Volume 25, Number 3

Brian’s Unemployment Monkey

A. W. DeAnnuntis

Brian had been laid off before, and although the occurrence still startled and annoyed him, he knew the drill: the call into the HR office, ostensibly for a brief meeting, to find papers already drawn up and spread on the desk waiting for his signature. He leaned forward, putting his name to something he wasn’t expected to read, as the HR expert brought in for just this task explained to him that his layoff was necessary for the continued survival of the company and did not reflect on Brian’s performance. After a worrisome pause she added that, yes, his application for unemployment benefits would not be challenged. Recognizing his relief, she smiled and wished Brian the very best of luck with his future and announced that she would accompany him back to his desk to collect whatever had personal significance to Brian that had not been paid for by the company. And because Brian had always been wily about jobs, he had never left anything personal at his desk, so happily this step in an otherwise-humiliating process took no time at all. From there she escorted him to the elevator, where she again offered best-of-luck and then reminded him not to forget his monkey. Yes, Brian had been here before, and expected eventually to be here again. But what puzzled him was the monkey.

At the elevator the HR expert explained that his monkey didn't have a name and Brian’s first task was to give one to it to personalize it and thereby encourage its enthusiasm and loyalty. The monkey, she further explained, had been trained and educated at a prestigious university especially to assist those, like Brian, involved in a job search. This monkey, she assured Brian, would quickly peruse the internet every day in search of employment opportunities which fit Brian’s employment profile and then submit an application for him. All of this assistance would free him to pursue those networking opportunities he was assured were necessary for a successful job search. Thus, all that Brian needed was to have his updated résumé and cover letter copied to a folder on his computer’s desktop, because, after that, even a monkey could complete his job application. Once his monkey had become comfortable behind Brian’s computer, Brian simply needed to keep an eye on his e-mail and a freshly dry-cleaned suit in the closet, because a blizzard of job offers undoubtedly would soon pour in.

The monkey presented to Brian at his employers’ elevator was attached to a leash linked to a collar, which the monkey appeared to resent. Two-and-a-half feet tall with mostly dark fur but with tan fur on his chest, the monkey looked up with large and glistening eyes, turning from one to the other as Brian and the HR expert spoke. When Brian finally looked down in acknowledgement of his new and furry companion, the monkey returned his look with a wide, large-toothed grin, as if he was as dubious of all this as Brian but otherwise hoped the two of them would become friends.

Brian suspected the monkey’s was an expression that mixed pity with contempt. Upon being first introduced, Brian had been inclined to speak to the monkey, perhaps say hello or introduce himself or simply ask how this monkey was doing. Instead, Brian gently tugged on the leash. This small gesture triggered a snarl from the monkey, and Brian made a mental note to refrain from repeating it in the future.

Descending together, man and monkey, within the elevator, Brian fumed. After all, he had found jobs before over the years and had never needed the help of a monkey. So he wondered if this gift was some critical comment; was he being told he had become too old, or that he was not sufficiently current on the latest technology, that he hadn’t kept sufficiently up? But even worse, since this monkey had been given to him without charge, was he being told this was it, and he’d never find another job without it? This monkey’s presence with its suggestion of Brian’s incompetence annoyed him into a grumbling resentment all the way down to the ground floor.

At the curb in front of the office of his most recent employer, on this his first afternoon of being unemployed, Brian hailed a taxi cab. When it pulled to the curb, his monkey nonchalantly climbed in and sat quite still on the back seat of the cab beside Brian. Relieved by this suggestion of civility, Brian took the opportunity to review the papers he had been handed. They arrived at his apartment without incident. Brian opened the front door of his apartment, wondering how all of this was likely to turn out. But this question disappeared when the monkey unhooked his collar from the leash and dashed into Brian’s bathroom. And he was ecstatic when the monkey closed the bathroom door behind him. Then and there he decided to call this monkey Albert, because clearly this was some kind of monkey Einstein.

