I was at a zoo with my family, watching monkeys swing around in two big side-by-side cages. This was when I was very young.
I watched them do the usual monkey-things and make the usual monkey-noises for awhile. I really liked it of course, who wouldn’t have? Then one of the monkeys in the right-hand cage jumped onto the wall of bars between the two cages, the wall that both cages shared. He stuck his head between the bars and squeezed his body through.
I was surprised. He climbed into the wrong monkey cage. Just like that. The monkey from the one cage. He went into the other cage. Are they supposed to be able to do that?
I didn’t know what to do. I looked at the people around me – but no one seemed to be concerned, if they’d even noticed. I may have tried to articulate the dilemma to my parents, but if I did they couldn’t understand the gravity of the situation.
That’s what I remember. For awhile, I associated this memory with a story my mom told about my dad losing track of me during a visit to a zoo in Spokane. But that connection was eliminated when my mom clarified that my dad had lost me at a petting zoo, no monkeys. She hypothesized that I might be remembering our visit to the San Diego Zoo when I was four.
I’ve told the monkey story several times over the last few years, trying to shape it as a memory with some personal post-modern meaning. But I falter every time, the story falls apart as soon as I try to describe exactly how the monkey jimmied himself into his neighbors’ cage. That’s where I want the story to end, but I just can’t explain the significance. But even the people who were there didn’t see it.