December 20, 2011
KWVA Campus Radio — University of Oregon
The caller from Connecticut told the producer his name was “Greg.”
The sign inside the broadcast booth was lit — “ON THE AIR” — and as a Beethoven concerto began to fade, John Zerzan welcomed his listeners back to Anarchy Radio. His producer patched-in the call.
“Greg! How’s it going?”
The voice answering was faint at first, almost a whisper. “Hi, good. Um, I’m a fan of your writing.”
KWVA boosted the caller’s volume, and his voice became more clear. “I’m sorry to bring up such an old news story, but I couldn’t find anything that you said about the topic, and it seems relevant to your interests, so I thought I would bring up Travis the Chimp. Do you remember him?”
“Well, um, he was a highly domesticated chimpanzee, who lived in a suburban home in Stamford, Connecticut.”
The caller’s voice was almost monotone, and slightly robotic, the words pronounced with exaggerated precision — Con-nect-i-cut. He might have been reading from a prepared script (the details he gave showed he was familiar with a feature story from the January 2011 issue of New York magazine, “Travis the Menace,” at the very least.)
“He was raised just like a human child, starting from the week he was born,” the voice continued. “By the time that he was fourteen years old, which would be somewhere around age twenty in human years, um… he slept in a bed, he took his own baths, he dressed himself, he brushed his teeth with an electric toothbrush…”
Zerzan laughed. “Really? When was this?” (It was one of the host’s few interjections; for the most part, he just listened to his caller’s story.)
“Um… well… this happened in early two-thousand-and-nine…” he answered, and then continued with his story. “[Travis] ate his meals at a table, and he enjoyed human foods like ice cream, and used a remote control to watch television, and liked baseball games… and he even used a computer to look at pictures on the internet.”
The caller chuckled. “It goes without saying that Travis was very overweight; he was two hundred pounds when he should have been around the low hundreds. And he was actually taking Xanax.”
“…I couldn’t find any information about why he was taking it, but it just seems to say a lot that he was given it at all. And… basically, I think Travis wasn’t any different than a mentally handicapped human child.”
“But, anyway, one day in February 2009, he was acting very agitated….”
The caller told Zerzan the story of what happened at the house on Rock Rimmon Road (though leaving out any mention of the wildlife officer’s efforts to extricate the animal from its environment, a thread the caller was most certainly conscious of). He told of how Sandy had fought to subdue her rampaging chimp. “She said that after she stabbed him, he looked at her as if to say ‘why’d you do that to me, mom?’ — because apparently that was what their relationship was like: no different than between a human mother and child.”
Wrapping up the tale with another nervous chuckle, he then got to his point. “I’m bringing it up because afterward, everyone was condemning his owner, or saying how irresponsible she was for raising a chimp like it was a child, and that she should have known that something like this would happen, because chimps aren’t supposed to be living in civilization, they’re supposed to be living in the wild, among each other. But, their criticism stops there —”
“Mmm-hmm.” Zerzan definitely got it.
“—and the implication is that there’s no way that anything could have gone wrong in his life if he were living in this civilization as a human, rather than a chimp.”
“Because, uh, he brings up questions about this whole process of child-raising,” the caller continued.
“Civilization isn’t something which just happens to gently exist without us having to do anything, because every newborn child — human child — is born in a chimp-like state, and civilization is only sustained by conditioning them for years on end, so that they’ll accept it for what it is, and since we’ve gone through this conditioning, we can observe a human family raising a human child — and I’m sure that even you have trouble intuitively seeing it as something unnatural — but when we see a chimp in that position, we immediately know that there’s something profoundly wrong with the situation. And it’s easy to say there’s something wrong with it simply because it’s a chimp, but what’s the real difference between us and our closest relatives?”
The voice identifying itself as “Greg” continued on, though his nerves seemed to start getting to him: “Travis wasn’t an untamed monster at all. Um, he wasn’t just feigning domestication, he was civilized. Um, he was able to integrate into society… it seems like everyone who knew him said how shocked they were that Travis had been so savage, because they knew him as a sweet child.”
The caller acknowledged there had been some incident in downtown Stamford in 2003, but that was nothing: “He didn’t really act any differently than a human child would, and the people who would use that as an indictment against having chimps live as humans do wouldn’t apply the same thing to humans, so it’s just kind of irrelevant.”
“But anyway, look what civilization did to him: it had the same exact effect on him as it has on humans. He was profoundly sick, in every sense of the term, and he had to resort to these surrogate activities like watching baseball, and looking at pictures on a computer screen, and taking Xanax. He was a complete mess.”
The monotone caller turned to the subject of motive — such as there could be one in the Travis case — and curiously, he did not even mention the explanation given by most observers (that the chimp did not recognize the person he was attacking, and was just defending Sandy from an intruder). Instead, he focused on a moment just before Travis’s victim arrived on the scene, when the chimp was jingling his master’s car keys and jumping from vehicle to vehicle in the driveway. “He had desperately been wanting his owner to drive him somewhere, and the best reason I can think of for why he would want that, looking at his entire life, would be that… some little thing he experienced was the last straw, and he was overwhelmed at the life that he had, and he wanted to get out of it by changing his environment, and the best way that he knew how to deal with that was getting his owner to drive him somewhere else.”