Brian's separation documents included three full pages specifically regarding the monkey he had named Albert, including a list of those foods Albert preferred. He was reassured that every food listed could be purchased at his local grocery store. But the document also informed him that Albert would only work for Brian for eight hours each day and only Monday through Friday. Outside these hours Brian was encouraged to provide his monkey with some entertainment. Brian found this instruction vaguely startling. After all, he had no idea what would entertain a monkey, except another monkey. Finally, the document informed Brian that Albert would assist his job search until Brian accepted an offer of employment.

When Albert emerged from the bathroom he scampered around Brian's apartment until he spotted Brian's desktop computer. Brian decided that Albert was an especially brilliant monkey because, unlike some of the humans Brian knew, he was instantly able to figure out how to turn on his computer. Albert watched the computer boot up, and when the desktop appeared on the screen he used the mouse to search for Brian’s documents. It occurred to Brian that the monkey was trying to find copies of his résumé and cover letter. But when he gestured to take over the mouse, Albert began to screech, seemingly incensed by this insult to his monkey intelligence. Confident that Albert would eventually turn and appeal for his help, Brian backed away. But he was astonished when Albert not only found his application documents, but then, using the mouse and keyboard, he created a new folder on the desktop, labeled that folder "Employment" and then copied those documents within. Brian was not surprised that Albert was a slow typist, but he was impressed that Albert’s typing was grammatically accurate.

Brian now found himself perplexed by what seemed to him to be an ambiguous relationship. On the one hand, theirs was a formal relationship in that there were responsibilities each was expected to fulfill. But their co-habitation as described in the documents seemed to imply a casual partnership of sorts. Brian wondered how they would navigate that terrain, especially as one member of this partnership was inarticulate. He considered augmenting the list of rules with a few of his own design and he was even prepared to discuss them with Albert in the hope that the monkey would willingly participate.

Once Albert had the computer to himself he opened the internet browser and, using the keyboard and mouse, located eight websites offering employment opportunities. Brian was baffled by how the creature managed all of this, and he speculated that Albert had somehow learned to recognize English-language words. But Brian was stunned when Albert negotiated all the steps needed to post his résumé on each of those websites. Although this seemed absurdly unlikely, Albert then surveyed each of those websites for opportunities appropriate to Brian’s resume. Despite his incredulity, Brian began to suspect that Albert might actually succeed in finding him a job.

All of this effort to find a new job for him pleased Brian, yet he remained uncomfortable. This creature clearly possessed skills close to Brian’s, and he could not imagine how Albert managed this. He had always carried out his own job searches, and his employment history documented a consistent though middling success. So, impressed as Brian was by Albert’s tricks, he wondered again, and more deeply, why those above him were certain he needed a monkey’s assistance. He studied Albert from behind the monitor as the monkey stared intently while moving the mouse and then clicking. Albert did all of this with a level of concentration Brian conceded he would have found difficult to surpass. In the end, Albert appeared to have Brian’s job search under control, so Brian decided he might as well watch some TV.

Brian switched to a TV program he found sufficiently distracting and watched for some minutes although his mind was elsewhere, drifting around the job he had just lost and jobs he’d had in the past and how they had been found and how they had been lost. So it took some time for him to realize that Albert had been staring at the monitor and yet was remarkably quiet.

Silently Brian stood and stepped away from the TV, and then from over Albert's shoulder he glanced at the monitor. To Brian’s astonishment he saw images on the screen of humans engaging in sex. Albert’s monkey-sense somehow alerted him to Brian’s presence, because with a sudden movement of the mouse Albert returned the screen to Brian’s job search. He turned and looked up then to face Brian with a toothy embarrassed grin, as if to promise this would not happen again.

