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Sunday, July 18, 2010
Oh baby, it burns...
The cool, gentle extended spring we've been enjoying here in LA for the last few months came to an abrupt and sweaty end this week. Monday was nice, Tuesday a bit warmer, but by Wednesday the heat was beating down on this urban desert like a blacksmiths hammer. Thursday dawned hotter still, and by Friday it was simply brutal, as fat gray clouds laden with moisture hung low over the city, ratcheting the humidity up to East Coast levels.
So much for the fabled “dry heat” of Southern California.
The heat makes everything about work harder. Driving to and from the studio, stage, or location is bad enough, as sweaty, cranky drivers jam pedal to the metal in a futile attempt to escape the merciless thermonuclear blast of the sun. The result is more accidents and people mired in gridlocked traffic, with tempers overheating along with the cars. But the real trouble comes at work, especially if you’re unlucky enough to be on a location job outdoors – and in that case, you’re in for one long, ugly day.
The endless sweating under such conditions is bad enough – after a couple of hours, it feels like you haven’t showered in years as the dirt and grime from wrangling heavy cable soaks into your open pores, but even worse -- infinitely worse, actually -- is the painful scourge of Monkey Butt.
Early in my career, I recall watching the gaffer I worked for – an enormous whale of a man (who was also the smartest, most well-read person I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet), stagger bow-legged across a sound stage, both hands clutching his ass in an attempt to pry those massive cheeks apart.
“Razors in my pants,” he bellowed, “razors in my pants...”
To which our sweet little production coordinator looked up from her computer to ask, “Do you have a rash, Jim?”
Oh honey, that was no mere rash – the poor bastard had a raging case of Monkey Butt.
Although it was thirty-odd years ago, I vividly remember the day this new form of physical misery came into my life. While rigging a van interior with lights and a battery pack for a low budget feature on a hot summer day, I suddenly felt the Monkey's Kiss -- an ominous tingling down below that rapidly escalated into a fiery pain. As soon as I could break away, I hacked the legs off my long pants with a Buck knife to turn them into shorts. This emergency action helped, but the rest of that day was an ordeal far beyond anything I could have imagined back in college studying film. It was only after confiding in my fellow, more experienced crew members that I learned the nature of my affliction: Monkey Butt.
There’s doubtless a more genteel, scientifically accurate term for the hideously painful affliction that, under proper conditions -- a hot, sweaty environment -- can emanate from the region of one’s digestive exit portal to inflame large portions of the surrounding (and endlessly chaffing) skin. Thus the term "Monkey Butt," presumably taken from the Mandrill, a truly ferocious-looking primate found in tropical rain forests and known for its brilliantly colored face and protuberant buttocks.
I don’t suppose the what-and-why of Monkey Butt can really be explained by anyone other than a dermatologist, but the end result (pun intended) is all too familiar to every guy I’ve ever worked with on set. A bad case of Monkey Butt feels like somebody dropped a glowing red charcoal briquette down your pants. Once the precursor tingling sets in (the Monkey’s Kiss), fire is soon to follow, and if not treated immediately, it will only get worse. Having to work in severe heat and humidity is bad enough, but when every step brings another flaming napalm attack to one's personal subtropical jungle regions, the misery is compounded to the Nth degree.
I was surprised to learn that female juicers don’t seem to get Monkey Butt. Although my research sample was limited – four female juicers and one female grip – the results were clear: none of the female juicers (including two who are thirty year veterans of the biz) ever experienced the dreaded simian affliction. They knew about it from the frequent complaints of their male co-workers, but no matter how hot and humid conditions were, they remained unaffected. The only exception was the female grip, who had indeed been kissed by the monkey.
When I wondered aloud how such a disparity between men and women could exist, one of the older female juicers looked me straight in the eye.
“Men have hairy asses,” she replied. “We don’t.”
“Women have a lot less blockage down there,” shrugged another. “That makes for better air circulation.”
Maybe they’re both right. Whatever the cause, there’s only one thing I’ve tried that really prevents or contains the damage: Gold Bond Medicated Powder.* Baby Powder (in the form of cornstarch) can help as a preventive in milder conditions, but usually won't stand up to serious heat and humidity. When things get truly ugly, there’s nothing like the cool, mentholated relief of Gold Bond to quench the burning fires down below, and turn a potentially horrendous day into a tolerable ordeal.
The flaming misery of Monkey Butt may be a subject of much rueful humor, but it’s no joke. It’s also one reason so many grips and juicers wear shorts in all but the most inclement weather. Some don’t even let that stop them. When I was still working as a juicer and Best Boy on commercials, one grip I knew never – ever -- wore long pants on set, even on location in cold rain, sleet, or snow. Wearing shorts in such conditions might seem extreme, but if his legs turned blue, at least he didn't have to worry about his ass turning red.
If this sounds crazy, then you probably haven't suffered the curse of Monkey Butt. Laugh if you will -- as most people do until they too feel the hot, clammy embraced of the monkey -- but it’s a bitch.
* There's another product I haven’t had occasion to try, but judging by the name, it probably works...