Okay, maybe this should be my second post.
What in the hell does it mean? Well for the one person viewing my blog, I guess I should explain the deep title.
When I was a kid, no amount of cajoling, threatening of bodily harm, or pragmatic discussion would get me to actually get up off my ass and do my assigned chores around the house. Let's face it: I was a spoiled rotten, upper-middle-class kid. Well, that was part of it. The other part was the fact that dear ole' mumsy was a complete control freak, but that's another story for another post.
Therefore, my mother resorted to bribery and started paying me five dollars per week, if I would just empty trash cans and vacuum. In the 70's, that type of money was akin to being 'in' with Jimmy Hoffa, or at least pretending that you had information on where he disappeared to and why.
I must have been around 9 or 10, because I do believe that it was the same year that I told the pasty-faced, nasal voiced girl that lived next door that I knew for a fact that the "Black Panthers" were living in her basement.
Once I convincingly told her that I knew that these badass black dudes were indeed hiding out in her basement, she began to cry but she did go home. That was my intent. However, little did I know that hours later, her mother would appear at our door and summon my mother outside, so I couldn't hear the conversation.
However, I cracked the door and all I heard was my mother saying, "What? I don't know why she would say that...yes, I know who the Black Panthers are....well, do you really think your own daughter knows who they are?....I understand hold on a minute..."
My mother opened the door, which basically knocked me over, as I was eavesdropping. My mother helped me up, sort of half laughing and whispered, "Did you tell Ann that the Black Panthers were living in her basement?"
In that split second I had to decipher whether telling the truth was going to get me a slap or two, or whether my mom would be proud that I even knew who the Black Panthers were anyway.
Given the Margaret Hamilton-as-the-Wicked Witch of the West look my mom had, I figured I better fess up.
"Yeah, I told her...I just wanted her to go home." My mom tried very hard not to laugh and this was reflected in the fight her lips were having, because she wanted to really have a scowl on her face, but I could see the edges of her lips turning upward into a smile.
For appearances sake, sternness won out as she forced me to apologize to Ann's pasty faced, nasal sounding mother and to Ann, also.
My punishment was no TV for a week, and for someone who actually used a tape recorder to record every episode of Welcome Back Kotter, that was a big deal.
Okay, sorry for the synapse segue...
Back to me getting five dollars a week, for doing chores that I should have been doing in the first place.
Shielding my eyes from actual sunlight, as I was forced outside to actually play with the other kids, was a part of my withdrawal symptoms from not being able to burn my retinas watching everything from the Mike Douglas Show, re-runs of Leave it to Beaver, to Welcome Back Kotter, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, One Day at a Time, etc.
Oddly enough, my mother's own will to not have to do the mundane chores around the house, allowed me to still get my five dollars, even after scaring my predominately white neighborhood into thinking that Stokley Carmichael and Huey Newton might leap from their finished basements, like some broken black-jack-in-the-box, and proclaim that they were bought "by the man."
That weekend, my mother needed to go the pet store, and me and my two older brothers decided to tag along, for whatever reasons--probably because my dad was sitting around, getting drunk with "Bud," but I truly don't remember why we tagged along.
Pet stores are great places for kids, period. As usual, I ran right for the birds. The guy that ran the pet store had a Cockatoo, that looked like the one on the TV show, Baretta. I used to go and see what the bird would say, if anything.
This time, near the bird, I saw a one of those really ugly little monkeys. Not a cute, cuddly chimp, that you can hold like a baby, or watch on Saturday morning television--Anyone remember 'Lancelot Link-Secret Chimp?'-but the little "we'll use them for experiments" Rhesus monkey, that looks like an old man in the face-an old, mean man.
The type that run all over the streets of India, right in front of you. Hey, they are really cute when their dressed in some little gypsy outfit, performing with Grogan the Organ Grinder, or whatever, but close-up those monkeys freak me out.
But since there were bars separating me from him, and because I was such a weird kid, I thought it would be cool to taunt the little, ugly monkey.
My mother was purchasing a new leash for our dog, and who knows what my brothers were up to, but I suddenly got a brilliant idea.
See, here I was a nine-year-old, with five dollars, so I thought I ruled the world. I mean, I got in trouble for the "Black Panthers Incident," but here I was a mere five days later with a whole five bucks to spend!!
It was wrapped in a plastic baggie, and in my pants pocket. I reached in, took it out, and began waving it around, up and down, up and down, up and down and across. Over and over, as I watched the monkey's eyes go every whichway.
This sparked me even further to begin to do a little bump-and-grind dance with the plastic baggie, seductively waving the baggie over each shoulder, and then dangling it in front of the monkey. Then, I added some audio commentary. Sounding like a junior Peggy Lee, I began my song.
"Nah, nah, nah nah...look at my five dollars....you can't have it....nah, nah, nah nah nah...it's all mine...you can't get it..."