Baffled, but determined to avoid a conflict with his monkey, Brian returned to his chair and the TV but he could not quiet his own astonishment. While his TV program played, Brian sorted through what he had just seen. He was astonished it was even possible that a monkey could find photographs of humans engaging in sex exciting. It seemed intuitively true that Albert would find photos of monkeys engaging in sex far more fascinating than any such photos involving humans. What could there be about photos of humans that might excite a monkey? Brian considered the question for some time before deciding to check the computer and see exactly which photos Albert found most interesting.

Cautiously approaching the monitor, Brian was again astonished to see from over the monkey’s shoulder more images similar to the ones Albert had opened before. But Albert must have anticipated Brian’s appearance this time because the images disappeared in a flash, replaced by links to job opportunities. Albert again turned to Brian grinning, as if to insist he was doing his job. His grin seemed sincere, as if Albert hoped to appeal to Brian’s sympathy and solidarity; as if to say that, after all, we’re all only monkeys, and monkeys is all we’ll ever be. But Brian’s confusion deepened. Unable to disentangle these variously knotted veils of perplexity obscuring his understanding, Brian concluded that his was simply an exceptionally clever monkey whom he was unlikely to fool, so he returned to his TV and waited until Albert left his chair to pay another visit to the bathroom.

Brian listened until he heard the bathroom door close, and then he stood and moved to the computer. The monkey had left the internet browser open, and Brian opened the browser’s history. To his astonishment he discovered that Albert had somehow managed to erase that entire history. He tried those few tricks he knew attempting to recover that history when he heard the toilet flush and the bathroom door open. He returned to the screen Albert had left open, but seeing Brian at the computer, Albert began to screech as though annoyed simply to find him there at all. Brian considered lying to Albert about what he'd been doing, but Albert seemed unlikely to listen to anything he said until Brian stood and returned control of the computer to him. Silently furious, Brian returned to his couch and the TV—but now far more annoyed than intrigued.

Staring at the TV screen, Brian wondered if this was simply the opening salvo in a battle over control of his computer. Then he recalled that according to the documents, Albert would only engage in his job search until 5 PM. Brian assumed that, afterward, the computer would be returned to his control, so he decided to wait until then and avoid a battle with a monkey.

Time passed as Brian sat before his TV, distracted, annoyed and brooding. Briefly, he even dozed, but eventually 5 PM arrived. He stood from his chair, relieved, as if some sort of vigil was finally over, and addressed Albert to the effect that it was quitting time and that he wanted to use the computer for his own purposes. But instead of conceding the computer to Brian, Albert stood on the chair and began screeching and jumping up and down as if to insist the computer remain in his control. Albert bared huge incisors in fury when Brian reached for the mouse. When he flinched and backed away, Albert then opened screen after screen of images of humans engaged in sex as if defiant of whatever Brian wanted. Brian became angry and demanded that Albert allow him to use his own computer. When he again gestured toward the mouse, Albert screeched furiously and tried to bite Brian’s wrist. Only Brian’s marginal agility kept the monkey from succeeding.

Frustrated, Brian took the paper stating the terms of Albert's employment and pointed out to the monkey that after 5 PM he was off the clock and so Brian could resume using the computer. But snarling in response to what Brian said, Albert snatched the paper from his hands and stabbed with a crooked finger at that paragraph on the sheet before returning it to Brian’s grasp. Brian scrutinized the paragraph Albert had pointed to and discovered that it outlined Albert’s off-time activities and included the phrase, "whatever he wants."

Brian now recognized himself as trapped. Until he accepted an offer of employment, Albert would retain control of this computer. Suddenly and despite all that he understood, he found himself wondering if he was capable of outsmarting an extremely smart monkey. After further reflection he began seriously to worry.

