Let us picture, for a moment, down a few houses in a certain ethnic
, an old man - a hurdy-gurdy
grinder and the monkey that comes
as part of the package.
The music produced by churning the crank in the side is lopsided and
wheezy in the more frivolous higher registers, like a travelling circus
going uphill and out of breath. It spirals and unwinds like a drop of
petroleum diluting rainbow in a puddle on black asphalt.
The old man is quite typical, quite nondescript. Battered hat, grey
moustache, slightly stained shirt. It is the monkey that holds both's share
of description. Truly a mangy beast; all bones, fur, teeth, fleas, wizened
prehensile appendages and even more wizened eyes, hinting at a wisdom held
within in utter contradiction of its every action.
It wears a bellhop costume, perhaps the most contradictory part of
the whole affair because it is so damned sharp; there's enough burnished
brass on it to keep a murder of kleptomaniac crows interested far after the
corpse would cease to ressemble anything more than something that could
(and should) be subjected to a strict and severe dry-cleaning to remove its
remains from that still-damned-snappy outfit. (In truth, the jacket might
not be all THAT good, but its relatively immaculate condition compared to
that of the monkey made the dichotomy all the more apparent.)
The monkey spends most of his time dancing, urinating or masturbating,
with a special emphasis stressed on those last two. During his spare time,
which is often, since the old man is prey to sloth and lethargy in the
duties dictated and demanded by the hurdy-gurdy, which would play only for
sporadic bursts of five minutes at a time unless it was not being watched,
in which event its soft strains would penetrate plaster, glass and brick for
hours at a time; during the monkey's spare time it roots around in dumpsters
and potted plants for his favorite treats; ju-jubes, fish heads, radishes,
used prophylactics, fish heads, soggy cabbage, fish heads, pigeon eggs, small
rats and fish heads.
The first few times I passed this pair, I put some money in the
monkey's tin cup, but the peculiar sound of the coin hitting what was inside
made me reconsider my actions. The cup was always half-full of broken glass
and cracked dice, generously given no doubt by reformed gamblers and those
suddenly healed of cataracts; it was against those that my coin made the
sound that bothered, and I resolved never to put anything so literal in
Coming down the stairs at an indeterminate hour of the morning today
I came upon them. This was not unusual. Because I was so used to their
surreal presence, I didn't feel awkward about sitting at the bus stop bench
in front of the pair, so often deserted,and letting my mind trip the simple
repetition of the hurdy-gurdy's simple melody and rhythm. But this time
something was different.
"You no looka so good, son. Whassa da matta?"
I sat for a further minute, lost in the tuneless
opening my eyes and turning around to face the speaker. I say "speaker" in
such oblique terms because, although I did not have any good reasons to
believe that the monkey had addressed me, likewise did I have no good reason
to think it was the old man. He had never spoken to me before, and I'd
always entertained the notion that he was mute. Not neccessarily deaf,
though the music of the hurdy-gurdy might make more sense that way, but the
combination of his silence and his age had led me to consider him as either
incapable or reluctant to speak. Either he could not or would not
He took my silence in stride, cleared his throat, and repeated
"You no looka so good, son. Whassa da matta?"
I watched his lips move with the sounds, and regardless, the monkey
couldn't have spoken - his mouth was full of fish head, an eye winking out
while he fiddled his little monkey diddle
. It looked at me, and I was
uncomfortable. This uneasiness
was compounded when I realized that the fish
eye was also looking at me.
Despite being ill at ease, I replied. Perhaps I was simply being
honest, or maybe I thought that the man's age and experience could lend some
advice, if not neccessarily wisdom, to my current predicament.
"I gave my heart (oo'er!) to a woman, whose was already pledged to
another man!" (alas! alack! woe is me! went the studio audience in my head.)
He looked pensive for a minute while the monkey finished up, then
started up the music and replied.
"Issa universal problem. Why, in my youth I myself once gave my own
heart to a girl who gave her own to a man with no heart! Through hers he
was able to live and she through the donation of mine; I had no heart left
to allow my own continued existence."
I was surprised how he had lost his accent so completely after not
talking for years and years, but I paid little attention to his words. He
"Now, you may have remarked that I am here before you. This is only
due to the benefit of surgery. They gave me a baboon heart, no, I see your
raised eyebrows, look - "
He unbuttoned his shirt and indicated a scar running across his
"But you see, my body rejected it. There were too many
incompatibilities in the comparitive anatomy. So they had, you see, they
had to find a heart I was more familiar, more friendly with. So, I recieved
the heart of my dancing monkey. This - I know you cannot believe, so
He unbuttoned the vest of the dancing monkey and indicated a similar
scar across its little monkey chest.
"You mighta noticed I don't move around so much. Well, a monkey's
heart is mighty small - it can't pump blood so good in someone my size so I
can't do much more than turn the crank of this hurdy-gurdy."
He gave the crank a little extra twirl and flourish to emphasize
his point. The monkey jumped up in the air and picked at his fur, grooming
"My monkey - he got the heart of the baboon. That pumpa whole lotta
blood more than a llittle wee bitty monkey heart, which is why he move
around a whole lot. He's REAL strong, too. Here, lemme show you."
I don't know why I allowed the man to guide my pointer finger into
the monkey's grasping hand, especially considering that I knew where its
hands had been, but when its spidery little digits wapped around mine and
squeezed, I instantly lost any and all incredulity I might have had in the
old man's story.
I just sat own in dumb silence and stared at my swollen finger, that
offending digit, for what must have been at least fifteen minutes. His
point proven, the old man smiled smugly to himself, said nothing more, and
ground the organ with renewed vigour.
My mouth had been steadily dropping and I like to think that I was
about to utter something either profound or profane (I wasn't too sure
which) when my bus pulled up.
Back in the real world, I got on the bus, paid my fare, and sat
down. Still, as the blocks wore onward, I stared at the finger continually,
and thought perhaps that I should acquire a hurdy-gurdy of my own, complete
with a dancing...