Thursday, November 14, 2019

Monkey Study



Sometime after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017 I met a Milwaukee-based primatologist. She’s a married mother of a couple kids. She brings her own car into the shop. She teaches, part time online, I think. And she studies monkeys.

She’s been to a couple of African nations but mostly studies on Monkey Island off Puerto Rico. Monkey Island is now restricted to human researchers only. No tourists.

After the hurricane the island camp was a disaster, of course. They were still on a water boil order. There was no electricity except the generator. And there was very little study of monkeys in that timeframe. She said she felt kind of useless.

She was the first of several customers on board. She may have asked about me. I mentioned I wrote a book. I told her the name of it. And a couple weeks later I saw her again. Now, once again, I do not ask if it is an unresolved problem with car service or is it a new problem? I usually steer people to more uplifting conversational topics.

Sometimes, especially in old cars, fixing one thing leads to the failure of another thing that moments before was working just fine. And I hate to ask because… I don’t know anything about the car. I can’t make it faster. I can’t make it cheaper. Let’s change the subject on purpose. Let’s talk about higher level fun stuff.

The second time I see her she is either the first or second one out of a multiple bunch of people going elsewhere farther on towards downtown or the north side.

And she gets out of the van and hangs her face into the van and says the people “ Oh by the way he wrote this book and I got it and it’s really good so…" She left it hang out there in the air. In other words implying that they should read me or talk to me about it or something.

What a lovely compliment.

On that particular day her service was supposed to be done by lunchtime and I would pick her up near the very last part of my shift.

And that was cleared and good to go and I called her and told her I would be along in a few minutes and I would call again when I was just a minute or two away from her door. And when I called her a minute out she said that she would send him out. And I thought to myself send him out? I had all my monkey questions prepared. Who is going to answer my monkey questions? Her husband?

Well, it turns out he’s a high school history teacher and we found plenty to talk about anyway his sub-specialty is modern German history.

When I meet somebody that mentions history I always like to bring up Howard Zinn. Howard Zinn opened my mind to the possibility that things might’ve been different than I had been told. And sometimes that’s all it takes is just a well-placed question. History is written by the winners. History is written by the owners of the printing press and the publication distribution networks.

Zinn's history was written from letters and documents from the losers, the slaves, the indentured, the Native Americans, court rulings that show that the losers keep losing.

That was the eye-opening thing. As he is a high school teacher he has plenty of frustrations because kids that age aren’t particularly interested in what he’s selling.

He has to dumb it down so often every year. He doesn’t get into the detail of it. So? A teacher. He does it for love. And maybe a student comes back around later and thanks him at least in spirit. Maybe.

And if I had to come up with my monkey questions again I would have to think real hard about it. Rhesus macaques. It’s a fine place to start.

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