Roy Exum: How Oogie Hypnotized Chantek

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

About 35 years ago some professors at UT-Chattanooga were working with a pretty big monkey, an orangutan named Chantek, with the notion they could teach the primate to talk. It even made Walter Cronkite’s news.  The claim was that in the nine years the monkey spent at UTC it learned one hundred and 50 words in sign language and I know that to be a total lie. The whole thing was a hoax.

I regret to report Chantek, at age 39, croaked at the Atlanta zoo on Monday. But now that all of the principal parties are dead, let me enlighten you once and for all with the truth.  In 2014 a documentary was made on “The Ape Who Went To College” and, as one with inside knowledge, I can tell you the monkey was trained just as you can a dog or a horse. Give me nine years and I don’t need a white coat to teach an animal some pretty amazing tricks if I work with it every day.

Back in the 1980s, the UTC professors would call the media all the time with the revelation Chantek had just used sign language to ask for a banana, or whatever. At the same time, one of my closest friends was the late Walter “Oogie” Martin, surely among the greatest veterinarians ever produced at Auburn. Oogie knew more about animals than the Biblical Noah.

Oogie headed the Auburn Alumni Council several times, was on the university board of directors and was legendary in the school’s acclaimed vet school. Once he ran a cow off his front porch with a broom when he was naked (not the cow) during his honeymoon. He also tended to my dogs, called me often to talk Auburn football, and was one of the funniest men alive. The first time I asked him if mankind could teach a mammal to talk, Oogie told me I ought to be embarrassed for asking such a question.

“They will respond to voice commands but they ain’t got a dictionary. They hear a certain sound and they are trained to respond. A horse hears ‘Whoa’ and will stop but don’t ever expect one to spell it” he would laugh over his glass of beer. “Teaching an ape sign language is the mark of a fool. God made humans and He made animals. That is the only thing the two species have in common." (Oogie didn’t cotton much to evolution.)

At the time Oogie was a partner in the beloved Byles & Martin Clinic on 23rd Street and had a well-earned reputation. It was greatly enhanced one day when the UTC Monkey Department made an urgent call that Chantek was experiencing a serious mental attack. “Come quick, Dr. Martin, our primate is out of control!”

So Oogie drives to the Monkey Department and Chantek has a vice-like grip on some shrieking woman’s bosom. “The monkey had no idea what it was doing but adored the woman’s reaction … The monkey was acting wild because it was something to do that was a lot more fun than watching hours of repetitious hand signals,” he told a crowd of us out by his swimming pool.

“So I thought I would have some fun, too. I grabbed the monkey, trying to squeeze the very life out of it. Chantek immediately got still and I told the crowd that was watching I needed some time alone with ‘the patient’ to see what I could do. They all nodded and left the room and that’s when I swatted that monkey about as hard as I could across the room. I gave that monkey the first whipping it ever had.

“An animal will respond to discipline. About 15 minutes later, I invited the professors and the graduate students back in and Chantek was standing at attention, was he ever,” I can remember Oogie laughing. “I sat in a chair and said, ‘Chantek, come here’ and that orangutan responded instantly. I stuck out my hand and he shook it immediately.

“The professors were absolutely amazed. I mean, they could never get over it. What’s true is I told them I had to hypnotize Chantek,” the wonderful Oogie said, “I just didn’t add the next two words … ‘with fear.’”

UTC immediately named Oogie as Chantek’s permanent veterinarian and, from that point on, the orangutan would jerk to attention at the mere sight of Dr. Martin. The UTC Behavior Specialists wanted to watch Oogie hypnotize Chantek but, “I told ‘em that can’t happen … you might get hypnotized too or Chantek would get confused over who was the vet.”

Oogie loved to mess with those professors, telling them the length of hypnosis “depended on the ape’s frontal lobe.” Oogie knew some sign language and when he would ‘sign’ with Chantek, the ape made a face like a squirrel trying to whistle. “Trust me, this is total foolishness.”

