Writing

In Which Your Grumpy Monkey Protagonist Battles Evil on the Way to Work

The following events took place during your humble Monkey’s commute to work yesterday morning.

5:30 a.m. Alarm goes off for first time. Sleepy Monkey stirs momentarily, tries to figure out why he set the alarm so early, then presses snooze.

5:40 a.m. Alarm goes off for second time. Monkey presses snooze again.

5:50 a.m. Alarm goes off third time. Monkey takes panicked look at other side of bed to see if girlfriend has been roused by the incessant ringing. Girlfriend often yells at Monkey for setting alarm too early and hitting the snooze button, though Monkey continues to set it early in the vain hope that he will leap out of bed and immediately achieve some sort of PRODUCTIVITY before leaving for work.

But Monkey is too tired for productivity, in all uppercase letters or otherwise, and sets his alarm to go off at 6:30 a.m.

7:00 a.m. Monkey stirs and wonders why it is so bright outside all of a sudden. Mother fuck! How did it get to be seven already? Why didn’t the alarm go off again? He shut it off? When did that happen?

7:00-7:30 a.m. Despite assuring himself that he would be quick in the shower, Monkey’s mind starts to wander once the hot spray comes down, and he is unable to shake the shower’s siren song. Mother fuck again! How did that shower take a half hour? Dog still needs walking and coffee still needs to be made.

7:30-7:45 a.m. Dog gets a quick once-around the block and Monkey runs out the front door with ice coffee in hand. Sprints all out to top of the street to catch the bus.

7:50 a.m. Half-full bus blows by the bus stop on its way to subway station. Sadistic driver grins and leers at poor, trembling Monkey.

8:00 a.m. The next bus, packed to the brim with people, limps and gasps its way up the street, creaking to a stop at the curb so Monkey can cram inside and join the roiling, ill-tempered mass of humanity within.

8:00-8:30 a.m. Bus completes 15-minute drive to the station in a tidy and efficient 30 minutes. Monkey’s personal space has been violated so may times during the ride that he no longer knows where he stops and other people begin.

8:35 a.m. Monkey enters subway car along with remaining population of city. Car is so crowded that he ends up pressed against the glass like an aquarium-cleaning sucker fish.

8:40 a.m. Monkey listens as incredibly cranky subway driver barks orders into the intercom about “standing behind yellow line” and “allowing passengers to exit the train before you enter.” Monkey assumes that people will not follow these orders, and Monkey is correct. Service is delayed for the first of many times.

9:00 a.m After endless delays due to crowding at each stop, Monkey finally arrives at his station. Upon exiting the train, Monkey’s path to work is immediately blocked by a sinister mass of slow moving people, each of whom walks in center of the corridor so there is no polite way for desperately late Monkey to pass them.

9:15 a.m. Monkey finally arrives at work, taking guilty glances in all directions as he sneaks into his office. Monkey hopes that no one has noticed his late arrival.

9:15 to 9:30 a.m. Monkey reads headlines from the local newspaper, conveniently sent by email to his work inbox. Feels guilty for not starting work right away. Feels extra guilty for arriving late.

9:30 a.m. Monkey resolves to spend the rest of the day engaged in productive, nose to the grindstone work. Genuine productivity. The toil that made his Monkey forefathers proud. Monkey knows he is lucky to have a decent job in a tough economy. He is not a Chilean miner or a prison guard or the employee of a cruise ship. He has a better than average chance of making it through the day without getting trapped underground, stabbed with a shank or stricken with the norvovirus. All he has to do is focus on WORK.

9:35 a.m. Monkey checks Facebook on his phone.

Writing

Grumpy Monkey Fiction: It’s Natural to Be Afraid

{Editor’s note: This week your humble Monkey is trying a new experiment in which he is using song titles as creative writing prompts. The inspiration for this came after your Monkey reviewed a list of particularly evocative song titles from the instrumental guitar band Explosions in the Sky. This title is from a song on their album “All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone.” Kind of ironic that a band without lyrics would have a knack for coming up with great song names, but your Monkey digresses.}

It’s Natural to Be Afraid

Don’t worry, Virginia, it’s natural to be afraid of the dark.

Children your age are always afraid when the lights go out.

Your mother and I can understand why you’d cultivate some concerns about the monster that lives in your closet, that great green beast who pants and slobbers and sneers from behind the door while you sleep.

We can’t blame you for being anxious about the giant snakes that live under your bed, that slither and slide across the carpet while you snooze, just waiting for you to step down onto the floor so they can grab you and squeeze the life out of you.

It would hardly surprise us if you had some pangs of anxiety about the Great Glumbering Galoot, the pale gray man who paces and moans outside your window, tapping at the glass and asking over and over again for you to let him in.

There’s no shame in being uneasy about the skittery scratching sounds being made by the thousand centipedes that crawl around the attic at night, or worry about the way the wind howls and moans through the walls of the house, working its way into your room and whispering needles into your ears.

It seems prudent to be petrified of the bathroom, for you and I both know that when the lights go out, the rats come up through the pipes and thrash and snarl in the toilet bowl, searching for something to sink their teeth into.

There’s sound logic in steering clear of the kitchen as well, because nasty things happen in the refrigerator when the lights go out. The milk goes sour, the grapes get fuzzy and the Brussels sprouts bare their sharp little teeth. If you open the door to get a drink, the sprouts will come tumbling out and eat you up like a school of piranhas.

It’s also smart to stay away from the living room, because if you sit on the couch after midnight, the creases between the cushions grow deeper and fill with quicksand. If you aren’t careful, you’ll fall down through the cracks and be trapped inside until there’s no air left to breathe.

It’s natural to be afraid of these things, Virginia.

In fact, sometimes your mother and I wonder how you can sleep at all.

Writing

Grumpy Monkey Fiction: A Tough Day to Be A Bank Robber

{Dear erstwhile readers of the Grumpy Monkey Blog — It’s been a while since your benevolent primate has graced you with some of his pithy prose, but you can stop all of your lamentations, bribery attempts and animal sacrifices. Your new story is here. This one is about bank robbers, and it took your not-so-humble Monkey a good chunk of time to write. We hope you enjoy, and if you do enjoy, that you go ahead and click the “like” button so we can talk your overly sensitive Monkey out of jumping off a tall building tomorrow.}

A Tough Day to Be A Bank Robber

Gus slid the note underneath the protective glass and turned his gaze towards the teller, careful to keep his expression cool.

The note, carefully handwritten in his car before coming into the bank, said “There is a gun in my pocket. Fill a bag with all the money in your drawer and no one gets hurt. Don’t make a sound. Don’t sound any alarms.”

The bank teller, an attractive brunette in her 20s, took a look at the note and looked up at Gus.

Gus expected to see her go through the usual emotional cycle of fear, panic and acceptance as she absorbed the contents of his note, and maybe for her hands to shake a little as she filled up the bag with the cash in her drawer.

But instead, all he saw was bewilderment.

“You’re robbing us?” she asked. Then she nodded over at the next window. “But he’s already robbing us.”

Gus looked to his right.

Standing at the front of the next teller line, holding his hand inside his gray hooded sweatshirt and gesturing angrily at another teller, was Raphael.

Gus groaned. “Oh, come on.”

Raphael shot a glance in his direction, momentarily forgetting about his attempted heist. “Gus?”

“Raphael? What are you doing here?” Gus grumbled. “This is my job.”

Raphael sighed and struggled to keep his composure. The two men were so used to their holdup routines that running into each other in the middle of a bank job was like two actors from different plays ending up on the same stage.

“What you do mean, ‘what am I doing here?'” Raphael snapped back. “I was here first. Robbery in progress. Beat it. Hit the fucking bricks.”

From behind them, Gus and Raphael heard a rustling sound, and then a loud bang as a briefcase dropped to the floor with a clatter.

The two bank robbers turned around in time to see a tall man in a trench coat pull his jacket open at the waist and reveal a vest made of dynamite.

“Everyone stay calm,” the man said. “I have a bomb and this is a robbery.”

Gus rolled his eyes. “For crying out loud. John.”

John’s eyes widened in recognition. His face, at first a hard mask of anger, fell quickly into soft dejection. “Aw, come on.” he said. “I’ve been planning this heist for months. What’s going on? When did you guys team up?”

“We didn’t team up.” Raphael hissed back. “Gus was just leaving. You are just leaving, too. This is my score.”

All three stick-up men looked at each other in uncomfortable silence.

None of them wanted to give in, though none of them really had a way to enforce their will. Raphael knew that Gus never carried a gun—he just pretended that he had one and trusted the teller not to make trouble.

Gus knew that the gun-shaped lump in Raphael’s sweatshirt was actually his nephew’s toy cap gun.  Raphael figured that by using a fake gun on a heist job, he could avoid facing an actual armed robbery charge if he ever got caught (Raphael, as you may have guessed, wasn’t exactly a lawyer).

And John, well John was not what you’d call an explosives expert. He had purchased a bunch of novelty dynamite-shaped firestarters from a outdoor goods catalog and taped them to an old Army surplus vest to make it look like he was wired to explode.

