One of the things that spurs my creativity is to consider the impact of a specific object on my life. What stories surround it? Why do certain objects seem to capture energy and hold it? Some objects seem to acquire meaning over time. Other objects seem to explode with energy all the time, changing the world around them.
While thinking about that, I wrote a piece about the various meanings behind a gorilla suit I bought.
Three Meditations on a Gorilla Suit When Throwing it Away
The day we started selling gorilla suits at work, I had to try one on immediately. It’s a big reason why I work where I do. Some people wouldn’t understand the compulsion to put on a gorilla suit when fate presents a gorilla suit, but I absolutely had to.
The suits were “one size fits all,” so I threw one on and ran around the building. If you want to be creepy in a costume like that — which is really the point — you have to be completely silent and refuse to answer people’s questions. At first they laugh, then they smile, but soon they’re nervous and contemplating the nearest route to safety.
As usual, one size fits all turned out to not apply to me. My overly long mid-section stretched the costume to its fullest and as I reached up to mime picking a banana, the crotch ripped out.
I broke it, I bought it. After applying our generous employee discount, I was now the owner of a gorilla costume. In my eyes, this was far from a tragedy.
My wife and I have game that we play with one another. We don’t have a name for it, but the general idea is to not acknowledge that the other person is doing something strange. If, for instance, my wife were to put on a Tammy Wynette wig and greet me at the door with a big kiss, if I laugh or ask her about it, I lose. No reaction, no matter what, is the only way to win. The only other rule is that you have to continue the behavior until the other person acknowledges it. So, if you don’t smile or laugh, the other person has to continue looking like an idiot until you let them off the hook.
This is an amazing game and I recommend it.
So, that night, I waited for her car to pull into the parking garage and then slipped into the gorilla suit. My pug, Roscoe, looked at me startled for a moment, but as soon as he saw me move in the suit, he knew it was me. In fact, even my moving around in a gorilla-like manner and reaching out for him only resulted in a slight tail wag.
When my wife walked in the door I was in the gorilla suit watching TV with Roscoe on my lap and a remote control in my hand. No reaction except her usual greeting.
I got up and hugged her. She chatted with me as if nothing were different.
Gorilla suits, actually character costumes of all kinds, are like mobile fur-covered sweat lodges. At first you smile at the discomfort, but after a few minutes, you start having hallucinations from the heat. It’s basically like that desert scene in Oliver Stone’s movie about The Doors. In fact, I’m convinced that Jim Morrison’s tight leather pants probably caused him to hallucinate even when he wasn’t taking other drugs. In any case, I was in there, hot as hell, convinced that my wife wasn’t going to win this one.
I am the gorilla king, I can do anything.
My wife started cooking dinner and I went into the kitchen to talk to her. The heat from the oven made it even worse and I could feel myself getting dizzy. She had been home less than an hour and I was about to break and give her the win. I was weak.
My hand went up toward my head to pull off the rubber mask with its tiny nostril air holes, when she took pity on me.
“I see you got a new product in at work. Did you buy it or borrow it?”
She didn’t smile, just tilted her head and tapped her foot.
The mask was off so fast that I caught myself mid-breath and ended up gasping in the cool air like a drowning swimmer surfacing for the last time.
My family rented a vacation house in the San Juan Islands one summer. It was in the woods, not tremendously remote, but the closest house was about a quarter mile away.
My wife and I had secretly brought the gorilla suit with us and kept it hidden. We also peppered the conversation over a couple of days with mentions that in the Pacific Northwest we were in Bigfoot country. Telling everyone they should keep their eyes open.
One night, during the first episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, I snuck away. I grabbed the gorilla suit and ran to the bushes outside. At the appointed time, my wife called everyone over to the porch claiming that she had seen something in the distance. Something hairy.
I shook branches, but didn’t come out right away. I figured the more mysterious it was, the more their imaginations would run away.
My sister said, “I see it over there; it’s some kind of animal!”
I ran across the field, getting closer to them as I swept from bush to bush. Never letting them get a clear look at me. One of my sisters ran inside to hide or, she later claimed, to look for the phone. My father snapped pictures as quick as could.
I heard a scream and decided to let them off the hook, pulling off the mask. They all laughed. I was now down in the annals of family practical joke history.
