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Monkey Goggles

The first time that I felt monkey goggles slip over my eyes was in college.

I had just watched a Discovery Channel program about the differences between chimpanzees and bonobos. One common behavior discussed was displaying. When a chimpanzee was agitated or excited, he (of course, he) would “display.” That is, he would pick up a stick and hop around banging the stick on the ground and on tree trunks, making loud noises and carrying on in a faux-aggressive manner, sort of “working it out.” Or something. Sitting there watching the television, the displaying chimp looked, um, pretty wild and kind of silly.

I decided to go for a run. It was winter. I went to the university gym. At the time, it had a new, elevated indoor track. The loop wasn’t that big. So, you had to run around it a lot. The only thing to look at, going round and round, were the other runners or people playing either volleyball or basketball on the courts down below. Back then, going for a run meant six or seven miles. That translated to a lot of laps.

At some point, monkey goggles fell over my eyes. As I watched the guys below playing basketball, it struck me how incredibly similar their behavior was to the chimpanzees in the show. It was incredible how many times a player, having just made a difficult basket or blocked a shot in some splashy way, would “display.” He’d run around the edges of the court, whoop really loudly, slap teammates’ hands, pound his chest. Without monkey goggles, it would have just looked like normal guy behavior on a basketball court. But, with the goggles on, the displaying basketball player looked, um, pretty wild and kind of silly.

Ever since then, every once in a while, the monkey goggles slip back on. Instead of seeing things…

F: Daddy, what are you typing?
D: Just a little observation…
F: What’s an observation?
D: Something that I noticed one day on the way to work. See, I was watching…
F: Daddy, can I ask you something?
D: …um, yes. What?
F: I have to go potty.
D: That’s not a question.
F: Oh. Can I go potty?
D: Of course.
F: Okay. Thanks.

Instead of seeing things from an everyday point of view, the goggles make you feel like you are separate, watching people’s behavior as if they are just very smart primates. Unremarkable behaviors, seen through those lenses, become bizarre.

Take the woman on BART. She got on a stop after me. She sat down in the seat directly opposite me, our knees almost touching. She opened her over-sized purse and took out a mirrored compact. Monkey goggles slipped over my eyes as I watched her. First, she took something out that had some mud in it. The mud kind of matched her skin tone, maybe a little darker. She dabbed her finger into it and rubbed the mud all over her face. I imagined that she must be happy not to have to scout along the riverbed to find just the right mud patch for this project. Someone else has found it and put it in that bottle for her. She had bottles of other muds. She dabbed a couple here and there. I’m not really sure why. She also had a container of slightly lighter color (I think) dirt. It didn’t come from the riverbed. It must have come from a drier patch of the forest. But, again, someone collected the dirt and put it in a cute little container for her. During this whole mud and dirt process, she kept eyes fixed firmly on the mirror, never once seeming to notice or care that I watched her through my goggles.

At one point, she took a stick out of her purse. It must have fallen from a very special tree. When she rubbed this stick on her eyebrows, something dark rubbed off, maybe a little bit of the stick’s bark, really emphasizing her eyebrows. She pulled out what looked like it should be a prized possession: blue dirt! I have never seen blue dirt in the wild, but someone has and somehow it ended up in that purse. She rubbed just a touch of it over her eyes. That blue dirt was really something until she whipped out a tube of bright red mud. As she rubbed that mud all over her lips, opening her mouth at odd angles, staring into the mirror, smacking the lips together to even the red mud out, I couldn’t help but wonder where a monkey gets blood-red mud…until I started speculating that the only way one could is if the mud actually had some blood in it. She dropped her precious tubes back in her sack, checked out her painted face in the compact while primping her hair here and there, never once looking at me, watching.

With monkey goggles on, she didn’t look kind of silly. She looked really silly. Stupid actually. Sitting there staring at her face in a shiny piece of glass, so pleased with all the dirt and mud that she had just smeared all over it. As dumb as a chimpanzee would look on the side of a river, staring at herself in the passing water, after drawing lines on its face with a stick and rubbing blood on its lips. Cuh-razy creature.

But, ten minutes later, standing up, about to disembark, glancing back over at her, monkey goggles gone, I thought, huh, she’s pretty. In the normal range, but pretty. And, I had kind of a weird respect for her for being so completely unselfconscious about applying her face in public, perhaps doing so in front of strangers every day.

BART is fun.

(Later, when I express that I don’t have a picture to go with my “observation,” they ask and I explain in the shallowest of terms. Cory heads off to her room and returns with a stuffed monkey. Fisher finds some toy Sally Jesse Raphaels. Done.)

Dark Christmas Magic

It took a full day last year to get twelve glowing white balls to hang (and light up) from the branches of the Party Tree. Fisher and Cory, but especially Fisher, kept trying to climb any ladder left unattended. And, once or twice a ball fell from its precarious perch to splat, thankfully on the ground and not on one of their heads. They were banished to playing with a box.

This year, with the help of a neighbor, who openly wanted some of the glowing balls to dangle from the branches on his side of the tree, Papa completes the task in half the time. Meanwhile, Daddy gets the 14-foot fake Christmas tree up and decorated underneath them. Fisher helps, but only when climbing the smaller ladder is involved; otherwise, when shooed away from the bigger ladders, he wanders off to tie a long string about his midsection, fastening the other end to one of ten different things throughout the day, to no purpose known to anyone else. Cory, on the other hand, stays focused, making invaluable contributions between tantrums.

