Bob Dylan sings about monkeys doing a dance in one of his songs on “Another Side of Bob Dylan.” In the song, he asks his monkey to do the dog, and it winds up doing the cat, to which he replies, “Funky Monkey.” I think he was on drugs.
Here’s a story I wrote:
On what would turn out to be the swampiest, most disgusting day of summer, the Cary First Presbyterian Church parishioners showed up at 9 a.m. for the Sunday service, only to discover that their beloved Reverend Harris, church leader for 35 years, was nowhere to be found.
“Where could he be?” asked Mrs. Drake, who hadn’t missed a Sunday service since 1963 (except for that one time she was in the city for a minor surgery).
Mrs. Drake and her husband broke into the Reverend’s house, directly behind the hefty brick church after they had knocked loudly several times, even on the windows. Meanwhile, the parishioners swarmed the empty lot, Fellowship Hall and choir loft, in starched white shirts and the leather shoes they reserved for Sundays. Mrs. Drake’s daughter, age 14, complained that beggar weeds were stuck to her favorite pair of frilly socks. They were her favorite because a silky pink ribbon was woven through the lace, and her best friend Susie Kemeny had a pair too.
It was not until noon of the same day, in 98 degree heat that Mr. Tweedy, the Fire Marshal and Sheriff, decided that something, something, must be done. So he tracked down Mark, the Reverend’s delinquent nephew who was living with him at the time. Although Mark had not been to the Reverend’s house in three days, everyone knew that he could be found at Munnegin’s Bar on 13th Street, where his band often played.
“When was the last time you saw him, Mark?” asked Mr. Tweedy. “Well, I haven’t really been back there in a few days cause I’ve been crashing at Darren here’s place, you know.” Mark gestured toward his unclean, unshaven friend who was dressed in mostly black, except for the red bandana punctuated with fluorescent green skulls, tied around his greasy brown (possibly blonde) hair.
Darren affirmed that he had indeed let Mark crash there, by nodding and holding his beer high up in the air.
“Did he try to contact you at Darren’s house, Mark?”
“Umm… … … mmm… … nope.”
“Wait,” Darren laughed, “didn’t he call that one night during Spinal Tap, you know, when it was on VH1 and they had edited out all the funny parts?”
“Oh *censored*!” Mark covered his mouth with a fresh pint of Icehouse. “Yeah. That VH1 version really sucked.”
“But do you remember the phone call?” asked Mr. Tweedy, who was growing impatient with the two boys in their late twenties.
“Nope. That wasn’t the Rev, that was a phone solicitor, remember?”
The two boys laughed, because they remembered how stoned they had been when the phone call was received, and they were surprised to have remembered any phone call at all.
Mr. Tweedy left Mark and Darren at the bar, where they would remain until their performance that night at eight. They were waiting for their bass player, Killer, who was supposed to show up twenty minutes earlier, in order to get “butt- wasted” before the show.
Mr. Tweedy’s thoughts wandered, but not too far. Those boys are in need a good whipping, he thought. I don’t know how the Reverend could handle that ungrateful slum of a boy. Good, God- fearing man, that’s all that could handle an S.O.B. like that boy. It was time for lunch, and Tweedy stopped for a sandwich at Olga’s Cuban sandwich shop, just a few blocks away. He ordered a Cuban on rye, hold the pork.
Tweedy was lucky that he was so important to the town of Cary. Typically, only the trash in town ate at Olga’s ( a Cuban family ran the place), but because he had to “keep up with all walks of life” in town, he could have his delicious sandwich and maintain his equally satisfying reputation. Cary, most society people thought, was too far north in Florida for any Cubans to raise a family. “How could it possibly be hot enough for anyone with Latin blood, Ms. Nancy?” Mrs. Drake asked her Negro housekeeper, after the restaurant had been purchased. “And can you believe that Mr. Hawthorne sold that cute little diner to them? It had so much potential.”
Ms. Nancy went on cleaning the French doors in the kitchen, which provided a view to the cow pastures behind the house. She didn’t look at Mrs. Drake, and Mrs. Drake didn’t notice. She had taken a new emery board to her fingernails and was hurriedly buffing away.
