Sunday, September 14, 2008

Great Adventure

When I was four, my family was attacked by baboons.It happened in 1978 when I lived with in a small white ranch house with green shutters with my biological father and his parents, my Mommom Jewel and Pop Byron.

It was late Spring and my father returned from a trip to Japan with the idea that we should all visit a wild animal park in New Jersey together, as a family. We should take the child to see wild animals roaming freely in New Jersey. She should see giraffes and lions and zebras in their natural habitat. Of New Jersey. After we take her to the wild animal park we should take her to a restaurant that has stone animals standing all over the roof because after seeing real animals walking around in New Jersey it's good to see stone versions of the same animals standing on the roof of a restaurant. Also in New Jersey. She should have this experience, he insisted.

New Jersey was far away. We had never been there, but my grandfather was up for a road trip because he had just purchased his dream car - an olive green, vinyl topped Chevrolet. He wanted to show it off, to really take it out on a highway, to go somewhere in it and what better place to take a brand new Chevrolet than on a safari? He was also enthused about the trip because he had heard that the restaurant with the stone animals standing on the roof was world-class, gourmet cuisine and he loved going out to dinner. His favorite thing in the entire world was taking the family out to eat and we always went to nice places; places with full salad bars and crocks of cheese spread to dip breadsticks in and spread on packets of melba toast.

We left for the wild animal park at six in the morning. It was still dark and my grandfather brought a camping thermos full of coffee with him that was nearly the size of a pipe in a drainage ditch. He wanted to stop at Mister Doughnuts and get breakfast but Mommom threw a fit. She had a headache and an upset stomach and the thought of smelling those nasty, greezy fried doughnuts would make her ill. This annoyed me tremendously because Mister Doughnuts had little doughnuts on sticks like lollipops and I loved them more than life itself. I would behave for weeks on end if someone had promised me a doughnut on a stick.

While we drove, I amused myself with my sketch pad and pencil. I drew a large thunderstorm with scribbled tornadoes, darkly shaded clouds and jagged lightning bolts that looked like unbent wire clothes hangers poking at a landscape populated with generously striped, stick zebras and stick elephants with trunks like graphite garden hoses. I showed Mommom the storm.

"Rumble rumble rumble. Pour pour pour," I said.

"Is that the sound your picture makes?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"What sound do the animals make?"

"rumble rumble rumble pour pour pour."

"No, that's the storm. What does the elephant say?"

"Rumble rumble rumble pour pour pour," I repeated.

Later, I remember my father getting into an argument with my grandparents about something. I also remember that the drive to New Jersey was longer than I had ever been in a car and we had to stop twice at rest areas. We crossed a huge bridge and the wind over the spans shook and slid the car, hundreds of feet above a blur of water and barges.

I recall wanting to eat at McDonalds and not expressing this desire because I had learned early on never to ever say that I wanted something. I really did want to eat at McDonalds though. I'm not sure why. We didn't have a McDonalds at home yet so I had never been to one. Perhaps I liked mustard color of the arches.

We didn’t get McDonalds. My family brought coolers on road trips, full of sandwiches that I hated, on white bread, dripping with mayonnaise. My father and Pop had Old-Fashioned Loaf while I ate peanut butter crackers with Mommom. We drank cans of 7-Up which is too fizzy out of the can and needs ice that we didn't have. McDonalds would have been much better.

Finally we arrived at the wild animal park. A huge sign at the entrance warned us, explaining that the animals are wild and could be unpredictable. Driving through the park was done at the guest's own risk and the park would not be responsible for injuries incurred to guests who refused to keep their windows up and their hands inside the car. Feeding and petting the animals was strictly prohibited. Getting out of the car would result in arrest or even death. Drivers must drive at ten miles per hour or slower and look out for animals darting out or crossing the roadways. Cars with vinyl tops should not drive through the safari at all and the wild animal park was not responsible or liable for any damage done to any car.

"I don't like the sound of this," my grandmother said.

Pop said he didn't want to drive through either and maybe we had better go straight to the restaurant with the much safer stone animals on its roof.