Yep, my five dollars. All mine. Poor, ugly little monkey couldn't get my five dollars.
For one, brief second, the monkey and I locked eyes. What happened next stands right up there with a viewing of the Zapruder film in slow motion.
With one fell swoop, as I was in the middle of another verse of "Look at my Five Dollars," the ugly little monkey's arm swiftly moved in between two of the bars of his monkey prison, yanked the baggie from my hands, and stuffed it in his mouth.
My reaction was in slow motion too, as I couldn't believe the baggie was now in this monkey's mouth.
I let out with a scream, and began to shriek, "THE MONKEY ATE MY FIVE DOLLARS! THE MONKEY ATE MY FIVE DOLLARS!"
I saw my mother, brothers and the owner--who was behind the cash register--all turn around to look at me.
I took off, tears streaming down my face, as my mother had that irritated look on her face. That, "Oh damn...don't embarrass me here!" look.
She said, "What happened?" And, with great dramatic flair, like a Shakespearean actor holding Hamlet's skull, I said, "I was waving the bag, in front of the monkey, and he just reached out and ATE MY FIVE DOLLARS."
Oh, the horror.
As the tears ran down my face, the owner said, "I'm so sorry. Here...take this," and he reached into the cash register, pulled another five dollar bill out, and proceeded to hand it to me.
Yes. He clearly felt my pain. I was just a kid, who meant no harm to his ugly monkey. Given that his fate might have been having instruments of death shoved up his butt, or being injected with cancer or whatever, I'm sure the owner didn't think what I did was so bad. Yeah, he knew that childhood was a fleeting gift, and I'd have so many years to learn the ugly lessons of life.
I eagerly went to reach for the peace offering and an arm intercepted the hand-off.
"Oh no. Thank you, sir, but no thank you," came the words from the Wicked Witch of the West.
She had 'that look,' as she stared at me.
"No, if she was dumb enough to taunt your monkey like that, with her five dollars in a baggie, then she doesn't deserve getting that money back."
Oh my God. There was the Zapruder-film impact shot.
The owner could feel my pain, as we locked eyes with each other.
My brothers, of course, were laughing the whole time, and as we got into the car, The Wicked Witch was spewing the whole time.
"How DUMB can you be? Brilliant. Just brilliant. Waving your money...wait, MY MONEY... in front of a monkey," she kept repeating.
"But mom, he was going to give me my money, and YOU stopped him," I wailed.
"Damn right I stopped him," she shot back.
We piled into the station wagon, me in the front seat, and my two brothers in the back. With this Greek chorus in the back, continuing to mimic me, in unison, by saying, "The monkey ate my five dollars," over and over, the witch continued her diatribe.
"You don't deserve to get that money back, period. If you can't take care of what you get, and a monkey can outsmart you, that sure doesn't say much for you, does it?"
Well, this was certainly not the way Michael Landon would handle this on "Little House on the Prairie," if poor Laura had done the same thing. And Tom Bradford, from "Eight is Enough," certainly would not call little Nicholas--I pick Nicholas, because I swear I look like Adam Rich, even moreso when the show was on the air--dumb.
But as the years have gone by, I have learned that my mother taught me a valuable lesson of life, by refusing to reimburse me for the five dollars.
Life is not fair, period. You do control your own actions, period. For every action, there is a reaction. Your whole life can change in the time it takes an ugly little rhesus monkey to eat your five dollars.
Throughout the years after this incident, when I was fired from my first full-time job out of college, when depression threatened to knock me down for good, when I got ripped off by employers, insurance companies, mechanics, when friends betrayed me, when that jerk in front of me is going way too slow, but speeds up so he can get through the light and I'm left with the red light, etc., I always say:
"Damn. The MONKEY ATE MY FIVE DOLLARS!" Lately, this statement has taken on a global meaning.
When I watched King George take over our country, not once, but twice, I yelled the phrase. When I watched the horror of Katrina, I yelled the phrase. When we invaded Iraq, I yelled the phrase over and over and over.
It pretty much covers any sucky occasion, so if you aren't a fan of the film, Network, or you want something new to yell out your window, to let the world know just how you feel, try "The Monkey Ate My Five Dollars."
With that said, I will close with a quote from one of my favorite writer/thinkers, Gore Vidal. In a recent interview with The Progressive magazine, here's what Vidal had to say about our glorious leader and monkeys:
"I was brought up in Washington. When you are brought up in a zoo, you know what's going on in the monkey house. You see a couple of monkeys loose and one is President and one is Vice President, you know it’s trouble. Monkeys make trouble."
Yep, Mr. Vidal. I can attest to that. Monkeys really do make trouble.
Cute Chimp--Lancelot Link
Ugly Monkey--Ate my five dollars
Bush Monkey--Continues to eat my five dollars