Thursday, July 8, 2010

Don't Molest the Monkeys

Don't Molest the Monkeys by L. Edgar Otto

The gods are all powerful for as the saying goes: "children should be seen and not heard." A comment they deliver at certain times, most of the time, when they do not want to be interrupted with child's questions and when they are really preoccupied with their adult monkey business.

Children are sort of invisible then. Civilization in the time of the cult of Santa Claus protects and presumes their innocence, at least in the mainstream with public if not private family affairs giving the belief lip service. So some if not all children have a great amount of time they must devote to listening. Consequently they understand a lot more than the adults give them credit for. Sometimes what was not understood as children they recall in exquisite detail when they awaken into the experiences of their own adulthood.

Of course there can be misunderstanding, the wholesale belief in the lies adults tell them, and false or cloudy memories born from the wide world's terrifying things to fear and thus they cling to superstitions. How to live when adults in rituals seem to have gods of their own invoked in curses which the child laughs at but would never dare repeat or in slurred and comical words from communion with the forbidden wine. How long does the child keep a secret, or shared secrets acknowledged, "in the know" understanding he is honored to protect his younger brothers from the fact beyond the cartoon worlds of magic that reindeer cannot fly?

At the Lafayette Zoo in Norfolk there is a cage of monkeys which I recall as a young child that had a sign saying "Don't Molest the Monkeys." Being somewhat precocious as the eldest sibling and feeling a little more civilized than my fisher folk grandmother I knew I could ask her, somewhat teasing an answer from her as if the question was a natural young child one, what the sign meant. Of course it got laughter from her and my aunt and they eventually said- "well, it means not to bother the monkeys- we are not to feed or throw things like peanuts at them." Now one should realize that many things were not said directly in those times and as a child I vaguely understood that some words had a lot to do with sex, something we seemed to ignore when it was talked about. You see, for years the word screwdriver never crossed my lips! Not around adults anyway. But going to public school there were a few fisher folk terms I did not realize were taboo. You see, Virginia is below the roach line and occasionally our houses and apartments would get an infestation- it was even worse when the neighbors sprayed their apartments with a flint gun. The roaches fell of the ceiling into my father's TV dinner and he would cuss and say- "there are so many son of a bitches crawling around tonight!" Or when I asked him about the what I now know is the more juvenile of the species that looks considerably different than the adults- he said, "if you see one smash those Bastards." So, in school when they showed us some pictures of pests and asked us what bugs were these I raised my hand and said, "Mam, the long one is a son of a bitch and the short ones are bastards." She turned white and I was sent to the office while the kids who could not hold it any longer burst out in laughter.

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