- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

Stan Rosen is living proof that one can make a living at monkey business.

But it is hard work.

That’s why Mr. Rosen has the air conditioner in his van turned as high as it will go. He is parked at a strip mall outside a Long and Foster Real Estate office in Clarksville, Md., preparing to sing happy birthday to an unsuspecting victim.

First he must put on his gorilla suit.

“I usually wait as long as I can before I put it on,” he said.

Mr. Rosen has delivered singing telegrams, often dressed as a gorilla, for more than 20 years.

The gorilla suit is covered with black synthetic fur. Mr. Rosen, 46, slips it over his T-shirt, blue jeans and black socks and zips it up the front. He puts separate pieces onto his feet and hands and waits patiently for a signal from Steve Lenet, a real estate agent who helped orchestrate the high jinks.

Gray shades are pulled down over windows in the van so no one sees Mr. Rosen make his simian transformation. He wants to preserve the surprise.

“Secrecy is key,” he said.

With cold air surging through the van and the head of the gorilla suit resting beside him, Mr. Rosen explains that he pulls on the gorilla costume and delivers a singing telegram about four times a month.

It supplements his primary business, Ballroom Balloons, which he opened in 1986 in some spare space at a telegram delivery service in DuPont Circle that his father, Larry, and brother, Steve, used to operate.

Mr. Rosen delivered his first singing telegram when he moved to Chicago in 1983 to attend the Illinois Institute of Psychology. He worked part time at the Crystal Balloon, singing and delivering balloons, while studying to become a clinical psychologist.

He didn’t become a psychologist, but when Mr. Rosen returned to the District, he opened his own retail shop. He has sold balloons and delivered singing telegrams since.

“I enjoy it because I like being an entertainer. I do community theater, and every one of these [singing telegrams] is a chance for me to hone my skills a little more and actually get paid working as an entertainer,” he said.

He has delivered singing telegrams dressed as a clown, a chicken and as Superman. But the gorilla suit is his favorite.

“I push the gorilla costume. It’s a classic,” he said.

He charges about $150 — depending on mileage — to sing at birthdays, office parties and bar and bat mitzvahs.

Mr. Lenet knocks on the side door of the van and says it’s time to go. Mr. Rosen pulls the gorilla mask over his head, grabs a handful of balloons and steps carefully out of his van. He has a bit of trouble locking the door of the van with his gorilla gloves, then closes the door.

Going through the parking lot, Mr. Rosen bobs up and down to imitate a gorilla’s walk and attracts a few stares.

Mr. Rosen has no peripheral vision because he’s wearing a mask, so Mr. Lenet guides him into the real estate office, through a series of hallways to the door of a conference room. The door opens and Mr. Rosen storms into a room with nearly 50 real estate agents attending a weekly staff meeting and finds his target.

“Marlene?”

Marlene Dragisics, branch administrator of the real estate office, happens to be standing in the front of the room talking to agents. When she sees a gorilla invade the staff meeting and call her name, she has a momentary look of dread on her face.

Once the shock fades, she begins to smile and Mr. Rosen breaks into song.

“When I first turned around, I really didn’t think it was for me,” she said later.

Mr. Rosen sings three songs and his performance is a success. The real estate agents have pulled off their surprise and Ms. Dragisics is amused.

“She had no clue,” Mr. Lenet said.

Not everyone is as willing a subject as Ms. Dragisics. Mr. Rosen went into a bar once while still in Chicago to deliver a singing telegram to a bartender.

“He gave me five bucks to shut up,” Mr. Rosen said.

And when he dressed up in his gorilla suit recently to sing at an 8-year-old boy’s birthday party, Mr. Rosen frightened the boy to tears.

“You never know how it’s going to go over. Once in a while it all goes wrong,” he said.

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