Wandering through an old-time town zoo somewhere, sometime, I noticed a tobacco patch outside one of the barns. Seemed a little puzzling, because this was a long way from burley country. I asked a keeper what it was there for, and he said they used it to worm their animals.
I thought that was interesting... Given the rate at which I smoke, I reckon that explains why I've never once in this life been concerned about worms (with the possible exception of wondering about the genealogy of a couple of my ex-wives).
Which ain't at all what this is about...
I went to high school up north, in the awful flatlands of Central Indiana, and soon learnt the joys of skipping school. Outside of school was a helluva lot more educational, in many cases, than anything inside. The time Kenny Robinson lost a head of hair to a monkey is a case in point. And it had a tobacco connection as well.
One spring day Kenny and I had ditched school in favor of wandering through a local park, and noticed the monkey house had reopened. Hard to believe, in this day of enlightened awareness about animal rights and all, but wunsta pawna time most small town parks had monkey houses, and fake rock caves where mangy black bears or geriatric lions dozed away the warm months.
Kenny and I wandered over to where a tribe of spider monkeys lived in a steel cage strung with rope and swings, though we didn't much care about either one of those. We'd found out over time our fellow primates were apt to engage in all sorts of shameless and uninhibited behavior, which fifteen year old boys found both educational (this was a school day after all) and interesting.
The way this place was set up, a waist high fence kept people from pressing too near the cage, though enterprising, ambitious monkeys could extend their arms to beg for handouts. Mostly people gave them peanuts, but when Kenny offered an unlit cigarette, one little ape seemed tickled to death to get it. Retreating to a high perch he peeled away thin white paper like a banana skin, eating the tobacco as delicately as this one girl named Margie used to eat ice cream cones.
Margie was real developed for her age and possessed of an extremely pointed, coral colored tongue. Lots of us were happy to buy Margie a fifteen cent cone at the Dairy Queen just to see that sharp thing ease out from between her lips, then lap ever so gently at ice cream. Her tongue was an inspiring thing to behold and to this day I ain't sure I ever again saw quite that shade of pink.
Not in nature anyway.
But I was telling you about the monkeys...
The boss monkey of the cage saw what was going on, and came to get one of Kenny's cigarettes for himself. Which he probably would of got with no trouble had he not paused en route to slap the snot out of the monkey who already had one. Kenny deemed such an attitude offensive, so when Boss Monk stuck his arm through the cage for more charity, my buddy kept the cigarette just out of reach. Soon as the ape pulled his arm back into the cage, Kenny put the cigarette close again, and snatched it back when the monkey tried for it again.
This went on long enough to send the boss monkey into a screaming jumping rage, and soon I was sufficiently bored to wish the ape would do a trick Kenny apparently wasn't clued into, a trick which involved the monkey's reaching onto the floor of the cage for a handful of whatever was lying loose, then hurling it outside with surprising accuracy. As a rule what's at the bottom of a monkey cage ain't nothing a reasonable person wants to field, but I kept far enough off to the side I didn't figure any would reach me.
But before the monkey got around to feces flinging Kenny made one minor error, and one very major mistake. Firstly he accidentally dropped the cigarette, and it fell between that little old "safety fence" and the cage proper. That seemed minor enough. Only cigarettes weren't easy to come by back then, and my buddy's major mistake was an unwillingness to throw one away.
Leaning over to retrieve that perfectly useable smoke put him much closer to the cage, a geographical shift the frustrated and seriously pissed off boss monkey noticed. Quicker than I can tell it a pair of ape arms shoved between the bars and got hold of my buddy, who screamed as though two devils had him.
Kenny wore a full head of curly black hair, and in a few seconds had a lot less of it. That ape would of snatched Kenny bald-headed if I hadn't found a long stick to poke him away. The boss monkey retreated to the other side of the cage and monkey-cussed us a long while, ignoring a pair of baby apes who ventured close to investigate mysterious black curly stuff newly scattered on the bottom of their cage.
Kenny was a mess, with big bleeding silver dollar sized patches where hair used to grow. We had to go to my house and say to my mother a) we'd skipped school and b) could she do something to make Kenny's head stop bleeding. She did what she could in the way of first aid, but only after sitting down and laughing hysterically for ten minutes after we explained how it came to pass Kenny's head looked as though it'd been sheared by a lunatic barber.
Mom never got around to chewing me out as severely as she might've for cutting classes that day, and for the rest of her life told that story from time to time (useful for demonstrating to her grandchildren what fools their parents' generation had been), always with wild laughter during the part where she described what Kenny's head looked like after the monkey gave him a trim.
A postscript: the next spring when they put them monkeys out from where ever they spent the winter, the first time Kenny and I walked by, quick as that same old boss monkey saw us he went into an all too familiar rage. Kenny's hair had grown back in by then, real dark above his suddenly pale face...