Will Kenkel received his PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research has focused on the neuropeptide oxytocin and its roles in social behavior and development. In Chicago, Will was a performer at various improv theatres and founding member of the Nerdologues, who combine high reference comedy with heartfelt personal monologues.
A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does she say and why is he here?
My eyes were all over her the minute she walked through that door. As she waddled over to the bar, I could just barely make out a pair of ebony eyes from under her sombrero that looked right through me.
“Buy me a drink,” she squawked.
I obliged, telling the barkeep to mix up a canelazo. She seemed pleased with the selection.
“Are you a mind reader?” she asked as she took her first sip.
“Not quite,” I replied, “I just imagined a Galapagos Penguin would appreciate a taste of home.”
“What gave me away?”
I took a swig of my dark-and-stormy, “I’d be lying if I didn’t say the hat, but the flippers helped.”
“I’m lookin’ for answers,” she said.
I tried to do my best Bogart, “Then I’m lookin’ for questions.”
“Do I look like a bird to you?” She was blunt.
My eyes drank her in and didn’t mind the opportunity. She was, after all, a member of the rarest species of penguin -and quite a specimen. She was sleek, just shy of 50 cm tall, but not shy about anything else. Her feathers were a glossy black, her feet elegantly webbed and she had a beak like an angel’s, if angels had beaks.
“Sure,” I told her, “You look like a bird from where I’m sitting.”
The penguin took another sip, “Then why didn’t Darwin think so?”
She had the swagger of a gaucho. I was putty in her flippers.
“P-pardon?” I stammered.
“Bloody finches,” she growled, “Variation in beak sizes? Weren’t we proof enough of descent with modification?”
Her erstwhile wings flapped in consternation.
I eyed her over the rim of my glass, “Are you jealous?”
“I’m disappointed. Why on earth did it take you lot so long to come up with evolution?”
“Well sure, it seems obvious now…”
She cut me off, “-It was always obvious. That’s what obvious means. Galileo needed advanced lens crafting for his telescopes, I’ll grant him that. But what’d Darwin need? A long vacation?”
“I didn’t know Galapagos Penguins were so opinionated.”
“I don’t have time to mince words. I’m endangered.”
“Well, I think we had hints at similar ideas before,” I took another drink to buy myself time to remember.
“Empedocles?” She asked, “Sure, I suppose he stumbled on something like natural selection. Zhuangzi knew a thing or two… But don’t even get me started on Anaximander, the man thought humans arose from the mouths of giant fish. If Darwin was standing on anyone’s shoulders, they were hardly giant.”
I was still staring at her when I realized I hadn’t said anything for an eternity, “The problem was-”
Her eyes lit up with a glare, “If you’re gonna say ‘religion’, you can go ahead and settle the tab, ‘cuz we’re done here. In 1377, Ibn Khaldun deduced that humans came from the “world of apes” -I’ve got his Muqaddimah on my iPad. The Mayans held humans to be the result of an iterative creation process -you just happened to be the step after monkeys.”
“Right,” I said, trying to salvage my dignity, “The Popol Vuh.”
Not even the dark-and-stormy could cover the taste of my shame.
I cleared my throat, “You wanna know why it took us so long?” I paused to finish my drink, “Our ancestors lacked a selection pressure against porcinecephaly.”
She paused. Finally something she didn’t know, though she wouldn’t admit it.
I looked her right in those beautiful, beady black eyes.
“Pigheadedness,” I told her, paid for my drink, and made for the door.