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I’m pretty sure this is a record. I’m confident this is the first time in history that anyone has written two columns in a month about pimping. At least anyone whose circulation was not measured in inmates. Two weeks ago, I remarked upon what a good year 2004 was for pimps — that it was a year in which they seemed to have broken through into the mainstream. I discussed one case indicating that “pimp” is no longer clearly an odious epithet and another indicating it might have somehow been transmogrified into an honorific. Now I find a case indicating pimping has crossed species lines. My editors’ pleasure that I’ve met my deadline is somewhat tempered by the disturbing theme that seems to be running through my work of late. But I couldn’t really help it. This required less research than most of the cases I try to track down. This one leaped out at me from the pages of my morning newspaper. The story has a San Francisco dateline and the headline says, “Suit: Women fired for not flashing gorilla.” You can see how that might cause one to put down his spoonful of flattened corn products and gape. You can also see how it might cause him to leap from the table, pumping his fist and cheering, exulting that such a lawsuit had been filed in a jurisdiction far removed from his own. Safe from any possibility that he might be assigned the case, one could read beyond the headline and try to figure out what the words “Women fired for not flashing gorilla” could possibly mean, since they clearly could not mean what they seemed to. In fact, they mean exactly that. Here’s what Reuters has to say about it: “Two women who helped care for a famous gorilla have sued the foundation nurturing Koko, saying they were fired for refusing to show the animal their breasts.” MONKEY WANNA SEE Isn’t this an amazing planet? Aren’t these what the Chinese who invented the curse would have called “interesting times”? These women say their boss ordered them to show their breasts to a gorilla. Repeatedly. I don’t know what to call that except gorilla pimping. Nor do you, loath though you might be to admit it. The six column inches my local paper devoted to the complaint failed to divulge the label the plaintiffs attached to it. There being no cause of action for gorilla pimping, I suppose they used terms like sexual harassment and hostile work environment. But let’s call a shovel a shovel. The allegation is that the Gorilla Foundation, a famous and highly respected research organization devoted to the protection of gorillas, required two of its female employees to “remove their clothing and show Koko their breasts.” The lawsuit also alleges that the foundation president sought to have the women bond with the gorilla by performing “bizarre sexual acts with Koko.” That’s gorilla pimping. But, of course, this isn’t just ordinary gorilla pimping. That would involve procuring female gorillas for Koko. Since we’re talking about female humans here, we have to note that this is interspecies gorilla pimping. I’m not sure why, but that makes it seem more consequential somehow. Then, of course, there’s the fact that Koko is a female gorilla. So the allegation is actually one of homosexual interspecies gorilla pimping. This is not only a unique cause of action but also a phrase that has probably never previously been uttered in all the eons of speech. Fortunately, the case is going to be tried in a blue state. Otherwise, you’d have to go out and buy stock in companies that manufacture pitchforks and torches. NO TOPLESS BARS NEARBY OK, class, let’s review. Just how did we get this far outside the mainstream of human endeavor? How does something as unparalleled in planetary history as an allegation of homosexual interspecies gorilla pimping come about? Well, Koko is a 34-year-old lowland gorilla. You’ve probably heard of her. She’s gotten a lot of press, hung out with Robin Williams, and participated in Internet chat rooms. A scientist named Francine Patterson has taught her a sign-language vocabulary of 1,000 words. I remember reading a book about her to my daughter. I recall nothing indicating Koko taking time out from her studies to drop by Hooters or otherwise demonstrating any interest in the breasts of human females, but I must admit that Cait was at an age where we were working mostly on reading the lines, not reading between them. If there was some dark subtext to Koko’s story, Cait and I missed it. Koko lives at the Gorilla Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit outside San Francisco. Apparently, there is no topless bar in the immediate vicinity. So Koko was forced to take action on her own. According to the complaint, “Through sign language, as interpreted by Patterson, Koko ‘demanded’ plaintiffs remove their clothing