High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

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Friday, September 19, 2003

Mighty Cheesehead Wind 2, Telecommuniculturey 0

Thursday we played hookey and drove up to Milwaukee for the dual purpose of seeing Lewis Black and Dave Attell (M's vested interest) and going to the County Zoo to see their bonobos (my vested interest, obviously). After a near-miss with a whacky misunderstanding over Madison vs. Milwaukee, we were on our way. Getting out of Chicago was a nightmare, mostly because we, as ever, left later than intended and caught the very beginning of rush hour. It was a long time before we were safely across the state line and deep into Cheese/Porn/Fireworks territory.

We arrived downtown and found a place to park for less than the cost of our first-born child immediately, driing home the message that we weren't in Kansas anymore. Even more bizarrely, the Riverside Theatre was actually right next to the river. When you come from the flattest city on earth and it's surrounded by places called "Palos Hills" and "Arlington Heights," you come not to expect truth in advertising.

The unexpected ease of navigation and parking left us with enough time for a pre-show drink. We sat out on Rock Bottom Brewery's patio in the beautiful fall air beside the river and had an excellent Oktoberfest. In telling us about their seasonal beers, our embryonic waiter seemed confused as to why the options were all German. Sigh.

The Riverside is a gorgeous, 30s-style theatre, complete with an ornate vaulted ceiling, balconies, and side boxes. Unfortunately when it was restored, it was redone entirely in mauve and pink, so it looks like a very large ladies lounge in a Vegas strip hotel. They also made the somewhat questionable decision of leaving the bars open throughout the performances. This proved to be an error, as 99% of the audience spent the next 2.5 hours climbing over or being climbed over by everyone else. Do not try to get in between a cheesehead and his Jagermeister.

Mitch Hedberg was a pleasant surprise (to us, anyway) addition to the bill. He led off with a relatively short set and seemed quite nervous for the first several minutes, despite the crowd being fairly enthusiastic. At the end, when the three of them did a few minutes together, he again seemed kinda paralyzed. Poor lamb.

Lewis Black was funny, although I was sweating on his behalf. He did a set more than an hour long in a long leather jacket. He also needs to cut back on the smoking. I thought the first row was going to be showered with tasty lung bits at several junctures.

Although I like Insomniac well enough, I'm not a fan of Dave Attell's stand up. His set was not inclined to change that opinion. One of the things that I like about Insomniac is that, no matter how bizarre or mundane the people he's riding along with are, he seems interested. He's never a total dick to anyone unless they're obvious asswipes. I don't know whether it's a tight directing rein, censorship, good writing or some combination of all of the above, but it works. His stand-up act is completely unoriginal. He's just another belligerent dick. It's also a mistake to bring ironic racist and gay-bashing jokes to America's heartland if you're not prepared for the audience to take them at face value. He wasn't.

Friday morning was chilly and overcast, which looked like a perfect day to hit the zoo, as neither of us is a fan of heat or sun. We made our way directly to the primate house, which is huge and really well done. There are both indoor and outdoor habitats for gorillas, orangutans, and siamang. There is also an outdoor bonobo habitat, but they ran out of money before they could finish the deck that would have wound all the way around, so, when outdoors, you can only just glimpse the bonobos in the distance through the gorilla enclosure.

We spent lots of time outside watching a maturing silverback named Majji and his half-brother Hodari. Hodari was quite obviously hand raised by humans. He spent the majority of his time kicking back in his swing made of firehose and playing with a very long branch. He seemed to be trying to work out how to knock the berries off the tree next to him without having to get up. The rest of the time, he spent boisterously mocking Majji's occasional chest-beating displays, then running away when Majji inevitably advanced with malicious intent.

There was a docent loitering about, looking for someone to whom she could impart her knowledge, and we must have looked in need of information. Earlier, we had seen Majji pushing a stick through the fence to get a particular piece of food. The docent mentioned that food is deliberately placed outside the fence, M said, "What? Just to mess with them? That's so cool!" I smacked him and said, "It's called enrichment, honey." Just then a hoarde of school children invaded the deck, driving us away. The docent actually seemed relieved to be swarmed by urchins. Daft cow.

We went back to the indoor habitats and history was made. M and I have tried on two previous occasions to see bonobos. Once at the San Diego animal park, the guide casually remarked that you could see their troop off to the left, just before the tram accelerated to Mach I. We then learned that the troop was not visible from anywhere else in the park. A year later, we spent a few days in San Diego, mostly with the intention of hitting the zoo and seeing the bonobos. Annoying point the first: That damned zoo is all about the fucking pandas. Stupid fake-thumbed, non-reproducing, lindy-hopping bastards. Enraging point the second: The bonobos were off exhibit because it was raining. I guess they think that rainforest is some kind of government code name.

This time, there were going to be serious casualties if I didn't get some hot bonobo-on-bonobo action viewing. Fortunately, the midwest is safe from my wrath. The exhibit looked empty at first, but it turned out that one was up in a "nest" above our sightline, and tucked away in a secluded alcove were a mother, her baby (probably a few months old) and a juvenile male. The mother seemed exhausted and was lying on her back, occasionally scooting the wandering babe closer. The baby was less interested in wandering than she was in sucking on the male's toe. When she seemed to get tired of that, the male started kissing her all over her head and face.

A bit later, the mother seemed to nod off, and the baby was trying to climb over the tree root separating her from the glass in between us. The male seemed to think it was his responsibility to keep the baby in check until he realized that he was missing out on a golden opportunity to, well, be a bonobo. Accordingly, he shoved the mother's thighs into a sitting position and started kissing her labia and alternately using his finger to probe her vagina. She never woke up. I guess he needs more practice.

After a while the mother took off with the baby for higher points. The male sat forlornly in the window, occasionally kissing people through the glass. The male who had been asleep up in the nest came down looking for all the world like he was in the worst phases of a tequila hangover. He looked at the crowd by the window, turned his back on us, and bent over a ledge. I happen to know that there was a spigot there with a trickle of water, but to those not viewing from my vantage point, it surely looked as if he was worshipping the porcelain god.

They really have a great array of primates in general at Milwaukee. There are several species of new and old world monkeys in the (poorly named) ape house, as well as orangutans and siamang in nicely sized habitats. I thought that they didn't have any prosimians, but it turned out that they were over in the small mammal house with the shunned marmosets and owl monkeys. The marmoset couple had a teensy baby riding on the mother's back. The father seemed to take objection to our gawking though. Anytime she moved so that the baby was visible, he would step in front of her. We foiled him with a diabolical plan, though. It seems that the male was complete fascinated by M's hat. So Mike would hold his hat way out to the side, and the male would charge it, then realize that the baby was exposed and rush back up to it. I wish I had known that there were primates in that house, because it was one of the last places we visited and we got very little time for true bush baby appreciation.

In addition to lack of knowledge of saucy primate action in the small mammal house, our time was cut somewhat short by an unfortunate incident with the zoo's moose. As it happens, the moose and mule deer are in a large, shared enclosure just opposite the very large, man-made lake on the zoo's property. Having lived by the lake for many years, you'd think that I'd have remembered that the landscape around them is prone to sudden gusts of wind. Alas, that knowledge lost the battle for brain space to the lyrics to Soft Cell's "Tainted Love."

So, there was a sudden gust of wind and M's hat (which is some ultra-famed tough hat that can withstand the intestinal tract of an elephant) went sailing off his head and into the enclosure, in spite of the fact that he'd had both the chin and back straps secured. I turned to him in distress and, naturally, another gust took MY hat off and into the enclosure. The zookeepers who eventually came to retrieve them (we were more worried that an animal would hurt itself eating them than getting the hats back) them looked us up and down and said, "You BOTH lost your hats? You ARE a couple, I guess."

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