Monkey Business   William Hanigan


I stumbled into my local at what the country boys call midnight—it has always been more of a beginning than middle for me. I had just left the editor of this magazine and an actor friend of ours in a restaurant billed as having the “Greatest Margaritas in the City.” After several pitchers of these, I realized they were talking about another city.


 When I left the two, they were talking to a priest. Buying the guy all his drinks, the editor was trying to find out if the father could conjure up the devil for an interview; either that or he wanted to sell his soul for straight cash. It was never too clear. The actor had painted his hands and was talking through them.


 I said the margaritas were bad, I didn't say they weren't potent.


 I had to get out fast, so I decided to hit my local and hit it hard. The sentimental mood came over me, and it was going to take at least three to get into the surly mood. I saddled up next to a pretty girl at the bar and asked John the bartender, “One for me and whatever the snake charmer is drinking.”


 “Rum and coke,” she said. “Thanks. What's your name?”


“Humbert Rodriguez,” I said.


“That's an odd name.”


 “My mother was Puerto Rican and my father was German.” By her nod, I could tell she wasn't getting it. I went on. “I sell lima beans to national grocery stores.”


 She nodded her head in a motion that said yes, but meant “UHHH?”


 I continued, “In my free time I race monkeys.”


 “Is that legal?”


 “Quite. It's actually becoming the ‘in' thing with the yuppies,” I said.


 She scooted her chair over a bit, looked at me and said, “Well, that's just so darling.”


 “I got into it with my mother. She was the greatest monkey jockey in the history of the sport.”


 “You ride the monkeys?” she asked.


 “Of course. Have you ever seen a monkey run? He's all over the place. Someone has to steer him in the right direction,” I said.


 “That sounds horrible. Does it hurt the monkeys?”


 “No, no,” I said. “It actually builds up their legs. Gives ‘em muscles and such.”


 “Well that's good then. I sure would like to see that race. It sounds swell.”


 “Do you really talk like that?” I asked.


 “Like what?”


 “Nothing. What do you do?”


 I ordered another drink and listened to her ramble. I had to be careful—I was already into this girl for two drinks, and if she walked out, I'd just pissed the drinks away. She sipped slowly and told me her life story even though I didn't ask. I feigned interest and played eye games with the bird in the corner; she had a neck that begged for lips. Just in case this one didn't pan out, I could always jump ship and plead the captain was insane.


 “So I finished college and just moved here,” she said. “Sally didn't even come with me. My mother thinks I'm crazy, but I think in life you have to take it head on. Don't you?”


 “That's what I always tell my monkeys. Head on, boys. Head on.” My hand rested on whatshername's leg. I gave a squeeze and she grinned. I ordered two more.


 “Where do you race the monkeys?” she asked.


 I realized quickly that this subject could be my downfall. I had to right this ship; after all, her legs were better than Neck Neck's neck. Regular chitchat was the way to go, but I'm never good at chitchat. So I started in on the city.


 “What's your favorite part of the city?” I asked as I tried to catch the words from leaving my mouth. If this dame bought it, I should probably run.


 It's always easier with men. Sports and sex. Take any bar in the world, and you have an instant conversation. Screw politics and local news. Either someone is too passionate or too ill-informed. Sports and sex give you a way in. And if you do find yourself in a bar with the guy who says, “I don't follow that shit,” punch him. Don't worry, he won't swing back.


“Oh, I love this city so much,” she said. “I mean there is just so much action, ya know? Like I mean Chicago is just so wild.” She said wild as though it were an exotic word. “Where else can I go out and meet a monkey racer on a Tuesday night?”


I nodded my head and stared at the people walking by the window. Grinning to myself, I realized the girl was right: watching the monkeys race by sure is swell.

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