Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Some bars enjoy
monkey business

I might be jeopardizing my gig as keynote speaker at the Hawaiian Humane Society's annual meeting in October by jumping into the monkey-in-bars controversy that has torn Honolulu in two.

The question, simply, is, Do monkeys belong in bars and nightclubs? And I say, as long as they abide by the city's no-smoking ordinance, don't hassle the chicks and can hold their liquor, why not? Monkeys are people, too. At least genetically they are 99.9 percent identical to humans. That last 0.1 percent of DNA apparently relates to body hair and the willingness to wear pants.

The controversy concerns the Blue Tropix club, which keeps a number of monkeys on display behind a glass enclosure to the delight and/or anguish of visitors.

Animal-rights activists state their case in the calm, quiet screech normally associated with fingernails being dragged across a chalkboard: The monkeys are being psychologically tortured, cooped up in their roomy, well-ventilated habitat, where they have nothing to do all day but marvel at the antics of various drunks and loafers.

Opponents claim the monkeys are showing signs of severe stress, exhibiting the jerky, agitated gesticulations one would expect from a creature who 24/7 finds himself separated by a 2-inch glass wall from a bottle of Cuervo Gold.

Proponents of the monkeys say the animals have it better than their fellow primates in the wild, or even in the Honolulu Zoo. I'm sure that the disgruntled orangutan Rusti would love to trade his cramped enclosure for a nice spot in a happening nightclub where the opportunity for the occasional margarita isn't out of the realm of possibility.

THE FACT IS, monkeys in bars have a long history in Honolulu. The famous Pearl City Tavern was home to a herd of monkeys for decades. They were spider monkeys. Or squirrel monkeys. Or tiger monkeys. It was hard to tell. As Jane Goodall used to say after a few margaritas with her chimpanzees, "Seen one monkey, seen 'em all."

All I know is that those Pearl City Tavern monkeys were the happiest monkeys I've ever seen.

There was one female in particular that I think had a crush on me. She'd sit on the other side of the glass ogling me with those big brown eyes while I nursed a beer at the bar. Or maybe she was looking at my bowl of peanuts. I got to know all of those monkeys pretty well, their individual personalities and characteristics. I was like the Dian Fossey of beer joints. I sent an essay of my extensive research ("Bar Monkeys in the Mist") to National Geographic, but it must have gotten lost in the mail.

I plan to visit the Blue Tropix so I can see firsthand how the monkeys are doing there. It takes patience, courage and a gorilla-sized liver to study bar monkeys in the semiwild. As soon as I get a small research grant from my wife, I'll be back in the field again.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com



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