Like many, I've been both repelled and fascinated by the story of the lady whose 200 pound pet chimp went berserk and attacked a friend of hers, after that friend playfully waved a stuffed Elmo in the animal's face.
Although Elmo has a similar effect on me, I don't think that excuses the chimp from trying to pluck out the friend's eyes as if they were grapes. And then, his "mommy" tried to stop him by stabbing him with a butcher knife! I tell you, this thing has all the makings of a Lifetime movie of the week.
I can see the coming attractions, now: "She lived with him. She loved him. She fed him lobster tails. She bathed and slept with him. And then, one horrible day, she stabbed him in the back with a butcher knife." And then, the closing image, of the chimp on the floor, looking up into the camera, with the subtitles: "Why, Mommy. Why?"
I quite enjoyed this classic quote, from the chimp's owner, found in the ethnically-challenged New York Post : "Until you've eaten with a chimp and bathed with a chimp, you don't know a chimp."
Truer words were never spoken. And by the way, pass me a banana.
I don't know. I mean, I know that extreme animal lovers (and she certainly seems to be an animal lover in every sense of the word) can be a little flaky. Clearly, this lady seems a bit starved for companionship. But sometimes, I think, EALs get a bit self-centered and myopic, unfortunately. I mean, from the interviews, this woman seemed more upset about the fact that the chimp was dead than she was that her friend was in intensive care. There's something just not right about that.
I used to know someone like that, back in the days when I was actively involved with community theater. Josie was directing a production of "Bell, Book, and Candle," and I was appearing in the show, as well as doing lighting.
The show called for a cat, and we thought it would be a cute idea to send out an open casting call for a professional pussy. We had plans of doing a whole publicity campaign around the feline, thinking it might generate a bit of extra ink.
Little did we realize what we were getting ourselves in for.
I don't want to give the impression that we had a line of cat owners at auditions looking to get a shot at community fame for their pussies. However, we did get one lady who showed up, cat carrier in hand, containing a beautiful cat that possibly weighed almost as much as a two-year-old child. I mean, it was just huge, with large, soulful eyes. She called him Caiaphas.
Caiaphas was lovely. The Cat Lady, as we came to know her, was just insane, and made life a living hell for everyone.
The Cat Lady was squat, with thick, owlish glasses, and a haircut that only Velma from Scooby Doo would love. She would show up at every rehearsal, whether the cat was needed a not. "I just want Caiaphas to get the feel for the show," she would say, in her high-pitched, slightly off-kilter voice.
She had big dreams for Caiaphas. He was going to be a star. She dragged her to casting calls for cats, all over New England. She had no other interest, really...no job to speak of (she was on disability). Caiaphas was literally the center of her world.
We were performing the show in the loft of a barn at an herb farm. It was a picturesque location, and quite conducive to simulating the "magical" feeling we were looking for. Our audience size could only number about fifty, but the ambiance more than made up for that small number, and we were sold out every night.
Of course, since it was community theater, we were on a tight budget. And one night, as I recall, we were debating what to do about securing spell books for the show. Clearly we couldn't buy any, and none of us really had any books on black magic just lying around.
The Cat Lady was there, of course, and hanging around, after the rehearsal. And, about ten minutes into the debate, she walked over and said, "I can get you some books on magic."
Well, we all thanked her, profusely, and sure enough, next rehearsal, there they were, ten books, neatly arranged on our stage. However, upon examination, we realized that they weren't really books on magic and spells, after all. Instead, they were regular books with their dust covers reversed. The Cat Lady had taken a black magic marker and written things like "A Witchie Home Companion," and "Spells I Have Known and Loved" on the front.
Not great, but they'd do, and she was such a sensitive soul that we didn't want to criticize them too much. So, we thanked her and moved on.
That is, until the owners of the herb farm met with us later that night. Judi and Michele were husband and wife, and lovely individuals, to say the least. They had been more than accommodating, all through the play process, even though it meant a huge disruption to their day-to-day lives. Usually, they were practically invisible on rehearsal nights, but this night, they came up to Josie, as director of the play, and they did not look happy.
Josie quickly called me over.
"How could this happen?" Judee, always the most vocal of the two, asked us.
I was tired from a night of rehearsal, and looked at Josie, surprised. "What are you talking about?"
"This," said Josie, looking grim, and pushed the books of witchcraft over to me.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Turn the dust covers around," said Michele.
I turned them over, and realized that the Cat Lady had simply taken the dust covers of existing books she found in the meditation loft of the herb farm, and turned them inside and out, to create her books of black magic.
"These are our books," said Judee. "And some of them are rare first editions."
Josie and I looked at each other, unsure what to say. But Josie quickly recovered, and turned to Judee and Michele. "We are so sorry," she said. "We had no idea that this had occurred. Someone from our cast had volunteered to make the books, and we thought she was using her own books, not ones from your personal library. What can we do to make this up to you?"
