Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Monkey on My Back

Look for a long time at what pleases you,
and longer still at what pains you...
I don't know who Colette is or was, whether it's a first name or a last. I ran across this epigram just now on a disembodied page sitting next to our bathroom sink. Live with us for any length of time and you will not find the preceding sentence overly odd...we have books everywhere, and some of the older ones occasionally molt.
In any event, I was 'bathruminating' on something that pains me mightily when my eyes were drawn to Colette's words of wisdom. It occurred to me that this thing should be dragged into the light of day (or at least the weak glow of my monitor) and examined.
Christ, it's heavy. Not that I've noticed the weight before, or not often--We Do Not Speak Of It. But I've carried this burden pretty much my whole life. Not only that, every chance I got I added to it. Proudly, even. By now, though, it's a monkey on my back, a big one, maybe actually a silverback gorilla. It can bite. It does bite. Like today.
This silverback has a name, and its name is IGNORANCE.
Does it strike you, dear reader, as odd that I am 32 years old and have just today used a whippersnipper for the first time? Yeah. Me too. But it's true. Of course, within seconds I had snapped off  part of the cutting spool. I stood there in the middle of the driveway, feeling a not-entirely-phantom pain as that not-entirely-phantom gorilla bit me on the ass.
This morning, I successfully mounted a hook on the back of our bathroom door for my towel. This is a simple job--it would only take your average guy without a gorilla on his shoulder about a minute. It took me ten, and when I finished it, I heard two things in my head: wild cheering, almost immediately drowned out by the sardonic clapping of the gorilla. Good for you, it said. You screwed two screws into the bathroom door and only dropped one twice. Not bad for an idiot. But just wait...later on today you're gonna use a whippersnipper. And then I'm gonna hoot and holler and jump up and down and bite you on the ass and laugh and laugh and LAUGH...

I was setting up my keyboard stand later on and I managed to strip a screw to the point of no return. I could blame this on Mr. Silverback, but he has an accomplice in matters like this, a little macaque named Slanty. Slanty lives deep in my brain and makes me think I'm holding things--like screwdrivers, say--perfectly level when in fact I'm merrily screwing myself crooked. (You'll also see Slanty at work when I'm carrying plates of food. On the list of possible professions for me, "waiter" ranks somewhere below "ballerina".)

On those infrequent occasions when I was forced to acknowledge the gorilla as a child, I'd like as not burst into tears and run away, not caring that it just made him stronger. Now, as an adult, I'm no longer allowed to cry simply because once again, I've fucked things up...but inside there's a little kid screaming.

I have no excuse. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I put this monkey on my back at least 25 years ago and I've been feeding it ever since. When Things Were Getting Done around the house, I'd make myself scarce. If that wasn't an option, I'd gladly be the guy reading the instructions. I could hold the whoozit steady with the best of them. If pressed, I could even hold two whoozits AT THE SAME TIME. On rare occasions, I'd be asked to willywag the whoozit into the bangzapper. That would usually end badly. Luckily, or so I thought at the time, I had a stepfather who could willywag whoozits into bangzappers with both eyes tied behind his back, whistling the theme from Love Story.  And while John was blessed with nearly endless reserves of patience in most things, it didn't extend to teaching willywagging to a kid who most assuredly had no interest in learning.

But now I've got this here house, see, and the sky is raining bangzappers.

I found out really early in my relationship with Eva that she has a deep and abiding love for monkeys. Even the silverback on my shoulders doesn't faze her, often, for which I am profoundly grateful. Better even than that, she has both skill and an ability to teach. Knowing that helps soothe the gorilla bites just a bit. I can't deny, though, that it's days like today when, just for an instant, I wonder if she'll throw me on the discard pile...and whether I actually belong there or not. 

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