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Monkeys and Donuts--Part 1

This one time my mom underestimated a monkey. She wasn’t to blame. I suppose I would have done the same given the circumstance.

Regardless, it happened. What I really mean to say is she caught a monkey, but not without a bout of underestimation. Around the same time my dad was waking up dreary eyed with his dad at 3am on their way to the shop. Dad would fight off sleep as he mixed donut batter and cleaned up the floury aftermath. The collision of their two worlds would be far off or near, depending on perspective. I guess it would be better to say that both had yet to experience most of the wonders and trials life had to offer. Mom chased monkeys and dad made donuts; neither aware of the other.

Mom saw the monkey eating bananas in the trees outside her house in the Philippines. Her dad was in the coast guard and they lived on the base where he was stationed. She had six parrots and spent her time swimming, reading classic literature and experiencing the culture. All the while she saw the monkey. I can’t imagine anything more alluring or exciting for a young girl stuck on a military base than the thought of catching a monkey. The idea of a monkey as a pet is probably better than the reality of a monkey as a pet but that was no deterrent. Mom hatched a plan and within a few hours executed that plan as confident and expectant as only a child can do.

She found an old bird cage, opened the door and baited it with what any one of us would think to bait a monkey with; a banana. In due time the monkey took notice and inched its way toward the trap, unknowingly further away from freedom. Mom exhibited an incredible amount of patience as she watched the monkey slip past the door and take hold of the fruit. In an instant the trap was sprung. The door shut. The celebration began. The monkey continued its meal uninterested, as a young girl leapt and danced tasting the triumph of a well-executed plan. The monkey finished its banana, opened the door to the cage and went back to its life in the trees, underestimated. As mom battled the heartbreak at the fading feeling of triumph, she had a choice to make. She could sit and pout as most disappointed girls her age would do or she could learn from her failure and try again. She adjusted the plan and, in due time, my mom caught a monkey. She named it Suzy. Suzy hated cats.

My dad’s father owned a donut shop and like any good small business owner leveraged the kids for work. It must be a family trait to kill two birds with one stone. One-on-one time with the kids while accomplishing tasks needed to be done with the additional benefit of not having to hire more help. My dad, as a boy, had a front row seat to the life of a hard-working small business owner. All of the sleepless nights and early mornings. The smells of deep fried sugar dough and secret ingredients. Nothing short of glamour and glory to behold while falling asleep in a chair waiting for dough to rise.

As my dad grew into adolescence he continued to help in the shop. My grandfather would have him leave through the back door and walk into the front door; an endless loop to give the illusion of a bustling business. He would also make dad leave through the back because he didn’t want people thinking the store was full of long haired hippies. Two birds with one stone: efficiency.

While Mom learned patience and tenacity by catching a monkey, Dad learned hard work and efficiency by making donuts. There were to be many more lessons to learn in life, but these were some of the earliest for them.

There are other funny and crazy stories to tell of their childhoods. In his mid-teens Dad decided to figure out a way to get to Las Vegas instead of go to school. He and a couple friends hitched a ride from a trucker on his way from California to Nevada. They rode for hours laying down on a flatbed trailer through the desert. As they arrived in Las Vegas almost hypothermic from the flatbed ride, they were desperate for warmth. They moved toward the end of town to a vacant lot now occupied by the Mandalay Bay resort. Once there they did what most of us would do to warm up: started a fire. It wasn’t long before the Las Vegas Fire Department showed up, accompanied by the police. The boys were taken into custody and bused back home, their momentary stay in Vegas much shorter than expected.

My dad lived with his two brothers and two sisters in a neighborhood in El Monte, California. The beauty of this particular neighborhood was that it was surrounded by farm land. This gave the boys a significant advantage with respect to avoiding consequences for the mischief they got into. For instance, if they decided to ride their friend’s dirt bike into town and were seen by the police driving an illegal vehicle without a license, they could easily just drive the bike back across the pedestrian overpass, through the field and into the friend’s garage minutes before any police car could get into the neighborhood. In fact, they could sit on the roof of the house and watch the police car drive the two miles into the neighborhood after they were already rid of the evidence.

On one such occasion a police officer decided, incorrectly, that it would be worth it to try and pursue the dirt bike across the field. I’m sure the officer believed the field to be smooth. I’m also certain he realized his mistake the moment he hit the first mound of dirt hidden under long grass. The boys laughed as the police cruiser attempted to extract itself from a poorly decided-upon pursuit.

Later that day the boys noticed the same police car sitting quietly at the end of their road. Very quickly three very bored boys hatched a plan. Like a lot of plans in life, the idea on paper was far better than it was in real life. They had a second dirt bike in their garage. It was decided that my dad (the middle boy) would push the dirt bike as fast as possible down the road in order to make it look to the police officer like it was the same motorcycle used earlier. The other two brothers would watch in hysterics when the police officer realized that the bike being pushed had no engine and could not be the same. Everyone would have a good laugh and go about their day. That was the plan on paper.

My dad assumed his position at the garage door while his brothers got ready to laugh at the scene. The door was opened. Dad pushed the bike with all his might down the driveway and into the street. The police car came alive with sirens and lights as it sped toward the boy in certain victory. The officer jumped out for the confrontation and arrest. Dad played dumb as he tried to understand why it was wrong to push an engineless dirt bike down the road. His brothers laughed like they had never laughed before. The officer proceeded to rough my dad up pretty bad. The lesson learned? People don’t always react the way they’re supposed to, even police officers. Also, it’s better not to mess with people who are bigger than you and have guns.

Mom’s childhood was spent in typical military family fashion. There was a lot of moving. The repetitive adjusting to new faces and places. They developed ability to make quick friends and say quick goodbyes. Being the oldest of four girls, she was in charge and held things together for her sisters. Family being the only constant in a world of constant change.

In time mom would move back to the states from the deployment in the Philippines while dad watched the stresses of family and business cause the collapse of the donut shop along with his parents’ marriage. Brokenness entered their stories.

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