MONKEYS HAVE TAILS APES DO NOTI was an infant so I do not remember being thrown from my daddy’s ‘55 Chevy after he slammed it into a pecan tree at sixty miles an hour, but this is what I learned over the years:
My mama was holding me in her arms and she never let go of me, even as we sailed some eighty feet through the air and landed in the bottom of a drainage ditch. My mama would have survived the accident as well, had she not drowned in less than a foot of water as she clutched her baby boy to her ample bosom. She was breast-feeding me at the moment of impact, and according to the good folks who pulled us from that ditch; I was still suckling away when the beams from their flashlights found us. It must have been a bizarre sight to see a baby in a drainage ditch sucking on a large white breast jutting up from the dirty black water. Mama’s thirty-eight double-D cup breast not only fed me for my first few months in this world, but they saved my life as well.
By the way, the Pecan Tree is the state tree of the great state of Texas, which is where I have lived all my life. I like it here. I have never traveled beyond her borders, and I have never felt the need to wander around searching for myself. I know who I am.
Anyway, my Aunt Grace was also killed in that horrible crash. She flew through the windshield and smacked face first into the state tree of the great state of Texas. Most of her body had to be peeled and scraped off that tree along with my daddy's ‘55 Chevy. I've seen pictures of my Aunt Grace in happier, healthier times, and it seems she was always giggling about something. She didn't have large breasts like my mama, but her smiling face told me that she would have been easy to love. She was my father's sister, and my mother's best friend.
Daddy survived the crash. He was thrown into an old mattress someone didn't want anymore and had tossed into the brush alongside the highway. He suffered a severe concussion, a punctured lung, and three broken ribs. He was also bitten by a rattlesnake as he crawled from the mattress and out of the brush to search for the rest of us. He was driving and he was drunk. We were all drunk, including me, as much as the three of them used to drink; Mama had to be lactating alcohol laced breast milk.
It was Saturday night, September 5, 1959. We were on our way home, eastbound on Texas Farm Road 109, which we called "the highway" for so many years. It was not a highway; it had one lane for vehicles going this way, and one lane for vehicles going that way. Home was my grandpa's farm where we all lived. Daddy was a mediocre singer in a mediocre country and western band. They called themselves: Fard Lunkley and the Alligators. Daddy was Fard Lunkley; the rest of the band was The Alligators. Fard is not my daddy's real first name, but Lunkley is our real last name. Daddy thought that Fard sounded like a good name for a country singer. I do not know how or why they decided to call the rest of the band The Alligators. My daddy's real first name is Conrad, but everybody calls him Connie, or Junior because my grandpa’s first name was Conrad too.
Fard Lunkley and The Alligators had played to a packed house at a honky-tonk called Clymon's, where Daddy tended bar part-time. Billy Clymon owned the place. He was a mean old man who used to beat his dogs with a switch. He didn't seem to like anybody but Daddy. He didn't talk much either, but when he did, he'd do it in a holler. Billy would throw somebody out of his place nearly every single night, but he'd usually let them back in the next day or so. There weren’t many other places to drink back then unless you wanted to drive all the way to Tuckerville, so Clymon's was it, especially on Saturday nights. So everybody tolerated Billy Clymon even though they all wished he'd die.
Daddy whipped Billy's ass one night for calling my grandpa a drunk. Maybe Billy Clymon really didn't like my daddy, but he didn't want his ass whipped again so he gave him a job tending bar part-time, and let his band play mediocre imitations of the latest country hits in his honky-tonk. Grandpa was a drunk, so was Daddy, but it was unwise to say it out loud to my daddy’s face, unless you wanted an ass whipping.
My daddy got into a lot of fights. That night, he jumped down off the stage and whipped some poor drunk's ass for telling my mama that she ought to take her baby boy somewhere else to change his diaper. I'd have to agree with that poor drunk. It embarrasses me to this day to know that Mama used to change my diapers in the middle of Clymon's in front of a bunch of backwards-ass, drunken rednecks.
After the fight broke up, Daddy apologized to the poor drunk, bought him another beer, then jumped back on stage and sang a few more songs. Then Billy Clymon ran everybody off so he could close the place, but Fard Lunkleyand The Alligators were thirsty. Billy handed Daddy the keys and told him to lock up when they were done. They were done when everybody was snot-slingin’ drunk.
