Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Tale of the Monkey's Tail

The Monkey’s Tail … a tale all made up by Mickey Cheatham


I assume that readers are familiar with the short horror story written by W. W. Jacobs, “The Monkey’s Paw.” This popular story written in 1902 sets up the familiar scene of three wishes granted via the talisman of a monkey’s hand. Of course, nothing good will come to anyone who so tempts fate by asking for a wish. Remember the saying, “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Well that often produced for television tale is a good moral lesson for those that don’t understand the meaning of the warning.

So, tonight, ladies and gentlemen, in my best Rod Serling voice, I’ll be introducing a minor tale, the story of the “Monkey’s Tail.” Like most things in “real life,” it isn’t as dramatic as Jacobs’ familiar story, but more in line with the pedestrian life of one Mr. Michael J. Wozikoniks of 221 Elm Street in any city you can imagine, even yours.

Mr. Wozikoniks works in an office. Not one of those modern offices with computers and break areas. No, this is an old fashioned office for an old fashioned tale. This office has rows of desks with people typing and filing. I don’t really know what Mr. Wozikoniks does, but it does involve a lot of typing and filing. And, of course, he has a surly boss who always is ordering him around to type something or file something or something.

Our Story Begins

(Scene One, his large office.) (Our hero is seen glancing around.)

M.J. (as his friends call him) always has one eye on the clock. He’s wishing for 5:00 to arrive, but – of course – the wish doesn’t come true because we haven’t gotten to that part of the story yet. But eventually the “slowly moving hands of time” arrive at the magical “quitting hour.” (Take that Mr. Serling. You’re not the only one that can write that purple prose.)

M.J. heads out to the parking lot and locates his car. It’s an old sedan with a big dent in one side, but he can’t afford to have it fixed. He can’t even afford to have insurance. But that’s another tale. He hops in and makes a wish that it will start. Again, the magic isn’t here yet, but that wish is granted and the old jalopy roars to life. Did I mention it needs a new muffler?

As he drives toward home, making every red light along the way … I never said he was lucky, I said he made a lot of wishes. When? Why just now. Reread the last paragraph!

Finally he arrives home just in time for dinner. Now, let me introduce M.J.’s wife. She may have been a beauty in her teenage years. We don’t know. If she was, there is no sign left of that fact. She’s pear shaped. You know, narrow on top and wide on the bottom. I think that comes from a lot of sitting … at the doughnut shop. She’s got long flowing hair, and it is put up in curlers. Why the lady is in curlers at supper time, well … I’m just the author … I don’t know all the answers.

Anyway, she’s prepared a nice home cooked meal for M.J.: a TV Dinner. This was before they invented microwave ovens, and you actually had to cook this TV Dinner for 45 minutes, the last 10 with the tin foil rolled back off of the “Baked Betty” desert. If you ever saw that movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” you might remember the rather drab food the astronauts ate on the trip to Jupiter. There was big green thing that you ate along with a white thing and an orange thing. They all had the consistency of mashed potatoes, only without any butter or sour cream or chives.

Well, what those astronauts were eating was the 21st century version of a TV dinner. They had a improved a lot by then. M.J. took one look at his food cooling on his plate … errrr … tray … and decided what he wanted was a stiff drink. They were out of milk, and even cool aid. So he took a drink out of the half set jello in the frig. Now that’s a stiff drink.

He would have settled in for a little TV watching to go with his TV dinner, but his TV hadn’t worked since he’d thrown his shoe at it during the Jackson vs. Doolittle fight when he thought the ref was giving Doolittle a long count. He actually missed the TV, he’s not much of an athlete, but as “luck” would have it, at that exact point in time, the TV blew a tube. For my younger readers, I’ll explain that tubes came before transistors which came before iPods. There is a family resemblance, but tubes had to “warm up” and they would sometimes “go out.”

He called a repairman, but he wasn’t able to fix it right away. He said he’d have to order a part from the factory. He’s been back several times, but the TV still isn’t working. The frequent repair bills are one reason M.J. had to cancel his auto insurance. How he wishes he’d hired a more competent repairman, but … remember ... wishes aren’t happening to M.J. … at least, not yet!!!

