August 29, 2011

College-Age Mammals

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Watched a troop of monkeys in neon cross Stewart, and I one more, dressed a little differently and making some different noises, when I made noises.“What, monkeys?” I thought. “Here?”It had started a few hours earlier, hanging around outside the Nines after a friend’s show and watching the crowds go by with my brother.“I’ve been reading too many books about monkeys lately,” my brother said. “I see monkeys everywhere.” I took this comment into account as my eyes scanned the Saturday night passersby. Sure enough, the street was full of monkeys, all shapes and sizes hopping from one foot to the other and shouting most all the time, apparently agitated over something. I looked down at my own hands, rubbed my fingers over the red X marks from the show, and noticed the mammalian hairs wandering all over the backs of my fingers. Monkeys, huh? Could be worse.We finished packing up the show and I meandered home, not really tired and my mind still running savage around the jungle. I crawled on through the Meat Market and on past CTB, eyes wild at the young, jumping, ordinary animals all around. Next time you’re out wasting, or getting wasted, or whatever the hell it is we do, try looking around like a monkey among monkeys. It changes things.None of this is a condemnation of the nightlife, of course. I like Collegetown. It’s a safe kind of crazy, a writhing mass of monkeys partying pretty secure on a weekend night. That night, though, it got me thinking about tigers.A friend of mine had a hell of a day with a tiger once, some years ago now. He’d been way out in retreat in some cabin in India, doing some pretty intense Buddhist purification rites which amounted to saying mantras and doing prostrations all hours of the night and day. He’d been inside all morning, then come midday he steps outside to use the outhouse. Standing right there between the cabin and the outhouse, just standing there and looking right at him, is this big cussin’ tiger, bright and beefy and all.They stand there looking straight at each other, for what he says felt like more than an hour, but I figure no one can really tell time when stuff gets crazy like that. Eventually the tiger gets bored, turns around and stalks off into the jungle. My friend walks over to the outhouse and takes a pee, then goes back into the cabin to continue with his religion, newly reminded that death is always waiting just outside the cabin door.The crazy part, I guess, is when he tells his friend, a local monk, about this run-in with a giant carnivorous cat, and the friend refuses to believe him.“What, tigers? Here? No, we’re too far north. All my life, we’ve never gotten tigers up here.” Sure, too much prayer can make you see things, I guess, and maybe I’m just freaking myself out when I decide to see nothing but monkeys all over campus, but I don’t figure that really matters much.All this death stuff, I guess, got me feeling restless, and up for anything but sleeping in my own bed, I went wandering. It was late, and I was alone, and all of it was weirdly safe from start to finish. I headed on down to the graveyard on Stewart, where people always tell me to keep an eye out for needles and dangerous people, though all I’ve ever found there is the silence and a friendly skunk named Kabir. Maybe a lovely hour or two passed with my back against the pine needles in one of the graveyard’s beautiful groves.Then the rain started and I roused myself and headed for home. Even at this late hour the troops were on the move, big neon herds of them howling drunk. There was a lot of noise for 3:30 a.m. I got home, though, and the monkeys waiting for me there wore thrift store flannels rather than sideways baseball caps, listened to Frank Zappa vinyls in place of Katy Perry, smoked weed instead of drinking Keystone. I guess these monkeys were what other monkeys would call hipsters, and at 3:30 a.m. they, just like the Greeks down the street, were using all the chemicals and media at their disposal to feel alive, or dead, or however the hell it is we’re trying to feel.I settled into the couch among my type of monkey and wrote this column, starting with this sentence: I live at Cornell University, where the tiger outside our cabin door is waking up in the morning with lungs of vomit, or at the very worst with young Saturdays gone away without much fanfare.So we’ll keep walking on two legs up and down this enormous campus, maybe with a spring in our steps and maybe trying real hard to walk in a straight line. Every once in a while I’ll look down at the hair on the back of my fingers, and whether I’m surrounded by paper up on the seventh floor of the Olin stacks or bathed in sweat in some anonymous basement somewhere, I’ll look down at that finger hair with surprise each time, thinking always, “What, monkeys? Here?”Tom Moore is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at tmoore@cornellsun.com. What Even Is All This? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Tom Moore