This was published at Animal: a beast of a literary magazine. It is a true story about when I fell in love with an animal.
Me & Sally: A True Interspecies Love Story
by David Henry Sterry
Sally and I are hired to act in a Michelob beer commercial. The theme of the spot is evolution. I am cast as a Neanderthal Man. Typecasting.
Four hours I sit while a crew of highly skilled make-up artists glue thin layers of skin-colored latex over my face, transforming me from end of Second-Millennium American Homo Sapien into a caveman: gigantic forehead with a scary hairy monobrow, wee sunken eyes, a flaring nose cauliflowering across my cheeks, thick rubber caveman lips, and huge wooly mammoth-eating fake teeth. I look for a long time in the mirror but I can’t find myself in there anywhere. I feel the strong desire to grunt and snarl and hump someone from behind.
Finally, I am ready for my introduction to Sally. Her handler comes up to me, very serious. “Don’t make eye contact at first. Let her come to you. Get down on her level and don’t make any quick movements. Be very calm and very still. They sense fear. She can jump six feet straight up in the air, and she’s ten times stronger than a human being. Sally’s jaw is so strong she could snap your arm in two like a twig. It’s really important she doesn’t feel any fear coming off you.”
All I can see is my bloody hand dangling out of her mouth.
Sally comes out of her trailer, hand-in-hand with another trainer. I squat down to her level. Avert my eyes. I can feel Sally’s stare as she inches slowly towards me. I’m so scared I have no spit. There’s a small crowd gathering, all quiet tension, waiting to see what Sally will do to David the Neanderthal. Finally she’s right in my face. Since I’m not making eye contact for fear of having my Adam’s apple ripped out, I smell her before I see her. She smells clean, wild, untamed, of the earth. I feel myself calm when I smell her. Slowly, ever slowly, I turn towards her, raising my head like a simian Southern belle, bringing my eyes up to meet hers.
Wise, curious, clever, keen, deep, sharp, smart, mysterious animal passion beams from Sally into me, jolting my soul and rattling my bones. Her face is a picture of puzzlement, brows knitted, head tilted to one side. As she stares into my half-man, half-monkey face, I find I can read her thoughts: “What are you? You’re not one of them, but there’s no way you’re one of me…Really, what are you?”
Sally sniffs me suspiciously, moving her mouth to my jaw. Her hot breath on my lips, I’m trying desperately not to visualize her biting my nose off. Sally brings her lips to my cheek, puckers, and covers my face and lips with tiny sweet little kisses.
I’m overcome, undone, head-over-heels in love with Sally. She puts her arms around my neck and hops into my arms. The crowd oohs and ahs, witness to the start of a great love story.
For the rest of the shoot, whenever Sally sees me, she runs up to me excited as a bride, jumps up in my arms, and covers me with kisses. We cakewalk around the set, handholding, swooning and spooning. I’ve never known a female who was so openly, unabashedly, good-naturedly affectionate. Work laws for actors like Sally are very strict, due to decades of abuse. So we can only show our affection in 12-hour shifts.
In the commercial I, Neanderthal, will be sitting next to Sally, while an actress, playing a waitress, flirts with me. We block the scene without Sally. The actress walks up to me stiffly, just lobbing her line in my general vicinity, like a lazy newsboy tossing an errant morning paper:
“Hey, Good Looking, come here often?”
It’s bad. Bad, bad, bad. The director stops everything, walks over to her all cocksure and says, “I need you to hot it up, honey, make with the goo-goo eyes, like you did in the callback, babe.” She promises she will, and shoots him an obligatory sex-baby look, which evaporates into disdain as soon as the director walks away.
Lights are tweaked. Camera focused. Hair, make-up and wardrobe are fluffed, patted, and tucked. Finally hundreds of highly paid technicians and advertising geeks are ready to make commercial magic.
Sally is brought in, hops up on her stool next to me at the bar, and kisses me on the cheek as I whisper sweet nothings into her ear.
“Scene 4, take 1. Roll camera!”
“Camera rolling. Speed.”
The actress walks towards us like a nervous hamster at a cat show. Even I can smell her fear. She starts to make very tentative flirty eyes in my direction.
Sally goes bananas, jumps up on the bar, bares her teeth, and hisses, looking like she’s going to rip this poor spooked woman’s heart out, show it to her, then eat it. The actress’ scream curdles blood as she runs wailing and weeping through the set, and out the door.
I thought the advertising geeks should have used that in the commercial, because it said more about evolution than any of the lame shit they came up with. But no, they decide to write the waitress out of the commercial.
Then it’s 6:30 p.m., and we’re way behind schedule. So they send some junior flunky over to Sally’s trainer and he asks if they can get Sally to work overtime, because if they don’t get all her shots, they’re going to have to bring everybody back for another day and go way over budget.
The trainer looks at the mad man like he’s a lunatic and says he seriously doubts Sally will want to work overtime, but he’ll see what he can do.
6:45 PM. The ad geeks huddle, whispering toxically. A much-better dressed executive walks up to the trainer. They’ll pay whatever he wants. Name the price.
The trainer smiles and slowly reminds the executive that Sally’s not particularly financially motivated.
“Well then we’ll give her all the damn bananas she wants,” says the better-dressed executive.
“Well,” explains the trainer patiently, as if he’s talking to a dumb animal, “Sally already gets all the bananas she wants, but I’ll see what I can do.”
6:58 p.m. The best-dressed executive hustles over to the trainer.
“Listen, I don’t care what she wants, we need to get three more shots before she leaves, is that clear?”
You can see the trainer’s about to lose it, wishing to God that he only had to deal with reasonable animals.
But before he could say anything, it’s 7 o’clock, exactly 12 hours after Sally started working. Sally steps up on the bar, and slowly, dramatically, like the consummate performer she is, raises her left arm over her head, and slaps her wrist three times where a watch would be. She jumps down, grabs my hand, and pulls me toward the door. Sally and I proceed through the set and straight out the door, hand-in-hand, a bride and Neanderthal groom heading for our abba dabba honeymoon.
They’re forced to bring everybody back the next day, and Sally is hailed as a hero. When I ask the trainer, he tells me that Sally has an extremely acute sense of time. Because she works so often, she knows exactly when 12 hours are up, and has figured out that by making the sign for time, not only will her day be over, she’ll also make everyone love her and get the Big Laugh. All day, whenever it’s time for a meal, or a break, everyone from actors to Teamsters raise their left hand up over their head, and slap their wrist three times where a watch would be, in silent homage to Sally. Much to the amusement of everyone except the ad geeks, who seem basically jaded and disgusted by pretty much everything except what swanky restaurant they’re going to eat at that night.
As for me, by the end of the shoot I’m madly in love with Sally. But alas, we were from different worlds. As her trailer pulls away a great wave of terrible sadness washes over me and I’m not embarrassed when big silent tears roll down my Neanderthal cheeks. Ours was a love that could never be.
About David Henry Sterry
David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and co-founder of The Book Doctors. His first memoir, Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10-Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 12 languages, and is being made into a movie by the showrunner of Dexter. His book Hos Hookers, Call Girls & Rent Boys appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. He has featured on NPR, the London Times, Washington Post, and the Wall St. Journal. He writes for the Huffington Post, Salon, and Rumpus. He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com.