He needed to find a job quickly because this monkey would fight him over use of the computer until then, and that prospect left Brian furious but also vaguely terrified. But it occurred to him that this might be part of Albert’s training; the monkey’s annoying and aggressive behavior was calculated to hurry Brian in his job search. This seemed redundant, of course, since being forced to share his life as well as his computer with a monkey seemed more than sufficient compulsion. Albert’s computer search for those explicit photos felt almost gratuitous to Brian, as if it might even have been outside the monkey’s training. But then it occurred to Brian that he was being told that he must take any job that was available and would accept him, regardless of wage or experience. So Brian now wondered if he had been labeled a troublemaker or, worse, some sort of slacker? Was he now regarded as a hopeless job-hopper; had his range of skills and years of experience become a valueless burden and even a disability, as if the more he had learned and had experienced, the less useful he had made himself? Did all that he knew now make it unlikely he would find useful work because he had reduced his value to his community?

Brian suddenly noticed that Albert had been making quiet yet high-pitched sounds, and Brian stood. When he reached the computer he saw with a nauseating awkwardness that Albert was enthusiastically masturbating. Albert looked up at Brian grinning without embarrassment and did not even slow down. Brian realized at that moment that some limit had been reached and then exceeded. Once again he brought out his discharge papers to see if anything there referred to Albert’s intimate behavior. He found nothing specific to what Brian had witnessed but he was reminded that he needed to provide Albert with some sort of bed, although the papers were specific that the bed did not need to be more than a pillow and blanket. Conceding to the inevitable although slightly nauseous, from his closet Brian brought out a pillow and blanket and tossed both onto the floor beside the computer. He wondered then about sleeping in the same apartment with a monkey. He decided to lock the door to his bedroom and hope for the best.

As Albert continued to make those sounds that Brian now refused to think about, he watched the TV, desperate for distraction. In this way Brian passed a remarkably distressing evening. But finally midnight approached, and Brian assumed his responsibilities for the day had reached an end. He turned off the TV and stood. Passing the computer he saw that Albert remained as busy as he had been earlier, and Brian gasped at the apparently limitless exuberance of Nature. Almost as a reflex he announced that he was going to bed and wished Albert goodnight. Albert did not even look up to watch Brian leave. Brian shook his head as he closed and locked the door to his bedroom, convinced he would have a lousy night’s sleep. The night proved he was not wrong.

Brian awoke early the following morning and emerged from his bedroom to find Albert already awake and at the computer. He glanced down at the blanket and pillows wondering if Albert had slept at all and what he had done if he hadn’t. As the instructions had explained, Brian brought pieces of fruit out of the refrigerator and placed them on the table beside Albert. The monkey devoured all of it quickly and left a pile of rinds and bits of partially eaten fruit whose size impressed Brian. This was another element of their co-habitation his document had not warned him about.

With breakfast disposed of, Brain saw that it was just past 9 AM, and, sure enough, Albert was already at the computer, engaged in Brian’s job search. To Brian’s surprise, Albert opened the e-mail browser and then opened an e-mail which offered Brian an interview for a position that Albert had submitted an application for. Albert jumped up and down gleefully on the computer chair as if proud of what he had accomplished. To Brian’s surprise, Albert then moved aside as if inviting him to print out the e-mail and then key in a response agreeing to the interview appointment. Brian read the job description and was dismayed to discover it was a shipping-clerk position paying less than half of what his previous position had paid. Brian’s interior debate began; if he accepted this job he would lose his unemployment benefits and reduce his chances for a better-paying and more interesting job. So even though he was ready to accept the offer of the interview, finally he concluded that he owed it to himself to keep looking, and he leaned over the keyboard. Albert watched the screen as Brian keyed in his request to cancel the interview. When these words appeared on the screen Albert began to screech and scream, and again he moved as if to attack Brian.

Brian explained to Albert what he planned to do and why, but Albert snatched up the sheets pertaining to his role in Brian’s job-search and waved them at Brian. When he looked closely he read the words “accept the first legitimate offer.” This dictate annoyed Brian more than anything else he found there. He looked at Albert a long moment before he decided he would not hold himself answerable to a monkey, and despite Albert’s attempt to interfere, Brian keyed in the interview cancellation and then hit Send. Albert studied Brian with an expression that blended fury with contempt. Brian attempted again to explain to the monkey what he had done and why, but Albert simply turned back to the computer screen and returned to those websites providing those photos he seemed to enjoy so much.

