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Hat Of A Monkey

My mother had this monkey, George. He was among her few prized possessions, purchased in the early ’70s from a shop in Larkspur. She discovered him while browsing with her friend Inna, fell in love, but decided the price was too dear. Inna, knowing something about my parents’ marriage and my father’s complete ineptitude in choosing gifts, told him to get down there and buy the ceramic monkey for their anniversary. My father wasn’t a man who shopped easily and hardware stores defined the extent of his limited range. Antiques and proprietors of such weren’t exactly his thing. And this task required two visits upon discovering that the proprietor in question didn’t accept credit cards. Pre-ATM days necessitated back-tracking across the Golden Gate Bridge and raiding the petty cash drawer at work. There was probably another phone call to Inna involved, and repeated instruction to “get down there and buy that damn monkey,” but the point is, it got done. The name ‘George’ didn’t come from the curious, children’s book primate, but rather an uncle on my dad’s side. Uncle George was my grandmother’s brother and resident of an old-folks home in Terra Linda. My mom visited him frequently because that’s who she was. It’s who all of us should be, but most aren’t. I digress. George reminded her of my uncle and thus a  monkey’s name was born.

George’s pièce de résistance was his straw hat, perched jauntily atop his head. ‘Straw’ isn’t sufficiently descriptive. The hat was constructed of a thicker, twig-like material, and what’s left of it still is. It’s come apart over time and I’ve found myself re-positioning it atop his head to better hide the flaws. There were two goals in the last years of my parents’ lives: keep them in their home and keep that home as my mother would have wanted it. They’ve been gone over a year now and its upkeep still falls to my charge. I’ve been scouring Amazon for an appropriate monkey hat, but efforts thus far have been inadequate. Of the three I’ve tried, the one that best fits (pictured above) makes George look like a peasant; like some kind of gardener working for Pablo Escobar who is occasionally granted use of his Jacuzzi. The original hat lent a royal yet subdued presence. Hat aside, he sits in a beautiful spot with sweeping views of the water, mountains, birds and Highway 101. Some years back, a Scottish visitor taking in the same view opined “just imagine — Neil Diamond could be in one of those cars!” But I never slept well in the place after my teenage years. Something about the weight of history, and the intensity of most recent experiences, sat too heavily. I’ll come by to cook a meal, fix the gutters or take in the mail, but sleep has eluded me. That is, up until this week. Turns out a single-family home is an ideal spot for a single guy during a pandemic. The same restlessness persisted the first few nights as I moved from room to room, bed to bed. The last resort — my mother’s room — turned out to be my best choice. It was counter-intuitive at first but of course makes perfect sense. I have no plans to move back into the place permanently but this period of reconnecting with the home, and most particularly with what she loved about it, seems almost predestined.

This brings me to the persistence of incremental change. It’s an idea with which one need only live long enough to be familiar. You can side-step change assiduously or run headlong into the fray but neither approach halts its inevitable arrival. Sometimes things change slowly enough to be eminently observable yet still move at lightning speed. I had some life-altering experience with this a few years back, and now it’s playing out on a global level. We have a clearly defined, yet invisible, existential threat. Each of us knows that it’s out there, spreading person to person and that the best we can do in the immediate is to avoid and isolate. This is subject to change, of course; even viruses aren’t immune to the passage of time and human innovation can surprise. But for this moment we have no guarantees. This virus spreads with great facility and kills with notable efficiency, stopping just short of wiping itself out. That last observation is worth pondering, but I have no time for conspiracy theories at present as I’m too busy isolating, denying and pricing monkey hats. And sleeping a bit better, turning on the heat in the morning, making myself a cup of coffee and appreciating my surroundings. And missing her, which is one of the few things I suspect won’t change for the remainder of my days.

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