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What I Watched Last Night

I've long believed that cats were the most vile creatures on the planet. Not any more, thanks to an early Wednesday-morning viewing of Rogue Nature: Chimp on The Discovery Channel. Sure, chimpanzees are outrageously smart and can be trained to do just about anything - act, smoke cigarettes, maybe even win a national election (or two) - and, unlike cats, they'll come when you call. But there's one pretty significant drawback to our closest relative in the evolutionary chain: They'll chew off your face and hands, and rip off your balls too.

And then they'll eat you.

While it's by no means considered acceptable, most of that sort of thing is becoming increasingly common in Africa, where chimps run as amok as deer in the Cook County forest preserves. It's becoming serious business because small children are fast becoming lunch and dinner. And not in some accidental "oh, a dingo ate the baby" manner, either. The chimps, it appears, have figured out how to work the locks on their cages and boy, are they pissed.

As intelligent as chimps are, it seems that they haven't yet gotten a handle on the whole gratitude thing because those responsible for these attacks came from sanctuaries specifically set up to rescue them from abandonment and the illegal chimp pet trade. So Rogue host Dave Salmoni served as our on-location guide to the various African chimp sanctuaries once housing these chimps gone wild:

* In April 2003, outside the Tacaguma Chimpanzee Sanctuary in western Sierra Leone, a chimp known as Bruno and 30 of his cohorts escaped, smashed their way into a taxi, and ripped a taxi driver limb from limb. Said an eyewitness: "He had no face, nothing. Everything had been dislocated. Nobody could identify the corpse." Today, four of the bloodthirsty little mongrels are still roaming around.

* Outside Kibali National Park in Uganda, 18 attacks on humans have been documented since 1992. In the most chilling, a chimp known as Kiki snatched an infant behind the back of a mother working in a field. The child was later found dead and partially eaten. Wildlife authorities, strangely enough, believe Kiki "was lonely and wanted to play." Meanwhile, Dave wonders, "Are these chimps out for food, or revenge? Are they at war with humans?"

* The last stop on Dave's body-count tour was Gombe National Park in Tanzania - "the first place," says Dave, "where chimps were described scientifically as demonic." In May 2002, one of the demonic chimps known as Frodo snatched a 14-month-old infant off the back of a woman walking through the Gombe forest and ate it. Dave says the locals describe Frodo as a "bully" and a "highly skilled hunter" responsible for eating 10 percent of the neighborhood's monkey population. Like all good Rambo-like hunters, Frodo remains at large.

At this point, it occurs to me that, when its through with its run on FOX-TV, America's Most Wanted might want to take a stab at Africa's renegade chimps since these on-the-lam primates have names, are known among the locals, and probably even have mug shots and fingerprints on file with the appropriate authorities.

So what do you do should you find yourself facing down a crowd of chimps out for blood? For that answer, Dave introduced us to Rick Kelly, a chimp trainer with an outfit known as Amazing Animals, a company the provides amazing animals of all sorts to the movie industry. I'm sure Kelly has seen enough endearing chimp qualities in his day, but it's obviously not a quality that has his cup running over. That's because Kelly considers chimps to be "the most dangerous of the animals I work with" and "violent by nature." That sort of expertise, of course, is not easily dismissed, even by someone like me. "The first thing they go for is the fingers," Kelly said. "They know your hands are weapons. And they will completely take your testicles out and take them far away."

Kelly shared some highly important survival tips to those who might end up facing a mad chimp:

First, if it's barking, "it's time to change your shorts," said Kelly. But if you're not a quick dresser, Kelly instructs:

1. Do not run.
2. Lay on your stomach, with your hands protecting the back of your neck.
3. Spread your legs as far apart as you can so you'll be harder to flip over. (It doesn't seem to dawn on anyone that doing this increases chimp access to your testicles, but still.)
4. After that, "Pray. There's nothing else you can do."


My TV was still tuned to The Discovery Channel after work, so my Wednesday journey into the Horrid World Of Danger sailed onward with Hazard Pay, a program a lot like Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs, except without the dirt - but full of even more opportunities for the host to be maimed or killed. Compared to the dirty jobs Hazard Pay host Curt Dousett volunteers for, Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs is a puss.

Tonight, Dousett spent a shift as a correctional officer at California's Calipatria State Prison, a maximum-security pen in the middle of the desert with a high level of violence even on days when the inmates aren't spending a good deal of their time rioting or stabbing each other with all sorts of homemade weaponry. The COs are outnumbered by the inmates 60 to 1, and the COs' only defensive weapons are a can of pepper spray and a billy club. As a matter of fact, says Dousett, the prison had to invest in a new type of pepper spray because "some inmates had grown accustomed to being hit with pepper spray. These are tough crazy guys."

Forty-six percent of the inmates at Calipatria are lifers who have nothing to live for. The state department of corrections has a standing no-negotiation policy for your life if the prisoners decide to take you hostage. And you think your life as an office temp sucks.

Anyhow, Dousett's father was a prison guard who "never once spoke about it . . . or brought his work home with him," so Curt felt a natural connection to the assignment. If Curt's shift came anywhere close to mirroring his father's workday existence, it's probably better that some dads never tell their kids they spend 40 hours a week scared shitless in the midst of a large collection of people that even Hell is afraid to take in.

One of the more notable antisocial behaviors exhibited by the Calipatria inmates is a recreational activity known as "gassing," where inmates throw a mixture of shit and piss (and sometimes blood mixed in for an added kick) at the guards trying to serve their meals. A really accomplished inmate was known to shoot a blowgun at a guard.

My favorite prison WMD was, by far, the "tomahawk" - a weapon featuring razor blades melted into a toothbrush. Luckily, said Dousett, they "only carry them when they intend to use them." This gave Dousett the opportunity to participate in the search of the cell of Calipatria's most accomplished shankmaker and find several examples of that inmate's handiwork hidden in various nooks and crannies within his clothing and cell.

All in all, the experience left Dousett with an "idea of what my dad put himself through; what he put up with." Prison gurds, he noted appreciatively, are often the last line of defense "keeping the criminals away from us" so we can spend our time having barbecues and boating unbothered by such Demons of Hell.

Later in the program, Dousett's other Hazardous Duty shift involved being a hockey goalie facing "hardcore ex-minor leaguers." After the prison gig, this was rather anti-climactic; being a prison guard can get you killed, but being a goalie just makes you say "ow" a lot.


Check out the What I Watched Last Night collection.


Posted on April 12, 2007

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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