Spoofs & Satire

I, Servant

Admitting you have a problem is a big hurdle to face, but confessing you need help can be even more difficult, especially when you’re forced to choose your own path. So: Will it be robot or monkey?

I am a busy man. I am also a wealthy man. But, like so many people, my two sterling qualities are in conflict. I work to endow myself with riches, but I am often too engaged to enjoy the fruits of said labor. And, like many others, I have settled on a handful of timesaving solutions, though I cannot decide between the two most obvious candidates. Thus, once more, I find myself at an impasse: robot or monkey?

Some might turn immediately to the lowly yet dignified monkey, for the simple fact that, properly trained, he will never chase you through the house in the middle of the night, threatening you with death lasers. I have a personal reason for, at first, leaning toward the chimp. When I was a child, my mother blessed me with a simian playmate named Mr. Whiskers. My father taught him to smoke cigars, and he once burned down our stables. What a scamp! Today, however, I need less a playmate than a helpmate, a manservant to meet exacting standards. (Why not a manservant then? Well, experience, that’s why. My last manservant, Philip, ran off early one morning with my rare spice collection and best serving wench.) And a word to the wise: I have borrowed monkeys in the past, to work at parties and to help me run errands, and I can assure you the only thing more humiliating than a 55-year-old, admittedly pudgy man trying to slip into a pair of size 30 black Diesel jeans is to do so with a monkey watching. Laughing. Damn monkey.

And so I turn to the robot. It does not require feeding or tending. You need not spank it when it has done wrong, nor reward it with sweetmeats when it has done well. No tasting the lash for this mechanical…mechanism. Properly programmed, it is unlikely to team up with other robots to bite off your face and extremities. Robots, properly fire- and waterproofed, can venture places a monkey cannot, such as the depths of your backyard tandoori oven or the bottom of your koi pond, where, if you’re like me, you often find yourself in need of assistance.

However, a robot does have its drawbacks. A friend has spent many a night huddled in fear behind his bathroom hamper after awakening to the subtle whirr of an errant automaton, slipped from its recharging chamber to come do him harm. No matter how good an idea it may seem at the time, do not take the sodium-ion laser option when purchasing your robot.

So what, then, of the chimp? Upon first consideration, a monkey cannot hold a candle to a robot, despite his opposable thumbs and love for glimmering, waxy objects. But monkeys, like all animal servants, must be respected, and not only for their glorious pelts and royal demeanor. They are tireless workers, stopping only to masturbate. And they are wise. I would never have left my first wife, Arantxa, were it not for the sage advice of Bosworth, my neighbor’s capuchin monkey.

(An aside: Monkeys are a diverse lot, and you must choose yours wisely. Large monkeys make excellent partners for those inclined to full-contact oil wrestling. Small monkeys come three to a pack and are pocket-portable, though they are less helpful in clearing boulders and other miscellaneous yard work. The fairer sex, I have found, prefer the more docile species, though I have seen many a friend lose a girlfriend to the wiles of a silver-backed imp.)

If you want to open a hotel that will run as much on hilarity and hijinks as good service and clean sheets, then a monkey is your best bet.There is also the style question to consider when choosing between a robot and a monkey. Which option goes with your sense of taste? Monkeys, as Vogue or Elle will tell you, are retro. And robots are New! New! New! So—are you a frilly neo-Victorian, with thick paisley brocade drapes and a penchant for bustles? Or are you more the modernist, in love with sleek lines and East German cuisine? Monkeys can clean, but they are not always themselves clean, and you wouldn’t want a mess all over your stainless-steel sofa.

This may be less a dilemma for those with particular needs. If you plan on forming a crime-fighting duo, I unhesitatingly recommend a robot. Though monkeys are excellent sidekicks in close-quarters combat, even the bravest capuchin is no match for a robot’s ability to communicate with the enemy’s computer network, a vital asset when you find yourself locked in a mad scientist’s secret prison. If, on the other hand, you want to open a hotel that will run as much on hilarity and hijinks as good service and clean sheets, then a monkey is your best bet. There is nothing funnier than a guest waking to find a monkey sitting on his chest, dressed in the cutest little red bellboy jacket!

But I don’t possess such exciting requirements; mine are more mundane. At one point I thought to let the robot and monkey vie for the job. I invited both to lunch at my usual, Chez le Main Velue. The monkey, Paw-Paw, arrived early, dressed in a bespoke pair of off-white cotton diapers—not quite the season, but a respectable choice. TRS-7 arrived a few minutes late, claiming traffic. I ordered the veal, Paw-Paw the mashed fruit and corn salad with a nit garnish, and TRS-7 the chicken, although I think he was just being polite, given that he lacks a digestive tract.

“Paw-Paw, TRS-7, let’s get right to it,” I said over our dessert of truffles and glazed snails. “I want one of you to be my right-hand man.” They were both visibly excited. TRS-7 spun his head around, while Paw-Paw did a flip in his chair, slammed his hand on the table, and grabbed my face.

“But only one of you. Which will it be? I’ve debated the question at length, and can’t decide. So it is up to you. I have devised a test of str—”

But as I said this, Paw-Paw was already leaping across the table. He grabbed TRS-7’s antennae and ripped them off, then started beating him about his steel abdomen. TRS-7 tried to fight back, but Paw-Paw chewed off his right arm. TRS-7 started smoking, his lights flashing a robot death-rattle. The maitre’d appeared with a fire extinguisher and sprayed TRS-7 down.

“Very impressive, Paw-Paw,” I said once the maitre’d finished. “But that’s not what I had in mind. I thought maybe the two of you could run sprints, or take a stab at retrieving shuttlecocks. But this violence, it just won’t do. I’m sorry.”

Paw-Paw tilted his head, each word cutting him to the core. He climbed over to me, kissed my forehead, and clambered out the door. He caught a cab headed downtown and I never saw him again.

But, as I watched Paw-Paw stand on the street corner, his long brown arm extended, the solution came to me. I will have both. I will have a robot monkey. A furry friend who won’t steal from the vittles cabinet. A conversationalist that will never grow old, or angry, or bitter, even after you exclude him from your weekly session of nude dressage. I will buy my cake and eat it too. And share it with my new robot monkey.


TMN Contributing Writer Clay Risen’s first attempt to build a website fell apart after he learned that risen.com had been bought by a hardcore Christian rock band. Clay is a senior staff editor at the New York Times and the author, most recently, of The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act. He lives in Brooklyn. More by Clay Risen