100 Monkeys 100 Typewriters
By Steve Vermillion
The idea was pretty basic: Test the “Infinite Monkey Theorem,” which states that a monkey hitting the keys of a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will ultimately duplicate a masterpiece, such as the complete works of Shakespeare. We set our sights somewhat lower and were willing to accept pretty much anything remotely intelligible. And due to obvious restrictions on infinite time, we decided to speed up the process by using one hundred monkeys; Rhesus, Proboscis, Spider, Squirrel, Howler; you name it. We supplied them with a typewriter each, and that’s not counting tables, chairs and miscellaneous furniture rental, along with a leased warehouse to be used as our monkey testing facility. There was also the monkey food to consider (mostly fruit) of course, lunch breaks, rest breaks, and research assistants. Lots and lots of assistants.
In order to legitimize the study, it was required that we include, here and there, a sock monkey or, “placebo” monkey, randomly placed throughout the group.
Something we did not initially anticipate was the high volume of noise. It quickly became apparent that, like their human counterparts, some monkeys just don’t get along well with others, and no matter how much cajoling on our parts, it was just not going to happen, so before a single typewriter key was struck, before even one seat was assigned, we were forced to administer monkey to monkey comparability tests, which seemed to go on forever, and in the end necessitated the changing of seats for several recalcitrant individuals, even the dismissals of some “unmanageables.” This proved more difficult than anticipated, compelling us to retain the services of monkey bouncers so the others knew that we meant business. After replacing the monkeys who had been “excused,” we realized that to retain efficacy and the integrity of our rigid protocols, two or three placebo monkeys had to go as well.
Finally, we were ready. Assembled researchers and bright faced volunteer staff, clipboards and pens in hand, and on my signal, the monkeys went at it, and it was really something to see. If I didn’t know better, I’d have said that the monkeys were as eager to prove the theorem as we were.
All too soon though, it became clear that the room was becoming unbearable. Other than the astonishing number of monkeys, there was the typing with just one hand and masturbating with the other, or typing with their monkey toes (which was markedly less productive) while they took frequent breaks to scratch themselves (with a total lack of decorum), or gazing toward the ceiling, shaking their heads and screeching. And, even more disturbing, if one monkey wasn’t shitting on his stool, then the monkey next to him was.
Following an impromptu meeting and budget requisition, we made diapers mandatory for the monkey writers, and even hired a cadre of what we called ‘bowel and bladder tenders’ to change and clean the monkeys before returning them to their typewriters. This loss of time we reluctantly incorporated into our calculations and diminished expectations.
Early results have proved challenging with an endless series of random letters, a rare space here and there and no punctuation. Going over those first pages gave us the sensation that we were simply gazing at impossible to decipher foreign language. In staff meetings, we considered looking for some sub rosa pattern of communication, something to give us a clue. Our hopes, in those first days, began to fade. We felt that we had only been fooling ourselves; that searching for something, anything of meaning in such a short span of time was pointless. If the monkeys were going to write a novel, it was going to take some time. A very long time. Still, we persisted, tinkering with and altering protocols where we could.
It was week seven when we achieved what I would characterize as our first breakthrough. Monkey number 27 and placebo monkey number 41 had both, independently, begun writing broken, though somewhat readable fiction. Punctuation was largely abused – most every word a misspelled version of itself, and the grammar questionable at best – but no one could argue that we didn’t have genuine “experimental fiction” in our hands. There was no reasonable way to translate the words into duplications of Shakespeare -or some other famous writer. The monkeys were creating their own monkey genre, and perhaps laying the seeds for what could very well someday become a “monkey literary canon.”
And so, the next step, in order to verify that we were really onto something and that what we perceived as genuine fiction was not merely a reflection of our enthusiasm and semi-proof of the theorem, we began submitting the stories to literary magazines. And I don’t mind telling you, we’ve had some luck!
Steve Vermillion is a writer and editor living in Northern California. His recent work appears in print and online in a number of magazines, including Juked, Diverse Voices, Eclectica, The Morning News, Blackheart, Atticus, and Litro. In 2014 he was nominated for a ‘Best of the Net’ award in Short Stories, as well as receiving Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train Magazine’s Short Story of the Year.
Photo by Gessy Alvarez