Les M. Brown
A tandem truck with latches and hinges on the sides of its cargo bed appeared beside the road at Otis Lonon's General Store one early fall afternoon in North Cove. On it was written in bold red letters WALLY'S SIDE SHOWS, Birmingham, Alabama, above and below a cartoonish drawing of a grinning gorilla lying on its back.
A medicine-man style traveler stood on a platform beside the dilapidated truck luring the boys of North Cove with his booming friendly voice.
He dropped the sides of the truck, revealing a large eight by fifteen cage. Inside, a chimpanzee about the size of a stocky eight year old kid was crouched still in one corner on the sawdust-covered floor; only his eyes shifted from boy to boy, all standing back from the platform.
"Now all of you stout boys come on 'round here, up close" said the red faced man who looked a little like the ape in the cage.
"See my little buddy here." pointing with his thumb over his shoulder. "Ain't he cute? He likes to rassle.. We're traveling through here between shows, and I needed to stop and let him rest and play a little bit before we get on our way."
He paused, eased himself down to sit on the edge of the platform and cupped his hands around a match he struck with his stained thumb nail. He paused long enough to light a Camel that he had tapped from its pack. It wagged in his lips as he continued.
"You know what I'm gonna do? I'll let you boys in the cage to rassle him for a dollar. If you can pin him in three minutes I'll give you five dollars back. Look at him; he's a little feller and you big old farm boys can have some fun with him--- earn ye a little cash too. How about it? I bet they ain't none of you who's ever rassled a chimpanzee before. Just think of what you can tell everbody at school tomorrow. Who's gonna be first?"
He pointed at Roy Holyfield, a small boy of my age, and snapped his head toward the cage. "Come on boy. A young feller like you's a lot bigger'n my chimp. Why don't you go first."
Roy gained his confidence and stepped forward. He paid the man his dollar and climbed the makeshift steps to the cage door.
The man opened the door and Roy stepped inside. The chimp stood up on its hind legs and watched as Roy moved closer. Roy edged closer and the wary animal suddenly sprang on to the side of the cage with a rasping scream. Roy flinched, but again approached. The ape leaped again, this time not stopping until it had made about seven circles around Roy, winding up hanging by all four limbs from the roof over Roy's head. Roy reached up and grabbed the chimp's arm, but was immediately lifted off the floor and swung to the front end of the cage. when the chimp let out a loud growling sound and barred its teeth through the muzzle. Roy backed toward the door
"I ain't messin' with that little turd any more.." Roy said. The man opened the cage door and Roy stepped out shaking his head in frustration.
"He's a little tense from all of the riding, and he needed to let off a little steam. Come over here, Bungo!" the man said. The chimp let go of the roof of the cage and bounced to the man, who handed a banana through the bars from a wrinkled paper bag beside him. "Now Bungo, these boys are nice. They just want to play with you. You behave." The chimp walked to the back corner and attentively peeled and ate the banana sideways.
Sensing my opportunity for glory after Roy's failure, I could not let the chance pass. Neither could I resist the temptation to be able to say that I had wrestled a real chimpanzee. Maybe Wanda Swofford would be impressed. So, I paid my dollar and climbed into the cage. I had been carefully watching the man's method of controlling the animal. My strategy was to act like a friend and gain the chimp's trust.. Talking gently, I eased toward the little ape and reached out slowly for his long black fingers. His head was turned away, but he was watching me out of the corner of his dark round eyes. My fingers gently touched his. He let out a blood curdling scream and took the same seven laps around the cage, settling on the floor at the far end. I rushed him, grabbing at him with both arms. Nothing was there. He had moved so quickly that I missed him completely. I attacked again but stopped cold when he slammed his fist against the metal of the front of the cage so hard that the whole truck shook. Reason took hold as I realized that this animal was much stronger than he seemed. I abandoned the project and part of my faith in psychology.
Stan Holtzclaw was a big athletic boy, the best on the North Cove basketball team. The man eyed Stan and said, "Them boys just ain't got it. I bet you ain't got it either big feller." Nobody ever said anything like that to Stan.
The blond and good looking railroader's son slipped the white T-shirt off his muscular frame, threw it on the ground and stepped forward. The muscles in his back rippled as he pulled himself up onto the platform without using the steps. Stan turned to face those of us who hated him for his athletic prowess, flexed his biceps and turned back to face the chimp. He ducked his head to get through the cage door and surveyed the battlefield.
In contrast to my approach, Stan would naturally assert dominance over his small furry ancestor. Bungo had perched himself on a little triangular platform constructed in one corner of the cage about four feet off of the floor. Stan lunged at the chimp, grabbing his right hand. He pulled. Bungo screamed, jerked free and placed one foot squarely on top of Stan's head on his way to the usual seven circles of the cage before settling right back on the platform. Stan, a little drunk from following the blur around and around the cage, lunged again. Bungo's long arms grabbed the top cage bars as he swung both feet into Stan's sweaty muscular chest, knocking him to a sitting position in the sawdust.
After a minute or two of being bounced around the cage every time he touched the chimp, Stan finally knew the feeling of defeat. As he left the cage, this time not having to duck to get through the door, Bungo curled his lips into a grin and hurled a handful of crap through the bars at us.
The man took our money, folded up his truck and drove away.