He decides he’ll read the paper. Unfortunately, the paper was used to wrap some fish that the TV repairman had caught on the way to M.J.’s house just today. Why a TV repairman would stop on the way to a service call and catch fish, or bring them with him on the call and request a newspaper to wrap them in, or why his wife didn’t ask for the fish and fry them for supper since her husband had already spent a month’s pay trying to get the TV fixed, or why this story asks so many questions … these are just thoughts that didn’t occur to M.J. He was tired from a long day of typing and filing.

So he went to bed. Besides, tomorrow was Friday and that meant the weekend was getting close. Maybe the boss would let them go home early tomorrow. Just then, as M.J. was thinking about wishing his boss would let them go home early, when he heard a knock at the door. It was probably just a Jehovah’s Witness, and he thought he’d let his wife answer the door. Besides, he was down to his underwear getting ready for bed.

Soon his wife walked into the bedroom, just as he was climbing between the sheets and wishing he had a hot water bottle to warm the bed. She said there was someone at the door. He already knew that because he had heard the knock. She said it was for him. He didn’t realize that Jehovah’s Witnesses asked for people by name, but he got up and looked around for his robe. He wished he could remember where he had left it. That wish didn’t come true either, so he put on his wife’s robe. It was way too big for him, but that’s OK in a robe.

Soon he was meeting a man in a suit with a briefcase. He sat down on the couch opposite of the chair the man was sitting in and said that he was Michael J. Wozikoniks and “how could he be of service.” The man said that he was an attorney and he was delivering a message. He said M.J.’s distant uncle had died and had left an item to M.J. in his will.

That seemed odd to M.J. since he didn’t think that uncle liked him. In fact, he thought his uncle hated him ever since he threw that baseball through the front window of his uncle’s house on the day that the garden club was over to see his prize Begonias. The ball had continued through a large and assumedly very expensive plate glass window and arrived at the exact a point in space-time occupied by a rare Chinese vase, which just happened to contain the only living specimen of the special Begonia that the uncle had raised from a tiny seed. The ball proceeded to demolish the vase, knocking the flower to the floor, where the uncle, overcome with grief at the sight of so much broken glass, inadvertently stepped upon, thereby destroying in one fell swoop his beautiful and rare flower and his hopes of ever being elected president of the garden club.

Following that upsetting occurrence, the uncle had retired to the orient, perhaps in search of a replacement for the irreplaceable vase damaged during the nephews wild pitch. So it was only natural for M.J. to assume that the last thing in the world that would happen is that he’d be mentioned in his uncle’s will. So, what wonderful (and assumedly valuable) relic of the orient could have been the uncle’s last wish?

He was soon to learn as the lawyer opened his case and withdrew what appeared at first to be a short, hairy serpent. The lawyer quickly explained it was the “Monkey’s Tail.”

M.J. could not, for the life of himself, figure out why his uncle would have left him the last six inches of the south facing part of a north-facing monkey. Perhaps the uncle had not forgiven him for his youthful transgression. But the lawyer quickly explained that the tail had magical properties. If you held the tail in your right hand, over your heart, and pressed in down against you chest, and then say your wish out loud, it would be granted.

"That's all there is to it?" M.J. asked. "Yes," the lawyer replied, "and one more thing, the tail is only good for three wishes. No more, just three."

“Poppy cock,” M.J.’s wife blurted out, as she had been listening from the doorway. M.J. was startled to hear his wife swear like that. The only other time he had heard any curse words from his wife’s lips, was on the night of the day they were married. Apparently she was disappointed by something. Anyway, she never talked much any more any way since there was usually something in her mouth that she was chewing. So M.J. was quite startled by the sudden outburst.

So he bid the lawyer adieu, took the tail with him into the bedroom, putting it next to the alarm clock, and climbed into bed. He was so filled with thoughts of the day’s events he even forgot to take off his wife’s robe, but that was OK as it warmed up the bed and he was soon asleep only to be awoken at the early hour of six AM to prepare for work.

