Saturday, April 19, 2008

Gorilla My Dreams

I may have told this story before. If not, I should have ...

Back in my childhood, exotic pets were more common than they are now. There were plenty of dogs -- most of them running loose and apt to bite -- cats, birds, of course, but you could also buy what were called tea-cup monkeys -- tiny little things advertised in the back of comic books, along with snakes, lizards, and various large cats -- I had a friend who had an ocelot. We knew a guy who had a bobcat, and one who had a panther kitten.

No licenses necessary, save for the dogs.

One bright spring day, my friend Bobby Harrison and I decided to go and steal plums. I have mentioned that such an activity was common amongst the nine- and ten-year-old boys where I lived. We located various trees, watched them from afar, and then when the fruit was just the right shade of green-turning-to-yellow, we'd hop the back yard fence -- most of the plum trees were in back yards and most of those were fenced -- fill our pillowcases, and haul ass.

What passed for crime in our day and neighborhood.

So, Bobby had found a tree not far from his house -- on Enterprise, two streets over from mine -- that we had somehow missed. We rolled by on our bikes, and it was full of just-right plums.
No time like the present, we parked the bikes, climbed the fence, and started stuffing plums into a brown paper sack, when, all of a sudden --

King Kong dropped out of the tree in front of us.

Well, okay, not really King Kong. It was, I later found out, a young chimpanzee. Wearing -- though I didn't notice it at the time -- a collar and chain that was connected to the tree.

But, picture it: Two scrawny little boys, going maybe sixty pounds each, and of a moment, beset by a swings-with-Tarzan furry monster as big as we were.

You have never seen, nor will you likely ever see, anybody move so fast. Bobby and I screamed and flew -- flew -- over the fence. I don't remember the trip home, only the end when I skidded my little Huffy into the front yard, still terrified and hardly able to breathe.

My mother was waiting at the front door. She glared at me.

"What have you been doing?"

A knee-jerk response:"Me? Nothing!"

"A woman just called me and said you were in her back yard, scaring her monkey."

I was astounded.

For two reasons: One, that anybody could possibly think that I was scaring that great ape who, I was dead certain, would have torn off my limbs had it been able to grab me.

Scaring her monkey?! Me?! It would have killed me!

And two, and more importantly -- how had that woman known who I was? How could she have called my mother in the time I tore up the streets racing home? That was the mystery.

Later, when I talked to Bobby, he swore he hadn't ratted me out, and I believed him. But to this day, I recall that event with great puzzlement. What kind of person keeps an ape in her backyard plum tree? How had she known who I was and managed to phone my mother in the five minutes it took me to flee home? Even if Bobby's mother had gotten it out of him -- and how would she have even known to ask? -- it would have taken a while to get my name and number to the woman so she could call my mother.

I didn't know the woman. Nor her monkey. But maybe she knew who I was.

One of life's unanswered questions. More proof that the universe is strange.


Jas. said...

"A woman just called me and said you were in her back yard, scaring her monkey."


Sometimes I wonder just how many of these childhood tales of yours are real.

The rest of the time, I feel like Hugh Grant in "Four Weddings and a Funeral", wondering what the hell I was doing with my time. I don't remember anything from my childhood as amazing as these snippets from yours ... and certainly no monkeys.

Great story, though.

Steve Perry said...

Every tale true to the core. I couldn't make stuff like that up -- it would never occur to me ...

Mark Jones said...

I can vouch for the "mom grapevine" part of this story from my own experience. I grew up in a small (1100 people) town in southern Virginia. Early on I got used to the idea that total strangers--to me--would routinely talk to me on the street, asking about my family and clearly well aware of who I was, who my family were, and generally what we were about.

And I could be anywhere in or around town (or in the woods around town) and if I did anything untoward, my mother would know about it before I got home. It was spooky.

steve-vh said...

Former coworker lived at an apple orchard foster home. They had a chimp that roamed the place as well. Pulled a couch full of 3 adults to the kitchen to demand food.
It's favorite pasttime was hiding in the apple trees and reaching down on the unsuspecting man of the house (and a large one at that) and picking him up off the ground by his hair with one grip.

He said as a lower member of the pecking order, being a foster kid, he was scared to death of the thing.