The Great Apes

07/06/15 20:31

Architecture students beware – it’s a jungle out there.

In the next few weeks, young monkeys will leave the protective bosom of the troop, and make their way into the jungle.  So far during their sheltered upbringing, they have learned about the world indirectly, and their responses have been carefully conditioned.  They can distinguish “good” from “bad”; they can discern, and they can declaim pastiche … all thanks to the jungle elders who taught them to admire the chest-beating antics of the mighty silverbacks. 

As Rudyard Kipling knew, every jungle has its king, and the particular megafauna in charge of this stretch of upland forest are loud, aggressive characters who like to impose themselves on those further down the food chain.  Sure, there are other threats – sleek silent predators with gleaming teeth, and unspeakable things which lurk in the mangroves – but the bellowing of the Great Apes makes a lasting impression on the young monkeys.  Something with so much presence must be important – right? 

All that chest-beating and branch-shaking must have a purpose.  They make so much noise and fuss, they must be in charge, isn’t that so?  These are the beasts at the top of the tree, after all …

One youngster harboured a desire to work for one of the greatest apes.  The latter’s name was Maximillian.  He was greater than the other apes in many ways – he had his own private jet, for example.  His wife dressed only in Prada.  He rose into the tree canopy using his own private elevator.  The young monkey was hugely impressed when she met Maximillian, overpowered by his musk of charisma and his “presence” – hence she was delighted when she found a place waiting for her after the interview. 

In fact, she found it disarmingly easy to join the troop, and apart from a close circle of confidants around Maxi, the youngster found herself surrounded by young primates just like herself.  All fresh-faced, keen and looking for direction.  So keen in fact, that they approached the Great Ape with deference and worked gratis, or for next to nothing.  Strangely, that earned them his disdain rather than respect.

Once she had her start, the youngster was dismayed to find that Maximillian wasn’t good to be around.  Being alpha male meant that he had to spend part of each day beating his chest, because his life was a constant struggle to maintain status in the jungle hierarchy.  He scanned the papers, earwigged the gossip and tuned in to the jungle telegraph to find out when he was mentioned, and with how much deference, compared to the other silverbacks.  If he appeared to be slipping, he grew tetchy.  For example, the youngster learned that she couldn’t discuss other Great Apes within his earshot: if anyone did, he bared his teeth and roared at the youngsters, occasionally sweeping several of them off a branch in a fit of pique.  They didn’t try to climb back up.

At other times, Maximillian was quiet and sly, creeping around to find out what the monkeys said about him in private, behind his back.  Yet even she knew not to listen to the chimps’ idle chatter.  She had imagined that Maxi would be far too busy, and too thick-skinned, to worry about trivia like this, but apparently not so.  The youngster had hoped that she would benefit from, and be enriched by, working with Maximillian, but it turned out to be a one-way transaction. 

The troop worked on into the night, when everything in the jungle apart from the bats and night-crawlers roosted and slept.  The hiss of carbide lamps, and the circling of great dark moths, grew to be familiar experiences to her.  When the sun came up the next day, they were all shattered, but providing Maximillian was off travelling the continent in his private jet, work ground to a halt and they caught up with sleep.  Everyone knew it wasn’t a good way to operate: it sapped their will as much as their energy, yet it was perpetuated by Maximillian.

The same unreality extended to the detail of the work they did.  Maxi had a licence from his clients to do whatever he liked – the lions, tigers and bears of this world don’t curtail his budget, and never restricted his ability to decide on their behalf what they should have.  So he specified Carrara marble (the most expensive kind) on every surface, and always used lights made by iGibboni (sorry!), the famously expensive makers of mangrove chandeliers. 

This is not a true reflection of how the world works, as all the other monkeys out there are on a budget.  Maximillian seemed to be happy, provided everything specified was suitably expensive, and that drawings and models were ready on time.  Trouble erupted when he jumped off his jet just hours before the next big meeting, and reviewed the work they had produced for it.  If he didn’t like it – and often he picked on something he himself had decided on weeks ago – then there was a chorus of screaming, bellowing and rending.  Pack up your things and go, he roared after whichever CAD monkey took the blame.

This year, more than before, things are tough in the jungle.  For each position, there are countless jostling cybergibbons – all of them prepared to work for peanuts.  Having grown used to peanuts, it may take years for them to raise their sights – even when things improve.  Meantime, Maximillian lives up to his name (he maks a million in fee income alone, nevermind the personal appearances at lectures, and product design endorsements) – whilst letting go of troupes at the edge of his empire.  Hopefully the chattering of macaques will drown out the bad P.R.  Nevertheless, there are fewer beasts at the top of the pyramid prepared to let him crave their indulgence.  Has he changed his approach?  What do you think?

Why does he act the way he does? asked our youngster after a few weeks in Maximillian’s employ.  ”Because he gets away with it,” replied one of the monkeys who had worked for him a little longer.  You see, Maximillian travels the world, courting every other species for work, giving lectures, gaining professorships, honours and other bays – but he doesn’t look after his own. 

The young ones who arrive each summer are part-formed: he was once just like them, but he’s long ago forgotten that.  They rely on him to show them how the jungle really works, to take on a pastoral role while they find their feet and gain confidence, but he shows them only himself.  The strong ones who demonstrate character end up fighting him, and are ejected from the troop.  The weaker ones are cowed, and eventually limp away having lost enthusiasm and motivation.  Yet each time a monkey leaves, it takes a little of the troop with it, and so the collective memory of “how we do things” is lost.  Maximillian chooses to ignore that.

This youngster was smart enough to discover that although she normally lived on the lower branches, she could still climb to the top of the tree occasionally, to see how the primates live.  More importantly, she knew she could climb back down again, leaving them to it.

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