“That whole neighborhood is just going straight to hell, and that little sandwich shop is not helping one bit. I don’t know how you can stand to live in that neighborhood, Ms. Nancy.”
Tweedy climbed back into his cruiser and headed back down to the church. The Reverend’s receptionist was sitting on the church steps picking at her nails, which needed a touch up from her manicurist.
“Fifteen dollars a month,” she mumbled. “Fifteen lousy dollars.”
” ‘Afternoon, Lucy,” Mr. Tweedy said, picking a bit of shredded lettuce off his blue oxford shirt. “Any luck Mr. Tweedy?”
“Afraid not. That nephew of his is nearly drunk and it’s three in the afternoon. Hasn’t seen his uncle in three days.”
“Drunk at three in the afternoon, and on the Lord’s day,” Lucy recited.
“I’m afraid I’m at a loss here. Nothing of importance has happened in this town since that little Bohiggins boy got his arm chewed off in the orange picker.”
“That poor boy,” Lucy made a disapproving “tisk” noise with her tongue.
“He would’ve been 25 or so about now. What a loss.”
Lucy got up and brushed her rear- end off with her clumsy hands.
Inside the church, a few people had gathered to pray for the Reverend’s return. Seated near the pulpit in pews that had been rearranged to create a more intimate atmosphere, were Mr. and Mrs. Drake, their daughter, her best friend with the matching socks (whose parents were Professors in the neighboring University town and didn’t attend church), and most of the McLoone family (including their youngest daughter, Martha, who had given birth to a squirmy, pink baby less than a year ago).
“Oh, if anything ever happened to your faithful servant, Lord, I just don’t know what I would do,” Mr. McLoone prayed. “This is a man we’ve known and loved for thirty five years, Lord, a good man, Lord, and if you could please bring him back to us, we’d be mighty grateful.” The prayer was so dull, that if God didn’t know better, He might have thought Mr. McLoone was reading from a cue card somewhere in the background.
They had decided on a style of prayer, known in less traditional Protestant circles as “Popcorn Prayer,” which allowed whoever felt the Spirit to speak with the Lord, out loud, at any time. Mr. McLoone’s wife, broke in at this time with her weepy petition. Mr. McLoone hated when she did this, and it never failed; popcorn prayer meant he would be interrupted by his wife.
There were times when he would wait for her to pray first, so that he could interrupt her, but eventually they would be the only two left, and after a few unbearable minutes of silence he would driven to words. He generally spoke a furious, breathy prayer to God, asking for His graceful hand on all of their pitiful souls, a prayer of deep, dark, red words, which were forced out of his mouth through the spaces between his clenched teeth.
“Dear Lord,” Mrs. McLoone began, “Lord, be with us this day, and be with the family of our leader, Reverend Harris, who is such a valuable soldier in your army, Lord.”
Her husband was the only one with his eyes open. No one could see the contempt he held for his wife and her permed hair. That perm made him sick. When they climbed into bed at night, sometimes her hair would creep over to his side and attempt to choke him with its powerful cloud of styling products.
The group muttered their Amens, like drowsy cheerleaders that hadn’t practiced in weeks.
The youngest girls got up to go outside, and then Martha got up, cradling her colicky baby. She was pregnant again and had to use the restroom.
When Mr. Tweedy and Lucy walked into the Sanctuary, the adults were speaking of the Reverend as though he had been dead for months.
“Remember that sermon he gave on Faith not too long ago?” Mrs. McLoone asked the group.
They all nodded and mmhmm’ed, but the only one that truly remembered the sermon was her husband. She wouldn’t shut up about “the message” for two whole days. In fact, he could recite his wife’s version of the sermon by heart. He pictured himself rolling his eyes, and wished he could make some sort of vomiting gesture in his wife’s direction.
She continued, “That sermon brought me so much pride in what I believe, gave me so much hope for our next Mission trip to the Bahamas. I’ll never forget what he said, ‘Faith,’ he said, I’m pretty sure this is how it went, ‘Faith comes when doubt creeps into our hearts, it helps us to persevere,’ and ever since then I have not doubted the Lord at all, not once, because I know that we don’t need faith, because we don’t need to question or doubt anything. ‘Faith,’ he said, ‘is a last- ditch resort,’ and we don’t need that one bit, do we honey?”
