Boneheads

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September 14 — Africa at last! After weeks of preparation and days of nausea aboard rickety twin-engine prop planes and even more rickety Jeeps, we reached the famed Olduvai Gorge where some of the earliest known human remains have been discovered. My excitement at arriving was tempered by the realization that Professor Donaldson is here also, seeking evidence for his asinine theory that the earliest humans possessed the secret of sheer pantyhose. To my colleague Dr. Rollo and myself, on the other hand, it is apparent that the first humanoids perished precisely because of the lack of proper leggings. Professor Donaldson crashed our arrival celebration and argued his point by giving a disgustingly graphic demonstration of what early man might have looked like in nylons. Meanwhile, I had our cook fill his pith helmet with dung beetles. When he put it back on the beetles believed they had found a mother lode of their favorite food and attacked his bald cranium savagely. He ran off screaming, but I fear we haven’t seen the last of him.

September 16 — A good day. After scrabbling in the dust of Olduvai for nearly 11 hours and finding nothing besides an Oh Henry! wrapper dating from approximately the mid-1970s, I suddenly came upon part of a humanoid tibia. I haven’t properly dated it yet, but my initial guess is that it is at least four million years old. If not, then it may be part of the remains of our driver, who was pecked to death by hummingbirds two days ago — a brutal ordeal lasting almost 24 hours (the African hummingbird is somewhat larger and meaner than its North American cousin). Either way, it is a significant find. I celebrated by sharing a bottle of champagne with our crew. They were rather subdued until Dr. Rollo stepped on a scorpion and started doing a fair imitation of the local fire dance. This put the men in jolly spirits for the remainder of the night, and we all went to bed with smiles on our faces.

September 17 — Professor Donaldson snuck past the native guards and into our camp once again, spoiling an otherwise pleasant breakfast of ostrich eggs and python strips. Somehow word of yesterday’s find had already leaked out, and of course he had to come sniffing around, the meddling fool. I showed it to him nonetheless and asked his professional opinion out of courtesy more than anything else. He snorted and said that, far from being four million years old and humanoid, it appeared to him to be four weeks old and canine. He then offered to trade me his recent “find” for it: a soft, pliable bone with bits of flesh still attached, which he claimed was from a perfectly preserved pterodactyl, though he could not explain how he came to be carrying it in a Kentucky Fried Chicken box. I declined his offer and had our headman Yobi show him the fast route to the bottom of the gorge — the one with the missing rung on the rope ladder. Hopefully he won’t trouble us again.

September 18 — Today I began serious work on the ancient tibia fragment. My first attempt at carbon dating was disappointing, giving a result of less than 100 years. But assuming a modest margin of error of only 99.99 percent, this could be interpreted as supporting my hypothesis. I would guess this specimen to be a female — call her “Louise” — because of her coyness about her exact age. In size and general appearance she no doubt resembled Danny DeVito, although she didn’t shave as often and almost certainly never starred in any major Hollywood productions. Her diet probably consisted of whatever insects flew into her open mouth. Fake fur was not an option, so she wrapped herself in real animal skins. Her embarrassment at this faux pas would explain why she spent her days hiding in caves — either that or the lack of a reliable sun block and skin moisturizer.

September 20 — Another amazing discovery! At the bottom of Olduvai this morning I uncovered a nearly complete male skeleton from the same species as Louise. Because I found it near Professor Donaldson’s discarded hat and shoes, I think it only fair that, despite our professional differences, I name it after him: Homo habilis donis. Like Louise, this proto-man had a cranial capacity roughly half the modern average. I’m sure if he were alive today he’d be either a teamster or a human resources manager. What’s more, I feel certain that “Donnie” (as I already affectionately refer to him) lacked the power of speech. Most likely in a conversation he was the one nodding his head and going, “Mmm-hmm.” He probably communicated by a complex series of grunts, gestures and whistles, not unlike English soccer fans.

September 23 — The local police have arrested me, either for the murder of Professor Donaldson or for littering, depending on how their analysis of the recently discovered humanoid skeleton turns out. The fools! They can imprison my body but not my mind. While awaiting trial in their hastily assembled kangaroo court (the kangaroos are being flown in overnight from Australia via FedEx), I began excavating my cell. My cellmates soon joined in, but lacking a spirit of scientific inquiry they preferred to tunnel sideways rather than down, using my head as a combination battering ram-shovel. Within a few hours they made good their escape, leaving me no worse for wear except that my neck has disappeared and I cannot stop saying, “Welcome to McDonald’s, may I take your order please?” Yes, the end is near. I can feel my life force ebbing away from me. Or possibly it is just saliva leaking out of a mouth that no longer closes properly. My final act, once I make this last diary entry with my remaining good arm, will be to arrange my limbs so that they will create a positive first impression when some paleontologist from the future digs me up. If there’s anything I hate it’s a messy excavation site.

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