Monkey Madness

In the spring of 1968, two young brothers ordered a live monkey from a comic book ad. What could possibly go wrong? Tim Tate originally performed this for the live storytelling event Speakeasy DC.

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GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Well, today on SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX and NPR, we proudly present "Fool's Gold," amazing stories where real people discover that all that glitters is not gold. My name is Glynn Washington. Please make sure all your valuables are properly accounted for because this is a SNAP JUDGMENT.

Now then, here at the SNAP JUDGMENT, you know that we do some serious, hard-hitting pieces, right? But not right now, at least not yet. You see, we called the Pulitzer committee and we told them, we don't need your stinking prize, we don't care. Good storytelling is its own reward. Mark, am I right? Yeah. Now, our first piece today on that theme comes to us from a storyteller, a storyteller by the name of Tim Tate.

TIM TATE: The time is the mid-'60s. The place, anywhere suburban USA. My brother is 8, I am 9 years old. We love a magazine called Monster Magazine, which we read religiously every single month. This month, in the back of Monster Magazine besides itching powder and x-ray glasses, you could purchase a monkey. Not a sea-monkey, not a stuffed monkey, an actual squirrel monkey the size of a cat - a big cat and you only had to send $19.95. And we had $19.95 because we washed cars, we mowed lawns.

So my brother and I think, this would be the best - the best idea we've ever had because not only will he do our chores for us and we will love him and he will love us, but also he will go to school with us. Everybody at school will love us because we have a monkey on our shoulder. It was going to treat all of our ills. So we decide that this would be the best idea we ever had, but we knew from experience that if we asked my mom in advance, there was but one outcome - the answer would be no.

But we also knew that any half-dead kind of bedraggled, moth-eaten animal we drag home, she would let us keep 'cause she was a big softy. So with both those pieces of knowledge, we set off for our own monkey. We decide his name will be Pepe. We make him a little hat and a cape. And we will dress him when he comes and everyone will know him because his name will be Pepe. So we send off the money and we wait.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TATE: About three weeks go by and back then women had bridge tournaments with the women from the country club. This was one of those days. So my mom's having a big bridge party. We've been, you know, squeezed into our plaid jackets, little red bowties and our hair's been slicked down and we look very nice - we look like twins. And we're just kind of sitting there smiling so we don't embarrass anybody and they're just pointing and pinching our cheeks. By the way, the cardinal rule in our house is you never ever embarrass your mother in front of the bridge club.

That is the worst thing you can do. So as we sit there petrified that we might embarrass our mother, there's a knock at the door, it's the postman. And the postman has a box addressed to me and my brother. And it's the size of a shoebox. And in the front of the shoebox is a little, tiny metal grill. And on the little metal grill, what we see is a little monkeys mouth going (monkey beathing) up against this thing. So when my mother, seeing this monkey, and seeing it's from Monkey Island or wherever it was from - and she says, oh my god. I don't care what the boys have ordered. Take this thing back, it's not coming to my house. Take it back where you got it from. I don't want this thing in my home.

And the postman says, if I take him back, he will die. So now my brother and I are about to have a stage 4 meltdown in front of the bridge club, which she cannot have, right? And we know that she's sending our friend away to a certain death. So she says, oh for god's sakes, all right. Put the monkey in the kitchen. Now your father's at the hardware store. Now listen, when he comes back and when this bridge club's over, we will resolve this monkey issue. But in the meantime, you do not touch that box, you do not go in the kitchen, you don't even look in the kitchen, you don't smell the kitchen.

You stay out here and when I finish with the bridge club and your father's home, we will deal with it at that time and not a second before. And then she goes back down to play bridge. But we are 8 and 9 years old. We have a monkey in the box in the kitchen. There's no power on this planet that is going to keep us out. Now being 8 and 9, you know where all the creaking floorboards are.

So we take off our shoes and we silently creep into the kitchen. You aren't near that monkey, are you? Of course not, of course not. And we run back to where we were. So we go in the kitchen and we see that the box has a little frayed corner. So we think to ourselves, all right. If we take a little knife, we can help that corner and help Pepe escape so it looks like he just came out on his own because we know he's like suffocating in there - we just can't take it. So we get the steak knife out.

And at first we're tepid and we're kind of slowly kind of working it to let it open, but pretty soon we just start hacking at the box. And were stabbing at it and the monkey's starting to screech - dodging this knife coming at it right and left going ah, ah. Finally, boing (ph), out pops Pepe. Now monkeys are very, very, very smart creatures. They do not defecate in enclosed places and he has been waiting a long, long time in that box. And so sadly, now he's freaked out because a knife's been plunging at him, he's been shipped in a shoebox. So now as he screeches at the top of his lungs, bites us with needlelike teeth and runs in the living room, there's an arc of urine in front of him and a huge trail of defecation wherever he went around that living room.

