Monkey Business

As a costume designer I dreamed of doing Shakespeare. How then did I become the personal costumer for a pair of ice-skating chimpanzees?  Oh, yeah. The mortgage. At our first meeting, their trainer, Lucien, a German with a voice suited for Wagner, wore the chimps into my shop. Simba—the larger of the two—clung to Lucien’s chest, and Jackie—the smaller chimp—sat on his shoulders. They looked adorable. But looks are deceiving.

When Lucien deposited my hairy clients on the cutting table, total chaos broke out. While Jackie turned pink-butted summersaults, Simba emitted eardrum-piercing shrieks, then swept everything off the table. Scissors, pins, rulers hit the floor with assorted crashing sounds which Simba found hilarious and rolled back his lips in a simian horse laugh, revealing approximately 200 teeth.

Trying to stay cool, I smiled at Simba and said, “Ready to be measured?” Obviously not because he reached up and grabbed my front teeth, like possessing 200 of his own wasn’t enough.

“Luushen, Lsushen,” I garbled, not wishing my tongue to touch the hairy brown fingers in my mouth.

“Simba!” he yelled using his opera voice. The chimp released my teeth and immediately began picking nits from his privates.

If I had seen that before his fingers were in my mouth I would have been completely grossed out. Luckily, I was just partially grossed out.

Careful not to show my teeth, I said, “OK, Simba, let’s start.”

Working quickly, I measured the chimp’s height: 3 foot 6, and was about to measure his sleeve length when he clamped all 200 teeth on my bare forearm. Luckily I didn’t go into full-panic mode, only partial-panic mode, which included, but was not limited to—rapid heartbeat, frantic pointing, and incomprehensible whimpering.

“Simba!” Lucien bellowed, and the chimp released me.

Though my arm resembled a wax dental impression, Lucien assured me, “It’s okay. He’s has all his shots.”

As an arc of tooth-shaped bruises appeared on my arm, I said, without showing my teeth, “Let’s get a sleeve length.”

“Wait,” Lucien said. “I’ll have him stretch.”

I held the tape to the chimp’s center-back neck and ran it to his wrist, but the wrist moved farther away, and then farther still. “Was his father a Slinky?” I asked. Simba’s arms extended to an incredible 39 inches. I’ve measured 6 foot-5 inch actors who didn’t have arms that long.

For the inseam I asked Lucien to hold the tape at Simba’s crotch. I’d already been closer to monkey genitalia than I ever wanted to be.

Then, while I measured Jackie, Simba went, well—ape shit. He Tarzaned from one hanging light fixture to the next; then executed an Olympic dismount at the workstation of a very startled seamstress. Simba snatched a cup of coffee from her hand and downed the entire contents. When he finished, he threw the cup to the floor and moved on to the next seamstress, repeating this smash and grab 12 times.

The cry of “Simba! Come!” vibrated the shop walls, and the overly-caffeinated simian jumped into Lucien’s arms, followed by Jackie who hopped onto his shoulders and the lords of chaos left my shop as quickly as they came.