Amateur Shepherd

Bob loved watching animals. He was the San Diego Zoo’s best customer. Bob went every day to the zoo, spending all his money and free time there, staring at everything from elephants to emus. But, at $34.89 a trip, it was getting expensive.

The day Bob spent his last $34.89, he asked the ticket seller, “How do you get a job here?”

He was told by the girl’s boss, Ms. Katherine Smears, that the zoo wasn’t hiring right now, but they were looking for volunteers to watch over the monkey cage and make sure they weren’t fighting each other. The monkeys had taken sides and were in the midst of full on monkey-clan warfare.

So, the following morning, Bob showed up at the zoo for his first day on the job, bright eyed and bushy tailed. He was led by his supervisor, Florence, to the monkey cage.

“Now, keep a close eye on those two monkeys right there and there. That’s Ajit and Sanjaya. They’re the alpha males of their troops. They rarely fight, but they agitate the others to fight, so, when you see that happening, press this button and the noise will get them to stop, got it?” Florence pointed to a red button, the size of an elevator button, installed on the glass that kept the monkeys in and the people out.

“Ok,” Bob confirmed he got it.

“I’ll be back at noon with your replacement, do you have any questions?”

“Yes, when I press this button what sound gets them to stop fighting?”

“Blame It On the Boogie, by Michael Jackson. Do you have any other questions?”

“No.”

“Great. Remember, keep an eye on those two, they’re always the ringleaders of violence.”

Florence left the monkey cage to the monkeys and Bob, who would soon be sharing the cage with the tourists.

Not long after the first pack of tourists had arrived, did Ajit start pushing the back of a larger monkey. The larger monkey started swiping its claws at another monkey that naturally swiped back. Bob wasted no time in pushing the button and sounding the voice of Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. Just like Florence had said, the monkeys ceased their fighting and began dancing. Most of the monkeys put their paws on the ground, leaned forward and bounced their butts up and down in the air, though a few were exploring the air with their paws in a funky monkey rhythm.

The tourists went apeshit.

When the song finished, the monkeys stopped dancing and went back to sitting quietly, all hints of violence gone.

At least for ten minutes or so, then Ajit was at it again, shoving at the back of a larger male, going, ‘Hee! Hee! Hee!’ in his ear. The other monkey responded by scratching at the closest monkey and the fight was killed by Bob’s quick draw on the button and once again, Blame It On the Boogie started up and the monkeys got down to boogie.

From Bob’s point of view, Ajit was the best dancer of all the monkeys. He was the most in sync with the music, and his arms and paws were the most creative and expressive. The little stump tailed macaque could dance. Bob wondered if dancing was the real motivation behind pushing other monkeys to fight. ‘Is the monkey fighting to dance or dancing to fight?’

Bob thought he’d stop a lot of future violence by pressing the button before Ajit got up to provoke another fight. The monkeys, on cue, got up to dance. However, as soon as the music stopped, the monkeys started to do battle.

Bob, shocked, was a bit slow on the button, hitting it only after a dozen or so monkeys had been scratched and/or bitten. And again, the magic of the Jackson 5 charmed the monkey cage, getting them all to dance, even the injured and bleeding.

And again, as soon as the music stopped, the monkeys set to scratch, swipe at and strangle each other. So, Bob set to start the music again.

When Florence showed up at noon, she found Bob on his knees, pressing the button as soon as the song had come to its end.

“You just have to press it once,” Florence said, hearing the beginning beats of the bass line start up again. She looked at the monkeys, they looked dead tired. They were still dancing, though, lethargically, as though their hearts really weren’t in it.

“You have to keep pushing it! You have to! Or they fight right away! They’re waiting for the music to stop so they can fight! I just thought if I played it once early, it would-”

“What did you do? No one told you to play it early! Your job was to sit and watch and react! No one told you to initiate anything! A monkey could do your job!”

All they could do was dance or fight, never taking time to eat or sleep. It was either fight themselves or dance themselves to death; the zoo thought it looked best for the customers if the monkeys danced themselves to death, so they kept the music on all the time. Eventually the entire barrel of monkeys would succumb to exhaustion and die and Bob would learn not to monkey with nature.

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