When I was 17 years old my two closest friends were Matt and Jack. The three of us had gone to high school together and spent most of our free time and every summer from 1996 to about 2001 hanging out and getting in to low stakes mischief that we referred to simply as "monkey business".
Matt was a year ahead of me in school, Jack three years ahead. Jack was my brother's friend first. When Jamie went east for college, Jack stayed in Arizona for school. Their friendship transferred down to me. Matt remains my closest friend to this day. My son was to be his namesake. Jack and I grew apart for a while, but reconciled the time and distance earlier this spring. Despite a few years off, Jack is still one of my closest friends. I do not mean this as a slight to my actual brother, but I also consider both Matt and Jack to be my brothers.
Jack got married this past weekend. It was the first time that the three of us have been able to be together in about six years. It was much needed, I hadn't realized how much I missed them both. Matt missed Jack by about a day earlier this summer when we got together in Phoenix to celebrate Melly. In a lot of ways I am happier that our reunion was to celebrate Jack's marriage. You would expect that with all that has happened we would have an uncrossable divide between us, but, as with all great friendships, we were able to fall into our old patterns within minutes of being in each other's company.
As I look back on my life there are times and people that I can credit with helping to form who I am. Melissa is the largest influence on my life, and deserves most of the credit. Apart from my family, Matt and Jack the rest of the credit. We grew up together, figured out the world together. Over the years we've been best men and groomsmen in each others weddings. They are the first people I turn to when life sometimes gets to be too much. I am not here without them.
Our fortunes have been tied together since the summer of 1997. Jack came home from college for the summer and managed to get a job as a DJ at a local top 40 radio station. Matt and I became "independent contractors", painting houses and tarring roofs around town. My Mom gave us our first job that summer painting our home for $500 a piece. To this day, I'm not sure who got the better deal. It took us several weeks to complete, probably because we averaged three lunch breaks a day. Eventually the job got done, over budget and behind schedule. Just like real contractors. I can proudly say that I wasted most of that money on my first ever CD player (yes, it was 1997. I was a late bloomer).
Matt and I would work on the house all day (ok, let's be honest, from about 10:00a to about 1:45p) each day. The work consisted largely of listening to They Might Be Giants mix tapes, Cake's Fashion Nugget, and eating Subway. We'd then formulate plans to hang out with Jack and our crew of ne'er-do-wells that night. We'd usually let Jack know where we'd be by means of calling the radio station and requesting that he play Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London". This inside joke never seemed to get old, considering Jack was living through his own version of hell, being forced to play OMG's "How Bizarre" and Paula Cole's "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" on an hourly rotation.
The early part of that summer was pretty uneventful. We spent most of those early nights sitting around the basement of my house watching movies from the 80's. We must have watched Ferris Bueller thirty times that summer. The basement smelled heavily of cat pee due to my general teenage laziness, the smell was referred to simply as "The Funk". The basement became a second home to us, a clubhouse and base of operations. We were virtually guaranteed privacy because of the unpleasantness of The Funk.
Things became interesting when, in mid-June, we managed to get our hands on a book of free pie coupons to the local Village Inn. A group of us borrowed my Mom's Aerostar and drove to the restaurant to cash in on some pies. Having polished off four pies in under an hour, on a major sugar high, someone produced a large package of bottle rockets. Inspiration struck when our friend Rusty suggested we fire one out of the car window. We spent the next few hours driving past our various acquaintances houses setting off drive-by fireworks displays. "Monkey Business" was born.
At this point, I need to stress, that while likely illegal and most certainly stupid, we were always careful to make sure that no one got hurt. No fires were started and no property was damaged. If there are kids (or immature adults) reading this, I do not recommend firing bottle rockets from moving vehicles.
We never strayed from vehicular bottle rockets, they stayed part of our repertoire until the end. As the summer progressed mere fireworks could not sustain us. Like the Beatles and rock & roll, we had to take business to 'strange new places'.
There was a kid in our high school at the time that for whatever reason had gotten under Jack's skin in an obnoxious way. This kid was a habitual embellisher. He had apparently been telling stories about being an auxiliary border patrol agent since jr. high, up to an including telling stories about "shooting illegals" with a bow and arrow. In addition to this kid's supposed exploits in the Trump Youth, he claimed he had been asked to try out for the Phoenix Cardinals (which, in 1997, may actually have been true). Jack was having none of it. To make matters worse, this would be Napoleon Dynamite, had several facial features in common with a primate. In short order he become "Monkey Man" to go with our newfound Monkey Business.
My family had planned a trip for the end of the summer. It effectively put an expiration date on our mischief. As the end to our summer loomed the three of us decided that we needed to complete a master opus to rightfully cap things off. At some point Matt's Dad had told us story of some idiot teenager pushing a mannequin out of a moving car in traffic. As an adult, this horrifies me. As a 17-year-old jackass I thought, "Hey, that's kind funny. Let's build a dummy of something". Before too long, Monkey Man entered into the discussion. We settled on a plan to build an effigy of him to leave in his driveway.
Like all terrible plans, it was hatched in the basement surround by The Funk. At the time we had a whole series of old Time-Life books on zoology. We pulled the book on great apes and found a good likeness. The body was completed with plastic bags and old newspapers. We put an old t-shirt on it, onto which we scrawled "Phoenix Cardinals". Looking back on all this today, I am reminded of something my Dad said to me once - "For someone who is supposed to be smart, you do a lot of stupid stuff". Yeah.
We snuck down to Monkey Man's house in the middle of the night and placed our dummy in the driveway. We snapped a couple of pictures and went home. That's it. The next day I got in to the car with my brother and Dad and drove to Ohio for two weeks, and then home and back to school.
Looking back on it today there are parts of me that regret the immaturity of it. There were certainly a lot of worse things we could have gotten ourselves into. There was no rhyme or reason to Monkey Man. To this day I have no indication that this kid even knew who we were, let alone knowing that we thought he looked like a chimp. In all likelihood he probably never even saw it, his parents probably found it before they went to work and threw it in the garbage. This whole prank, that whole summer in fact, was done solely for our own entertainment. Deep down we are all small town kids with access to fireworks.
We are our experiences. In the grand scheme of things I think that we were good kids.The general monkey business we did get ourselves into has evolved in to the two closest non-familal relationships in my world. No one got hurt, nothing got burned down, we didn't get arrested. Would I do it again? No. Am I grateful for who it has made me? Well, if we are talking about the friends I got out of it then absolutely, I am eternally grateful.
...and if you are reading this and remembering finding a papier mache' primate on your lawn in late July 1997, I am sorry, we meant no harm.