The Alligators took off but Mama and Daddy had to wait for Aunt Grace. Randy Bowman was giving her a ride in his new Ford pickup. Randy was an Alligator. He played drums. They finally came back after almost an hour. Daddy noticed that Aunt Grace's blouse was inside out and her lipstick was smeared all over her face. Randy would’ve gotten an ass kicking if Aunt Grace and Mama had not been there to stop it. Daddy was always beating up Aunt Grace's boyfriends. Daddy had already been in one fight that night and he was smart enough to realize that drummers were hard to come by out here, and Randy Bowman was a damned good drummer.
We were all sitting in the front seat. Aunt Grace was sitting in the middle, yelling at my daddy, telling him to mind his own business and to let her live her life. Daddy just kept telling her to shut up. Mama took Aunt Grace's side and was also yelling at Daddy. Daddy told her to shut up too. I was enjoying a late night snack.
Somewhere in there, Daddy lost control, ran off the road, and crashed into the big pecan tree. The girls got killed and the boys survived.
By the way, it was Randy Bowman who pulled my dead mama and me out of that drainage ditch. He and my daddy would eventually become best friends and get snot-slingin' drunk together too many times to count.
I was raised by men—drunkards actually. Grandma was taken by cancer before I was born. And after that horrible night, all our women were gone. I never knew our women, so I didn't miss them the way Grandpa and Daddy missed them. I'm sure they did their best in raising me. I don’t ever remember being hungry and I did eventually get into school, but I was a filthy child, and I always seemed to have a runny nose.
The farm was already dying a slow death because Grandpa was getting too old to take care of the place, and Daddy showed little interest or ability in farming. He was positive he would be a famous singer one day. I think he was aware of the fact that he was only a mediocre singer, but he was also aware of the fact that he was an incredibly handsome man. He stood tall and walked lean. His hair was dark and thick, like Elvis'. His face was strong but became slightly crooked when he would grin. And his eyes always seemed to exude a warning of some sort.
Daddy knew that in show business, looks were most often more important than talent. When Daddy would sing with the Alligators many women would make complete fools of themselves to get his attention. This would drive my mama crazy. She would curse and holler at these empty-headed bimbos, but she never got in any fights. This also made a lot of husbands and boyfriends angry, and instead of getting mad at their empty-headed wives or girlfriends, they would foolishly pick a fight with Fard Lunkley. Daddy got in many fights simply because he was incredibly handsome.
Daddy and Grandpa both drank too much, and after we buried Mama and Aunt Grace, they drank even more. Both of them had fallen into a pathetic state of melancholia, and maybe they thought they could get out if they drank enough whiskey and beer. Their women were gone, and they were sorry-ass excuses for men without them. They would yell at each other a lot, and then they would fall asleep when they got too drunk or tired of yelling at each other. Even as a toddler I was often the last one to go to bed. I didn't mind because I didn't have to take a bath, and I could stay up as late as I wanted and watch TV.
There were some advantages in being raised by a couple of drunkards. I could do just about anything I wanted. I had a dog named, Boo. He just walked up to our house one day as Grandpa and I were sitting on the porch eating Moon Pies and watermelon. I don't know what I was trying to say as I pointed at the little dog and said, "Boooo," but the name stuck.
I was barely two years old. Daddy use to say that Boo was the ugliest dog in the world, and I must admit, he was not pretty, or not even what you would call cute; but he was loyal and good. He walked where I walked. He slept where I slept. He ate where I ate, and he stood watch over me. Grandpa said he was half Bulldog and half German Shepard. He was not as tall as a German Shepard and he was not as short as a Bulldog.
I think he might have been the strongest dog in the world. One day, he got a hold of one of Daddy’s cowboy boots and would not give it up. Daddy pulled with all his might, smacking Boo in his face as he bit down on that boot while backing away on his muscular legs.
"Son of a bitch!" Daddy hollered, giving up the boot and shaking his head as Boo ran off with it. "I’m gonna shoot that damn dog if I don’t get my boot back. You hear me, Larry?" I didn’t want Boo to be shot so I got the boot back to Daddy before he pulled his .22 out of the closet.
Boo and I would He sat under play with cars and little plastic army men under our house. It was high enough off the ground so Boo and I could easily fit under there. I would build roads in the dirt, make houses out of mud, and pull the water hose under there to create my own rivers and lakes. Boo would just sit under there with me and watch. He was smart enough not to step on the roads and houses, but now and again, he would drink the lakes.