She turned to her husband, who was getting a headache over his left eye. He winced, but it was perceived by his wife as a smile.
Mr. Tweedy had taken a seat next to Mrs. Drake, whom he had always thought had great legs. Lucy ran to get the phone, which was ringing in the Fellowship Hall.
“Any news?” Mrs. Drake asked.
“No Ma’am,” Mr. Tweedy replied, glancing down briefly at her size D breasts. Still perky. And fourteen years after her child, he thought. I bet her little girl’s gonna be a real looker, too. He snapped out of it. “There isn’t any news.”
“He couldn’t have just disappeared, Mr. Tweedy,” Mr. Drake replied. “That’s just crazy.”
“That’s right, Mr. Drake, He couldn’t have just disappeared. But there weren’t any accidents reported around town, his car is still in the garage, and Lou called all the area hospitals. It’s all too much.”
Lucy yelled for Mr. Tweedy to come to the phone. Lou, the only other policeman in town that was an active member of the Presbyterian church, needed to speak with him immediately.
“I hope it’s good news,” Mrs. Drake gasped. “Dear Lord, let it be good news.”
Mrs. McLoone squeezed Mrs. Drake’s Hand.
When Tweedy came back into the sanctuary, the congregation stood up. Even Martha stood up, which was quite an effort, being as big as she was.
It was nearly five, and across town, Killer, Darren and the Reverend’s nephew, Mark, were talking about how they wouldn’t mind having fifteen minutes with Martha, the pregnant girl, even though she was so very pregnant. Killer imagined that it “might be kinda like doin’ it on a poh- goh ball” They all laughed, and none of them thought about the Reverend’s absence.
But in the chapel no one could forget. His absence was felt by his followers more than his presence ever was. His words were being reviewed and mulled over with severity, and the church- goers were impressed with how much wisdom they had retained. They were delighted with the lessons they had learned, and giddy with the progress they had all made in their personal relationships with God.
“You know, Lucy,” Mrs. McLoone chimed, before you worked for the Reverend, we had the lousiest woman working here; what was her name?”
No one could quite remember.
“But we were so nice to her, weren’t we? And we even collected money and sent her flowers when she was so sick in the hospital, right before she died. What did she die from? Some sort of cancer or something?”
No one could quite remember that either.
Mr. Tweedy, who had been standing in the doorway for several minutes, coughed and the congregation fell silent.
“That was Lou, and there might be some bad news.”
“Wha… what kind of bad news?” Mrs. McLoone asked, her eyes widening.
“Lou got a call from that seedy motel down by Olga’s, the Starlight Motel, and they’ve found a body. We would have sent one of the next town’s Sheriff’s out to take care of it, but the Oriental man that runs the place thinks it might be the Reverend.” “How would he know?” Mrs. Drake asked, “That little man can’t possibly know what the Reverend looks like. We’ve never had an Oriental in the church before.” She turned to Mrs. McLoone, “You don’t remember seeing any Orientals in here, do you?”
Mrs. McLoone shook her head. “Why would the Reverend be in that awful part of town anyway, in that motel where all the hookers do their business?” She whispered the word “hookers” so God wouldn’t hear.
That Sunday evening, Martha and her baby ran the Youth Group in order to preoccupy the children, but the four remaining members of the Popcorn Prayer group found themselves following Mr. Tweedy deep into the slums of Cary. For the Drakes, it was their first time on the East side of 13th street. No one was happy to be there, especially Mrs. Drake, who could not understand why these people would not better themselves and their community.
Mr. Tweedy and Lou, the youngest police man, entered room 14 of the Starlite Motel alone. The Reverend Harris was found nesting in a dismantled bale of hay with a carrot jammed in his windpipe. He had suffocated to death.
“This is bizarre, Lou,” Mr. Tweedy said. “I just don’t understand this a bit.”
Lou went over to the Reverend and lifted a note from his hands. “There’s a note here, Mr. Tweedy.”
