The day of retribution had finally arrived for Barbara Bigas, the humorless headmistress of Sunset Hill – an all girl’s preparatory school and bastion of elitism whose stated mission was to raise fine young women. As moral guardian of her flock, one of Bigas’s annual responsibilities was to forewarn parents of the peril that befell girls attending parties at Leifer’s farm.
Part of me was outraged by her actions…another part took immense pleasure in such recognition. Either way, Bigas’s action begged for some form of response.
It was May 30, and the final day of classes was fast approaching. I had less than 24 hours in which to launch my mission. Since this was my senior year, there would be no second chance.
“Kansas City Costume,” the man answered the phone.
“Do you have full gorilla suits?” I innocently inquired.
“You mean theatrical gorilla costumes?”
“I mean something that looks real…down to the toes.”
“I think we’ve got what you’re looking for, kid.”
Twenty minutes later, I was standing in a small store sandwiched between a donut shop and a tailor in the middle of a strip mall. As I opened the door, I knew I had entered a different world. Snow White stood in one corner smiling, while Frankenstein lurked threateningly in another. A short, rotund, mustached man emerged from a back room and waddled up to the counter.
“I’ll bet you’re here for a gorilla suit.”
I nodded my head as he looked me up and down, presumably assessing my size rather than trying to discern my intent.
“Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
A moment later, he reappeared with what looked like the body of a deflated gorilla slung over his shoulder, its feet and hands clutched in his fingers.
“I grabbed an XL,” he said. “There’s a changing room over there,” he added, pointing to my left. It was the only square inch of store not covered with some kind of outfit. “Better try it on and see if it fits.”
I was a tall, lanky kid, and there was ample room in the suit for at least one more person. But it wasn’t the size that concerned me. Being encased in neoprene was like stepping into an oven. I could feel my body temperature begin to soar.
“Does this thing come with air conditioning?” I asked the man.
“Just wait until you have the head on. It’s hot as hell. I wouldn’t plan on being in that thing for more than about 15 minutes without a break.”
“How much is it?” I asked, realizing that I hadn’t given a moment’s thought to the cost of my prank.
“$35 per day, but I’ll let you keep it for two.”
Wow, that’s a hell of a lot of money! Is it worth it? I pondered.
“Well, kid, do you want or not?” the man asked impatiently as I was caught up in thought.
“Yes,” I responded, a bit reluctantly, as I reached for my wallet and pulled out two hard-earned twenties.
He handed me a five and said, “Don’t let anything happen to that suit. Trust me, you don’t want to have to pay for it.”
Early the next day, I called my co-conspirator, Dave. His job was to deliver me surreptitiously to the scene of the crime, and then get us the hell out of there once I had perpetrated the audacious deed. We agreed he would pick me up in fifteen minutes.
A scant ten minutes later, I walked downstairs and entered the kitchen – my body fully covered in fur, with the exception of my head. My mother stifled a scream while my father burst out laughing.
“And where may I ask are you going this morning?” he asked. “The zoo?”
“No, just a little year-end prank that Dave and I cooked up. It’s pretty innocuous. Don’t worry.
Just then the light tap of a horn indicated Dave’s arrival.
“Gotta go,” I said, leaving the kitchen and heading for the front door.
“Don’t get in trouble!” I heard my mother yell after me. In vain, of course.
It was still early when we arrived on campus – a full thirty minutes before the opening bell was scheduled to ring. It afforded us plenty of time to get into position without detection. Dave acted as a forward scout as we advanced towards the Headmistress’s office. Fortunately, no one was in our path. Our final destination was a small storage closet adjacent to the headmistress’s office where I would remain safely ensconced until Mrs. Bigas arrived.
Dave wished me good luck as he closed the door and suggested I turn off the light. Sweat was pouring profusely from my body, and I could only imagine how hot it would be once my head was covered. I knelt on the floor praying to avoid discovery. When I heard the heavy clunk of feet, I knew the headmistress had arrived.
“I want you to show my eight-thirty appointment in as soon as she arrives. Then hold my calls…I don’t be disturbed.” Bigas ordered her assistant.
“Yes, Mrs. Bigas,” the assistant responded officiously.
Uh oh, I hadn’t planned on this contingency. I started to feel the flush of anxiety. But why? I asked myself. I was about to get a two for one! A smirk crossed my face. Just sit tight, I told myself. It’s almost showtime.
A few minutes later, the patter of shoes told me that someone was being shown into Bigas’s office. Staring down at my wrist, I saw the short phosphorescent hand of my watch pointing to the eight and the minute hand pointing to the six – it was 8:30 sharp. I’ll give them five minutes to settle in, I thought.
At precisely 8:35, I turned the door handle ever so gingerly and opened the door of the closet a mere crack. No one in sight, although I knew Bigas’s assistant was lurking only a few yards away. I gradually pushed the door open…an inch at a time. I could now see the entrance to Bigas’s office.
The office was shaped like an L, which meant that her desk and the seating area were obscured from view until one was fully in the office. I pulled on the head of the suit – which caused me to lose all peripheral vision as I peered out of the eye-slits. My chest pounded with each step as I drew closer to the heart of darkness.
“You know, Emily really is a fine young lady,” I heard Bigas say in her affected tone, as I arrived at the point of no return.
“Then why did you call me in, Barbara? There must be some issue that’s really concerning you.” The woman’s tone seemed exasperated.
“It’s the boy she’s dating. There are so many boys who are more appropriate for a young lady like Emily.”
“Oh, my God,” I said to myself. “They’re talking about me!”
I burst out of the shadows, leaped into the air, then growled with a vengeance as I beat my chest. Blood-curdling screams pierced the stillness of the office as I continued to grunt, stomp, and flail my arms as I made my escape.
Running as fast as I could in a full-body gorilla suit, I shot through the hallways. Classroom doors were being flung open by anxious teachers trying to discern the source of the calamity. By the time I reached the exit to the parking lot, two male teachers were in hot pursuit. I slammed my body into the metal doors, which flew open, and I made a mad dash for Dave’s car. I jumped into the convertible and yelled, “Hit it!”
Tires squealed and the two pursuers soon faded into oblivion. Once we were a few blocks away, Dave turned onto a cul-de-sac and stopped the car. I took off the top of my suit and filled him in on what had transpired.
“I heard the screams,” he said, tears streaming down his cheeks as he howled with laughter.
“I felt bad scaring Emily’s mom like that, but not Bigas. She looked like she had just peed her pants!”
“You know we’re going to catch total hell for this, John.”
“Yah. But it was worth it!”
Dave was right. Retribution was swift. The headmistress called for my head – having spoken with the Headmaster of my high school. In response, my school’s administration saw it fit to strip me of the prestigious English Cup – an academic award that I had worked four long years to earn. “The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.”
There was no retribution, nor even a hint of ill feelings on the part of Emily’s mother. Quite the contrary.
“That uptight woman deserved it,” she remarked. But don’t quote me on that!