THE SPIDER MONKEY
In the mid-1960s there was a retailer located in East Northport called Modell’s. Modell’s was a forerunner of Walmart. It was filled to the rafters with all sorts of products and departments that my little sister, brother and I explored freely, while our mother did the same. My mother could spend hours in the hardware department and felt safe to let us explore on our own. Modell’s offered two things a young boy such as myself absolutely loved: a pet department and at the store entrance, a donut-making stand, which was home to the Baker’s Dozen, 13 donuts. What 11-year-old could ask for more?
My mother came out of the house onto the back steps and called for me. I was playing with Jean and Paul in the far corner of our yard (we had the largest piece of property on Seaview Avenue, about two acres) and I came running to find out what my mom wanted. She told me to make sure the three of us didn't get too dirty because after she finishes with the housework we were going to Modell’s. Modell’s. Just the mere mention of the word sent waves of joy through my body. Not only were we going to be able to check out any new animals that might be there, like an exotic South American bird or some fighting fish, but I also knew we were going home with a baker’s dozen. I screamed with excitement “Jean, Paul we’re going to Modell’s”. I ran to my brother and sister and in our moment of excitement we stopped poking at the dead opossum we found in the corner of the yard moments before, maggots still crawling all over it. The three of us ran into the house where our mother made sure we washed our faces and hands. My mother said, “Remember kids we’re not shanty Irish; We’re lace curtain Irish, and that meant we never go out and about town all messed up”. She tells us she will be ready in five minutes and for us to wait for her outside. Well, I learned very early in life that was family code for mom needs to use the bathroom, which meant it would be more like 20 minutes. My poor mother suffered from IBS her entire adult life. We would sit outside and quietly laugh at the funny fart sounds coming from the bathroom window. If she had known we were laughing at her condition we would have never gone to Modell’s.
We entered Modell’s front lobby and pressed our faces up against the glass to get a good look at the automated donut-making machine. We smiled at each other as the donuts splashed into the hot oil. Our mom gathered us up and we walked into Modell’s where my mom grabbed a shopping cart. She turned to the three of us and told us sternly, “You can go check out the toys and pets and I will catch up with you in the pet department; and remember, no trouble or we will leave the store without any donuts”. With that threat we had no intentions of causing any trouble.
Mom went off to explore on her own and we three kids ran to our first stop, the plant department where they had a walk-in greenhouse. We entered the hot room and our noses were immediately filled with the strange sweet aroma of exotic plants and flowers. We came upon a cool new plant that I read about in school. It’s a Venus Fly Trap, I told Jean and Paul that it eats bugs. Let’s find a bug and see if it will have it for lunch. In just a few minutes Paul cries out “John, I found an ant”. I grabbed the ant with my thumb and pointing finger and mush it a little but didn't kill it out right. We walked back over to the Venus Fly Trap and I carefully dropped the half-dead ant into its spiny jaws. We looked in amazement as the plant closed itself around the struggling ant. I said “That’s one way to skin a chicken, let’s go check out the pet department”.
We ran to the pet department and we each took an aisle to explore. I picked the fish aisle, Jean went for the bird aisle, and Paul went straight for the snakes and lizards. I took my time, enjoying the large assortment of fish swimming in their tanks, and at the end of the aisle was the most amazing sight I had ever seen in Modell’s. It was the Holy Grail of all pet store animals, a Spider Monkey. I was so excited I had trouble containing myself. I just stood there, staring at this monkey, calling for Jean and Paul to come running. When Jean and Paul saw for themselves just what I had discovered they too were overjoyed. What kind of monkey is it, John, Jean asked? I explained to them it was a spider monkey from South America. Our amazement started to fade while staring at the monkey, for all it did was quietly sit there staring back at us, as it if were a stuffed toy. Jean started to complain and ask why it was just sitting there. She grabbed me by the arm and said, John do something; make it move around. So, with me standing there in front of the monkey cage, Jean on one side of me and Paul on the other, I looked to make sure that smelly, toothless old man of a store clerk wasn’t spying on us. With no clerk in sight I grabbed the monkey’s cage with both hands and began giving it a good shake, thinking this would really get him going. Well, get him going was an understatement. That Spider Monkey did the strangest thing I had ever seen an animal do. He was so mad at me for shaking his cage the way I did, the monkey reached down between his legs and grabbed onto his pink little pecker and at the same time it started to let out a God-awful screeching sound: EEE, EEE, EEE. Now the three of us were petrified at the sight of the monkey doing strange things to his pecker, or as my mother would call it, his GO GO. And then, from behind us: What on earth are you kids up to? It was Mom.
Our mother was a saint. Before meeting my father and falling in love my mother lived a very sheltered life. She was raised by her widow mother (mom’s dad died when she was two) and her old spinster librarian aunt. My mother went to one of the most expensive, exclusive Catholic schools in New York City called Sacred Heart Academy. Margaret, her aunt, was superior of the community, and so she got to go there free. Two of President Kennedy’s sisters went to school there and they use to make fun of my mother because they knew she had no money. I think it was for that reason why we Irish Catholic Terrys were staunch Republicans, not Democrats. My mother almost became a nun, but instead she met dad and the rest is history. It was safe to say even after having seven kids she was still a bit prudeish and very propper. Being confronted with this fowl monkey playing with his pink little GO GO was going to send her over the edge for sure.
Kids, what are you looking at? My heart stopped. At that moment I wished my father was there to deflect what was coming. Hey, move away, kids, so I can see, she said. I stepped aside and my mother came face to face with our perverted spider monkey, shaking his Go Go at mom and screeching EEE, EEE. Mom was so totally surprised and revolted at the same time it took her about 20 seconds to form words. I saw her grabbing the bar on the shopping carriage so tightly her hands started to turn a bright red, just like her face. When she was finally able to form words all she could say was: “that’s disgusting”
Mom grabbed little Paul and threw him in the carriage and told me and Jean to hop on each side, something we would had never been allowed to do on our own. I’m going to find that manager, mom said and give him a piece of my mind. The manager was a tall man in his thirties and mom found him on the loading dock, having a smoke with a young summer worker and stinky, toothless Charlie, the old clerk. My mother, all 5 feet 1 inch of her, walked straight up to that young manager and proceeded to shake her finger at him and gave him a good Macaward tongue lashing. That poor big guy just stood there, shoulders hunched over, taking every bid of my mom’s lashing and agreed to get rid of that disgusting monkey. Never, ever did Modell’s bring in another monkey. Mom turned that carriage around and went back into the store where she grabbed the three of us, still a little off balance from the whole experience and told us we were going home. She raced us out of the store so fast and all I could say was what about the baker’s dozen? I got a slap in the back of the head for that. When we got home my mother made us take a hot bath, even though it was summer time, just to make sure the filth of that disgusting creature came off us. I'm quite sure when dad got home from the city that night my mom took two valiums instead of one.