealed to me. Rabbit swore he could care for the ape, and figured he'd keep it in the garage until he got it tamed, then break the news to his parents.

Now, it might appear that Rabbit was a bit erratic in his reasoning, and you'd be right. Rabbit's plan to tell the parents that he'd found it wandering along Buffalo Bayou seemed a bit sketchy, even to me. Even in subtropical Houston, free-range chimpanzees are a bit thin on the ground.

Still, I was on the case. Free the chimp or Bust!

The plan involved the following resources:

Two black-clad teenage males on bicycles
Two pairs white cotton gloves
Two rubberized Army surplus ponchos
One canvas duffel bag
One roll duct tape
One spool 20 lb monofilament
One flashlight
One oxy/butane mini brazing torch
One 1" cold chisel
One 8 lb sledgehammer, wrapped in burlap.
One bunch of bananas

The scheme was set up like this:

I'd spend the night over at Rabbit's place. We'd wait until 2 in the morning, then crawl out his window, pick up the duffel full of gear we'd packed earlier, and head west.

Under cover of darkness, we'd bike over towards the Monkey Jail, and stash the bikes near a vacant lot. From the lot, we'd drop down into the local bayou, and hike along until we were behind the Casa del Chimpy, then wriggle up through a gap in the fence where it overhung the bayou.

We'd ninja over to the cage area, and quickly hang the ponchos on both sides of the cage door. The ponchos would be sealed together with the duct tape, forming a light-proof shroud.

While I was heating up the hasp on the cage lock with the torch (going after the hasp is easier than the hardened steel lock... I *did* learn something in Metalshop class...), Rabbit would be securing our escape by laying tripwires with the monofilament across the fence gates, and tying the gates shut.

By the time he'd finished, I'd have the cage door open by chiseling through the red-hot iron hasp. At that heat, it would eliminate the loud "clink" sound, and the burlap on the sledge would muffle the chisel strikes.

Rabbit would go inside first and start feeding the chimp the bananas. While he was keeping the chimp busy, I'd sneak around behind the ape, and quickly pull the duffel bag over its head. Rabbit would pull it tight over the chimp's feet, and we'd muscle the ape through the door, and down to the back fence.

Once outside the fence, we'd take turns carrying the ape-filled duffel until we got back to the bikes, then blaze for Rabbit's house to unwrap our prize.

That was the plan, anyway. Anyone want to recite that axiom about "best laid plans"?

In reality, it went something like this:

We spent the night over at Rabbit's place. We waited until 2 in the morning, then crawled out his window, picked up the duffel full of gear we'd packed earlier, and headed west.

Under cover of darkness, we biked over towards the Monkey Jail, and stashed the bikes near a vacant lot. From the lot, we dropped down into the local bayou, and slogged though filthy mud up to our asscheeks, got bitten by leeches and other vermin, and eventually ended up behind the Casa del Chimpy. It took almost half an hour to wriggle up through a gap in the fence where it overhung the bayou.

We ninja'd over to the cage area, and quickly hung the ponchos on both sides of the cage door. The ponchos were sealed together with the duct tape, forming a light-proof shroud.

The chimp silently observes all this commotion from atop a large log leaning against the cage wall. Not even a plaintive "ook ook ook" outta the ape.

At this point, the plan started to go awry and things assumed a distinctly pear-shaped profile

"Rabbit! Where's the igniter?"

"What igniter?"

"That thing that looks like a metal cup on the end of kitchen tongs, it makes sparks to light the butane."

"I thought you had it!"

"Why the fuck would I have it? It's your dad's torch!"

"Look in the bag!"

"I *DID*!! It's not here!"

"Dude! Shut up! You're gonna get us busted! Use your Zippo!"

"I left it on your desk..."


"Rabbit! Shut up! You're gonna get us busted!"

"You're a Boy Scout. Do some flint and steel shit or something."

"Find me some flint, Einstein."

"Oh, hell with it. Just hit the hasp."

"It's gonna be loud..."

"Let's just get it over with..."

"OK, hold this..."

KLAAAAANNNGGGG!!!!! The entire cage trembles.

"Rabbit, that's loud as hell. I don't thi..."


The most ungodly sounds start emanating from that ape. You just can't imagine the volume.

(Additional SFX: Sound of chimp poo pelting the poncho)
(Additional SFX: Sound of light switches being flicked on in a 1/2 mile radius)
(Additional SFX: Sound of two kids hauling ass and diving headfirst in a muddy bayou)

The bananas made a nice snack on the ride home.

Is there a moral to the story? Hell, I dunno. I did learn where the phrase "going apeshit" came from. In retrospect I can see that while it wasn't the dumbest thing I ever did, it was right up there. Call it 7.8 on the Dumbass Scale.

I never did pal around with Rabbit much after that night. Pulling leeches off of each other's posteriors doesn't rise to being a treasured bonding experience...