Sometimes I would pretend that Boo was a giant monster, and I would flick tiny pebbles at him to simulate the little plastic army men firing their little plastic army guns at him. Boo would get this real confused look on his face and eventually he would pounce on me. We'd wrestle around in the mud under the house, him growling like he was really mad, and me laughing like a little monkey. Then Daddy or Grandpa would come out and tell us to shut the hell up, or they would just stomp real hard on the floor above us. I was a filthy child, but I was happy.
Some ladies from the Baptist church my Grandma used to attend would come over sometimes to bring us hot food and clothes for me. Boo and I would be under the house as usual, and we would silently crawl up to get a look at those ladies standing in our front yard. We never crawled out far enough to get a look at those lady's faces, so we just stared at their ugly feet. They were always telling my daddy that he should come to church and bring my grandpa and me with him. I would hear the wood creaking as Daddy fidgeted on the porch above our heads. He would smile real nice, thank them, take the food and clothes for me, and promise to bring us all to church sometime. We never went to church, but I sure did enjoy the hot food those faceless ladies would bring by. All we ever ate was red beans, cornbread, and fried chicken, so no matter what those ladies had in that Tupperware, it was sure to be a special treat.
One day, Boo and I were under the porch looking at the feet of a lady from the church as she was talking to my daddy. I noticed right away that her feet were not fat and ugly like the other kind ladies who had brought us food and clothes for me. In fact, I thought this lady's her feet were beautiful. It was a very hot day and she was barefooted. She wasn’t wearing those thick ugly nylons those other ladies wore. Her skin was smooth and hairless, and her toenails had red paint on them.
"Hi," I heard her say. "I'm Addie Teegarden."
"Well, hi there, darlin'." If my daddy called a woman, "darlin" that meant he liked them in a way he didn't like the women he called, "Mam." "I'm Conrad, but people call me Connie."
"I know who you are," she said.
"And I know the Teegardens, but I’ve never seen you. Where’d you come from?"
"I just moved here with my husband."
"Who's your husband?"
"No. You're Coach Teegarden's wife? I'll be damned."
"You find that hard to believe?"
"Yes Mam, I do."
"Well, pardon me for saying so, but he is kind of old, mean, and craggy."
"He's not old."
"He's older than you and me."
"Not by much."
"I guess not."
"I'd be willing to bet he could still whip you."
"Oh, he told you that story."
"Yes he did."
"Well, I think you'd probably win that bet. I don't know anybody that would stand a chance against that mean, old, craggy bastard… Excuse me, Mam."
"It's all right. I'll tell him you said so."
"I thought he lived in Houston."
"We did. We just moved back. Well, actually, he moved back, and I came with him. His father recently passed away."
"I know. I'm sorry. We sent flowers."
"And they were beautiful. Thank you."
Daddy would laugh as he talked to her and she would laugh right back. He was fidgeting as usual, but it sounded like a different kind of fidget. I never heard any laughter when those other kind ladies stopped by. This lady had a very pleasant voice. I pictured her as one of those pretty ladies on TV. I thought she might even be as pretty as my mama. It sounded like they were enjoying each other. I was certainly enjoying her. I was five or six at the time, and I had not yet come in contact with a female that stirred up the baby testosterone hormones in my young body. I felt a funny sort of dizzy feeling deep within my stomach. Something seemed to be pulling at me. I had to get a look at this lady's face. I wanted her to see me— I do not know why. I just felt an overwhelming urge to crawl out from under the porch and say "hi." I looked down at Boo. He just gazed up at me— bored and useless— as he lay in the dirt with his face resting on his folded paws. My little heart beat faster than it ever had before. It was my first rush of adrenalin.
I took a deep breath and crawled out from underneath that porch like a terrified armadillo crossing the highway. I stopped at her feet, forced myself to stand, and gazed up at the most beautiful sight my young eyes had ever seen. She was much prettier than the ladies on TV were, and I am ashamed to admit; I thought she might even be prettier than my mama was. I had never seen hair so black and shiny. Her skin was smooth and white, like vanilla ice cream when you stir it up real good. And her eyes were as blue as Texas bluebonnets. I tried to say, hi, but the word was stuck somewhere between my stomach and my esophagus. My little baby testosterone hormones had rendered me speechless and unable to move.
