Thursday, October 12, 2017

Forgotten Chicago, Museums

The Lincoln Park Zoo
This is not exactly a museum, but it is a memory. I remember going to the Lincoln Park Zoo on numerous occasions. It was FREE! (Though over the years I’ve had two bikes stolen, locked up out front of the zoo—so not quite a bargain!)

Through the years animals have come and gone. Gone are the elephants. Humanely it was not possible to keep such a large animal in a small enclosed space. The polar bears have also suffered.

I’d have to say one of the most popular exhibits has been the Ape House which went through a recent renovation: They now have a great outdoor playground. The old house really did come across like cages behind glass (as opposed to the new facility which is also cages behind glass but disguised to look like a jungle).

One of the my first observations at the zoo was not so much the animal behind the glass, but the animals in front of the glass. The people who came ritualistically, daily, to connect with their friend, their special hairy ape friend. They are a vanishing species.

These were real relationships. I once saw an orangutan go “ape” after catching a glimpse of their special human. And, if you know orangutans, they can be especially dismissive, actually coming across bored. They’d sit behind glass picking their noses staring back vacantly. Until, suddenly . . . they rush the window. The person next to me wouldn’t have normally stuck out. In fact, some of these obsessive visitors I might have concluded were homeless, carrying dirty, overstuffed shopping bags, wearing greasy, wrinkled overcoats, their hair unwashed, their faces unshaven. The apes in contrast seemed more well-groomed and cared for. Of course they didn’t have to work for their room and board, and health care was free.

But then the same could have been said of me—why was I there in the middle of the day observing the human/ape interaction? Maybe I was the loser. I know I was because when I saw the connection between the orangutan and the visitor, I saw what I was missing out on. Someone who couldn’t wait to see my face everyday, someone to talk and coo at me, call me baby. I really felt like an outsider. I longed for an orangutan friend.

To this day whenever I enter the ape house which now looks like the suburbs with all their play equipment, I get a little glitch in my heart knowing I’ll never have as good a friend as those apes and their special human.

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