Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tales of the Koko Lion, Part 4: The Ape Man

"Philosophy is really homesickness."


Have you ever seen the classic cartoon where an appropriately drunken stork delivers a baby to a family of the wrong species? That was how I tended to feel a lot, from my earliest memories on. Unsure whether I'd been dropped off on the right planet. Easily persuaded that this was all some kind of accident.

I began to adopt an identification with a set of heroes which I'll call The Legion of the Separate. Every one of them had experienced a profound sense of displacement. They had an inability to accept their reality, and so were forced to seek or become something other than what their surroundings would suggest to make of their lives. They had a need to exorcize the sense of a "False Self" that life had foisted upon them, and journey to the real persona that God, in his infinite wisdom, meant for them to discover. I was down with that.

I loved explorers; like Coronado, the first European to explore the American southwest, who set off looking for the lost city of gold, but instead discovered Kansas. Captain Cook, who was symbolically eaten by Nature-men of Polynesia when he discovered the Paradise that he had been cruelly separated from by an Empire of delusional ego. Marco Polo, whose travels presaged the western search for enlightenment in his quest to the Far East, only to be most famously falsely credited for bringing pasta back to Italy. Of course, the Italians already had pasta. They're Italian.

Also, all comic book superheroes; generally victims of some personal tragedy, who'd been further separated from normalcy by their misunderstood and transcendent powers. Compelled to suddenly appear dressed in multicolored tights (branding logos on their chests), save lives, and then disappear into a kind of hyper-anonymity. I tried this out as a child in my sister's dance tights (sans superpowers), and quickly discovered how profoundly confusing it could be.

Let's not forget – Knights on romantically esoteric quests. Gunslingers and samurais, who didn't want to have to kill anyone, but had gotten really good at it in case it was justified (it always was). Demi-gods and mythological heroes, especially those with impossible tasks to perform. But by far, my favorite of all was Tarzan ... ahhh, Tarzan.

It was a common evening, there in the backyard of the little house on Linfield Avenue, right up against the dusty edge of the canyon wilderness that was eastern San Diego in 1962. I was six, sitting towards the top of the pepper tree, up with the young green leaves, and little vermillion berries. I'd taken to climbing trees at an early age, because, naturally, I could not be reached there. I was dressed ( or undressed, as it were) as my favorite hero from The Legion of the Separate. A thin Mexican leather belt kept my hand-towel loincloth in place. A red rubber knife, the silver paint worn off the floppy blade, tucked into it at my side.

I was Tarzan. Displaced and heroic King of the Jungle. Master of the dark wilderness that fate had inexplicably delivered him into. Rendered parentless at birth, living by strength and guile, I scanned the rooftops of the outpost suburban tract with the cool indifference of a Great Ape, methodically picking at my toes. I was crosslegged in the upper branches.

The screen door opened, and my mother walked out, slender and lovely, with her red hair and her brow bunched. She stood beneath my tree, arms crossed, one foot pointed out just so, squinting up at the King of the Jungle.

"I see you up there." No answer.

"Time to come down now, dinner's ready"

"Tarzan no hungry." My Tarzan had little to do with the transcendent hero created by E. R. Burroughs, instead being unfortunately based on the movie character as portrayed by Johnny Weismuller, the famous swimmer.

"Tarzan has to eat dinner. You're already a pretty skinny Tarzan."

"Tarzan no eat your dinner." I imagined feeding on bloody gazelle, I imagine.

"Tarzan will especially no eat if his dinner gets cold."

With that I shifted to a less visible position in the tree, redirecting my savage gaze to the sunset in the west, all silly bright pink and yellow, in the days before smog had reduced every dusk to sad shades of coppery grey. The screen door shut behind her, and I was again, for the moment, stoically content in my treetop. And then Tarzan got hungry.

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