The best gift ever…

It’s never easy to predict what will prove to be the most popular Christmas gift for any given holiday season.

Whoever would have imagined that Cabbage Patch Kids would be the hottest thing since refried beans con queso? Or that Tickle Me Elmo would capture the nation’s imagination in a way that the talking George Bush action figure never would?

Picking the gift that will pick the pockets of holiday shoppers from Barstow to Brattleboro has never been easy, but this year I’ve got a bona fide front-runner that can’t – and won’t – be ignored.

Say “Merry Christmas!” to the life-sized, electronic chimpanzee head.


In a retail world grown weary of radio-controlled Humvees and ho-hum Bratz dolls, the severed chimpanzee head is like a breath of fresh air at a Republican fundraiser.

Recently advertised by Wal-Mart, the life-sized chimp head is touted as “multi-sensored, highly communicative and fully interactive with four distinct moods…”

Four distinct moods? Hell, half the people I work with here in the newsroom don’t have four distinct moods.

And it comes with a remote, so you can interact with your remarkably lifelike chimp head from across the room.

Best of all, it’s only $139.97.

Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that, amigos.

Oh, sure, it might seem a little expensive at first glance, but remember what we’re talking about here – a life-sized, interactive chimpanzee head with four distinct moods.

And, if you buy in bulk, you can pretty much wrap up all your Christmas shopping with one triumphant march through the chimp department at Wal-Mart.

For example, if you have 10 people on your holiday gift list, you can get each of them a lovable chimp head this Christmas and take care of the whole bunch for less than $1,500.

Overall, not a bad deal.

After all, if you’re a typical resident of S’lano County, you probably spent more than that on gin and Vienna sausages last month.

Your friends and relatives may quickly forget the oversized candy canes and jingle bell socks you normally hand out at this time of year, but they’ll never forget opening up a colorfully wrapped Christmas present and discovering a lifelike severed chimp’s head inside.

(Really. I wouldn’t kid you on this.)

And life-sized chimp heads are so versatile. You might want to keep your own chimpanzee head on the living room mantel, on your desk at work or, perhaps, impressively riding shotgun in your Hyundai.

Having a jolly Christmas dinner with the family? Slyly bring your life-sized electronic chimpanzee head to the table on a covered platter, then lift the lid with a dramatic flourish.

You can bet you’ll be the envy of the celebration.

Remember to shop early, amigos – these chimp champs are sure to sell faster than you can say bonobo.

Originally published December 3, 2006

Dead men and bonobos: a winning combination

If you purchase only one supermarket paperback global conspiracy murder mystery this spring, make sure it’s Sparkle Hayter’s “The Last Manly Man.”

Packed with action, romance, senseless violence and plenty of chimps, “The Last Manly Man” (2002, Penguin Books, New York, N.Y., $5.99, 260 pages) is a unique exercise in 21st century urban media adventure.

The story begins simply enough with the death of Robin Jean Hudson, an angst-ridden reporter for New York’s less-than-stellar All News Network.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), our heroine isn’t really deceased. Reports of her death have been greatly exaggerated. So have reports of the death of one Robert Huddon, a deputy secretary of state whose obituary tape has been mistakenly broadcast by the network in place of Robin’s prerecorded death notice.

(You’re following all of this, right?)

As readers may have guessed by now, Robin is having one of those lives, and her death is just the tip of the iceberg.

Before she failed to die, Robin was working on a vodka-fueled special report about “The Man of the Future.” She was hoping to put together a series dealing with how far the male has come over the eons, how he might evolve in the future and, most importantly, what it is that makes a man a man.

The project sounds straightforward enough, but it doesn’t take long for things to get complicated, starting with an elderly man in a brown suit who gives Robin his hat and an address moments before he’s swept away by a couple of mystery men in a limousine.

When Robin tries to return the old gent’s hat, her life slowly begins to unravel.

The address leads her to an animal rights organization that’s looking into the bizarre kidnapping of a dozen bonobo chimps. From there, it’s a short trip to a dead, nine-fingered French biochemist, a pistol-packing, blue-haired octogenarian vigilante and an eccentric millionaire whose house talks to him.

Romantic interests include Mike, an Irish cameraman whose personality fluctuates between sweet, sensitive poet and dark, brooding dog killer; and Gus, a guy who insists that he once had a pet salmon named Harry whom he used to take for long walks in a bucket.

To complicate matters, Robin seems to have a double named Miss Trix, who’s just gotten out of jail for selling bad heroin and using deaf-mute orphans from Guatemala to help with marketing.

Meanwhile, Robin’s also being pursued by a gang of thugs who keep asking her what she’s done with “Atom” or “Adam,” depending on which mealy-mouthed thug is asking.

I could tie this all up for you in one neat little package, but that would ruin all the fun of connecting the dots yourself and discovering what bonobo chimps, dead Frenchmen, Mr. Chicken, Miss Trix and Morton Mopwash have to do with a sexist plot to subvert an entire gender.

Is “The Last Manly Man” worth a trip to your favorite supermarket’s paperback aisle?



Originally published March 17, 2002