Watch the Dancing Monkeys… January 22, 2012

Live in Philadelphia, PA

Nine years old is arguably the champagne of aging. You are young enough that you still believe in Santa Claus, your parents and the good intentions of Wylie Coyote wanting to catch up with the Road Runner to make friends. But you are old enough to pick up pieces of adult conversation and understand them, receive a swig of hard cider from a nefarious uncle and discover in the back of your mathematics book a section entitled “Pre-Algebra.” Yes, you’re old enough that you don’t have to deal with round-tipped scissors anymore, but blessedly young enough that no one asks you to mow the lawn. Cool.

It was springtime–the season for our annual trip to the Columbus Zoo. It had been postponed once because it was mating season and the school officials thought it best to delay the trip, finding it somewhat uncomfortable to explain to the children why the lions and bears were “wrestling.” But finally, we grabbed our brown-bag lunches, mounted the school bus and headed off for the big city. This particular year, I got to sit next to one of the “pretty girls,” who was not particularly pleased to be near me, but I still enjoyed the experience, perspiring a little bit on the hot bus, sniffing her essence–the aroma of sweaty flowers.
The zoo was fun. The highlight was seeing a python who had swallowed a guinea pig and was in mid-digestion. We ate our lunches and only one activity remained. Our teacher, Mrs. Arnold, had signed our class up to attend a cultural event at the Pavillion which featured the Magical Musical Monkeys of Montreal. She was excited about it because it was so rare in our small town for anything of ilk or style to be available–and Mrs. Arnold was a woman who viewed herself to be a well-traveled soul, constrained in the mouse-trap of our local elementary school. She was the kind of woman who knew that pronouncing the word “Mozart” required inserting the sound of the letter “t.” So she was quite thrilled with the possibility of exposing her young upstarts to a bit of universality–entertainment from Canada featuring well-trained monkeys wearing cowboy hats, striped vests and dancing inexplicably to some sort of twanging Chinese music.  (You know the kind I mean–pwangs and pings played on what can only be described as the Chinese banjo…)
Needless to say, the classroom, which had endured the entire trip around the zoo and was now on a sugar high from our Twinkies and Kool-Aid, was not in any mood to watch a bunch of miserable monkeys performing antics for treats. We soon became distracted. Mrs. Arnold gently told us to hush. We didn’t. Mrs. Arnold pointed at us, and then up to the monkeys–in rapid succession. We understood her gestures, but ignored them. Finally, completely frustrated, Mrs. Arnold stepped forward and screamed at the class in a hushed, rasping, hissing tone: “Watch the dancing monkeys!!”
Nobody wanted to–I mean, watch the monkeys. But we were more afraid of the gorilla yelling at us, so we stared straight ahead as some of the girls teared up and began to cry and the monkeys finished their show. Leaving the auditorium, we climbed onto our bus as Mrs. Arnold sat in the front, quietly dejected. During the next few days some nasty notes from parents arrived, who were upset that their children were having dreams about talking monkeys threatening them. Mrs. Arnold received a quiet reprimand, and to my knowledge, no other cultural trips from Sunbury Elementary School were ever planned again.
It is a very valuable lesson. It doesn’t do you any good to scream at people to “watch the dancing monkeys” if the little chimps are as boring as hell. Just like bringing up words such as spirituality, politics, responsibility, duty, faithfulness, generosity, prayer, Bible study, intellectual and other such terms are meaningless to people. Oh, I will go further than that.  Aggravating–if you also don’t offer things like fun, enjoyment, entertainment and relaxation.
For after all, God had the sense, when he made people, to tell them to be fruitful and multiply, and often suggested that they “rejoice–and again I say, rejoice.”
You may think it’s important, but yelling at people to “watch the dancing monkeys” only makes them cry and tell on you. So even though Mrs. Arnold had all the good intentions in the world, like all good intentions, they generally speaking end up being … the pavement to hell.

Jonathan wrote the gospel/blues anthem, Spent This Time, in 1985, in Guaymas, Mexico. Take a listen:


To see books written by Jonathan, click the link below! You can peruse and order if you like!

%d bloggers like this: