Or, The Impassionate Dreams of a Famous Rap-Star and the Woman who Beats Him for Rapping Whilst Eating Sandwiches  

The Day That There Were No Rhesus Monkeys


    Tuesday, a cold, drizzling November morning. I was marching along, hands in my pockets, head hunched over like a drunkard looking for his contact lens. My hair was getting wet. My breath steamed in the freezing air. I was singing to myself as I stumbled to class: "Nothin' lasts forever," I mumbled quietly, hoping no one would hear. "Ooo-oo-ooh, nothin' lasts forever! Even cold November rain!"
    A figure stepped in front of me. Even in the drizzle, I could see that he was wearing a rain coat, an unlit Winston cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. Could it be a superhero? Or a space alien? I crossed my fingers in expectation. As I noticed his bright orange backpack, my expectation melted into despair. No, this was no alien with a shining spacecraft destined to bring me to planet Zorax where I would be both benevolent King and friend to the Zoraxians. I would not swim in the Zoraxac River, nor would I climb the tall peaks of Mount Zoraxil. This was only Toby, the meanest kid in the seventh grade.
    I shouldn't have been afraid of him - Christ, I was a sophomore in college - but something about his belligerent sneer and the way he punched me in the upper arm made me want to scamper away like a pack of squirrels.
    "S'up, Joe," sneered Toby, punching me in the arm. I shook my head both sadly and fearfully. "Todd," I said. "It's Todd." "Asshole," Toby sneered. He had pretty much perfected the art of sneering, one corner of his mouth twitching slightly as if he was in utter disbelief at the naivety of the entire human race. "My name is Toby, not Todd. Remember, Toby? Am I going to have to kick your ass again so that you'll remember it?"
    "No, no," I said, my arms feebly waving off any forthcoming attacks. "I mean that my name is Todd. Not Joe. Please don't hurt me, Toby. You're my best friend."
    "Do you mean that?" sneered Toby. He was reaching in his back pocket and I clenched my fists fearfully, almost whimpering. I thought fast. "Buddy, you and me, we're like dry ice and 80s rock concerts," I told him, reaching my hand out for a high five.
    He slapped my hand hard enough to leave a red welt and then pulled his other hand out of his pocket. It was holding a little pink plastic action figure. I remembered these from when I was a kid. "Holy crap," I stammered, "is that a M.U.S.C.L.E. wrestler guy?"
    Toby rolled his eyes. "You asshole. Do you think I'd be out here showing you a goddamned action figure? No, this is a zillion times cooler. I got this from a guy down at the pawn shop. Cost me fifty bucks, I'll let you have it for twenty. It's a rhesus monkey repellant charm."
    "Rhesus monkey?" I furrowed my brow, not following him. "Yeah," he sneered, laughing hard now. "Rhesus monkey. You haven't seen any of 'em around here, have you?" He was right. Absolutely right. I hadn't seen a rhesus monkey all day, now that I'd thought about it - a couple of puppies had barked at me on the way to class and I'd seen a spider in my bathroom sink, but no rhesus monkeys. Jesus.
    "Look, asshole," Toby smirked, turning and walking away. "I gotta get to class now. Think about it. Twenty-five bucks. Keep you safe from rhesus monkeys all day. Those're dangerous little guys." "I thought you said twenty!" I called as Toby strode away. "Price went up!" he shouted. He was still cackling like an old lady as I saw him enter his classroom. 

    I did not feel like going to class. I suddenly felt very afraid. I decided to go to the library and do a little research on rhesus monkeys. I had to know what it was that I was avoiding. Rhesus monkeys, I found, have a pink face and - this was mentioned repeatedly in my research - red buttocks. They form packs in the wild and live between four and thirty years. They were also some of the first beings to go into space. "Oh, Jesus," I thought to myself, shaking, "monkeys from outer space. Oh my God. I need that repellant charm. Oh my God."
    Quickly, I pulled up my browser's History page and deleted it seven times in a row to make sure I got rid of everything. I did not want anyone to know what I'd found out. If everyone knew about the horror of the rhesus monkey, everyone would want the charm. And that meant the price would sky-rocket. I looked through my wallet - twenty three dollars and fifty cents. That meant I needed to raise at least a buck fifty by the time Toby's school let out. I let out a slow, shuddering sigh. Why did life have to be so complicated? 

    Fifteen minutes later, I was playing my banjo on the street, a hat sitting next to me. Occasionally, a passerby would toss in a nickel or a dime, but - more often than not - people rolled their eyes. "Get a job, asshole," one man sneered, throwing a penny directly at my forehead. I did not care. I kept playing, playing as though I would die if I stopped. "Ohhhhh," I sang, strumming a few chords, "A Rhesus monkey charm / That's all I need, you see / Just gimme a nickel or a dime or somethin' / To keep the monkeys away from me / They're from outer space / They're apparently all over the  place / So give me some cash / I need it fast / Or the monkeys will terrorize me." 
    I hoped to hell that they weren't listening to the lyrics because then the monkey charm would for sure be sold to the highest bidder, but I couldn't think of anything else. I tried to play a few licks of Freebird, but one of the passersby tossed a can at me and I stopped really fast. And three hours later, I'd made it. I counted the money in my hat carefully: eight dollars and thirty nine cents.
    Quickly, I hurried back to Toby's classroom, first standing outside the door in nervous desperation and then leaning back coolly against the locker, trying not to seem so anxious. Toby came out as the bell rang, sneering at me. "God, I'm not your boyfriend. What the hell are you doing waiting for me? Are you going to carry my books, sweetheart?" He laughed hysterically, prompting a fit of hilarity from the seventh graders around us.
    "I, uh," I stammered, trying to play it smooth. "You, uh, you happen to still have that monkey charm? I'm just... interested in it. As a collector only," I urged, smoothing the lapels of my jacket and looking off in the distance thoughtfully, a scholar only interested in the cultural impact of the M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. "Yeah," he sneered. "What'd I say, thirty bucks? S'yours for thirty bucks." He pulled it out of his pocket. It look like half of his foot had been gnawed off sometime during class. There were also several pencil pokes in its back. Toby had wittily drawn a pair of glasses and a beard on the figure with an ink pen.
    "Uh, sure," I said, pulling out my wallet quickly. "Thirty bucks. Here it is." I shoved the money into his hand, grabbed the figure, and ran - laughing with excitement and relief - all the way home.
    There were dangers unimagined all around me. A brick wall could fall on my screaming head. A hole from another dimension could open up and a dinosaur could come out and bite my face off. All of the oxygen in the room could compress into the corner and I would not be able to find the oxygen corner before I suffocated or my head exploded. But - now and forever - I was safe. Safe from the hideous rhesus monkey, a creature born only to torment its hateful enemies, a pink-faced shrieking monstrosity that threw its dung and traveled to outer space in order to attack what it thought of as "pitiful humans," a creature that - as long as I tightly grasped the blocky plastic figure that was now more precious to me than any gold or jewels - would never stoop to swooping down in a spaceship and zapping me right in my face.

       All text copyright Robert Chatham 2005