Well, it took a while, and much discussion, but by the time ten o'clock came around, they seemed better. Not happy, but they weren't going to throw us out. We just sat in the loft, feeling totally deflated, and talking about the experience with our lead actress, Psychic Sue.
"Can you believe she did it?" I asked. "I mean, who would be so stupid? And thoughtless?"
"What was she thinking?" asked Psychic Sue, a personal friend of Judee and Michele, and the one most closely connected with the situation. "That's all I want to know. What was that woman thinking?"
"I don't think it was that big a deal."
We all stopped talking, right then and there. And slowly, the three of us turned our heads, in the direction of the speaker.
And there, standing before us, was the Cat Lady, holding Caiaphas in her arms. She had never left rehearsal.
"I mean, who cares?" she said. "They're just a bunch of dumb old books."
Sue looked aghast. "They're first editions," she managed to say. "Some are worth hundreds of dollars."
"So what?" said the Cat Lady. "They can just turn the dust covers around. No one will know that there's writing on the other side."
"But the writing's bled through to the other side!" said Sue. "You can clearly see it. And it's all about black magic, too!"
The Cat Lady shrugged, and just looked down, refusing to even look at us, stroking Caiaphas methodically. "So, they just throw the dust covers away. No big deal."
"No big deal?" I said, letting my anger get the best of me. "This is a huge deal! These people have been nice enough to let us perform here practically rent free, and you go and destroy their property, and then have the nerve to say--"
"Ted," said Josie, in a warning voice.
But I was too far gone. "It is a big deal. And I think you owe them a big apology."
That's when the Cat Lady looked up. Her eyes were as large as her owlish glasses, and the look on her face...I practically jumped back, afraid for my life.
"No, I think you owe ME a big apology," she said. "For all that you've said. And unless you apologize right this minute, I'm pulling Caiaphas out of this show, and I'm going to the Eldredge Chronicle tomorrow morning, to tell the entertainment editor all about how you've mistreated me and Caiaphas."
Well, now, I was in an absolutely impossible situation. Because not only was my wife the director of the show, but I was president of the community theater. And, as absolutely wrong-headed as she was, I couldn't really afford to allow the insane Cat Lady to make good on her threat.
But at that point in time, I was just too angry. And I think I said something like, "I don't have to put up with this shit," and walked away.
Of course, I thought about the situation, all night long. And, worried about it, because that's what I'm good at doing.
I dreaded going into rehearsal the next night. I always made it a point to show up half an hour early, before everyone, because I liked the feel of the herb farm. It was always so calm and peaceful, but that night, it wasn't offering any peace to me. Just fear and loathing.
And unfortunately, although I think I was looking for a few moments of solace, to think things through, what I found when I got there was the insane Cat Lady, sans her cat. She hadn't brought Caiaphas with her, but she did have, in her hands, a ten page, hand-printed letter.
"This is what I plan to hand-deliver to the Eldredge Chronicle tomorrow morning," she said. "It's going to blow the lid on this crummy production."
Well, at that point, I did what any self-respecting producer would do.
It certainly wasn't the right thing to do, but it was the easiest solution. It would keep the crazy Cat Lady out of the paper, prevent us from having to look around for another feline performer, and put things back on track.
"I'm very sorry if what we said last night offended you," I said, trying to use my calmest, most professional tone. Happy voice, Ted, happy voice. "It was late, and a stressful situation, and we were just letting off steam. I can totally see why you're upset, but we hope that you'll stay with us, and let Caiaphas be a part of the show."
"It's not for me that I'm doing this, you know," she sniffed. "It's for Caiaphas. He's never really felt welcomed into the show. Not really."
"How could he feel that way? Nothing could be farther from the truth!" I said. "After all, he's a part of our family, now. And so are you."
I think I threw up a little bit in my mouth, at that point.
A half an hour later, the crazy Cat Lady accepted my apology. Of course.
The only solace I found was the thought that after the show was over, I'd never have to see her again.
And, I never did. Although I did read about her. Two years after Caiaphas's starring role, the fat cat passed away, and the Cat Lady actually had the balls to replace him with a cougar. Of course, she didn't bother to get a license to keep the animal in a small apartment. Why should she be bothered to do something as mundane as that? Soon had the authorities all over her. So, she did the only thing she could think of, and tried to elude the policy by moving out of state.
She was in all the papers, including the Eldredge Chronicle. The irony!
As for community theater, somewhere around that time, I started to lose my interest in serving as president. I served one more year, and then got the hell out of Dodge.
I haven't thought about her for years, but this whole chimp business put me in mind of her, and rekindled a few unpleasant memories. And I wonder, really...what the crazy Cat Lady has for a pet, now?
Who knows? Maybe it's a chimp.