So the good news is, RIP Chantek. The bad news, old monk, is that Oogie Martin’s in heaven too, and you are fixing to get hypnotized anew.

** *

About the same time back in the ‘80s, there was a stripper bar down near the Choo Choo called ‘The Classic Cat’ and one night around 2 a.m., Oogie got an emergency call. It seems that the python the famous Lucretia used in her ‘Exotic Snake Dance” smelled some blood – somebody had cut their hand slicing limes – on a bar rag and swallowed it.

Now the reptile was acting funny so Oogie got out of bed and performed emergency surgery, saving the famous Lucretia’s “Erotic Snake Dance.” (She called the python “Jimmy.”) From that moment on Oogie was the official veterinarian at what those in the know called ‘The Cat.’ As fate would have it, several months later a dancer named “Charlene the Magician” – she had a disappearing act -- was coming back from doing a gig in Florida when she rescued a huge weimeraner at a truck stop.

No way could Charlene keep the 100-pound dog in her East Brainerd condo so she called Oogie, who in turn called me and asked if I needed a huge watch-dog for our farm. I said I would take it and would pick the dog up later that morning.

Unbeknownst to me, Oogie had arranged to have Charlene open the knock at the door totally naked. Unbeknownst to Oogie, I had a full schedule and flipped my keys to a couple of high schoolers who were working in the sports department that summer, telling then to go get “a puppy” and take it to our farm.

I have never learned if it was the 100-pound dog or the totally naked woman who answered the door that had the biggest affect on them but I do remember this: neither spoke for the next three days. Not a word.

Royexum@aol.com



Roy Exum: Why I Am Thankful

You would think that after 40 years of publishing an annual list of things for which I am thankful, I’d be getting to the bottom of it, but it seems the older I get I have found I appreciate so much more around me. I take absolute delight in planting a flower, feeding the birds and throwing a ball for my dog. I find that the more people who I come to know the more who I come to ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Thanksgiving Eve

I don’t know who was the first to do the Famous Pregnant Turkey prank but I’ll bet you a handful of giblets there will be a lot of copycats who try it today. The trick is finding a Cornish hen that is small enough to stuff inside the larger turkey. Then you skillfully pack the bird with some of that sausage-sage dressing and put your Thanksgiving dinner in the oven. When all ... (click for more)

Hixson Burglary Suspect Tries To Swim Away; Deputies Catch Him In Borrowed Boat

A Hixson burglary suspect on Wednesday tried to swim away from deputies, but to no avail.   The proprietor of Chattanooga Fish and Fun was notified when his camera system was triggered by an individual attempting to break into his business. The owner immediately contacted the Sheriff's Office and drove to the business location.   As deputies arrived on scene, ... (click for more)

5 Disinherited Adopted Children Of Dr. J. Don Brock May Share In Rich Estate After All

Five disinherited adopted children of the late Chattanooga businessman J. Don Brock may share in his large estate after all. After losing at the trial court and appeals court level, the plaintiffs won a victory at the Tennessee Supreme Court. Justice Cornelia Clark ruled in favor of the adopted children and remanded the case to the trial court for settlement of the estate. ... (click for more)

Rodney Stoker Wins Turkey Trot 8K Again

It has been about 15 years since Rodney Stoker captured first place overall in the annual Sports Barn Turkey Trot, but he’s been doing some serious training in recent weeks and it paid off Thursday morning as the 41-year-old former UTC standout was victorious with a time of 27 minutes, 18 seconds. Dylan Hassett, a promising 24-year-old from Atlanta who is making her way as a ... (click for more)

JOHN HUNT: Thanksgiving 2017 Special As Always

I can’t believe it’s that time again.  Another year has come and gone and where did it all go? My father once told me that time really flies as you get older and I’m starting to believe him. But we’re back to one of my favorite holidays of the year – Thanksgiving – and I’m looking forward to spending quality time with family and friends.  I’m sure that I’ll eat too ... (click for more)