The Mystery of Cats Cont’d
Also in the wild animal show were chimpanzees and a former Wehrmacht soldier [so he said] who ended up with the Ringling Brothers circus and then this small show on the deserts of the American west. He founded a primate recovery network where he kept chimps in cages.
He told us war stories; in the context of the sinister charade of the wild animal show, this became one of the strangest metaphor chapters of my developing image rich life.
One assumes chimps are sweet pets when they are small. People used to buy them and dress them up like little boys and girls. They grow up to be ferocious if you keep them in cages and once I came too close to a chimp cage and I was a couple of seconds from having the life choked out of me. I was saved by the trainer viciously whipping the animal on its offending arm with a metal pipe he kept for just such occasions, and others. Adult chimps can be dangerous. The secret to our trainer was a metal spike he concealed in his hand that every little nudge of the animal in overalls on stage was a reminder by spike who’s the boss.
The same principle applied to the lions and tigers. The animals were convinced that the trainer was dominant. There was always someone backstage with a loaded gun in case the animal turned against the trainer. If the animals sensed opportunity – lunch. Still, there were the eyes of the big cats that to me expressed a deeper intelligence than hunger and the hierarchy of the jungle. Those eyes froze me in space more than once and I had the feeling on several occasions they were devouring me, the eyes, drawing the life force out of me as I stood just outside the perimeter of the cage. I had to withdraw.
The greasy cat who lives in my basement has such a power. Once I saw her kill a squirrel with her stare on my upper balcony.