My father was upset about this and they all argued for a long time about how it would be a waste of a trip and how I would be disappointed and I had wanted to see the animals for so long. It wouldn't be fair to make a child sit in the car for all that time just to go to a restaurant and he kind of wanted to see the real animals himself for what it was worth. Those signs. They had to put them there in case something happened but nothing had ever happened. Lawyers made them put up those signs. They were there for stupid people who didn't have enough sense not to try to get out and pet a lioness or toss Funyuns to a jackal. Finally my grandparents gave in because it looked like it was clouding up and we had better just go ahead and do it before it started to rain and then we wouldn't have a choice anymore.

The lions were fucking. Lions don't mate or breed and they certainly don't make love. If you've ever seen lion sex it's definitely straight up, dirty and fast. It takes less than thirty seconds and then they do it repeatedly, so as we were stuck in traffic in the drive through safari we got to see the lions get it on at least thirteen times. "What are they doing?" I asked."They are giving one another piggy back rides and don't ask about it again," my grandfather said.

We saw distant gazelles, sheep with long, saber-like horns, giraffes who seemed to be looking for something and then we saw some disenchanted cheetahs. Elephants rolled in mud, all of the animals pooped as we passed, hippos lolled in a shallow pond that prevented them from completely submerging and finally, after all of this we arrived at the baboons.

A large group of baboons conferred as we approached and then without warning they descended like a raging dust-devil of red-assed ape. Later a park representative would tell us it was because the chrome of the new car was so shiny and enticing to them. Baboons blotted out the sun, hanging and humping; throwing themselves on and off every part of the Chevrolet. They dented the hood, weighed down the roof and shredded the automobile’s elegant vinyl top with their nails. They peeled off the chrome edging and emblem; attempted to make off with the license plate. They jerked off in front of the windshield and took hot yellow shits which ran down the windows. We couldn't do a single thing because the traffic was backed up and there was nowhere to go. Pop laid on the horn to scare the baboons but this just riled them up. He crept forward and slammed on the brakes to throw them off but they just jumped back on and pounded with their fists. Inside the car I huddled on the floor with my hands over my head to drown out the thumping, thudding and whooping of the baboons. My grandmother screamed and my grandfather swore in a way I never heard him swear ever again. In a last ditch effort I bellowed from the backseat:


"Holy mother of God," I heard my grandfather say.

Suddenly the thumping, thudding baboons stilled. A deafening peal of thunder scattered them. I looked up through the dirt and crap smeared windows and the sky was green and bruised as a black eye. Then another thudding began but this time it was hail stones big as quarters. Later when we told the story it became fifty cent pieces and at one point years later it was Susan B. Anthonys.

The hail started like Jiffy-pop; a small sporadic crack here and there exploding into a roaring white noise of ice, streaking towards and slamming into the ground on sixty mile an hour winds. Though she would deny it later I remember my grandmother actually crying. No one else said a word. Rain like a real monsoon replaced the hail and the road was clear enough that we could creep along enough to get out of the wild animal park to the safety of a parking lot where we waited out the storm.

It ended about twenty minutes later. What the baboons hadn't dented and destroyed the hail had. The Chevrolet drove fine, but the outside was ruined. The mirror on the passenger's side was ripped off so as we drove off my grandmother had to keep looking over her shoulder and rolling down the window to check and see if it was safe for my grandfather to change lanes.

After all of this my grandfather said he was still going to go to the restaurant with stone animals on the roof. It was at least an hour away from my memory and he said before he dealt with the car and my father he needed a good steak dinner and a couple of Manhattans. No one else said a word, but as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot my grandmother turned to me in the backseat and pointed her finger at me.

"Don't you ever say those words again," she said with such seriousness that I nodded.

By then I had even scared myself.

The restaurant was closed. They were on vacation. My father had wanted to photograph the stone animals on the roof but now refused.

"Go on, you wanted all this so bad you better remember it. Go ahead and get a snapshot of it why don't you," Mommom said.

The ride home was silent. We stopped at a diner on the other side of the bridge and had fried chicken dinners. No one talked. I fell asleep so I don't know what happened when we got home. I don't know if my grandfather stormed in or if my father stood in the yard and looked with guilt and regret at the remains of his parents' car. I don't know if my grandfather went in and poured a drink from his stash by the basement laundry room. I imagine that my grandmother dusted a powder puff over her body and changed into an imitation silk, lace-edged nightgown and sprayed herself with Chanel #5 like she always did before bed. I don't know who put me in bed and flicked on my night-light. I don't remember what happened to the car. I just remember that when I was five my family was attacked by baboons and that I saved us by conjuring the worst thunderstorm any of us had ever seen.


