Ivory, Apes, and People

A band of ambitious apes in Africa once called upon a herd of elephants with a business proposition. “We can sell your tusks to people for a fortune in peanuts and oranges,” said the leader of the apes. “Tusks are tusks to you and us, but to people they are merchandise—billiard balls and piano keys and other things that people buy and sell.”

The elephants said they would think it over. “Be here tomorrow at this time and we will swing the deal,” said the leader of the apes, and the apes went away to call on some people who were hunting for merchandise in the region.

“It’s the very best ivory,” the leader of the apes told the leader of the people. “One hundred elephants, two hundred tusks. All yours for oranges and peanuts.”

“That’s enough ivory for a small ivory tower,” said the leader of the people, “or four hundred billiard balls and a thousand piano keys. I will cable my agent to ship your nuts and oranges, and to sell the billiard balls and piano keys. The business of business is business, and the heart of the matter is speed.”

“We will close the deal,” said the leader of the apes.

“Where is the merchandise now?” inquired the leader of the people.

“It’s eating, or mating, but it will be at the appointed place at the appointed hour,” replied the chief ape. But it wasn’t. The elephants had thought it over, and reconsidered, and they forgot to show up the following day, for elephants are good at forgetting when forgetting is good.

There was a great to-do in the marts of world trade when the deal fell through, and everybody, except the elephants, got into the litigation that followed: the Better Business Bureau, the Monkey Business Bureau, the Interspecies Commerce Commission, the federal courts, the National Association of Merchandisers, the African Bureau of Investigation, the International Association for the Advancement of Animals, and the American Legion.

Opinions were handed down, rules were promulgated, subpoenas were issued, injunctions were granted and denied, and objections were sustained and overruled. The Patriotic League of American Women Against Subversion took an active part until it was denounced as subversive by a man who later withdrew his accusation and made a fortune on the sale of two books, “I Made My Bed” and “I Lie in My Teeth.”

The elephants kept their ivory, and nobody got any billiard balls or piano keys, or a single nut or an orange.

MORAL: Men of all degrees should form this prudent habit: never serve a rabbit stew before you catch the rabbit.

Ivory, Apes, and People

James Thurber

James Grover Thurber (December 8, 1894 – November 2, 1961) was an American cartoonist, author, humorist, journalist, playwright, and celebrated wit. He was best known for his cartoons and short stories published mainly in The New Yorker magazine, such as "The Catbird Seat", and collected in his numerous books. He was one of the most popular humorists of his time, as he celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *