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Mucking Fonkeys Everywhere!         

(Fur, Teeth, Soul and Whimpers.)

With the last of the cherry petals ground to dust and powdering the footsoles of tourists, and girls hoisting their skirts short like roll-up window shutters, spring has given off her final, full perfume.  Summerfs swelter is coming back to spawn.  The rice fields are again filling with water, making new homes for small frogs and large spiders and hard work for stooped grannies.  Lake Biwa sparkles, generous with sandy picnic spots and lazy bass fishing.  Seek solace in one of the many Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples.

Gaze through a veil of new momiji, woven from tiny stars dangling off trees of fireworks frozen mid-burst; or, for ¥500 you can run unsupervised till sunset withc

MONKEYS!            MONKEYS!            MONKEYS!!!

Tucked next to the entrance of Ichitani-jinja Shrine just into the forested hills along the south bank of the Katsura-gawa, on the far side of Arashiyama a smiling older woman smart enough to stay 500 meters downhill sells tickets from a small booth painted up with cartoon animals.  I had seen that smile once before, on the face of a carney who snuck me--undersized and underaged--onto his industrial merry ego-round and spun me round and round until all the merry came all out my nose, burning hot and acid.  
Along the winding trail that leads up the hill to the Iwatayama Monkey Park, the only sign with an English subscript reads "Do Not Show Them Any Food".  Way too skittish to stroll onto wild animal turf strapped with bait, I have none. My guidebookfs warning "Do not stare into their eyes (remember Planet of the Apes?)" is a far more useful bit of information because, as with New Yorkers, direct eye contact is an open invitation for them to get all in your business.  
Three hairpin switchbacks shy of the park proper, an unnatural shakeout of leaves reveals a hairy brute-fruit lurking overhead; it is a big mean monkey clearly outside the established bounds, with it being the manifest job of no one in particular to reel him back in.  Three loud children start kicking at the tree, taunting upwards, making animal faces and noises, testing the monkey—justification that if he jumps down looking to get rowdy, we chum with the small, weak looking kid.  
Unperturbed, the monkey scratches at his privates then lopes a few trees over, coincident with us rounding the corner to deposit ourselves eye-to-snout with a plum-faced ape who sits directly in the trail before us, center-lining the final length into the park.  Raw fear a monkey soporific, as we skirt past he rolls over onto his back and considerately either falls asleep or dies, making clear our way through the fence.


Possessed of a 180 view of Kyoto and offering no protection on any side, the heart of the park is a red clay sand plateau—a scrappy version of center court at the Roland Garros French Open stadium the day after someone took down the nets but forgot to lock the gate.  Monkeys are running, humping, screeching, picking at themselves, picking at others, sitting on parked scooters and generally grab-assing around.  They move wildly, quickly covering ground with erratic twists and shunts, their paths tracing the complexity of Oswaldfs bullet.  It is a dirt-floor nursery school where all the kids are furry, off Ritalin, and can beat you up.  One tiny urchin, a Curious George plush toy the size of a small cat, scampers past: a little kitty with a human baby head wearing a fuzzy cap who assures that Japanese girls NEVER tire of giggling out  "kawaii!".  

    
Young lovers find the Renaissance landscape of Kyoto spread far below and the monkey-sprawl underfoot an adequately romantic backdrop for multiple, staged photos.  While couples, families and puffs of schoolgirls pose and gleam, three monkeys commandeer an adjacent coin-operated binocular stand, a couple more loll around picking fleas and making faces, a large female stretches dramatically--all appearing in peoples snapshots. A skirmish erupts that takes the form of two, then three, then four, then two monkeys slashing, biting and screeching after each other so fast and through so many legs that only dust-trail analysis (of the Speedy Gonzales/Roadrunner variety) can be trusted to tell what was done to whom, where and for how long.  Stunned and innocent, people seize up, hoping to emerge without collateral damage as the fracas caroms across the park.  A few kids scream and try to run but by the time they assemble their kid-wits and decide which way, itfs mostly just monkey-blood and whimpers

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Into the Monkey Tank  
To take the edge off having to constantly look over your shoulder, provided is an open-air building wrapped with chain link fencing and capped with a wood and corrugated metal roof.  It is dark within and reverberates with the bouncing clatter of monkey feet and a roof-full of pounding monkeybutt.  The fenced openings are about 4 feet tall and at close range let in light and keep out monkeys.  This is useful, since monkeys are constantly snapping onto the chain link in every contortion imaginable, sticking arms, feet and as much face as will fit through the links.  See, for ¥100 a bag you, and 20 or 30 others like you, can get your hands on cut bananas or apple chunks that when brought to the window, is like being shut into an Australian shark cage and dropped into the sea with a pocketful of slaughterhouse.

  
Darwinism rules as hulking males set up at the blueline, then make a powerburst for babies dangling from the chainlink, cross-checking them into, almost through, and then right off of the fence. Any dislodged food is inhaled to the accompaniment of big monkeys screeching for more while down on the ground, behind something solid, a baby whelps.
Human love takes over in the form of social redistribution of wealth. Strangers band together. Two of them distract a big brutal male with just out-of-reach apple chunks, while others jam half a bag of bananas down little babyfs gullet. At least we liberal Democrats in the monkey tank do it that way.  But once monkey and distant cousin calm down and come to terms with each other, the arm stretching in to you is seen as asking, not taking, and you notice the hands.  How precise and human they are.  Tiny perfect nails like an infant, sweet searching eyes that tap into something deep and intelligent.  A hidden shift in the silent workings of a gene and itfs us climbing fences for a banana chunk.  Give away your last banana, you learn they have that hookers instinct for an empty wallet and will move on just as quickly, and with all the sentiment.



Up the hill  
Red sand hardscrabble trails twist out from the core, cutting through gnarled, leafy bushes that sprout strange and uneasy monkey fruit: little ones twisting off of branches, babies muckled onto perched moms, unsocialized males, the old, the bent, the broken, disfigured and disenfranchised
cthe freaks.
One hand on where, back in the States, would have been my gun, we pick our way through, tracing a trail which gives out onto a smaller plateau.  This one is covered in grass and represents the last bit of open space before a dense steepness of trees walls everything in. Dunkirked against unfamiliar woods when, unannounced, a bell rings, wardens shout and swat, and monkeys begin floating up the hill. Wrong place at the right time, the
two hundred little beasts are nightly corralled up here to sleep. En masse they seep up, bellies filled with not quite all the bananas and apples they could take, cantankerous, as unceremoniously routed as any CNN refugee-of-the-week.  They swell up to surround us, a high tide with teeth.  Hunkered low, moving efficiently and in sync with one another, they travel fast, one pulsing texture of fur, confusion, menace and bounce, frantic but possessed of a physical grace—as we stand frozen and terrified they part before us then regather aft and disappear into the blackness between the trees.  Sphincter-puckering shrieks crack out overhead as individual trees rattle and shiver, shedding the less committed leaves. The sky is in afterglow now.  Hazy distance to Kyoto at the horizon and darkness pressing down whet the primeval tension that government, law, nightclubs and television have made a bulwark against.  Fixed, we breathe in the cool stillness of a night laced with mist and listen to the last slight monkey rustle before it evaporates.  Moving slowly we descend the hill, floating on the dizzy sense of being wrapped in cotton batting, that rubbery fatigue of accomplishment graced with its small nod to the electricity in being alive.

Until next time, when life brings more monks and fewer monkeys.


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