Devilfish said...

That is the freakiest thing I ever read. Seriously, I am actually creeped out by this (the fact that it was well-written as well as a creepy story helped a lot). I have to admit if I had an experience like that, I'd start doubting my long term memory too. I'm sure Oprah would be proud to have you.

Poor BF though...

Mrs Parks said...

I am at a loss for words.

That could very well be the best story ever told.
All I have is dog and donkey stories which as everyone knows are always trumped by a good baboon story.

For the rest of my days as I sit in front of the t.v watching animal planet I will think of you in a green chevrolet with crazy mad baboons bouncing on the vinyl top.

Laurie said...

wow, that's some crazy sh*t.



SoozieQ said...

Good old Safari World. I'm about 45 minutes from it. After awhile they made a turn off where you didn't have to go through the monkey area. Now they have it where the monkey's are all sectioned off where they can't get to your car (much like the lions).

I've gone through a few dozen times and while I've never seen the lions going at it, I've seen "excited" elephants and was through during Ostrich mating season. Good times to be had at Great Adventure!

Anonymous said...


That Girl said...

I remember Safari World. I went through there with my parents as a child....although my trip was not anywhere near as exciting as yours.

Dayna said...

I laughed and laughed and laughed.
Compared to you, my childhood was such a dysfunctional bore.

Chris (dippy chick) said...

Wow. I bet you freaked your whole family out! Too funny.

I got a flat tire while driving in Lion Country Safari once (back when I lived in S FL.) That's not a good time to get a flat tire. I drove it on the rim until we could get out of there!

Moi said...

Craziest. Story. Ever!

Gina said...

I went to a plce like that when I was a child, and the baboons tore off those strips that run down the side of the car. And, I swear - true story - we have a photo of them tearing up the green car in front of us.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Great Story.


Miss Kitty said...

Again, you've blown me away with another crazy story. AWESOME!

And I think it's that question about a narrator's reliability that's so interesting, esp. with a story like yours. (Because I was laughing/gaping so hard I didn't CARE!) Thanks for making my day.

And I have a Siamese-mix kitteh with your name on it.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why but I've always pictured Millpond as being down south, maybe in Alabama or the Carolinas.

Obviously tho it isn't since you made it to NJ and back home in one day. I've no idea why I thought it was down south.

Great story tho.

Martee said...

Amazing... I do beleive it, GREAT story!!
When was a child, I really wanted it to snow in a town where I lived, in Arizona. I was obsesses with it. Mom said that if I prayed anything could happen. I was about 8 yrs old and I prayed hard and low and behold we had a freak snow storm on Easter. In town where snow was an oddity even in the winter months! Only snow on Easter on record to this date.

Children have uncanny abilities that I think these abilities are lost or buired by Society making sure that we all behave a certain way and not beleive in things that it deems as not posssible. Because only crazy people think like that...

NeekoalinAZ said...

I totally remember the Wild Animal Park. In fact I have picture of us with a Giraffe staring into the car that was taken by my Uncle in the car behind us. I also recall being scared half to death but Giraffe tongue is the biggest damn thing you have ever seen!

Eric said...

That was an absolutely delightful story.

Attacked by baboons and weather control. :) Delightful.

Anonymous said...

I remember old fashioned loaf from my childhood and was grossed out because it smelled like a wet dog. So now you really need to tell us if you had more psychic child experiences.

Anonymous said...

i too was attacked by baboons at great adventure as a child. well, the car was.

Sauntering Soul said...

That was an awesome story!

I have a very good friend who cannot look at a monkey without being scared to death. She and her sister were in a parking lot as children and there were monkey-shaped topiary type things hanging off the lights. She thought they were going to fall on the car and "get" her and she's had a monkey phobia ever since. I don't think she'd enjoy your story too much. :-)

Anonymous said...

That is an awesome story!
Thanks for the guffaws!
I am actually living in Japan now and if you would like a Waving Cat to be Temple Cat's friend just let me know!

Star said...

I can't decide which is my favorite - this or your cocktail story piece. They both made me crack up! As a relatively new blogger, I consider your writing the high bar for me! Thanks for the great stories!

JoeinVegas said...

Um, you weren't the one calling up the huricanes recently, were you?

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