Saturday, March 11, 2006
Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" My Ugly Gray Stripe and I greet you! We hope you'll enjoy your stay here in our polytheistic paradise.
Strangest thing about me. I never had a role model. I mean, I never looked at an individual and said, "Gosh, what a great life that person leads! I want to be like that!"
Many people take deities or saints as role models, and that's fine. You go. But don't start whining when The Man wants to tie you to a stake or a cross, or a rock where some buzzard can come and eat your liver every day. (Note polytheistic examples.)
But today, as I enter the last 1/3 of my life, I can truly say I've found a role model. About time, eh?
Some of my most faithful readers (all 3 of you) will recall previous posts about the Monkey Man.
To summarize for the rest of you:
About 5 years ago, my daughter The Heir came home and said some weird guy on a bike with gray hair and a clown hat and a monkey puppet rode by her and her friend and said, "Hi, kids! ooo ooo ooo AH AH AH!" And on he rode.
This was our first encounter with the Monkey Man.
Yeah, yeah, I could have done the Dr. Laura thing and reported the incident to the cops and had them look for the potential child killer. But what did he do, after all? He made a monkey noise with a puppet in his hand. This is America. There's no law says you can't wear a clown hat and carry a monkey puppet.
My daughter The Heir was intrigued by this strange individual. She started asking around about him. In the meantime, about every 3 or 4 months, we would see him -- either me and The Heir, or me and The Spare. Once we saw him riding his bike through our neighborhood. He stopped,
let his monkey say hello, and rode on.
Six months would pass, sometimes more, and then one day one or the other of my girls would come home and say, "I SAW THE MONKEY MAN!" And the other sibling would be ticked and disappointed that she didn't see him too.
One night I was shopping in the local grocery store, and the Monkey Man came in. By that time I'd heard every urban legend about him: that he was homeless, that he was crazy, etc. etc. -- but never that he was dangerous.
I followed him discreetly through the store. He bought vegetables, and his clothes and hair were clean. It was impossible to determine his age. When I went outside his bike was sitting there with the monkey in the old-fashioned basket.
Couldn't get a word out of the monkey about his Man. Loyal critter.
In the summer of 2004 my daughter The Spare ran into the Monkey Man at the local pharmacy. Her friend happened to have a camera. Daughter asked Monkey Man if she could pose with him and Monkey. He was glad to, and in the snapshot he's just beaming.
No one with a police record would do that.
Last spring, the Monkey Man saw my daughter The Spare downtown. He had lost his monkey, and he was giving out his email address, hoping that someone might have seen it.
Spare came home with the Monkey Man's email address! We stared at it like the Holy Grail.
Then we started looking for that monkey.
Turns out one of The Heir's friends had found it, recognized that it belonged to the weird guy in the clown hat, and took it to the police. But that girl didn't know how to contact the Monkey Man.
One email later, Man and Monkey are reunited. A few emails of gratitude passed.
Here's where it all passes into the supernatural.
The Monkey Man lives deep in The Murder Capital of America, which is about 6 miles from where we live. One day Anne and The Spare got an invitation to join a poetry group that meets at a pizza parlor in said Capital. The Monkey Man heads this group, and judging by the number of people on the email list, it's a significant, ongoing poetry group.
Well, Anne's beloved husband rather baulked at having Anne and The Heir drive into the Murder Capital at night, especially knowing Anne's complete inability to find a location in a city with more than 20,000 inhabitants.
So instead, Anne and The Spare found a poetry reading in their town, right around Christmas, and invited the Monkey Man to come. And by golly, he came -- with his monkey and his clown hat and his bright baggy pants.
He took a turn at reading. He took the monkey to the podium with him and let the monkey say hello to everybody. The snooty people in this town kind of giggled uncomfortably.
Then the Monkey Man said:
"The last time I read poetry by candle light was on Ashbury Street in San Francisco in 1968. I nearly set my clothes on fire. So let's see if I've learned anything since then."
He proceeded to deliver three of the best poems I've ever heard that aren't in a book. The last one he read and signed (sign language) simultaneously. They were poems he had written himself.
After the poetry reading we discovered that the Monkey Man had grown up in the house behind ours, that he had attended the same elementary, middle, and high school The Heir and The Spare attend. He's still a huge fan of the local Fighting Wombats -- in fact he and his monkey took two trains to the 2005 basketball state championships (that was another Monkey Man sighting before we knew him).
Sound suspicious to you? Then go listen to Dr. Laura! There's no place for you here at "The Gods Are Bored!"
The Monkey Man remembered the neighbors that used to live around us. Anne called one of them -- she's in a nursing home -- and she said she still gets cards from him, that she loved him, he was a great kid, and she used to drive him to college when his parents were busy. She even remembered the year he graduated from high school.
So over to the local library goes Anne, and she asks to see the Wombats yearbooks, and there he is, a clean-cut, very early 1960s high school senior, still bearing the same nickname he uses now. He was all-state in baseball.
Very early 1960s high school senior. All-state baseball. Did he miss that little war in Southeast Asia? Did he fry his brain during the Summer of Love?
You do not ask these questions of a role model.
He is what he is, a man who dresses weird and lives alone, who works as a substitute teacher in a Quaker school and attends Mass every Sunday. He's a poet and a sports fan. We just got a postcard from him and Monkey, they were in Florida at Spring Training.
Why is he my first role model?
Because as I've aged, I've realized that what matters in life is not how famous you are, or how rich you are, or how many important people think you're important too.
What matters is streaking through life brightly, a poetic comet, immune to ridicule. What matters even more than where you live is how willing you are to create the world you want to be in by showing your true colors fearlessly.
The bored gods salute the Monkey Man, not for the particulars but for the broad bright canvas on which they are recorded.
THE MERLIN OF BERKELEY SPRINGS
200 MILES OUT FROM APPALACHIA