There are monkeys in my coconut tree. No, really, little Capuchin monkeys — the “organgrinder” kind. We assume they escaped after one of our hurricanes and hiked several miles before finding the county-protected wooded area behind our house. We’re just glad it’s monkeys and not rhinos. There are three of them. We’ve watched as they climb through the trees in the protected wooded area, climb over our back yard fence, and make the quick scamper into one of our coconut trees. They like to sit on a palm branch and eat the little coconut eggs (or whatever you call them) and chirp with delight. They actually sound a lot like I do when eating a Heath Blizzard at Dairy Queen.
Actually, I have a rather long history with little two-and-a-half pound Capuchin monkeys. In fact, I grew up with them, and I’m not talking about my three brothers. As I was sipping coffee and watching the monkeys in my coconut tree, I thought back about the time my monkey broke my arm.
His name was Reepicheep and he was named after the pugnacious talking mouse in the C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia series. He came to live with us when I was 10 years old. He arrived via missionaries traveling on furlough to Miami. But as so often happens when foreigners get a taste of America, he didn’t want to go back. So when the missionaries went back to South America, Reepicheep stayed with us and become an illegal alien.
Reepicheep lived outside in a tree house my Dad built especially for him. To keep Reepicheep from wandering off and joining a gang, he wore a leather belt around his waist which was attached to a light chain about five feet long. The chain was attached to a pulley wheel which was attached to a strong cable with one end anchored to the tree and the other end to the corner of our house about 30 feet away. Got it?
This set up is important because Reepicheep taught himself the most amazing Tarzan-like trick which he performed all day long. He would casually stroll to one end of the wire cable and dive off in a headfirst bungee jump. He would deftly grab his chain and swing like Tarzan to the other end. Honest! The only thing missing was Tarzan’s jungle yell. I used to charge the neighborhood kids 50 cents to come over and see our monkey swing. I made $18.50 the first weekend we had him!
One of my jobs was to feed the monkey. This meant I would have to climb about seven feet up the tree, find his metal food dish, climb back down the tree, walk back inside the house, fill his tray with left-overs from dinner (no Purina Monkey Chow for our chimp), then climb back up the tree and hand over the dish. At first it was sort of fun, but after six or seven months of this, it lost all its excitement.
So one day, in a moment of adolescent genius, my brothers and I decided to hang a rope swing. We figured our “speed-feeding” system would make feeding the monkey fun again. We attached one end to a thick branch and the other end to a deflated inner-tube tire. The trick was to run as fast as you could and dive into the inner-tube. If done right, your momentum would carry you all the way up to Reepicheep’s tree-house. Once there, you had to then reach out and grab onto the tree house and hold yourself in the precarious prone position long enough to locate the metal dish. It was a thrill seekers delight.
It became even more dangerous, however, when Reepicheep turned mean. I don’t recall exactly when he turned mean, but I think it was right around the time I started throwing mangos at him. Reepicheep was amazingly agile and hard to hit. At first I thought he enjoyed our little game of dodgemango, but as it turns out, it just made him cranky.
So it was, on a particular summer night in Miami, I was trying to coax the little ape away from his tree house to the other side of his cable by our house. A couple of near-miss mango tosses were doing the trick and Reepicheep was as far from his tree house as he could possibly get. My ploy worked as the gullible long-tailed organ grinder wasn’t even looking when I took off for the inner-tube. My dive was close to perfect as I launched myself into the tube and felt the momentum propel me upwards. I smiled at how smoothly my plan was working and how easy it was to trick a primate whose brain was much smaller than the mangos he was dodging. At the same time, I could hear loud snorting coming from the enraged orangutan running as quickly over the cable as his hairy arms and legs would take him.
I grabbed onto the tree house and began a mad scramble for the metal food dish. That’s when I swore I heard the little ape let out an evil laugh. He had purposefully moved his food dish to a little crook in the tree and was closing in fast. Panicking, I tried to reposition myself in order to grab the dish. To do so, I had to slide my waist out of my perfectly aligned center of gravity position inside the deflated rubber tire and wiggle out to where my thighs were holding me in place. My outstretched fingers were just beginning to close around the metal food dish when the evil monkey leapt off the cable and disappeared in a nose dive. I temporarily lost sight of him, but I could hear his Tarzan like yell as the pulley wheel whizzed and he thumped his little chest.
Then, to my horror, the gorilla suddenly came swinging up holding onto his chain and then let go in a perfectly timed move the Flying Wallenda’s would have applauded. The flying furry fanged beast was hurling straight at my face which caused me to not only let out a bloodcurdling scream, but also let go of my grip on the tree house.
I remember thinking how much faster I was going down than going up. That’s also when I remembered I had wiggled out of my perfectly aligned center of balance position in the inner-tube. As the rope swing pulled me away from the crazed gorilla, it also released me to fight gravity all by myself. Fortunately, I landed on a rather large and rotten mango which sufficiently softened my fall so I only broke the two bones in my left forearm.
Later, as the emergency room doctor was putting a cast on my broken arm and pulling mango out of my hair, he asked if I could once again tell the story of how my monkey broke my arm. But this time, he asked if he could invite a few of his fellow staff members to listen. Apparently, I was his first patient to have his arm broken by a little two-anda- half pound monkey.
My arm healed and I stopped throwing mangos at Reepicheep and over time, we made up. He bit me a few times after that, but never again broke any of my other bones. Thankfully our rope swing remained, but we were no longer allowed to use it to “speed feed” the monkey. Even so, Reepicheep and I never fully trusted each other again. He, for one, lost his appetite for mangoes, and I lost my desire to be an Acapulco cliff diver. Perhaps it was all for the better.
Ed Thompson is President of LOGOI Ministries and a frequent contributor to this newspaper. Follow his blog at <edthompsonlive.wordpress.com>.