Mr. Tweedy was nervous and intrigued. He imagined his heroic moments captured on local TV. He would definitely make the evening news. He might even get to meet Robert Stack. Yes, he would get to meet Robert Stack and be on Unsolved Mysteries. He couldn’t help envisioning the re- enactments.
The door to the room was closed, and Lou was taking pictures with the Polaroid camera he had received in the mail three years ago from his older sister who went to college in Denver. It had been a birthday present. He planned to visit her, but couldn’t seem to find the time.
Outside, the congregation brewed their own personal storms. Was the Reverend in there? What had happened? The women sat in the mini van, leather cases of Mace in hand. Two young black boys rode their bicycles around the parking lot, trying to get a look at the situation.
“Those black people just don’t know any barriers,” Mrs. Drake snapped. “They just let their children run around like this? It’s almost dark out, and why would those children want to see what’s going on here anyway? What sick, sick people. Sick, sick, sick,” she said, and when her mind gathered too much momentum, about to explode, she would bark the word “sick” and shake her head. Mrs. McLoone stared at her, blinking.
The two men were standing outside the motel room with their ears to the door. Mr. McLoone mentioned that he had always known that Reverend Harris was a little off his rocker, and that he wouldn’t doubt if he was killed by a prostitute. After all, the man had never been with a woman, and he lived with that wacky nephew that was just no good, no sir, no good at all.
Mr. Drake didn’t pay him any attention. He had started to question Mr. McLoone’s sanity last Easter, when he was seen placing a five hundred dollar Monopoly bill in the collection plate, snickering to himself.
Finally the door opened, and Room 14 of the Starlight motel was exposed. Both Lou and Mr. Tweedy looked very, very confused. Mr. Tweedy had the note in his right hand, but had crushed it in dizzy excitement.
The ladies came out of the mini van, and they could tell by the look on Mr. Tweedy’s face that the Reverend was dead. “What are we going to do?” Mrs. McLoone screamed. “Just what are we to do? Oh, Christ! Curses!”
“Well, we’ll never find another preacher. Do you remember what Blessed Heart of Mary went through to get a Priest out here? And those Catholics will send their priests anywhere. They’ve got some sort of Priest reserve, but we’re not so lucky, being Presbyterians. It could be years until we get another preacher. We’re screwed. Positively screwed!” ranted Mrs. Drake. Her husband didn’t say anything. He was studying Mr. Tweedy’s posture. But Mr. McLoone had plenty to say. “Bet a hooker got him,” he chuckled. “Yes sir, a hooker- man or woman? God only knows, but I bet it was a hooker or some sort of drug deal going down in there. Can you blame the man? Can you just blame the man? Christ.” Mr. McLoone fell silent. He realized that Mr. Tweedy held all the answers to their questions about the Reverend’s disappearance. Suddenly, Mr. Tweedy was the most important man in town.
What would Mr. Tweedy do? He thought about putting the note in his mouth, chewing it up, and swallowing it. He had that power. He could rip it into tiny pieces. He could keep it and have people pay to read it, he thought, swear them to secrecy. Mr. Tweedy felt like the hottest, sexiest man in town, despite his extra 40 pounds and liver spots. He was a hero.
On impulse, he moved to put the note in his mouth, but was frozen with horror when Lou blurted out, “That weirdo choked on a carrot and died in a pile of hay. Can you believe that *censored*?”
With the fist that held the note, Mr. Tweedy clocked Lou in the jaw, sending him to the floor. The jaw was clearly broken, visibly unhinged. The women screamed and clung to one each other, and the men stared, frightened, at Mr. Tweedy who was now stretched out on the concrete, holding Lou’s head. Dreams and bones shattered, both men were sobbing. The note, which had fallen from Mr. Tweedy’s hand, landed right inside room 14 of the Starlite Motel. Mr. McLoone stepped inside, sat down on the hay, patted the Reverend on the head, and straightened out the note, which he read aloud:
Dear Lord, when you send me back down to earth, please let me be as a Bunny Rabbit, for they are the dearest messengers of your word. Amen.