Not sure where I got my love of monkeys. I used to hate them. Loathe them.
Not all of them. Or even some of them. Just one. I hated just one monkey. But I hated him enough for all monkeydom.
His name was Peanut. We got him when I was around 13, on a family holiday to Florida for a winter break. Back in the days when you could go into a dodgy pet shop and buy a squirrel monkey and a baby alligator and stick them in cages and drive them back to Dorloo in upstate New York, where the snows were several feet deep and the temperatures generally fell below freezing by December and didn’t let up until March or even April. Back in the days when a family would acquire a couple of new exotic pets, knowing that they were headed for certain death – but it didn’t matter because it would be fun!
The Alligator (cleverly dubbed Alley Gator) did indeed succumb within a few weeks, froze to death in my very bedroom one night when the furnace used up its allotment of oil and the temperature plummeted, so there was a fine veneer of ice on the water in the metal cage where he lived. I felt a bit bad, but I tossed the baby alligator in the kitchen rubbish and brought the cage down to the basement. He was only in my room because it was warmer than the other kids’ rooms.
Peanut, on the other hand, thrived. He took to life in our mad household in Dorloo as if it were his natural environment. The entire house was his playground and the other occupants – his minions. He was fond of dogback rides atop our vicious German Shepherd, Rolf; murdered a litter of kittens by hauling them one by one to the top of the bookcase and tossing them to their deaths; and ate the same food we did – while we were eating it.
We had a large round lamp hanging over the dining table, with a translucent white centre column which housed the bulb, and large blue and green clear plastic panels surrounding it (only made in the 70s…). The panels far enough apart that a small-ish monkey could easily leap up and get in and out of. (Sort of like this one, but think 70s blue-green plastic). Peanut liked to climb inside the panels and snuggle up to the bulb column to keep warm. It didn’t take him long to figure out how to get the lamp swinging, or how to hang by his feet while it swung giving him access to the length of the table. He would simply snatch whatever he wanted off anyone’s plate. Hold onto your pork chop! The butter always had grubby little monkey hand-prints on it, where he’d snatched a bit to lick off his fingers. He’d grab his booty and them climb back up into the lamp and eat it, throwing the unwanted bits back onto the table.
We didn’t have many dinner parties, and if someone was staying for dinner, Ma would lock Peanut into my little sister’s bedroom (where he would trash the place, screaming and banging and demanding his freedom.)
Peanut had a thing about peeing on the stove. He thought the electric burners made excellent squat toilets and regularly used the two back burners. Nothing would seem amiss – you’d put the kettle on then go upstairs to do something and within a few moments the entire house was filled with the gagging stench of burnt monkey urine and cries of “Peanut peed on the stove again!” And then the mad scramble to turn to burner off and cool it down by throwing water directly on the burner, which created a cloud of burnt monkey urine steam…
I hated Peanut.
Peanut didn’t dare come into my room -not when I was there. But every once in a while, one my sisters or brother would break in and leave the door open when they left, and Peanut would dash in and throw everything off my dresser and table onto the floor and break whatever he could. Occasionally he’d leave a bit of monkey-business on my bed.
No, Peanut was not poopy-potty-trained. Nor did he wear diapers. He just went wherever he wanted – which is of course fine for monkeys in the jungle but… He did have some control. He could sniff out my shoes from the line in the entranceway to the house, pick them out every time and have a squat and do his business, so when I went to leave in the morning there’d be one or two piles of monkey business waiting for me.
I hated him, hated him, hated him and wished he was dead.
My mother on the other hand, adored him, loved him, cuddled him, kissed him and let him sleep in her hair at night. (Rolf, the German Shepherd slept on the other side of her, with his head on his own pillow.) She thought Peanut could do no wrong, he was just a cute little monkey.
And one day, about two years after we had got him, on a bright spring day, Peanut died. Got diarrhea and by the time my mother got him to the vet, he was gone.
I was not sad. I did not cry or even pretend, though there was much wailing and sobbing elsewhere in the house. I hid in my room listening to Grand Funk Railroad, amazed at how relieved I was that he was gone. Peanut was over.
But now I love monkeys. Almost as much as bulls. And they love me. (Well, except for the deranged squirrel-type monkey I ran into in Malaysia a few years back. I moseyed on over with my camera and he started screeching and screaming and baring his teeth and generally threatening me. Peanut reincarnated??? Could be.)
I suppose… I suppose Peanut may have been a rite of passage. Sure, I can write about him and try to describe it – but to truly understand, I think you had to be there.
The fellow in the photo – adorable, ain’t he???