Hi, Matt: Do baby monkeys also keep their parents up all night crying and wanting milk and stuff? What’s the deal with crying babies? Wasn’t it bad for cavemen to be super tired during the day and not having enough energy to go off hunting and stuff because they were up the night before trying to get their baby to go back to sleep? — Matt (tired, very tired)
We’ll pass on the caveman speculation. To our knowledge, no cave paintings have been found with pics of screaming babies and frazzled parents. We await further investigation, though. Monkeys, on the other hand, are about the most spied-on animals in the world. There’s hardly a corner of the globe that doesn’t have a bunch of chimps surrounded by biologists in the underbrush with telescopes. We’re pretty much up on monkeys.
So, what’s the deal with chimp kids? Screeching irritants or silent cuties? Consider a monkey’s earliest days. Mom lugs the newborn around clutched to her chest. Kid wants food, it’s right there. Vocalizing is, after all, just an indication that the child/monkey baby wants attention of some kind and nobody’s close enough to poke. No need for the chimplet to “cry” since Mom’s there, 24/7, meeting all comfort needs. And Mom and kid sleep together with other members of their troop, teaching the baby when it’s sleep time. Chimps learn by imitation.
By contrast, Little Matt/Little Matty spends most of his/her time in a crib with Mom at a distance. You can see how this would raise the alarm level around the house. Crying is the baby’s only option when it needs food, cuddling, a clean diaper, less heat or cold or noise or light, or is just exhibiting its highly sensitive nature. Then you get to play the evil baby game of “guess what I want this time.”
So far, so dull. But with more digging we found scientific evidence that will probably satisfy a little corner of your soul. At some point, of course, monkey mom begins to lose interest in lugging around another whole monkey, so kid and Mom are sometimes separated. It appears that monkey babies can take only so much of this separation, and when they need her for whatever momly duty, they set about screeching and vocalizing like crazy. Reports are that monkey mamas can resist the cries, needing to teach the kid independence.
Here’s the good part: If Mom and kid are in a group of monkeys of the same rank, Mom lets the kid carry on for long stretches of time. But if Mom and kid are near males or monkeys that outrank them, they tend to grab up the kid to stop the noise right away. Guess why. “Crying” baby monkeys apparently drive other monkeys nuts. They get on their last monkey nerve. Dominant members of the troop of the noisemaker’s mother will actually hit, chase, bite, or throw stones at her until she gets the baby to shut up. A nice fantasy for people who travel by plane or eat out in restaurants a lot, I’d guess.
Matt: Can you tell me why people get into the 10-items-or-less line in the grocery store, right under the big sign, the one that says, “No Checks,” then put down their 20 items and start to write a check? How can they not know it’s an express lane? We cash people are beside ourselves with angst! — B, via email
And if we are beside ourselves, can we go through the line with 20 items? Is angst one item or several? Suppose we’re buying a dozen cans of chateaubriand cat food; is that 12 items or only 1 item because they’re all the same price? And if the large lady with the tubby children is buying Twinkies, rocky-road ice cream, Spaghetti-Os, and Lucky Charms, do we have the right to feel superior as we carefully arrange our edamame and turkey burger? No. Strike that. The real question is, exactly how superior can we feel? Slightly? Extremely? On the other hand, is there a way we can stack our Cheerios and grapefruit to hide that box of Depends? Do the people in line behind us need to know that much about our personal lives? Will the clerk make some kind of a wisecrack? I think, B, that a supermarket line raises so many important life questions that nobody pays much attention to “No Checks, Please.”
Matt: Why do they call it the clap? Personally, I wouldn’t clap if I found out I had it…yikes! — Gretchen, La Jolla
Let’s hear it for the French! They gave us the clap. The word. Just the word, of course. Please, no France-bashing. Hooray for snails and frogs’ legs and chain-smoking and clapoir (clap-WAHR), French for pustules characteristic of venereal diseases! We English-speakers contracted the word in the 16th Century and haven’t cleared it up yet.