Brian debated with himself how best to proceed, but nothing became clear. For the moment he would ignore Albert’s internet habits and concentrate instead on making certain of his interview offers. Of course, until Albert was ready to allow Brian to use his computer that was a plan he needed to postpone. Then suddenly Brian noticed that his printer was operating. He stood and discovered in the printer’s tray a small stack of about a half-dozen job opportunities, which Albert had apparently applied to for Brian. When the printer stopped, Brian lifted the stack from the tray and flipped through skimming each job description. He was startled to discover at the bottom of the stack black & white copies of several of the types of images that Albert found so intriguing. Brian separated these from the job opportunities and waved them toward Albert, who grinned with embarrassment and snatched them from Brian’s hands.

Albert returned his attention to the computer screen while Brian looked more closely at the job descriptions. At first he was surprised that every one of them paid less than the job he’d just been deprived of. Something must be seriously wrong. He had never made much money, but he had always earned enough to cover his expenses. But these salaries were all disastrously low and being paid at these rates would force him to move far out of town. He conceded that losing one’s job created many financial problems, but accepting one of these low-paying jobs would be ruinous. It was time, Brian decided, that he and Albert had a long talk.

Brian was optimistic that, considering how thoroughly trained Albert was and how clearly superior the monkey was mentally, he would succeed in convincing Albert to modify his job-search and search only for jobs that paid about as much as his last job. But he found Albert staring so urgently at the images on the computer screen it took more than a moment to get his attention. With those pages of job descriptions in one hand, he pointed to each salary line and explained that if the number listed there was too small he could not accept the job. He studied Albert then, trying to determine if he had been understood.

Albert pawed through the sheets of paper and then turned to Brian, screeching and hopping up and down on his chair. Then he jumped down to the floor and scampered to where Brian kept his discharge papers. He returned to Brian clutching one of the sheets and waved it at Brian making whining sounds. When Brian finally read the sheet he located the words ‘whatever position is offered’. Albert then hoped back onto the chair and returned his attention to the computer screen and his photos.

Brian recognized his quandary. By accepting the first job offered he risked losing his apartment. He realized he could expect no help from Albert after all. He returned to his couch before the TV drifting slowly downward into despair.

Near mid-day he brought out more fruit from the refrigerator and put it out beside Albert. But instead of abandoning the computer to enjoy his lunch, Albert ate as he continued to use the computer. Brian’s despair bloomed and blossomed as he sank deeper.

Then late in the afternoon, Albert began to screech, drawing Brian to the computer. To Brian’s frustration, his e-mail displayed a message inviting him to another interview. When he reviewed its original job posting he discovered it also paid far less than his previous job. He was tempted again to cancel this interview, but recalling Albert’s previous reaction, he hesitated. As he thought about it, he concluded that he could accept the interview and mess it up in such a way that he would never be offered the job, and Albert would be no wiser. None of this made Brian feel better, but fooling this monkey offered a chance to hold onto his unemployment benefits and his apartment.

Brian recognized Albert’s approval as he keyed in his acceptance of this interview. He assumed that Albert would now return to his preferred website. But to his surprise Albert opened a screen to an online gambling site. Brian watched, mildly amused, as Albert engaged in one hand of Blackjack after the next, sometimes wagering large amounts of money, and nearly always losing. This continued for some time until Albert suddenly abandoned the computer and dashed to the bathroom.

With Albert now preoccupied, Brian decided to look into Albert’s wins and losses. As he feared, Albert was a compulsive card player and lost far more often than he won. Brian felt himself smile. Probing further, he opened the screen that displayed the information for Albert’s online gambling account. His amusement turned to horror when he discovered that Albert was gambling using Brian’s credit card. At that moment, Brian recognized that the light was now shining on him, and he could not step away.