A giant ape breaks down the door. “Werewolves of London” is playing in another apartment. The ape throws the man to the carpet as the woman cowers behind him in the corner. The ape grabs the man, Gregorio, by the shirt. It is an elastic polyester and has the rubbery give of dough. It rips and Gregorio wiggles free. The ape throws aside the rag and advances on Gregorio, baring huge teeth. Then it stops to gape at the woman, Irma. She’s on the floor in a mini dress. The ape’s fur softens and its arms drop, swaying gently to the rhythm of “Werewolves of London”:
I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
walking through the streets of Soho in the rain
The ape says to Irma, “It took me, what, 10 years of trying before quitting cigarettes, and then the same with drinking. Cigarettes I cold turkeyed, Nicorette gummed, clove-cigarette substituted, hypnotized, acupunctured, nicotine patched, Smoke Enders-ed, meditationed, therapized. None of it worked, and all of it worked. After about 10 years of it.”
Irma ventures, “…so now, you are…clean.”
The ape nods. “Alcohol I cold turkeyed, smoke substituted, hypnotized, acupunctured, meditationed, bottom hit-ed, A.A.ed. And then quit.”
Gregorio is sore from the fall. He rubs his leg and says, “That’s kind of the problem, isn’t it?”
The ape snarls. “I said, I’m clean!”
“That’s not what I meant. I meant, with all that action stuff, ‘turkeyed’ and ‘hypnotized’ and ‘gummed,’ it must be kind of tough for it all to lead to the ultimate passive-action verb: ‘quit’.”
The ape works its brow. “That’s not…”
Gregorio drops to his knees beside Irma. He runs his hand through the carpet. “You’re clean. Well, this is a nice clean shag, right? But have you ever seen microscopic pictures of a carpet or a shirt? They’re teeming with tiny monsters – dust mites! They feed on the skin flakes we shed. Tiny spiders, actually, with swollen bodies and eight legs. But not your usual arachnid limbs. Theirs are baggy stumps – like the legs and feet of freezing soldiers, wrapped in rags and rout.”
“Like Hitler’s army fleeing Russia,” Irma elucidates brightly for the ape.
He was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fooks
going to get a big dish of beef chow mein
Ahwooooo…Werewolves of London!
The ape frowns. “Your point is…?”
Gregorio wraps his shredded shirt around his shoulders.
“Just that maybe there’s quit, and there’s quit. Like there’s clean, and there’s clean.”
Irma chirps, “And there’s history and there’s history!”
Gregorio waves her off and confides to the ape, “Look, some say that our skin is scored by history—that experience is written in our faces and so forth. But people shed skin at the rate of 10 grams a week; 80 per cent of the ‘dust motes’ in a sunbeam are actually flakes of human skin! Always plenty of memories for the mites, but they die in a week and we start all over again.”
“I was just saying I don’t do bad stuff anymore,” the ape mumbles. “That I can start over.”
Gregorio says, “There’s start over and there’s start over, by which I mean, you gotta remember what you have to forget, or else you’ll never know if you’re starting over, or just… ‘over and over’.”
The ape growls, “I’m sorry about the shirt.”
“I’ll buy you another shirt.”
“It can’t be replaced,” Gregorio says. “It’s too full of memories.” There is a beat of silence, then raucous guffaws from Irma and Gregorio, who roll on the memory-infested carpet, laughing, while the ape tries not to show it doesn’t get it.
You hear him howling around your kitchen door
you better not let him in
Little old lady got mutilated late last night,
Werewolves of London again
Irma settles against the wall. She raises her knees and hugs her legs. She does not seem to have panties under the dress. She says to Gregorio, “Forget skin. Memory is in art. History is in stories, images, music and movies! Listen to that song. Alzheimer’s patients might forget their own children’s faces, but if their music is played…”
“Little old lady gonna get her memory back listening to Warren Zevon?! He just said she got mutilated late last night!” Gregorio chortles and claps.
“That’s…you’re distorting what I meant! The fact is…” She stammers over Gregorio’s taunting laugh. Aroused, he grabs for her but she pulls away. He sighs and coos her back. “Irma, please. OK, songs hold memories, but which ones? ‘Werewolf of London’ was a real movie, but Warren Zevon got it mixed up a little. The actor was Henry Hull, not Lon Chaney, or even Lon Chaney Jr. (He names both in the song—I wonder if he even knew they were different people, or even that ‘Lon’ wasn’t even Junior’s name—it was Creighton, but the studios forced him to go by ‘Lon Jr.’ to capitalize on his far more famous father’s name).”
“But Gregorio,” Irma pouts (the ape now elaborately ignored), “wasn’t Lon Jr.—or Creighton—most famously remembered for playing the original Universal ‘wolfman’ in the movie of that name?”
“Well, yes, of course, but that was ‘The Wolfman’ and Warren Zevon was alluding to ‘Werewolf of London’. They were two entirely different movies and actors…”
“Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” the ape bellows. “It’s not important! You…you know what I am trying to say and you’re just going off on inane tangents and hair-splitting to, to…!” The ape turns his back to blink away tears. When he’s recovered he sees Irma and Gregorio wearing pained, pitying smiles for him while their hands work into cleavage, crotch, mouths, vagina, and anuses. He trembles over them, snarls and beats his chest and says, “Everything always has to come down to movies, and stories and language, and aphorisms, and, and metaphors! This is no metaphor!”
This last word finally earns their attention and they untangle, flushed and sweating. One can only imagine the party-animal dust mites getting down among their moist, shredded memories, the ape muses bitterly. They look up at him with that graphic shorthand for terror (E.C. Comics-style big round sclera surrounding a single dot of black) before he grabs both of them by their throats and shakes them in the air like pom-poms. Gregorio’s neck snaps first and the ape drops him to give Irma careful attention. After she’s done the ape throws her against the wall for extra measure. But it’s already too late and they have turned to puppets that can’t die or suffer or anything unless the ape gives them life first, which it has once again failed to do.
He’s the hairy headed gent
who ran amok in Kent
Lately he’s been overheard in Mayfair
You better stay away from him
he’ll rip your lungs out, Jim
Huh! I’d like to meet his tailor!
The ape goes to the battered door, hanging by one bent screw in the bottom hinge. The ape sets it back up to reattach the top hinge, but the whole door jamb pulls out of the wall and the door crashes onto the ape’s foot. It hurts like hell and the tears come back. The ape limps to the next apartment and knocks on the door. Someone is home because there are voices and music. But nobody will open the door. He knocks again, harder.
Well, I saw Lon Chaney walking with the queen
doing the Werewolves of London
I saw Lon Chaney Jr. walking with the queen
doing the Werewolves of London
He knocks again, and finally someone says, “Who is it?” The ape opens his mouth to answer, but what can he say? ‘It is an ape. It is a giant ape with a hurt foot!’ Again the voice says, “Well, who the hell is it?!”
Ape snarls. Ape breaks down the door.