THE BLOG
03/31/2014 01:22 pm ET Updated May 29, 2014

Down a Desolate Hallway, Eddie's Ghost Lingers Still

The Copenhagen Zoo shotgunned to death a young giraffe named Marius a couple of weeks ago, cut it up and allowed children to watch as the zoo's big cats ate the creature.
It was a real teaching moment. Just ask one of those kids.

A few days ago, the same zoo killed four of those lions to make way for a new cat.
It was all done cleanly and scientifically, in the name of genetic purity. This time, they didn't invite the kids.

_____

I got a job working as a night watchman in my hometown of Buffalo in the mid-1970s. The building was an ornate, old WPA building with murals on the walls and terrazzo floors whose shine was up to me.

This was where I met Eddie, while pushing a chemical broom down those echoing hallways.
Eddie knew a thing or two about zoos, though he never talked about what he knew. Not in so many words.

He had a small, bare-bones space just around the corner from my grim little "security office," a room with a battered steel desk and a noisy radiator.

Pushing that broom down those hallways, I felt like a turnkey in a 19th Century madhouse. I'd walk past tiny rooms -- cages, really -- where scared-looking, lonely creatures sometimes peered out at me. There were screams. Howls. The place stank of shit and urine and, thanks to me, floor polish.

Eddie was old when I met him. Spiky white beard, long, skinny arms. Large, sunken eyes. Patches of scraggly hair. He had a jutting, pugnacious-looking jaw and rubbery-looking lips.

He was an ugly cuss.

Eddie didn't have any time for me, or anyone else. I'd been warned he was crazy, crazier than all the rest of the inmates, and that I should keep my distance.

My first night on the job, I saw him sitting on a wooden bench in the corner of his space, staring at his arm as if he'd never noticed it before. He was picking at a string of scabs along his arm. Blood ran down his arm.

He caught me staring at him. Looked up and grinned at me. A big, wide grin.
I went back to the broom.

The guys who worked the place during the day -- the keepers -- knew Eddie when he'd been a star, a show-stopping vaudevillian who'd do anything for attention -- hang from the rafters, dress up like a woman. You name it.

Those days were long gone. Attention was the last thing Eddie wanted, from me or anybody else.

I liked working nights. Liked being alone. I could do my rounds, sweep the floor in a couple of hours. The rest of the night I sat in the office, writing my novel. When I got frustrated, I'd light up a smoke and wander around the corner, in case my muse was out there waiting to meet me.
She never was. But Eddie was. There he'd be, glowering in the corner. He never seemed to sleep.
I used to wonder what was going on in his head.

Was he remembering palmier, applause-filled days? Or nursing old grudges, dreaming of ways to wreak vengeance on his keepers, the men who made sure he never saw the light of day?
No way of telling. When he started smearing his shit on the walls, enraging the staff, I pretty much knew he'd gone over the hill.

I left that hellhole decades ago, along with my career as a novelist. When I read about Marius the giraffe, my thoughts flew back to Eddie. I Googled up his name and found this small notice from 1985:

BUFFALO, NY (AP) -- Eddie the chimpanzee, a one-time protege of Marlon Perkins and the oldest resident of the Buffalo Zoo at age 47, was given a lethal drug injection Friday after suffering a stroke, zookeepers said.

The story said Perkins taught Eddie to dance something called the "Zoological Conga," and to shave his keeper.

I wanted to cheer when I read this:

"A glass shield was placed over his cage's bars in 1958 after he hurled objects at touring members of the Buffalo school board."

Three guesses what those "objects" were.

I think Eddie would have welcomed a shotgun blast back when I knew him, just as Marius the giraffe would have preferred a long, anonymous life in Copenhagen's genetically pure zoo, neither of them burdened by the need to entertain or educate their supposed superiors, their highly self-regarding keepers and killers.