I met Oliver in 1982. He was full grown male chimpanzee that you took very seriously. He had been billed as a humanzee (half-human and half-Chimp) but I always believed him to be a chimp. He was unusual just the same. He walked bipedally most of the time. While chimps will walk upright some of the time, I had never known one to do it naturally and all of the time. Other chimps feared him and most trainers chose not to work him but for whatever reason, he and I had a special bond.
The photo above is Oliver doing what he loved the most, running with me out of his cage. Oliver and the mystery surrounding his past inspired me to write, Almost Human. I am working on the sequel, More Than Human, were Oliver still plays a larger than life role.
The flight from LAX to Rio de Janeiro (GIG) had been a long one but while tired I was excited to be at last joining the movie company to film on location. I had been hired to train Jaguars and was the only America working for the British film. When I met Gabriel at customs, I soon discovered that I had stepped into a surreal world and time. He stared right through me wearing a sweat-stained t-shirt that read “Kill Them All and Let God Sort them Out.” I could just make out a faded French Foreign Legion logo on a worn canvas bag slung over his shoulder.
In a thick Portuguese accent, he said in rehearsed English, “Welcome to Brazil,” and commenced to orchestrate us through customs. This was the tone that the shooting of this movie would take for the better part of a year. We filmed in fifty-five different locations that year which took us from the coast to deep in the jungles of the Amazon. We were on a golden voyage, a real old school adventure and it was 1984. Each day took us further from what we knew to a world of wild animals, jungle darkness, danger, Voodoo and real outlaws. We were a long way from home.
It is really gratifying to be contacted by so many readers (many are fellow writers) requesting the background story on Almost Human. As a writer, it is a humbling experience to realize your work is reaching out beyond the private and often lonely effort of putting the words on the page.
Recently, I received an email from a reader in Russia (Russia!) who asked where I got the inspiration for Chapter 3, Lester and Girlie. That chapter is based on someone I knew years ago when I worked in the motion picture business who had a unique relationship with an aging chimp. He was an animal trainer in his late seventies or so. The old man and chimp were a real odd couple, who I enjoyed visiting from time to time.
Tammy and I had just come out of a long ride on backcountry dirt trails in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming when I first noticed a fog of oil wetting the dusty surface of the rear drive on my BMW R1200GSA adventure motorcycle. Clearly, my outer seal was failing.
I was so intent on running a mental inventory of tools and parts needed for the repair that I had not noticed the man standing beside me. Apparently, he had come out of the RV, with a BMW motorcycle in tow, parked at the pump in front of me. Almost on cue, just as I had come to the realization I didn’t have the parts to make the repair, the man said, shaking his head, “That’s not good—You won’t get very far with that. Do you have the part?” Continue reading “Pay It Forward”