Fortunately his car did start per his morning wish, although he had not used the monkey appendage to make the wish official. He had, however, put the tail into his shirt pocket along with two number two pencils, the yellow kind. He thought he found a new dent on the side of the car, but it was hard to tell since it was in the middle of the old dent. Besides, it was Friday and he would soon be enjoying his weekend, although – just at that exact moment – as the engine started to turn over – he remembered: he was supposed to take his wife to the grocery store on Sunday.

He didn’t like taking his wife to the grocery store. It seemed like the “scene of the crime” to him as he recalled his wife, who possibly not beautiful, at least she could fit through doors without having to go sideways like she did now. She would get several boxes of doughnuts and several boxes of TV dinners and a box of jello. Hopefully there would be enough money left to get a bottle of milk since M.J. was tired of drinking jello.

On the way to work he thought about the tail sitting in his pocket. He noticed, for the first time, that it was rather odorous and it also seemed to be leaking a gooey liquid which stuck to his two number two pencils. Now he would have to wear his coat all day instead of the more comfortable shirt only because he could already see the stain of yellow dyed goop clinging to his shirt. He wished he had a clean shirt at the office, but that didn’t come true either.

Then for a moment, it seemed that one of his wishes had been granted. (Read carefully, he has not used the tail to facilitate a wish yet. So far he’s only made random wishes which never have come true in his entire 45 years of miserable life.)

Just then the boss came in and announced to the entire office that they could go home early today, at 4:45. However, they would have to work on Saturday as a fresh shipment of paper had just arrived and they would be required to type all day Saturday to have something to file on Monday.

M.J.’s hopes dropped to the lowest ebb in a long, long life of ebbing. Now he would not be off on Saturday to pursue whatever M.J. pursued in his miserable, downtrodden, and boring life. And Sunday would be spent with his miserable, downtrodden, and fat wife at the grocery store as she selected the week’s perishables.

Finally, by lunchtime, when all the other workers consumed bags of lunch prepared by loving wives, and M.J. had a cup of coffee with three sugars, (his wife had once sent a TV dinner with him, but remember this is before microwaves, and he tried to eat it frozen. Not at all like the picture on the package,) M.J. had reached a point that can occur in anyone’s life. A point where he just knew things must change. He’d been down so long that he forgot what it was like to be up. He was just wishing there was something he could do when he remembered the tail. It was still in his pocket leaking that odd liquid.

He grabbed the tail in his right hand, and following the instructions from the attorney, he proceeded in the most formal manner to make a request … a wish.

Now if you have been following along, I’m sure you won’t be surprised that M.J. didn’t wish for anything really magical. He didn’t wish for a new car, although he really needed one. He didn’t wish for a better job or even to be marooned on a desert island. No, he was as boring as this story. He just wished that “he didn’t have to work tomorrow.”

He waited all afternoon for his boss to come in and announce that, magically, the truck with paper had not arrived and no one had to work on Saturday. Or for the building to catch fire and the alarm to sound and they would all be rushed outside. Or for world war three to be announced and the city struck by atom bombs.

But, sadly none of these wishes came true. So, M.J. headed for home and a Friday night that was pretty much an exact repeat of the previous night, sans the visit from the lawyer. He did put on his wife’s robe because it had kept him warm the night before, climbed into bed, and soon the alarm clock was signaling time to go to work.

He had almost forgotten about his Monkey Tail enhanced wish when, as he walked toward his car, he saw it had a flat tire. In fact, all four tires were flat. Just as he was starting to worry about how he would ever get to work with four flat tires, it dawned on him. His wish had come true. The Monkey’s Tail really worked. He had got his wish. He would not have to work today. He’d probably be fired on Monday for not showing up, but he’d burn that bridge when he came to it. No he was happy.

For the first time in his life, his wish had come true. Now he wished he didn’t even have this crappy old car. Of course, he didn’t use the tail for that wish. It was not official.

He went inside and sat down to read the paper. Unfortunately, there is no newspaper delivery on Saturday.

