"And so Tarzan ranged again with the great apes.
And as he loafed lazily through the forest with the
shaggy brutes he thought of his foster mother, Kala,
the great she-ape, the only mother he had ever known;
he recalled with a thrill of pride her savage defense
of him against all their natural enemies of the jungle
and against the hate and jealousy of old Tublat, her
mate, and against the enmity of Kerchak, the terrible
old king ape."
¾-Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle-¾
INTERVIEW WITH THE VINE SWINGER
The brusque, efficient sure-handed reporter moved quickly. She approached the rusty, wrought iron gate that creaked as she pushed it open. She walked up the winding, weed-encroached pathway to the run-down cottage on the outskirts of London. Tall trees loomed on either side, with drooping branches that nearly touched the ground. Dead leaves covered the unkempt grass. She knocked on the weather-beaten door. Inside there was a scraping noise that sounded like furniture moving across a wooden surface. She could hear shuffling, uneven footsteps approaching. The door cracked open about six inches. There, stooped and ancient, stood the pathetic skeleton of what might have been a once robust human being. The eyes that peered out from beetled brows, however, were sharp and clear.
"Are you the guy from the paper?" he asked in a thin, quavering voice.
"I'm from the paper but I'm not a guy," the reporter replied, shaking her head and tossing the short dark hair. She handed the old man a card. "Mary Dow from the Sun, she said. You rang the paper and asked to be interviewed?"
"I want to tell my story before it's too late." The old man turned with tiny, faltering steps. "I thought you might pop in later, but now you're here, come in and sit."
She entered the dimly lit cottage and he gestured to a straight-backed wooden chair that creaked and moaned as she gingerly sat down. There was small table cluttered with papers and what looked to be old, stained documents, crumpled paper napkins, dirty silverware and assorted tin plates and odd dishes. Over the table a bare light bulb hung from a wire woven through a rusty chain secured by a hook in the ceiling. It cast a feeble glow over the room. The windows in the room were glazed with grime that filtered the fading light of dusk. Wilted plants grew from metal buckets standing against the wall. Two ceramic lions covered with a thick coating of dust stared fiercely down at Mary Dow from their shelf above the window. She felt a cold chill move up her spine.
"And you say your name is...?" She looked at him and raised her brows.
"Tarzan," he replied, "of the Apes."
She stared at him directly for a moment and then asked in a calm, even voice, "What proof do you have to make such a statement?"
"Proof! proof!" He stood up trembling and grasped the table. "You see me standing here, don't you? The corpus delecti. If you want more proof than that, just ask questions. Anything you want. I got all the proof right here." He tapped his temple with a long boney finger.
"Who named you ‘Tarzan' and what does it mean?" she asked.
"My ape mother, Kala, named me." The old man stamped his foot and threw his arms in the air. "It means the `bleached one' or ‘the albino’ or ‘pinky’, what inhell do you think it means? It means WHITE SKIN, dammit!"
"Yes, yes, Mr. Tarzan,” the reporter said, holding out her hands to soothe the old man. "What about your biography by Edgar Rice Burroughs? He wrote about you quite extensively the first part of this century. Isn't it accurate?"
The old man's face reddened and the reporter was concerned that he might be having a fit of apoplexy. After a stream of almost incoherent curses and coughing he calmed down enough to say, "Half-truths, lies and distortions. That guy would say anything to make money."
"You mean you weren't actually raised by a band of Great Apes?"
"No, no! See what I mean? By all objective standards some could have been called good apes, some could have been called mediocre apes, but great apes? Such exaggeration! Such hyperbole! Such bullshit!"
"Well, Mister Tarzan, if it’s all right with you, can I ask in what year were you born?"
"As close as I could determine it was sometime in the late nineties or thereabouts. That idiot Burroughs had me born in 1888 but that would make me a hundred and ten years old for crisakes."
"But your own calculations make you one hundred!"
"I had a good diet, sister. Out in the jungle you get lots of bulk. That place's not big on processed food."
"What do you mean by bulk?"
"Roughage, you dummy! Leaves and roots and bark and anything else I could get my teeth into."
"How much would you eat at any one time?"
"I killed a springbok once--caught him at the watering hole. Ate him. That was really bulk!" Tarzan patted his stomach, looked at the reporter with a sly grin and burped.
"This may seem like an indelicate question, but growing up as an ape, and being without civilized amenities, what did you use for toilet paper?"
"All I can say about that," Tarzan looked pensive, "is that you damn well develop at an early age the ability to recognize poison ivy."
"Let's move on," she said, rolling her eyes. "What are your first childhood memories?"
"Being picked on and teased for no reason." Tarzan bowed his head and spoke softly, "The other little apes would leap up, grab a branch and swing into the trees. I tried and tried but I just couldn't do it. Then they would point at me and laugh and jump up and down wildly...grimace and screech, `Keeeecha-quarrm-chaakaÿ Keeeecha-quarrm-chaaka.'"
"What did that mean?"
"Loosely translated it means ‘stupid, hairless, white monkey can't jump’."
"What did you do then?"
"I would go off to brood and feel sorry for myself. Later I started to explore farther and farther from home until finally I found the cabin of my biological parents, where I was born."
"So Burroughs got something right after all?"
"Well, he said, I taught myself to read when I was ten. Actually I was about eleven and a half."
The reporter looked at her notes and said, "Jumping ahead a little, when exactly did you meet Jane?"
"I was about eighteen at that time."
"What was the extent of your sexual experience up to that point?"
Tarzan averted his eyes and said softly, "Oh, just the usual I guess. I had the urges of a normal teenager."