“And when his owner’s… owner’s friend, arrived, he knew that she was trying to coax him back into his place of domestication, and he couldn’t handle that, so he attacked her, and anyone else who approached them.”
Then came the final layer. The darkest. “Dismissing his attack as simply being the senseless violence and impulsiveness of a chimp, instead of a human, is wishful thinking at best. His attack can be seen entirely parallel to the attacks and random acts of violence that you bring up on your show every week, committed by humans, which the mainstream also has no explanation for…”
“No,” Zerzan echoed. They sure don’t.
“And, actual humans… I just- just don’t think it would be such a stretch to say that he very well could have been a teenage mall shooter or something like that.”
“Yeah. Yeah, wow,” Zerzan said, in what sounded like genuine wonder. “Thank you, Greg. That’s quite a story. That’s really apropos, isn’t it? Travis the chimp…”
Greg laughed awkwardly one more time. “Maybe I’m just seeing connections where there aren’t any, but—”
“No, I think not,” Zerzan replied. In fact, the host was surprised that he had apparently missed such a story — “Maybe I was out of the country or something, I don’t know” — and thanked him very much for the call. “Wow.”
“Thank you, bye,” the caller from Connecticut said. Click.
36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut
The door at top the stairs was closed. Firmly.
He put down the phone, and turned to his keyboard. He had a browser tab with the “Travis the Chimp” thread open. No one had commented since the week before, when he suggested he might call Anarchy Radio. Barely one minute after “Greg” hung up the phone, he posted an update.
Smiggles: Well, I feel schizophrenic.
The remark seems to have been a figure of speech. After all, he had just spoken to, interacted with, a voice he had listened to on the radio many times. And his own words, his own voice, had just gone out on the radio, too; not only had a pure signal finally escaped the shell, it had been broadcast. For a near-mute recluse, it perhaps did feel like something akin to schizophrenia.
It was just before 11pm in Connecticut.
* * *
Eight hours later, he came back to the thread. Still, no one had commented. For all he knew, nobody had even listened to the show.
He posted another comment, with a link to an MP3 of the show, once Anarchy Radio uploaded it to the Online Archive (as they did every week, the day after a broadcast). He also gave some commentary on his performance, likely with memories from years of language-therapy supports weighing on his pride:
Smiggles: It didn’t go as horribly as I anticipated. I wish that I hadn’t spoken nonstop about Travis for so long, but I didn’t want to seem crazy by randomly bringing up a chimpanzee for unknown reasons. And despite my failed attempt at having a normal voice, I at least sounded less incoherent than usual. I normally speak much softer and swifter, with less articulation, less inflection, and more mumbling.
Still, nobody on the forum commented. Nobody cared. Just like his spreadsheet. Finally, he let the “Travis” case drop… but he kept on thinking about it.
* * *
He went away for two days, and when he came back, he sounded more despondent than ever. He returned to the “You know what I hate!?!?” topic, and gave another answer:
Smiggles: Value is such a crazy thing.
It was likely a reference to a John Zerzan essay he was reading around the same time, The Mass Psychology of Misery, in which the anarcho-primitivist wrote: “The angry longing for autonomy and self-worth brings to mind another clash of values that relates to value itself. In each of us lives a narcissist who wants to be loved for himself or herself and not for his or her abilities, or even qualities. Value, per se, intrinsic.”
He posted again, less than an hour later.
Smiggles: I hate going through these extremely rare instances of wild mood swings that I have. I think this was the only time this year for me. I was as depressed as I get during my last post, and I’m fine with the interminable depression that I normally have, but now I’m incoherently giddy with glee. Well, relative to my baseline… Except now that I’m giddy, I can’t really say that I hate it because I think everything is delightful.
If depressives cut themselves to feel better, I wonder what cutting a happy-go-lucker would do. Santa’s supposed to be jolly. I hope he visits me tonight so I can find out.
A few days later, he came back to “You know what I hate!?!?” again. He almost sounded like he was replying to something another user had posted — but he wasn’t. Instead he was, in all likelihood, responding to something a doctor or nurse from Yale had said to him when he was fourteen, and that still loomed in his psyche, now five years later:
Smiggles: What is “chemical imbalance” even supposed to mean? Why don’t hunter-gatherers need antidepressants? I swear, a psychiatrist could take a perfectly fine chimpanzee away from its jungle, confine it in captivity, and when the chimp gets depressed, they would say, “This chimpanzee has a chemical imbalance. What? A correlation between enculturation and depression? But culture brings us meaning and beauty. Get out of my way, caveman-wannabe. I need to prescribe this chimp some Xanax”.
The next day was New Year’s Eve, and then, it was 2012.
* * *
On January 5th, Nancy came home from the Connecticut Gun Exchange in nearby Monroe, and she was carrying what looked like a suitcase molded from black plastic. Inside was the latest addition to the safe: 36 Yogananda was now a Glock household.
After she completed the sale, Nancy gathered up all the documents related to the transaction — firearms transfer forms, a receipt for $638.05, her son’s handwritten note that listed “different types of ammunition and firearm magazines” — and put them in a folder, with his name on it.
It wasn’t just any Glock, either: it was a 10mm, the “Glock 20 SF.” The larger round meant it would pack of a hell of kickback — but this gun just needed to fire one shot, and one shot only.