He looked for Friday’s paper, but it was also missing. Probably the TV repairman with fish again. He looked in the refrigerator, but all there was was TV dinners and doughnuts. So he decided to take a walk and listen to his stomach growl. He was in a good mood and nothing was going to change that.

He took a walk down by the creek and thought about the tail, when suddenly, he realized he didn’t have the magical talisman. It was in the laundry still stuck to the shirt pocket. Fortunately, his wife never did the laundry. That was M.J.’s job and one he usually did on Saturday.

With that reminder he headed back to his home to regain the tail and start the chore. Upon arrival and noticing the very large pile of laundry he realized it would take all day to complete the task. Then he spied the tail.

Grabbing it in the required manner and stating the required phrase he quickly wished all the laundry was done. Recall I said he was unimaginative. However, the tail proved effective as always, and just at that exact moment when he finished the wish, he heard a loud noise outside.

He rushed out to see what had happened and, there in the street, he saw a large Chinese Laundry truck. It had smashed into his parked car making the earlier dents rather insignificant in the complete efficiency upon which the truck and demolished his automobile. The rear bumper was stuck in the engine in front and the headlights were on top of the car. Various fluids were leaking out of the vehicle and all four, flat tires had been expelled from the collision with such force that each had found a home in a neighbor’s front window, except for the tire that was half embedded in M.J.’s front window.

The driver of the truck, which by the way didn’t seem to even have a scratch … the truck, not the driver … he rushed up and started speaking very fast in a strange accent that M.J. could hardly make out.

He was so “so solly” and he was afraid he had no car insurance or truck insurance or insurance of any kind since he had only recently immigrated to this country and bought the laundry and it included the truck. In fact, the little man explained, he really didn’t even know how to drive, which also explained the giant crash that they were observing. Plus he had spent all his money buying the Laundry and was completely broke.

But, the little man said, he would be happy to pay for the damage with trade and proceeded to load up all the dirty laundry in the not damaged truck and later that day he returned it washed and folded and ironed and in nice paper packages wrapped with string and Chinese letters stamped on the paper.

M.J.’s second wish had come true.

Just then a loud curse came from the bedroom. M.J.’s wife had just arisen … she typically slept late, until 4:00 PM, just time to put a TV dinner in the oven. She had just woken up and found that M.J. had been wearing her robe. Why she hadn’t discovered this fact the previous day since M.J. had now worn the robe to bed for two nights is just to preserve the plot of this story.

So, getting back, she was now swearing and cussing because her favorite robe, apparently a gift from some aunt, was now in a heap on the floor since M.J. had forgotten to include it in the laundry pile.

Now, there comes a time in every man’s life when he has just had enough. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune had slung their last glob of dung. It was time for the worm to turn. You may have a few favorite cliques of your own to describe times like this. I’m frankly out of gas.

At first M.J. didn’t say anything. Only a slight increase in the typical red-faced expression gave away the fact that his breaking point had been reached. Twenty years of marriage and what did he have to show for it? Just 365 times twenty TV dinners, a wrecked car, probably a lost job, and a wife so fat that local billboard companies are starting to propose she wear their wares.

At that point there was nothing left to do but use the Monkey’s Tail for his final third wish. Just then he realized he didn’t know where it was. He searched all through the house and failed to find it. Suddenly, in one of those plot twists that defy reason, he realized it was still in the pocket of the soiled shirt, even though he had used it to wish for clean laundry. Apparently he had returned it to the pocket just before he heard the crash outside. Doesn’t make sense, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it like the tail stuck to the shirt.

His heart leaped into his throat as the realized that just what I explained in the latter half of the last paragraph and he started tearing apart the packages in search of the shirt and tail. He found the shirt. The laundry man had done a wonderful job of removing the stain. Where the stain had been, now there was a big hole where caustic chemicals had eaten away the simple cotton polyester fibers.

But no tail. Just as M.J. reached his lowest ebb. More ebby than the ebb he had reached earlier in this tale, there was a knock at the door. It turned out to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. He bought a Watchtower and promised to let them come back and study with him later.