D (that night): Fisher, what was your favorite thing about today?
F: Putting up those decorations.
D (lying down with them, looking through their window at a lighted tree and a dozen glowing stars): That was fun. They sure are pretty out there, huh.

Pause.

F: Daddy, I like the decorations better this year.
D: Why’s that?
F: Because I got to climb the ladder.
D (smiling): Cory, did you like putting up the decorations outside this year?
C: Yes, I loved it! My favorite ornaments were those stars.
D: I like those, too. (Thinking of the tantrums.) Is there anything about putting up the decorations that you didn’t like, anything we could do better next year?
C: Nope!

How quickly that dark thread snaking through the Christmas magic is forgotten.

Never Know

F (one day): Daddy, am I a Muggle?
D: Do you know whether you have any magical powers?
F: I don’t know.
D: Well, then you are probably a Muggle.

He looks down at the white rock that he’s been using to draw on the driveway.

D: But, you never know, Fisher. You never know.

Not for the last time does Daddy entertain childish wishes for a kid who wants so badly to fly.

F (another day): Is Harry Potter Disney?
D (knowing that they think anything Disney is real because their babysitter once showed them pictures from Disneyland, standing next to “Elsa” and “Anna”): No, Harry Potter isn’t Disney.
F: Aaaaah.

Key to the beauty of imagination is the sadness of knowing what’s “real,” but…you never know. And, but… But. Daddy searches for a spell, any spell.

F (a later day): Daddy, how old was Harry Potter when he er, eh, uh got that letter for Hogwarts?
D: That’s a question that I should be asking you. How old do you think he was?
F: Um, ten?
D: Close. Eleven.
F: Oh.
D (reading his mind): Are you hoping you get an invitation to Hogwarts when you turn eleven?
F: Uh huh.

Daddy discards as a very bad idea their finding letters from Albus Dumbledore in the mailbox this Christmas.

F (a still later day): If you get a scab on your head, then does that make you have magical powers, Daddy?
D (walking along holding his hand): A scab on your head?
F: Like Harry Potter.
D: Oh, a scar, you mean?
F: Yah.
D (picturing, in horror, the multiple ways he might try to acquire a lightning scar on his forehead): No, Fisher, that isn’t what gave Harry his powers. He had powers before that scar.
F: As a baby?!
D: Yep. Fisher, those kind of magical powers are just in the Harry Potter books, though. They aren’t in the real world.
F (downtrodden): Oh.
D: But, Fisher, if you ever develop any magical powers…
F: Like talking to snakes?
D: …like talking to snakes or anything else, will you please tell me? I’d love to see that.
F: Oh, sure!
D (squeezing his hand): Thanks, Fisher. I would really love to see that.

The only step Muggle parents can take is to make sure he’s flying in his dreams…and, um, if he someday happens upon just the right spell…could happen…never know…

Here with Cheer

Los Altos has a holiday parade, held just after dark, each year around Thanksgiving.

It’s called the Festival of Lights because lighted floats and lighted high school marching bands start drifting by around 6. Real rain, both before and after, held off this year. The offerings included a Tick-Tock Croc pulled in front of a duel badly danced between Pan and Hook; a herd containing every Disney princess, dresses laced with Christmas lights, Elsa (an energetic sixteen-year-old really selling it) the break out star of course; and a traveling tea party, Mad Hatter, Cheshire cat, Alice, and all. Thinking Macy’s would be far too heady. Think higher-end of Mayberry.

Cars carrying unrecognized mayors start things off, Santa’s sleigh, Rudolph in the lead, shuts things down, but the real action starts much, much earlier. The competition to mark off viewing places on the street is intense. By midday, every stretch along the parade route is chalked up, every stretch, that is, except the intersections. Those intersections will be blocked to traffic later. At 4:15. Many people don’t realize that. Out goes a neighbor, all-weather tape in hand. At 4, Papa arrives with chalk, to reinforce the prior taping, and folding chairs to…unfold in the middle of the street.

Within a half hour, Daddy arrives, lugging a backpack, twins in tow. Cory and Fisher start rolling around on the curb, off the curb, in the street, chalking away. Police cars begin passing down Main, speakers booming, “Any cars not moved by 4:15 will be towed. Your car WILL be towed.” Papa approaches the backpack. No brown bags are involved, but wine is poured. Cheers, Papa. Cheers, Daddy. The rest of the party (meant to occupy a twelve by eight section of prime real estate) doesn’t arrive for 90 minutes. Ninety minutes. That’s ninety. Nine oh. Two adults and two kids are laying claim, while an ever increasing number of passers-by stop, look, question, grumble. Their arms look tired from carrying this and that. Their kids look longingly at the drawings on the pavement. All that seemingly open space. Cory chalks. Papa smiles. Daddy swings Fisher around.

C: Aaaaah, Fisher got to go one more time…
D: Okay, Cory, one more!
F (hopping around): You better watch out, you better not cry, you better watch out, I’m telling you why…
F/C: Santa Claus is coming to town!

Move along, people. We’re here. We’ve got cheer. Get used to it.

(Within thirty minutes of the show, friends and neighbors do arrive, after long drives and kid drama, to fill up most of the chalked area. What’s left is relinquished to very excited, random latecomers. Such an orderly crowd, this Festival of Lights draws…)