Tuesday, June 17, 2008


It had to happen sooner or later. It was only a matter of time. Unfortunately, poor old Marvin was the hapless victim. People looked up in the sky, shook their fists and shouted, “Why Marvin? He never hurt a fly!” There was no answer. And there never would be.

Marvin Gardner was a 64-year-old banker, who always wore a gray felt fedora, even though they had been out of style for thirty years. In fact, his entire wardrobe was acquired from a second-hand store that sold “authentic” clothing from the 1950s.

As was his custom, he arrived at DaVinci’s Deli on 63rd Street in Chicago promptly at 1 p.m. He’d eaten lunch at DaVinci’s every day for the past 24 years and he always ordered the same thing: corned beef on pumpernickel and a cup of black coffee. He sat in his favorite spot at a table near the window where he liked to watch people pass by. Rich ladies in their mink coats. Winos begging for coins. Punks with purple hair and safety pins in their noses.

But that afternoon something unusual happened. Something totally unexpected. Something that parents would tell their children about for generations to come. Something unprecedented since the dawn of time.

On November 16, 1984, at 1:13 p.m at DaVinci’s Deli, while eating his corned beef on pumpernickel, Marvin Gardner transformed into an ape.

Thick, coarse hair started to grow on his hands and face. He began to slouch and his visage favored King Kong’s younger brother. His first clue that something was amiss was the looks on the faces of the other patrons in the deli. Looks of fear and confusion. Looks of surprise and dread. Marvin tapped the shoulder of a woman who was seated at the next table to inquire what was wrong. She looked at Marvin and ran shrieking from the deli.

At that signal, everyone screamed and dashed out the door as fast as they could, occasionally looking back at Marvin in utmost terror.

Marvin suspected that he was the cause of the chaos. As he reached up to adjust his glasses, he noticed his hairy hands. Panic-stricken, he charged into the men’s room to investigate. Staring wide-eyed into the mirror, he discovered to his horror that he, indeed, had become an ape.

He took off his clothes and examined his body. He was ape all over. It took a while for Marvin to recover from the shock. How did this happen? What could it mean? How would he function day to day? What would his friends and family think? Should he go to a hospital? What kind of warped disease was this? Was it even a disease? Who ever heard of a man turning into an ape? Would he gain celebrity status and become rich and famous? But what good is money and fame if you’re an ape? And what about his sex life?

Marvin was going through a terrible time thinking about his future as a primate. They could send him to a zoo. Perform experiments on him. Quarantine him for fear that he might contaminate others. They could even kill him.

These thoughts raced through Marvin’s mind, rendering him incapable of action. Every few minutes DaVinci, the deli owner, would peek into the men’s room to get a look at Marvin, and then quickly shut the door when Marvin made eye contact. Marvin grew more and more uneasy. He knew he couldn’t spend the rest of his life in the men’s room at DaVinci’s Deli. But he was afraid to leave. He feared the humiliation of exposing himself to the public. The leering glances. The questioning eyes.

When he finally summoned the courage to open the door and walk out, he saw that the deli was empty. But not for long. The cops stormed the deli and soon reporters arrived with their cameras and microphones. Outside, crowds of people pushed and shoved to get a better look at Marvin … a 224-pound gorilla in a sixty-dollar suit.

So it was that man became ape. The significance of this phenomenon was unsurpassed in human history. Marvin was soon caught up in a frenzied media blitz. His face was plastered on the cover of newspapers and magazines. He was featured on “Sixty Minutes,” and even made a guest appearance on “Cheers.” Writers bombarded him with offers to publish his story. He was probed and analyzed under the cynical eyes of doctors and scientists. There was no explanation. The greatest minds in the world could not comprehend how a man could metamorphose into an ape. Marvin was an enigma.

Immediately after the event, authorities closed down DaVinci’s Deli. It was thought that the food caused this freakish transformation and DaVinci was losing money. But savvy businessman that he was, he turned the deli into a tourist attraction and grew rich. Everyone wanted to see the place where Marvin Gardner went ape.

Marvin longed for the good old days when he could walk down the street unnoticed. How he wished he could sit at his favorite table at DaVinci’s and eat his corned beef on pumpernickel. But it was not to be. Marvin was an ape and there was nothing he could do about it.

Marvin’s metamorphosis caused a dramatic change in his way of life. He used to read the newspaper in the morning while sipping his coffee; now he just wanted to swing from the branches of the sycamore in the front yard. He used to listen to Bach and Mozart on his stereo; now he could amuse himself for hours playing with a jack-in-the-box.

Marvin’s future was uncertain. Scientists wanted to keep him in their laboratories for observation. Hollywood offered him a movie deal. Barnum & Bailey insisted he become their main attraction. None of these options appealed to Marvin. He needed solitude and a place where he could reflect on his predicament. When animal rights activists suggested that he be sent to a pristine rainforest where he could live out the rest of his years in his natural habitat, Marvin agreed wholeheartedly. He was on a plane to Brazil before he could say “monkey’s uncle.”

Months passed. Marvin enjoyed the jungle. Squawking parrots in their colorful plumage. Lazy anacondas basking in the sun. Stealthy jaguars prowling the forest. He liked sitting in a high branch of his favorite tree where he could watch the action while he ate a banana.

And to Marvin’s delight, his banana always tasted like corned beef on pumpernickel.

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