In the new, post 9-11 world of suicide bombers, this fake-out tactic had worked surprisingly well, though Gus knew that John had a better chance of spontaneously combusting than he did of wiring an explosive device that would take down a bank.

Gus sighed and tried to weigh his options. The fault, he thought, was not totally with them.

Sure, from the outside it was easy to see this as a case of bank robber greed gone bad. Surely all three of them didn’t have to rob the same bank at the same time.

But the real culprit, Gus knew, was bank consolidation. As smaller banks merged into medium-sized banks, and medium-sized banks were gobbled up by mega banks, there were less and less places where common stick-up men like himself, Raphael and John could ply their trade.

In retrospect, it was only a matter of time before two of them crossed paths.

But for all three of them to show up at the same bank, at the same time, well that spoke to a deep dysfunction within the system.

“This will never do,” Gus said. “All three of us can’t go around robbing the same bank.”

“Right,” said Raphael. “And since I was here first, this is my heist. So you two beat it, and you”—he shifted his gaze in the direction of the bank teller working his window–“start loading up the bag with cash.”

“Look,” Gus said. “Maybe you were here first. But didn’t you just hit up First National Bank last week? Is it really fair for you to get this heist, too? I mean, just because you picked a shorter line?”

“You know the bank robber’s code,” Raphael snarled. “First man in gets the dough.”

“There isn’t any bank robber’s code,” John countered from the back. Gus knew from experience that this was just the type of argument John liked to start.

John continued. “We aren’t in a trade union. We’re criminals and we’re independent contractors. You just made that code stuff up because it makes you the winner.”

John shifted uncomfortably in his faux bomb vest. His voice took on a more petulant tone. “I’ve been setting up this job for weeks. And I haven’t had a score since the Credit Union job back in April. Gus, you just hit up King’s Bank two weeks ago. I remember reading about it in the paper. This one should go to me.”

A woman standing in line for the ATM cleared her throat. “Excuse me,” she said. “But I’m a preschool teacher, and one of the things that we talk about with our students is the importance of taking turns. If Raphael robbed a bank last week, and Gus robbed a bank two weeks ago, then I think this heist should go to John.”

“Exactly,” John said.

Gus and Raphael glared at her. “How do we know you aren’t working with him?” Raphael snapped. “Awful convenient for you to be standing in the bank right now.”

A man in a business suit holding a copy of the Wall Street journal piped in. “Pardon me, ” he said. “I’m a tax accountant and I can’t help but notice that it’s coming up on the end of the fiscal year. Why not total up your earnings from heists over the past year, and then the one who is furthest behind gets to keep the cash from the robbery today. That seems fair to me.”

Gus and Raphael again rolled their eyes. John was by far the least successful criminal of the three of them. If they agreed to the terms proposed by the tax accountant, the heist would go to John, too.

“Look,” Gus said. “With all due respect to everyone in the bank. We don’t need your help in figuring this out. We’re robbing a bank here, not holding a group therapy session.”

Gus looked imploringly at John and Raphael. “If we sit here arguing any longer, the cops are going to come and no one is going to get the score. I say we all walk away from this empty-handed and figure out how to stay out of each other’s way from now on.”

“Easy for you to say,” John whined back. “You guys have all the dough.”

“No way, bro,” Raphael glared at Gus. “I didn’t get into this business to back down.”

In the distance, Gus suddenly heard the faint sound of a police siren. He had particularly good hearing, a trait that had served him well in past bank robberies. A cold shiver of fear crept down his back. It was the same way he felt every time he heard that sound.

But with the fear came a flash of inspiration. If he, Raphael and John truly were independent contractors, then maybe he could work this situation to his advantage.

Gus spoke with a gleam in his eye. “Ok,” he said. “You guys win. I do all right for myself. I’m going to let this one go. But you two–” he shook his head sympathetically. “I don’t know how you’re ever going to figure it out. John needs the money. But Raphael was here first. It makes for a tough call. Glad I don’t have to make it.”

Gus tipped his cap sympathetically, and with a casual whistle, turned away from the bank window and walked out the front door.

As the glass doors swung shut behind him, he could hear John and Raphael pick up the argument again. Both voices sounded heated, and Gus knew neither man would give an inch.

Taking a casual seat on a bench across the street from the bank, Gus watched as police cruisers came rolling up en masse, and heavily armed police officers stormed inside the bank doors with their guns drawn.

Gus shook his head in amusement and then headed off in the direction of his parked car.

With John and Raphael doing hard time for this heist and out of the picture for the next few years, the next bank job would be all his.