and show Koko their breasts.” Imagine Dr. Patterson’s chagrin, if this is true. You spend 30 years teaching sign language to someone and they use it to say, “Show me your … “ Don’t misunderstand. I have no clue who’s right in this case. And I’m writing this within 20 minutes of finding the story with the specific intent of doing so while I can still focus on its humor without being limited by the shackles of reflection. Furthermore, all I know about it is the seven paragraphs that showed up in my morning paper. So I offer no conclusions about right/wrong here, or even liable/not liable. What I offer is my utter and complete astonishment that there could be such a lawsuit. There is a part of me that just loves this kind of case. Cases like this reassure me there is just no end to the number of lunatic ways in which we humans can mess up our heads. That is a comforting thought for someone whose head is obviously not aligned with the cosmos in the same way most people’s are. And they demonstrate to me the folly of any hope that getting older might impart to me the wisdom necessary to do my job. I can put down Proust and C.S. Lewis, who are clearly never going to make me wise enough to unravel conundrums like this, and go back to my favorite author, Robert B. Parker. PONDER THE IMPLICATIONS In that regard, seeing that the human condition will ineluctably continue to generate legal problems beyond the ken of just about any of us is actually quite liberating. This one’s gonna involve a ton of first-impression, coin-flip calls so unfathomably difficult that I suspect Benjamin Cardozo and Roy Bean would be equally likely to get it right. I mean, there’s just no way to prepare yourself to try to sort this kind of thing out. The trial judge who gets this case better have a brilliant psychotherapist, a wise pastor, or a drug dealer who sells on credit. Think about it. While we would all agree a sexual harassment claim lay for requiring female employees to bare their breasts to other humans, is the conduct as clearly inappropriate if other species are involved? Does it matter that it was another primate? Would the rules be the same if the — what is the right term here, beneficiary? — were a dog or a fish? If the employees had been required to bare their breasts against the sides of an ant farm, would the gravamen of the lawsuit have been the same? Does it matter that Koko is a female gorilla? It wouldn’t matter in an ordinary sexual harassment suit. Does it matter in this one? Will it matter that it was done for science rather than for titillation? Was it done for science rather than for titillation? Is there any way to keep the word “titillation” out of the trial? Will the sexual orientation of jurors matter here? What about their species orientation? Will we be asking veniremen how they feel about gorillas? How they feel about chimps? How they feel about Eminem? Axl Rose? GOING APE Then there’s the depo. Koko’s depo. Clearly, plaintiffs will want to depose the gorilla. She has a linebacker’s vocabulary and is clearly a percipient witness. If she weren’t percipient, we wouldn’t have a lawsuit. But as near as I can determine, the person best able to interpret Koko’s vocabulary is Francine Patterson, who taught it to her — and she’s the primary defendant. I don’t know the extent to which Koko’s vocabulary differs from common sign language, but I suspect nuance could be significant in a case involving motive and good faith as much as this one will. And you can’t just look up “Interpreters-Gorilla-Lowland” in the yellow pages. So Koko’s role in the lawsuit is going to be a nightmare of walking-through-the-high-school-hallways-in-your-underwear proportion. And then, of course, we have to deal with whether Koko will be the first nonhuman ever to testify. Don’t we? Are there other cases where this has happened? Have we had a horse come in and paw at the ground the number of rustlers who kidnapped him? Did Trigger or Rin Tin Tin ever testify? Did we ever swear in Lassie and ask her just how it was that Timmy kept falling into the well? Some poor judge in Northern California is going to have to plow through all these issues. And three of my poor colleagues on the court of appeal are going to be asked whether that judge got it right. Got it right? Got it right!? I think the poor soul ought to be given the Distinguished Flying Cross for showing up on the days these issues are going to be argued. Forget abuse of discretion, how about abuse of judiciary? We don’t get paid enough to wade through that kind of swamp. Let some million-dollar-a-month celebrity figure this one out. Where are Mr. Ed and Francis the Talking Mule when you need them? William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, Calif.

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