Now he was really down. Really the lowest possible ebb that any skilled author could describe. Why I’m at a complete loss of words to describe just how low M.J. felt as he would now, never, or at least it seemed, get to make his final wish.

But, I don’t want to leave you in suspense. So, I’ll tell you what he was planning to wish for. He was going to wish that his wife was gone …

Now, those familiar with these ironic horror tales and those that have observed that his first two wishes were actually granted with great loss to M.J.: his car and possibly his job typing and filing. So wishing his wife was gone would undoubtedly result in some terrible thing like the house being hit by a meteor killing them both or he would accidently kill his wife and be charged with murder. (Saw that one on the Twilight Zone.) So I’m sure you are all breathing a collective sigh of relief that this tale will end on a high note, leaving M.J. at his lowest point in life, but safely still married to his large wife.

But wait! Just then there’s another knock at the door. It’s the laundry man. He says he found this tail in the shirt and forgot to return it. He did clean up the stuff oozing out of the bottom of the tail as a special gift for the fact that M.J. was going to have to pay for the replacement of his neighbor’s windows, and, again, he said he was, “so solly.”

M.J. was so flabbergasted that I can’t think of what he said. He just grabbed the tail, slammed the door in the face of the little Chinese character, and rushed to the center of the living room where, for the third and final time, he grasped the tail in his right had, placed both hard against his chest just over his heart, and recited hurriedly the magical phrase followed by his wish to be rid of his wife.

Now if this were a screenplay, I’d indicate some solemn and dramatic music be played at this point of the story. But it’s just a tale of a tail, so you readers will have to imagine the music.

M.J. was nonplussed. (I always wanted to use “nonplussed” in a story. Don’t really know what it means, but I’ll bet most of you readers don’t’ know either and this would be a very poor time to check a dictionary since the climax is rapidly approaching.)

So, back to the tale of the tail. M.J. stood fixed in the spot he had stood just a moment before. He hadn’t moved, but his brain was spinning. He waited for the sound of a crash, or maybe a phone call. I know, a knock at the door. No, none of that. Give me a moment. I’ll think of something.

Oh yes. He starts to tour the house looking for his wife since he no longer heard her muttering like he had heard her mutter just before he reached his lowest ebb. He looked in the bedroom. She wasn’t there. Not under the bed or in the closet. He quickly searched the rest of the house. No sign of her. I did mention she was a big women and unlikely to be hiding behind the floor lamp.

After three times around the small house, M.J. could only draw one conclusion: she was gone.

Then it hit him. The "mistake"!!! He forgot to say “gone … FOREVER!!!” You know this three wish stuff has real drawbacks. The Federal Trade Commission should get involved with a truth in advertising suit or something. M.J. was certain that she’d be back and he was fresh out of wishes.

Just then he noticed a note on the table. It was written in his wife’s handwriting. He recognized it right away by the doughnut stains on the paper. He picked up the note with shaking hands. He read it three times to make sure he could believe his eyes.

She said she had been having an affair with the TV man, and she was leaving M.J. … for good! Oh, and the TV worked fine, just plug it in!!

M.J. lived happily ever after. He got a new job at the car wash and makes plenty of money in tips. He’s met several ladies, but enjoys playing the field and hasn’t remarried. He gets post cards from his former wife. She’s stranded in Tahiti and can’t raise the boat fare home.

The TV is working fine and it turns out that TV dinners are quite good when you eat them on a TV tray in front of the TV. So that lowest ebb in M.J.’s life turned around and now M.J. is no top of the world. Just then, there’s a knock at the door … “Who is it?,” M.J. cries.


Oh, wait, what about the Laundry Man. Remember, he was from China. He had the rest of the monkey. That gave him unlimited wishes. He gave up on using caustic chemicals and just wished the laundry clean. At first he was a great success, but then his secret got out amongst the people of Chinatown and he had to leave and go back to China where he died a poor man.

You may wonder why his fellow Chinese, who usually favor commercial success, were so upset with his method of laundry. It seems he was too wishy washy.

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