None of my father’s pictures turned out. He was moving too quickly and the camera was shaking. That coupled with me running meant that the pictures were about as clear as any picture of the actual Bigfoot.
Everyone acknowledged that they had been tricked except my mom. She said, “I thought it was one of the neighbors dressed up in a costume and running toward the house. If it had been some crazy guy who lived on an island in the woods wearing a gorilla costume and menacing tourists, it would have been much scarier than if it were Bigfoot.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
Years later, I was cleaning out my closet, sorting clothes into bags for donation, dry cleaning or garbage. I couldn’t decide whether or not to keep the gorilla suit, so I set it off the side.
The next morning I set a few bags down for the collection truck and took a few more into the dry cleaners.
When I got home from work that night, I found a bag of my dry cleaning. I would have sworn that I had picked it all up, but there it was. That was when I realized that I had dropped off the gorilla suit.
My dry cleaner is Korean and his English is patchy. He had told me that he liked me for two reasons, I always knew the exact count of my shirts when I brought them in so he didn’t have to count them and I paid in cash. That will give you a pretty clear picture of our relationship from his perspective.
I called him on the phone and said, “Hello, this is David Wahl. I think I made a mistake when I dropped off my clothes this morning.”
He started laughing really loud, “You played a joke on me! I opened the bag and screamed. I looked around for the cameras to see if I was on TV.”
“It was just an accident, I didn’t mean to -”
“You are a funny man! So funny.”
When I went to pick it up, he had the whole staff come up and laugh. I think it must have been the most exciting thing that ever happened in the shop except for the time they were robbed.
Now whenever I take my clothes in and he’s at the counter, he makes a big deal out of looking in the back as if he expects a cobra to leap out and bite him on the face. Then he smiles at me and points to let me know that I won’t be tricking him again.
“You are so funny, I never know what to expect from you.”
I am now deciding once again if I should throw the suit away. It is ten years old, tattered and dirty; it even has twigs still knotted in the fur from my run in the woods. It’s hard not to feel that its purpose has been fulfilled — that all the meaning that one could wring out of a gorilla suit has been wrung.
Part of me wants to take it to the bus stop down the street late at night and set it up as if it were waiting for the bus. Or, to abandon it in the park as if someone stripped it off quickly and left its pieces in a trail to a cliff. Or, leave it hanging in the closet for our next tenant to wonder who would own a gorilla suit and then forget it. Even if it’s done for me, perhaps the time has come to release the suit’s power onto the world and let it become a prop in the story of the life of someone else.
If you see a homeless man in Seattle dressed as a gorilla, think of me.
I’m amazed at how much of this I can relate to! Gorilla suits absolutely possess potential energy, and they have a way of creating stories and memories. Like you, I’ve worn mine at work and at home. I’ve tested pets with it, and played a similar ‘loose animal’ prank. I’ve also worn it in around town and in a Christmas parade. It has such a presence, and people always respond (except for your wife of course.) I’ve also used the body with other heads. At one party I was a creepy mime with a gorilla body, completely silent for most of the evening, naturally.
Your story about the cleaners got me thinking about how great a professional cleaning would actually be. Mine is so matted and covered in hay and rotten banana.
Gorilla suits have such a classical quality. I think they wove themselves into the culture through TV and film of the 50s and 60s. Gilligan’s Island, The Electric company and various old horror flicks are just a few examples that spring to my mind. Anyway, thanks for sharing this. It’s not often that I get to make a gorilla suit connection.
That is awesome! Just after I posted this, I listened to Gilbert Gottfried’s podcast and he was interviewing Bob Burns who had his own gorilla suit in Hollywood and played a gorilla in not only TV and movies, but also live Spook Shows! People would attack him.
Lots of fun stuff in his interview: http://www.gilbertpodcast.com/bob-burns/
Oh my gosh, this was such a great story. Such good timing for me, too, as I’ve been thinking about how my quilts are most satisfying when they impart stories. No one even needs to know the story but me! But if someone else gets it, too, even a small part of it, so much the better.
Do you have other posts on how we tell stories? Any favorites you want to point me to?
Not in the sense you’re talking about. I bet you have interesting thoughts on how to imbue an object with meaning. Maybe you should write a post about it.
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