The Monkey Man

I was at home on a late Wednesday afternoon when I heard the familiar boom-boom sounds of a drum coming down our street. It was unmistakable and loud.

“It’s the monkey man!” I exclaimed to my wife and to my one-year-old daughter, who was not certain about the identity or merits of the monkey man.

“Are you sure?” Stephanie asked.
After years of living here in Indonesia we have become adept of recognizing the tell-tale sounds of the dozens of food peddlers that go up and down our street every day. The meatball soup man rhythmically strikes a hollow chunk of wood, the coconut dessert guy lets us know it’s him with the high pitch of his kettle, and the skewered chicken man loudly accents the second syllable of the word, “sate” over and over. “Tay…Tay…Tay…” It’s a veritable food court paraded in front of our house every day, at very low prices, and with a few free amoebae thrown in for good measure.
But there is only one man who offers door-to-door entertainment at discount prices. The boom-boom of his drum announces his 15-minute show. It was the monkey man.
I answered affirmative to my wife who had a plan that afternoon not involving primates and took Naomi outside to follow the monkey man. Luckily for us, he had just started a show in the courtyard of the house directly across from ours. There was a man I hadn’t met before sitting on the front porch, with his fascinated two-year-old daughter by his side. He motioned for me to occupy the vacant seat next to him, and I put Naomi down, barefoot on the front porch. 
Our two daughters watched with rapt attention as the large monkey went through his routine, punctuated by the continual beating of the drum and the traditional Javanese song chanted by the monkey’s owner, an older man missing most of his teeth. The monkey rode a wooden decorated horse used in traditional ceremonies here, put on a lion mask used in Balinese dances, pedaled a toy motorcycle that had a real siren, flipped, jumped and rolled. He got the tight chain around his neck yanked if he veered from the show’s routine. By the beady look in his eyes and the way he bared his fanged teeth, it seemed to me that what he really wanted to do was eat the two little girls in his audience. It was quite a show and for only a little over a dollar.
The friendly neighbor insisted on paying the full price of the monkey man, but I felt I should offer something as I enjoyed 90% of the show too. He refused, saying I was his guest, and paid the monkey man the full price. I lamely gave a small tip to the old entertainer as a token of appreciation and he seemed genuinely thankful. He then commanded the large monkey to squeeze back into the small cage, hooked all the props around the sides, hoisted his drum up on his shoulder and went off in search for more paying customers. I’m sure later that night Naomi dreamed of large monkeys on motor scooters.
That was more than a year ago, and I haven’t thought much about the monkey man until last night. My son Jordan brought him up while we were working on his homework together. “Dad, remember the monkey man?”
“Yeah, whatever happened to him? I haven’t seen him in a while.”
And it dawned on me afterwards: when was the last time I took a little time out to share one of life’s unique pleasures with one of my kids? Sure, there is homework to work on and soccer practice to get to and my own to-do list to check off and bills to pay and appointments to make and meetings to attend and plans to implement ….but the little special experiences of life, what about those?
It doesn’t cost much if anything to enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures and our kids will probably remember those shared moments more than all of our hours of homework helping and soccer practice ferrying. There may not be a monkey man down your street, but I bet there is a place to get ice cream, a neighborhood to stroll in together, or a sunset to enjoy.
The next time that familiar boom-boom comes down my street, I’m going to try to drop everything, grab one of my kids and share a memory with the monkey man.