So now, the women hearing that there's something screeching inside think, oh my god, what happened - run up the steps with their arms up, going oh my god, what's going on? Oh my god. In those years, women had huge beehives that were sprayed and stinky and horrible. And Pepe decides at this moment in time that the best defense is a very strong offense and leaps on one of the women and gets entangled in her hair. And he starts biting on the poor woman who's now bleeding and screaming and crying. And at this moment, my poor father walks back into the house.

When he left, he was a mild-mannered accountant in the suburbs with two lovely children and a bridge club downstairs. And now he thinks a rabid squirrel has broken in. He has no idea what it is because it couldn't be a monkey - was not even in his comprehension. And so the monkey had run behind the sofa. And so he runs down and gets big leather garden gloves and he comes upstairs any he traps the monkey in the corner behind the sofa. And we pull my sister's old crib with screen sides. We push it out in the front lawn and we put Pepe inside the crib and then we put a screen door on top of that and then we put bricks on top of that. And then all eyes turned to my brother and I.

Now we are in trouble, of course, but at this point my aunt is visiting, so before any horrible retribution can happen to my brother and I, my aunt speaks up and she says, oh, look how sweet he's being. Look, he's a nice monkey. Look - and you know, I mean, the boys were stabbing him and he was shipped in a shoebox. You know, he's had a tough life. And I've never pet a monkey. I just want to pet a little monkey.

Let me pet - I bet I can calm him down. So my aunt goes over, but where an arm can go in, a monkey can come out. And out comes Pepe. And a monkey who believes he's about to go to the next beyond in panic jumps out - and to escape, bites the first thing in front of his eyes. And what is that? That is my aunt's pendulous breast. So the monkey bites her so hard on her breast that his head is shaking back and forth. So he bites her and now my aunt lets out a bloodcurdling screech that the entire neighborhood can hear. And she screeches like high heaven.

And finally, she swats Pepe off. He runs into the woods behind the house. We search for him every single day. So we would call Pepe and we would leave food for him constantly. We had Purina Monkey Chow because there were so many people with monkeys back then, I guess. In fact, our mom would go up and buy monkey chow for us even though she had no real desire to. But she - we would make her go buy monkey chow. She would give us bananas. She would do whatever we had to to take food to Pepe. We leave toys out in the woods. We go home after school and we have a group of our friends together and we all say, you know, help us today.

And different people would help us on different days. And we would scour the woods endlessly. And we would always think we caught a glimpse of Pepe - just a little tail somewhere or a little face around the corner, which most of the times turned out to be a squirrel, but sometimes we thought we saw him. And so we always were sure that he was there. At night out of our bedroom windows we would see him in the trees in our minds looking over us and we knew he was waiting to come back home.

And we did this for - it must have been two or three months. And then one day we find his little desiccated body at the foot of an oak tree. We take it and we dress poor Pepe in the cape and hat that might've been his, had circumstances been different. We put him back in the box that he originally was shipped in. We get our wagon and we put back crêpe paper around the entire wagon. We borrow our parents' giant black clothes - my father's black suit and we have a hat. And we've rolled up our sleeves and cuffs because they're way too long but we had this huge funeral precession.

We've got our friends to go behind it and we finally get around to the backyard. My father's there with the shovel going, you know, put the thing in the ground. But we are very solemn and we bury him in the backyard. And we have made a tombstone for him out of paper-mache that we spent days making and it said RIP Pepe, our dearest friend. And we finally bury him and we plant flowers around the gravesite. And there he still lies, peacefully resting in this moment. The tombstone is gone but the area's full of flowers so he always will be there happily covered in flowers. There is an addendum to the story and that is my mother year - many years later, she was on her deathbed - pulled us aside and said she had something to admit. And we thought, oh my god, this must be something horrible.

Oh my god, what could she be hiding that she would have to admit it on her deathbed? And what she decided to tell us and admit at that moment was that during that time, the newspapers, radios and televisions had all had sightings - monkey sightings all around our neighborhood. And they were trying to find out who the owner of the monkey was so if the monkey was captured, they knew who to return it to.

And for god sakes, my mother said, I hid all those newspapers. And if it was coming on the TV, I shooed you out of the room and I hid all that from you so you would never know it because she was so afraid the monkey would be returned to the house. So that was her big confession but, of course, we had forgiven her. But Pepe, who now lives on forever in story form sadly left us much too quickly.

WASHINGTON: Yes, we know and we didn't do it. And I can promise you that no monkeys were hurt in the making of this story. And if you think it's a good idea to order a monkey in the mail, please turn yourself into the nearest police officer at once. Rest in peace, Pepe.

That story was originally performed by Tim Tate for Speakeasy D.C. It's a live storytelling nonprofit. That piece was produced by Julia Botero with sound design by Pat Mesiti-Millier and Leon Morimoto. Now when SNAP JUDGMENT continues, we're going to make big money the old-fashioned way. We're going to gamble for it when the "Fool's Gold" episode continues. Stay tuned.

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