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Story pick: The lonely monkey

,DanaInfo=merlin.washpost.com+M2X00186_9.JPGThe monkey on the loose in the Tampa Bay area of Florida for more than a year has 78,000 fans on his Facebook page. Stephen Colbert has run "monkey on the lam" videos of his urban antics. Countless stories and photos of sightings of the monkey have run in local papers and on radio and TV.

What more, one might think, could be said about a monkey on the run?

Michael Kruse, a staff writer for the St. Petersburg Times, felt there was a lot more to be said. Who was this monkey? Where did he come from? Why is he running? And, perhaps most important, is he lonely?

In unadorned and yet elegant - elegiac even - prose, Kruse addresses each of these questions, telling us about rhesus macaques in a few deft graphs before we even realize it and, in the process, writing about the human condition.

Raves the rooting public: I want to be free like the monkey. I want to trade lives with the monkey. I want to be the monkey. Enough with the rat race. Give me the monkey race!

But "Go, monkey, go!" is our cheer. It's not like that for the monkey. The monkey doesn't run because he wants to. The monkey runs because millions of years of evolution tell him to. He's not running from something — he's running toward something.

Primates are social creatures, and this monkey, say scientists who study his species, is looking and looking and looking for a partner he can be with when it gets quiet in the dark.

Total freedom is social isolation. And "it's a cruel punishment," says Notre Dame monkey expert Agustin Fuentes, "for any primate to be alone."

The longer he runs, the lonelier he gets.

In an interview with Andrea Pitzer for the Nieman Foundation's Storyboard website, Kruse explains that the idea for the story came after reading a quote in a news story about the trapper who'd been trying to catch the monkey all year and put him with others of his kind, comparing the monkey's experience to that of a human being dropped alone on a desert island.

"I read that quote and thought, “That’s kind of interesting. I wonder if that’s true? Because I would look at the story totally differently if that were true.” And it made some sense—monkeys are like us.

So that’s what started my interest in the monkey. I would bring it up from time to time in our meetings for the enterprise team. “I want to profile the monkey. I want to take it real seriously.” And people would laugh. And I would sort of laugh. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it, but it was something along these lines: “Is the monkey lonely?” How can I get at that? Because obviously, I’m not going to be able to talk to the monkey.

Read the story and you'll see: he nailed it.

By Brigid Schulte  | June 4, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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