Here is an attempt at putting some of the charachters generated from our little excercise…
I didn’t want to go the Zoo today. But it’s my weekend with Ben and that is the only thing he is interested in right now. His current fascination is with monkeys or, I should say, primates in general. Between his mother’s house and mine I would say we are nearing the one hundred mark of various stuffed animals, plastic monkeys hanging from the ceiling, ape backpacks and the like. His favorite, and I take some small amount of pride in this, is the giant stuffed gorilla chair in the corner of his room. Most nights when he is at my place I’ll tuck him into his bed with no complaints at bedtime, only to find him 30 minutes later curled up in the lap of that giant gorilla where he will sleep soundly for the rest of the night…
“Dad, they’re over here, past the Giraffes!”
His five year old hand tugging on my fingers he leans forward defying gravity dragging us both to his destination. I notice as we round the corner past the giraffes the monkey cage looms large above us. High chain-link fence serves the perimeter and a net with ropes attached at various points serves as a ceiling for the exhibit.
“Dad, be careful, you’ve gotta watch these ones” Ben said in that cute high pitched voice. I admired his ability to speak clearly at such a young age. I struggled all the way up through high school with certain parts of speech. First it was the lisp, but we conquered that one by 6th grade. Then it was the stutter in the presence of girls, so while “Thally” had become “Sally”, if I stood in front of her it became “Sa..a….a….a…, Hi there…” that was usually as far as I got before I turned the color of bad makeup and shuffled off. Defeated.
We’re past all that now, well, almost. I still have never been able to vocalize the word “and”. None of my therapists, speech or otherwise have ever been able to get me past it. I just can’t say it. I try to say it and comes out as a guttural “augh.” Over the years I’ve been able to dance around it, I just start a new sentence, use some random pause, or distract whomever I’m talking to into changing the subject to one of many pre-planned “small talk” dialogues I’ve established as a defense mechanism.
Back to the monkeys.
As Ben breaks his five year old death grip on my first two fingers he runs straight up to the monkey cage, throws his arms up to ten and two and grabs hold with all his might. “There they are!” he yelps.
“I see them!” I say, feigning the novelty of the situation.
“That one there Dad, the one with the white spot on the tail, be careful…”
“Why be careful Ben? He looks pleasant enough.”
“He does now, but last week when Mommy brought me he wasn’t happy. He threw poo at her.”
“Really?” I ask, a little disappointed in myself at how happy that thought made me.
“Yep, I think he was mad because he was feeling sick”
“What made you think that?”
“Well… cause… it was really runny and smelled really bad. Mommy’s car still smells bad. She screamed and jumped and ran to that bathroom over there.”
At this point I can’t help smiling. I’m fighting against it with everything I have. The edges of my mouth are quivering as I picture my Ex, doused in monkey poop running like she’d caught fire to take a mini-bath in the sink of the Zoo’s public restroom. This is the woman that vacuumed twice a week and wouldn’t let me have a dog because she couldn’t stand the idea of stepping in something while lounging in the backyard barefoot.
As I’m mesmerized by the film on loop in my own personal movie theater I notice an obviously distressed woman in the distance calling out the name “Lisa”. As she comes closer I see that she is actually quite attractive with mid-length platinum blonde hair and sporting a green Kangol golf cap with a button in the front.
She is hurrying along talking to everyone, asking “Have you seen a little girl? About this tall and wearing a hat like this?”
When she gets to us Ben completely ignores her as he is transfixed on the monkeys and is making small scared/excited noises every time one of the monkeys reaches back towards its tail for a scratch.
She approaches looking frazzled and just shy of hyperventilation when I stop her before she gets to her question. “Hey there, I heard you asking about your little girl. Have you lost her?” “Yes” she replies exasperated. “I was standing over by the Prairie Dogs and I turned around to buy some peanuts from the man with the cart and I turned back around and she was gone.”
“How long ago?” I ask.
“About 15 minutes but it feels like hours”
“Have you let anyone in security know?”
“No I haven’t found anyone to tell”
“Well there is a security booth over by the Hippo pond. Let’s head over together. We can see if they have heard anything or if they can make an announcement.”
“Ok, ok, good idea.”
We start to walk back past the giraffe’s pen toward the Hippo pond and I decide it’s a good idea to keep her talking.
“I’m Gavin Caldwell, This is Ben” I say.
“Ben Caldwell, five years old” Ben said. Making sure that everyone knew just how big a boy he is.
“What’s your name?” I ask
“Really? I’ve never met a Venus before. The name suits you.” I was trying to be complimentary and put her a little more at ease.
“Not as much as you’d think” She mumbled back.
Before I was able to ask what she meant by that, one of the Giraffes answered it for me. It brought its head down from its lofty perch to grab what I’m sure it thought was some kind of fuzzy vegetable. Unfortunately the Giraffe’s snack was Venus’s hat. It all happened very quickly. Much faster than I thought Giraffes could move. And I was left awestruck. Not by the act of the hat snatching but by the realization that that lovely platinum blonde hair stopped just above where the hat rested. Venus was bald on the top of the head. Not thinning bald, but where the hell are my sunglasses bald. Ben, never missing a beat, calmly declared “You’ve got hair like Grandpa.” Venus, visibly shaken, quickly reached into her purse for what I can only imagine was her backup plan, a bandanna. In a flurry of hand waving and knot tying something happened and it was like the sun went out to be replaced by a paisley black and white bandanna.
I kept my mouth shut.
Small talk over, we approached the security post in silence. As we came around the last corner and the booth came into view we could see a beautiful little girl sitting quietly at a picnic table with a security officer.
Venus ran the rest of the way to her daughter screaming “Oh, Thank God!”
She started her story even before she got to the table. “I turned away just for a second and she was gone. I just wanted to buy some peanuts and I hate peanuts. I never should have done it.”
After the report was filled out and we’d suffered through the guard trying to wrap his head around the fact that “Ng” is a real last name. A deep exhale was experienced by the group.
“You have a really beautiful smile” She said. “It’s like your whole face is participating in the event”
A little embarrassed I thanked her. “You said you hated peanuts, why were you buying them?”
“I like to have something to feed the monkeys. I know it says you shouldn’t but they just love them and it makes Lisa happy.”
“Oh, so you’re the lady my mom wants to kill.” Ben said nonchalantly.
“Me? Why would she want to kill me?”
“I don’t know” said Ben. “But she kept saying over and over on the ride home ‘I’m gonna kill whoever fed that monkey those peanuts.’”