"That bad, huh?"
Tarzan looked up startled, "Who in hell is supposed to be the straight man here?" he demanded.
"I'm sorry," she said, "Let's continue, There is some dispute over whether Jane was attracted to you mainly for your intellectual capabilities or your physical prowess. Which do you consider to be your primary asset in your ability to fascinate Jane or any woman for that matter?”
"I don't quite understand the question." Tarzan pursed his lips and scrunched up his eyes.
"There has been a rumor, and this was not written about by Burroughs, that the main reason the ladies were drawn to you wasn't your brains, but rather, your physical endowment in the manlihood department."
Tarzan smiled coyly, "As the final word on that, let's just say that the stoutest vine hanging in the jungle was not swinging from the highest tree."
"Changing the subject," the reporter continued, "when you came to England after living in the jungle all those years, what was the greatest adjustment you had to make to live in British aristocratic society?"
The old man looked at her intently for a moment. "Growing up in Africa and being raised by apes, I had to contend with famine, pestilence, anthrax poisoning, botulism and avoid being murdered by my stepfather. Then there were the tricks and practical jokes played on me by Cheeta together with trying to avoid being stepped on by Tantor or eaten by Numa, the lion.
"But did these things happen every day?"
"Usually before breakfast," Tarzan replied.
"So there was a lot of adapting to life in civilized society?" she persisted.
"I think the hardest thing I had to learn was the correct and proper way to extend my little finger when drinking tea at one of those tedious candlelight suppers."
Hoping to startle him, and catch him off guard, the reporter changed style and screamed out the next question, "Are you really THE ONE AND ONLY ORIGINAL TARZAN?"
"Silly Cow!" he shouted back. "Who are you to doubt my veracity?" With a fierce look of unrestrained zeal in his eyes, the old man rose, joints creaking, ancient sinews popping and laboriously climbed onto his chair. He turned slowly and suddenly threw himself toward the center of the table. Reaching upward, he grasped the hanging light wire and chain just above the bulb. With a mighty effort he hauled himself upward. The lower portion of his legs and feet sweeping across the table scattered pans and dishes and papers around the room, creating a clattering chaos.
As he swung, from his lips came the blood piercing jungle cry, "AAAAAAIIIIIIIEEEEEOO OOOOOOWWWWWWWW!"
As Mary Dow was able to authenticate from news accounts published by her own newspaper, and confirmed later by other sources, everything within a radius of ten miles came to a sudden stop. Sirens went off. Traffic halted. Car alarms blared. Dogs rolled whimpering onto their backs with legs pawing the air. Chickens setting on nests waiting for their brood to emerge, bounced up and down and blinked their eyes in fear as their eggs exploded like popcorn.
The reporter was herself affected violently. She was thrown out of her shoes, across the room and came to rest sitting slumped on the floor with her back against the wall between two potted and trembling pigmy palms. Sweat poured from her forehead, ran, down her cheeks and dripped off her chin. Her pantyhose split at the crotch and rolled up and down her legs like broken window blinds. Her red toenail polish turned green and then seemed to evaporate and disappear into thin air. (Making it thicker, of course)
The old man, still clutching the light fixture in his scrawny hands, swung slowly back and forth as a pendulum does--the arcs becoming shorter and shorter until he came to rest, like a plumb bob, over the center of the table.
Shaken and bedraggled, the reporter rose unsteadily to her feet and staggered forward almost bumping into a ghostlike old woman who materialized unexpectedly through a backroom doorway.
"Tarzan! Tarzan! Did you call?" the apparition croaked. A heavy woolen shawl in spite of the warm weather covered the old woman's head. On her feet were high-topped leather boots with the laces untied and dangling. She was wrapped in an ancient tattered bathrobe with the letter "J" prominently displayed on the front.
The reporter's eyes opened wide as she stared at the robe and stammered, "Then-then you must be J-J-?"
The old woman looked at the reporter for the first time and slowly shook her head, "No, not really, my name is JOAN, Joan Squeezebottom. I'm Tarzan's girlfriend. He picked me so he wouldn't have to change the monograms on the linen. Now let's see, where were we? Oh yes, Tarzan called. The only time he calls any more is if there is some emergency, like a seizure or heart attack."
She approached the table where Tarzan lay crumpled and motionless, pried open his mouth with a soup ladle that was lying on the table, seized his tongue with her fingers, reached into her pocket with the other hand, took out a pill box and handed it to the reporter.
"Take a couple of those pills and put them under his tongue, he'll be all right in a few minutes." she said.
The reporter put the tablets under the tongue and they waited. Nothing happened. "He's not breathing, I think he's gone!" she said.
"Tarzan! Tarzan!" sobbed Joan, looking upward with outstretched hands, tears streaming down her face, "O eloquent, just and mighty Death! whom none could advise, thou hast persuaded; what none hath dared, thou hast done; and whom all the world hath flattered, thou only hast cast out of the world and despised: thou hast drawn together all the farstretched greatness, all the pride, cruelty, and ambition of man, and covered it all over with these two narrow words, `Hic jacet'."
"What a beautiful tribute you have given him!" said the reporter.
"Sir Walter Raleigh," stated Joan. "A History of the World, book five, chapter six."
"I am so sorry to see him go," said the reporter, "he was a myth, a monster, a legend, a way of life."
"I'll miss him," said Joan, "but the house is in my name."
"This is one interview I'll always remember," said the reporter. "It has changed my life."
"I'm sure if Tarzan were still with us he could say the same thing," said Joan. "When you write about this, let it be known, in his last performance, Tarzan of the Apes, gave his all!"