There is a man in our neighborhood who walks the streets with a monkey on his shoulder. The monkey is small and brownish-black and is always partially shrouded by his owner’s gray hooded sweatshirt. The man walks with a long gait. He is tall and lanky, has a coarse gray beard like his monkey’s.
Sometimes the man’s lady friend walks with him; she is petite and blonde and appears to be the monkey’s lookout. When an official-looking car drives by, the blonde keeps power walking while the man makes sure his hood is up and turns his back to the street, as if he is checking out a house for sale. Nevermind the long, black primal tail trailing from his hood, or the blank little face that sometimes peeks around to see what’s up. It is a weird arrangement, and although I’ve been observing it for almost three years, seeing the monkey peeking out from the hooded sweatshirt still catches me off guard.
When Ivy and I are on the street and we happen to pass this odd pair, the monkey bounces and chitters while the man hisses and kicks in the air to keep Ivy away. I wonder what sorts of diseases the monkey carries and I give the man annoyed, peevish looks. The man wears mirrored sunglasses, so I have no idea what sort of looks he’s giving me.
I’m not sure why I’m blogging about this except that I think it’s so interesting that we have a man who ambles through our neighborhood with a real, live chattering monkey on his shoulder; I also don’t often have the occasion to mention this odd neighbor in casual conversation. If he were friendlier, I would ask him for his story. I wonder where he works and if his co-workers know he owns a monkey; I wonder where the monkey came from and what he does when not shrouded by his owner’s sweatshirt hood.
There is also a man who runs around our neighborhood at night carrying an empty plastic grocery bag with him; he appears always to be training for a marathon, always completely exhausted. He stutters. He throws imaginary sticks for Ivy and tries to strike up conversation about the weather, or about dogs. But because he keeps running as he talks, our conversations never get far.
Another guy bikes through our residential streets wearing huge headphones, thick glasses, a black baseball cap, a t-shirt, a backpack and cargo shorts. His hair is long and curly and flows wildly out of the baseball cap, which makes him look like a boy – slightly unkempt; completely free. I always expect to see him coasting down a hill with his arms up-raised, and although he never does this, seeing him ride his bike so joyfully makes me happy.
I am glad to have these odd people in the world. Which is not to say that I want any of them to follow me home or that I have come to like the monkey-man. But I admire their weirdness, how life has not made them so tired that they can no longer be themselves, can no longer walk with monkeys on their shoulders or throw imaginary sticks. These three men are harmless, but I know people who would be afraid of them because they are different. I try not to be that way.
Lately, I’ve been trying to read a little poetry every day. These few lines are from Mary Oliver’s poem “When Death Comes”:
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.