I didn’t want to tell this story because I knew people wouldn’t believe me. They’d say I was stunting for attention, they’d question my mental health, they’d throw the journalism book at me for lying on the job. But no longer can I suppress the truth, mostly because I told this story in Slack and my boss told me to blog it.
It was a bright and whatever day in New York when I experienced the oddest 15 consecutive seconds of my life thus far. I was returning to our newly relocated Jezebel headquarters Friday afternoon after I waited 10 minutes to pick up a salad I’d scheduled to pick up 15 minutes earlier from Chop’t. (I found this outrageous, so I wrote to Chop’t support and they gave me a free salad for my hassle, which in retrospect was worth the time spent.) It was about 2:15 when I turned onto 45th Street from the throng of tangled bodies on the Broadway promenade. Outside of Buca di Beppo, I saw a man dressed as Batman—one of the several “characters” that inhabits Times Square looking to exchange photo ops for money and generally keeping the supposedly cleaned-up city center in touch with its seedy roots—cradling a small child.
I don’t have children, I’m never going to have children, but I certainly would not let a Times Square character person hold my baby! I’ve read too much ever to let that happen.
That’s what I was thinking as I neared the superhero-baby team-up and my eyes focused on the baby. As Batman handed her—I assumed it was her because she was in pink sweatshirt material and people are still living by gender norms today, as much as we maybe hope they wouldn’t—back to her mother, I realized that it was not a human baby, but an orangutan baby being placed in a human’s arms.
But here’s where I’m fucked up because in my head, I said, “Chimp.” So maybe it was a chimp, but when I think back, I see a beautiful little orangutan with big orangutan eyes. A very well-behaved little creature, by any species standards, including human.
And with that, the ape caretaker turned and walked straight into Buca di Beppo, sanitary code be damned.
Why didn’t I follow them in? I don’t know, I had a salad to eat. I know what I saw, but it was so absurd that I immediately swore it away. Seems unlikely, I think to myself even today, as I recall that gentle and small orangutan nestling into the human cradle of her caretaker, her little rust-colored tuft of hair gently swaying in the cool June breeze.
Please enjoy this series of pictures of Prince Charles orangutan-spotting from November 6, 2017 in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. They roughly mirror my experience.
Times Square is not what it used to be. Even those who venerate its grime of yesteryear will tell you that it was a rough place checkered with characters that were bizarre at their least menacing. Then in the ’90s came Disneyfication/Giulianifcation and the entire area received a facelift. Porn shops were pushed out. Families walked freely. Today it’s mostly a place where middle class-looking people stumble around, frequently stopping or moving at a sloth’s pace with their eyes glued to their phones.
And yet, there are unusual things to behold if you keep your eyes peeled. The other day, my boss saw a completely topless woman romping out in the sun—she wore nothing but shoes, underwear, and a backpack. You think, “What?” for a few seconds when you see something like that, and then it clicks: “Oh right... Times Square.” It’s lost some of what it was, but not everything. It’s a place where a young orangutan can at least make it through the door of an ersatz Italian chain restaurant, if not have a meal. Any why not? She had to eat somewhere.
Only in New York, kids. Only in New York. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.