I think I must have scared the hell out of that pretty young lady. Her pretty blue eyes instantly grew as big as buttermilk biscuits. The big smile she had on her face suddenly opened up wide enough for me to see her tonsils. She made this sound as if she was about to scream, but she didn’t. She gulped in as much air as she could, hopped backwards on one foot, and then dropped a big pot full of chicken and dumplings on the ground.
I love chicken and dumplings. We all do. So when Boo scrambled out from underneath the porch and began licking the dumplings from her feet, I think I became jealous or something. I dove to the ground and punched Boo right in his eye. He made this yelping sound and ran off with his tail between his legs. I felt bad because I knew I'd hurt poor Boo’s feelings, but he had to learn; he just can't walk up to a lady and start licking her feet, even if they were covered with chicken and dumplings. I promised myself I would make it up to him later.
I gladly took it upon myself to peel the dumplings off her lovely feet and toss them back into the big pot. I looked up at her and smiled. She looked down at me as if I were giant rodent of some mutant breed. I'd bet anything she was praying I wouldn't bite her and give her rabies, or worse, eat her pretty little toes off her feet. She was too scared to move or say anything. I just kept peeling and tossing and tossing and peeling. My daddy finally spoke up and said something so Addie Teegarden wouldn't have a heart attack and die in our front yard.
"Uhm, that’s my boy."
"Ohh," said Addie, unable to hide her fear, or embarrassment, or both. "Well, he's quite..." It was obvious; she was appalled and terrified at the sight of me. Who could blame her? There was this little bitty boy covered with dirt, who had just punched a dog in the eye. He had dried snot caked under his nose and a new wet coat running on top of it down into his mouth. He was wearing nothing but dirty underpants. She must have thought I was the littlest pervert she had ever seen. I was not then nor am I now a pervert; I was just a little boy peeling dumplings off a pretty lady's feet.
"Get away boy," my daddy barked at me. "You're scarin' the lady."
"But, she got dumplins on her feet," I tried to explain.
"Go on, now!"
I crawled back under the porch. "Sorry about that," my daddy told her.
"Oh, it's okay," she said, still a little shaken.
"We don't get much company. He’s not used to very many people."
"Why isn't he in school?" she asked, and terror shot through my body. I had heard about a place called school and I did not want to go there.
"Would you like to wash off your feet?" Daddy asked.
"Yes, I would. Thank you."
"I was planning on sending him soon," Daddy said as he stepped down off the porch and walked her to the water faucet on the side of the house.
"He should be in school now."
"I know that, and he will be. Soon."
Oh no I won't, I thought as I scrambled along on my hands and knees to keep up with them as they walked around the house.
"How old is he?" She asked.
"Five or six," Daddy said.
"Five or six?"
"Five," Daddy said, as he turned the handle on the water faucet and began to pull the hose from under the house where I had been building rivers and lakes. "No… six— He's six,"
"I can help you," Addie said. "He can ride with us. I drive my own kids every morning and pick them up every afternoon."
"I appreciate that."
I could tell this lady was starting to get on my daddy's nerves. He doesn't like it when people start prying into his personal affairs, even if they are pretty young ladies. I know when his patience with people is being stretched to its limit. I know because I have often pushed him beyond those limits, and I usually was threatened with a whipping when I did. This lady was lucky she was not a man, for my daddy would whip her ass.
My daddy had never laid a hand on a woman, at least not in a violent manner. In my family, it is a sin to strike a woman, even if she hits you first, second, and third. It's okay to tell them to shut up, and to make them think you will hit them, but to actually strike a woman is tantamount to cowardice, and your stature as a man and a Lunkley can never be regained.
"I will send my son to school, Mam," said Daddy, holding his temper. I had already changed my mind about this lady. Even though she was the prettiest lady I had ever seen. I did not like her anymore.
When I looked down I saw the end of the hose snaking by my thigh as Daddy pulled it hand over hand from underneath the house. I grabbed hold of it and held on as tight as I could. Daddy pulled harder and began dragging me along with it. I stabbed the heels of my bare feet into the soft dirt to brace myself, but Daddy pulled even harder, and I skidded across the dirt on my tiny butt.
"He could take the school bus," Addie said.
"I'll drive him myself," Daddy snapped at her.
