Sunday, June 03, 2007

Eat the Monkey: A true tale

While in the local Rite-Aid around midnight Friday night, I noticed something new in the frozen food case: a small red and white box bearing the label "Dwight Yoakam's Chicken Lickin's Buffalo Style Bites. " "Wow! Only $1" the box read. "Just Heat 'Em and Eat 'Em."

Of course, I bought two.

Why? Not because I'm a huge fan of the country singer/actor, whose cowboy-hatted silhouette appears on the box, or even because I was hungry. I bought them because from the moment I saw the box, I knew I'd be telling people the story of how I stumbled upon a Dwight Yoakam food product in the middle of the night in a 24-hour drugstore at the Jersey Shore. And, of course, I knew their first questions would be "Did you buy them? How were they?"

So I bought them - and ate them. Because without that, the story had no ending, no payoff. For the story's sake, I had to do it.

Here's a better example:

In 1990 I went on a rather Graham Greene-ish vacation to post-invasion Grenada. Tourism on the island was still in a free-fall at that point, restaurants and hotels were few, and my traveling companion and I were among only a half-dozen American tourists on the island. An empty lot across from our hotel had once been the site of the Cuban military barracks, long-since blasted and bulldozed, and a scenic taxi trip up the mountain passed a blockhouse that had been destroyed by the 82nd Airborne, whose members spray-painted their ALL-AMERICAN logo on the side of the bombed-out building. It made me strangely proud to see it.

The island was beautiful, and aside from the occasional surly cabdriver (we were told that many former militia members and party hardliners had been relegated to menial jobs post-invasion), everyone seemed very happy to meet and talk with a couple of Americans. Sometimes though, they'd cut a conversation short if it drifted too far into politics. It was like they were wondering who you *really* were, and were watching what they said accordingly. One Grenadian told us that in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion, the local medical school suddenly saw an influx of new students - all of whom were American, male and inordinately fit. They were CIA and military intelligence types, who seeded themselves among the mostly American students so that they could see to their safety and control their whereabouts when the invasion came. In other words, everyone knew something was coming. It was just a question of when.

But I digress.

On one of our first nights there, we dined at a highly recommended local restaurant. The setup, we were told, was a little different. You called ahead, told them you were coming and then they put on an extra plate for you - of whatever they happened to be cooking that night. No ordering. No menus. No choice.

The restaurant itself was kind of endearing. In fact, it was someone's house - with prefab metal sheets propped up over an improvised outside dining area. Spider monkeys skittered through the trees and the taxi ride there was often interrupted while the driver tried to nudge an errant cow off the road.

The meal was varied - a sampling of local Grenadan dishes, brought to us by a charming hostess who announced each dish as she placed it before us. Grilled beef, lobster fritters, goat, mixed local vegetables and finally a dish of what looked like tiny beef slices. This, she informed us, was filleted monkey.

What to do? I knew from the moment she identified the dish that I would be telling this story when I got back home, how one night in the tropics I was unexpectedly served a plate of primate, man's closest relative. And I knew that when I told the story, the first questions would be "Did you eat it? How was it?"

So here it was, a new life experience being made available to me, as well as a good story to tell. Do I pass on the monkey and rob my story of its payoff? Or commit a crime against nature and possibly evolution? I had to decide quickly, before my monkey got cold.

I ate the monkey. It was excellent.

It tasted like beef, but flaked almost like fish. It was light, but flavorful. Not gamy at all. It went down very easy, helped no doubt by the 14-oz rum punch that was served with dinner. I enjoyed it.

So there it was, the punchline, the payoff. "Yes, I had monkey offered to me and yes, I ate it and this is what it tasted like." All in service of a story.

The moral? It goes for writing as well as any type of storytelling. When you're offered a new experience, take it. To tell the true story, the *whole* story, you have to live it. You have to dive in.

In other words, you have to eat the monkey.

The Buffalo Style Bites weren't bad either.

NEXT WEEK: Addio, Tony


Steven said...

I'd have eaten the monkey. Not really squemish about meats. Vegetables freak me out though.

Tina said...

Great work.