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Travis the Menace

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The Herolds retrofitted their house to accommodate Travis. They caged in a large room in the rear, which had a set of sliders that led to an outdoor enclosure. They installed a heavy, lockable metal door on their bedroom, creating a suite of rooms, including the caged room, where Travis could roam freely when he was left alone. When Sandy and Jerry were home, Travis had the entire house at his disposal, knuckle-running from the couch in the living room to the kitchen, swinging from the tires and ropes in his room, jumping on his bed. The Herolds also laid a mattress on the floor of their bedroom, though most nights Travis slept in bed with them.

Sandy and Jerry took Travis to work with them every day. They installed tire swings, ropes, and trampolines in a giant room above the tow shop. He was inquisitive and friendly. Even the tow drivers and mechanics melted when they saw him.

These were some of the happiest days of Sandy’s life. By then, Sue had divorced her first husband, and she and her young son had returned to Stamford, moving into a spacious loft-style apartment her parents constructed next to the auto-body shop. Sandy and Sue worked together every day, in the room above the tow shop, with Travis. They joked, gossiped, talked about men. Sue’s son, Tyler, and Travis were close in age, and they played well together; as Travis matured more rapidly than Tyler, his fondness for the boy grew, so that he often held him in his lap, kissing him.

Travis grew quickly. Jerry played catch with him and taught him to ride a tricycle (which was awkward at first, what with his long arms), then a bike, then a ride-on lawn mower. Sandy put on a blue bikini and big gold-hoop earrings and took him to the beach, carrying him into the water with her.

Sandy and Jerry invited Travis to join them at the table for meals. He ate oatmeal with a spoon every morning. At their favorite Italian restaurant, Pellicci’s, she read him the menu, offering him choices. His favorite food was filet mignon. He also enjoyed lobster tail. He preferred Lindt’s chocolates. He liked Nerds candy and taffy, and he loved ice cream, hooting and pulling at Sandy when the ice-cream man came down the street. When he was thirsty, he swung his body up onto the counter and took out a glass, opened the refrigerator, and poured himself juice or soda.

Travis had a distinct sense of humor. He’d become particularly impish when Sandy was on the phone talking. He’d change the channels of the remote furiously. He’d blast the volume on the TV. “Cut it out, you little son of a bitch!” Sandy would yell, and then laugh. “I’m gonna kill you, you little bastard!”

“I’ll tell you,” she’d say into the phone, “you should see how smart Travis is. Just today he …” Sandy was ceaselessly dumbfounded by Travis’s humanness. Though she did not know their name, she seemed to intuit the so-called spindle cells in his brain, cells shared by humans and chimps that are believed to help us to process complex thoughts and empathize.

Sandy’s old friend Charla Nash came to visit, bringing with her her young daughter, Briana. They sat outside, Charla playing with Travis, the chimp climbing all over her, messing with her long blonde hair, the two of them posing for pictures. He climbed the tall oak trees around their property, racing up them, jumping from one to the next.

Travis quickly became Stamford’s most famous resident. The Herolds plastered his image on the side of their tow trucks and flatbeds. He sat shotgun on tow calls, waving as the truck pulled up. He came to love police officers especially, and virtually everyone on the force had his photo taken with him. Strangers approached in stores, on the street. Sometimes they handed him their babies to hold.

One fall day, a neighbor was out raking leaves. Across the street, he noticed a Corvette coming down the Herolds’ driveway. It was Travis’s favorite car—he perceived it as his own, Sandy said—and in fact there were rumors that Travis had once taken the keys and gotten behind the wheel, turned the ignition, and, half-standing in the driver’s seat, his opposable-thumbed feet grabbing the pedals, steered the car down the driveway and out onto Rock Rimmon Road. The man raking leaves watched as the car drew closer. Dressed in animal prints and decked to the nines, Sandy was driving, with Travis, in a ball cap and T-shirt, sitting beside her; the windows were down, and each had an arm hanging out. Reflexively, the man raised his hand. Sandy and Travis both waved back.


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