As I slid along, the dirt and mud moving underneath me pushed my underpants from my ass and started accumulating back there. "What the hell?" I heard my daddy say as he gave one final tug. I never saw the overhanging two by six rushing toward me, so my forehead banged smack dab into it just as Daddy pulled me into the bright daylight.
I went to sleep for a few seconds, but I did hear the pretty lady that I didn't like anymore say, "Oh, my goodness!" Daddy sprayed some water on my face and I woke up instantly. Neither one of them had thought to pull me completely out from under the house, so when I sat up, I banged my noggin again on that same two by six.
About a minute later I woke up again as Daddy was carrying me up the porch steps. I heard Addie ask if I was all right. As soon as I regained my senses, I shot out of my daddy’s arms and somehow landed on my feet. I blocked Addie from taking another step and shouted up at her:
"I AINT GOIN’ TO NO SCHOOL! SO WHY DONT YOU GO HOME!"
I jumped off the porch and ran into the woods to find Boo so we could be friends again. I had to pull a lot of mud from the back of my underpants. Addie must have thought I’d shit myself.
Boo and I stayed in the woods until it was almost dark. When I got back to the house, Addie was gone, and Daddy had left with Randy Bowman to play with the Alligators at Billy Clymon's. Grandpa was sitting in the living room watching TV. He had the big pot of chicken and dumplings in his lap and was shoveling them into his mouth with a big wooden spoon.
"Want some of this boy?" he asked, as broth dripped from his unshaven chin.
"No," I told him. I went and pulled a carton of vanilla ice cream from the freezer.
"Your Daddy says you gotta go to school," Grandpa snickered at me. "Bout time I think."
"I aint goin' to no school."
"Oh, yes you are."
"Oh, no I aint."
"Don't sass me, boy," he snapped at me, as tiny bits of chicken and dumplings sprayed from his mouth.
I pouted as I sat on the floor in the living room finishing off what was left of the ice cream while we watched TV. I loved TV as if it were a member of the family. It was my inside friend like Boo was my outside friend. Tarzan was my favorite show and Johnny Weissmuller was the only Tarzan I would watch. He would run around the jungle wearing only his underpants, which is why I ran around in my underpants. Lassie was my second favorite show. It was a show about a boy and his dog. Grandpa was watching The Andy Griffith Show. I liked that show too. Sometimes I wished that I was Opie, living in a clean house with Andy the Sheriff, Opie's daddy, who only drank soda pop, lemonade, and coffee. He never got drunk. And their Aunt Bea was always cooking something hot and tasty. Then again, if I was Opie, I probably wouldn't get to play under the house and stay up as late as I wanted.
"You wanna be a dummy all your life?" Grandpa asked.
"Huh?" I was lost, wishing I wasOpie.
"You wanna be a dummy all your life?"
"I aint no dummy," I told him.
"Well, you sure as hell aint no genius."
"I might be. You never know."
Grandpa started laughing, and then he started coughing as he always did when he laughed real hard. "Well," he said as the coughing began to subside. "Well, we won't ever find out as long as you’re under the house with that damn dog."
I knew he was right. And I knew I would eventually have to go to school one day, but I wished that day would never come. I was a filthy child, but I was happy.
By the way, my real first name is not Boy, though that’s mostly what Grandpa and Daddy called me. My real first name is Larry. I was named after my Uncle Larry, who got his head blown off in the Korean War. He was my daddy's older brother. Obviously I never knew Uncle Larry, but I have seen pictures of him and he looked very handsome in his uniform.
Tarzan had a son named Boy and he had a monkey named Cheeta. I used to wonder why he didn't call his monkey, Monkey, since he called his son, Boy. Then I learned that Boy was really his son’s real name, and I wondered why Tarzandid not use as much thought when naming his son as he did when naming his monkey.
Did Tarzan love Cheeta more than he loved Boy?
Was Tarzan stupid?
Did he know that he had given his son a name that had a literal definition of what he is? Then I found out that a cheetah is actually a big cat that can run super fast. Why didn't he call Boy, Cheetah, and Cheeta, Boy? If Tarzan had another son what would he be called?
I decided that Tarzan was stupid. Addie Teegarden should go off into the jungle, find Tarzan, and make him go to school.
And I know now that Cheeta was not a monkey, but an ape. Monkeys have tails and apes do not— I learned that on TV, not in school.