A Discussion About (Mostly) Books As They Relate to a Theme of Contemporary Interest

Orangutan: 97% human

I was driving with a friend once and he said, out of the blue and in a fake German accent, “Ze hairy orung-gootunga, ze old man of ze woods.” My sense is that a month does not go by in my life when I don’t think of this and laugh out loud. Whenever I see any kind of primate, orangutan or not, I say the same line in the same accent, out loud more often than not. Not only do people not laugh; they do not smile. Thus I have spent many years sharing a private joke: not with the friend whose joke it was (years after he first said it I had the opportunity to say it back to him, and he, too, looked at me blankly), but with the orangutan himself. I like the notion of an old man of the woods. In the manner in which, as humans, we cultivate feeling toward things through the lens of how they make us feel about ourselves, this joke makes me feel warmly toward orangutans.

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Tim Sheedy is an English teacher.

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