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posted by [personal profile] gashin at 11:07pm on 24/12/2008
Actually I was reading tonight from A Primate's Memoir, which my friend Eric lent me. It's a very good book, and this particular passage had me laughing out loud the entire time (rare, for... well, anything; we all know I don't laugh), so I thought I'd share. The broad lines of the context are these: a young Sapolsky has always wanted to be a primatologist, and as a graduate student goes out into the bush of Kenya to study baboons in order to determine some things about stress-initiated illness. Turns out he's spent over half his life there by now, but the book starts back then and is written as a very funny and charming memoir and, despite serious neuroscientist chops behind his banter, Sapolsky paces the whole thing very well. The following is him describing the highly special Thomas (an excellent chef) that a neighbouring researcher, nicknamed Laurence of the Hyenas, hired to do all the cooking in camp-- a man described as such: "short, squat, cackly, filthy, wheezy, bristly, leering, unapologetically soused all the time". Keep that description in mind for what follows.

Whenever he had spare time, Thomas would roar up and down the river, drunkenly carrying on. This was where two of his truly unique traits shone. In a drunken reel, Thomas would sit down by a narrow side-trickle of the river, a streamlet a few feet wide and barely inches deep, and begin to fish. And he would instantly pull out fish by the score, big meaty honkers that had appeared out of nowhere, as if Thomas was not only the secret god of grapes, but of fish spawning as well. Unfortunately, few would ever get to see these fish because of Thomas's other miraculous trait, which was to attract buffalo. Over the years, Thomas had been charged, chased, thrown, gored, catapulted, and stomped by endless buffalo. He would start home, cackling and wheezing and singing, bent under the weight of the fish, pausing to polish off the bottle, and like clockwork, like the flow and ebb of the seasons, a buffalo would inevitably leap out of the bush to get him. Buffalo would scamper in from miles away to nail Thomas, toss him over their shoulders, and send his fish sailing into mudholes, thorn bushes, high into trees. His attraction for buffalo was a miracle. Game Department officials, if concerned about the diminishing wildlife, could repopulate entire lifeless provinces with surly buffalo merely by driving through with the singing, snarfling Thomas tied to the front of the Jeep, like some hood ornament out of Hogarth. Put Thomas in a gardening section of a Sears in Winetka, Illinois, and I guarantee that within minutes an African cape buffalo would leap out from behind the snowplows to toss him into the ventilation ducts. Endlessly, we would go out searching for Thomas, only to find him cursing and spitting and cackling at some buffalo, threatening it with his trademark, an astounding pelvic grind, as the monster approached. Most amazing of all, he was only partially crippled by his numerous buffalo encounters, his femur shattered once and incorrectly set.
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