While I’ve been known to listen to some bluegrass, I’ve never owned a monkey, nor read anything that gave me such insight into the life of a bluegrass artist. I don’t know Purvis Jackson, but I think I would have liked to. And I don’t know if the following story is true. I don’t care.
From the BlueGrass Australia site, I give you:
Purvis Mount Jackson, has a fine way with words. He’s a well-known character and picker around the Bluegrass Heartland, and in 1996, totally out of the blue, he posted this story on the mailing list BGRASS-L
From: Purvis Jackson
Sent: Thursday, December 05, 1996 9:35 AM
Subject: Banging Tapscott
Y’all oughta quit beating up on Ole Bangs so much. He’s a purty good old boy, just a might crotchety now and again. But you gotta admit it’s right nice to read something with a little intelligence and humor woven into it every now and again. What with all this gushing that goes on here, Ole Bangs’s sniping and whining is a refreshing departure. I’ll tell you what I told you I’d tell you about how it all reminds me of something that happened a long time ago in another place where I used to live. See, this one’s about a locale and, among other things, a dog with a musical reference.
During my last two years of high school, I lived with one of my sisters and her family. Her youngest daughter — she had two — decided she wanted a pet monkey for her birthday one year. Try as she may, my sister was unable to dissuade the child, and the more she tried, the more adamant the child became. She overruled my sister’s objection that a monkey wasn’t a typical pet by pointing out that we had at that time an assortment of untypical pets — a kid goat, a pitt bull, a parrot, a raccoon, a squirrel, a fox, and a Manchester Chihuahua mix, all of which lived with us in an untypical house fashioned from an old army quonset hut — and that none of those pets were hers.
Frustrated by all attempts to change the child’s mind, my sister finally relented. I drove 45 miles with my niece to a discount pet store operated by a one-armed gypsy and his fortune teller wife, bought a howler monkey, and brought it home in the parrot’s cage, which the parrot no longer required due to advanced years. I was driving a 1951 Nash — the kind that looks like it has fender skirts on the front — that was in something less than the best of shape. Well, the doors didn’t open at all on this particular Nash, so I had devised an alternate means of entry and exit: through the trunk. As it was, I had removed the rear seat so that I and my passengers would be relatively unhindered in our going and coming to and from the automobile. Thus, I would crawl into the trunk, flip the latch mechanism with a screwdriver, push up the trunk lid, and exit. Since this Nash had solid rear windows and the front windows’ roller mechanisms were rusted, there was simply no other means of access to the passenger compartment.
As we pulled into the yard at home, my brother-in-law, Rufus Bartlett, was sitting on the front stomp playing with Lazarus, his pit bulldog. I reckon Lazarus must have caught the monkey’s scent as soon as we pulled into the dooryard, because he took to barking and growling and leaping up onto the side of the car like he was plum fool or something. “Get a hold on Lazarus,” I yelled to Rufus, placing my mouth right close to the little pie-shaped vent window next to the turn signal lever. “Get him by that choker collar so as to hold him strong, Rufus. Else me and this child won’t be able to get out the car with this monkey,” I warned. I just wish you could have seen the ruckus that dog was making, and Rufus clinging to that choker collar for all he was worth couldn’t make that dog pay him the least bit of mind. My niece yelling to the top of her lungs “Lord, Lord, don’t let Lazarus get my monkey,” was scrambling back and forth over the front seat and pulling at her hair.
Aunt Naomi came running out of the school bus she and Uncle Tally lived in and swung her broom up beside old Lazarus’s head to try and knock some sense into him. But instead, she hit Rufus’s hand and knocked it loose from Lazarus’s collar. Around the car he went, chewing at the tires and howling like something fresh out of hell.
“Quick, Rufus, take these keys and open the trunk,” I yelled and tossed the keys through the vent window. Rufus obliged, and no sooner did he unlock it till me, the child, and the monkey in his cage came out of the car as is if pursued by the devil himself and dashed straight into Naomi and Tally’s bus. Lazarus followed hot after us, but we were able to escape through the emergency exit door at the rear, trapping Lazarus inside.
As soon as we got into our own house — the quonset hut — my niece took to bawling, “I wanna see my monkey” and “Take my monkey outa that cage”. I guess the child was afraid the monkey had died from a heart attack in all the commotion or something. We couldn’t really see the monkey because the cage was wrapped tight in a canvas cover so the monkey wouldn’t get too frightened while we were moving him. “God damn that monkey,” Rufus said, “I wish to hell that monkey was where he ought to be.” Nevertheless, we took the wrap off of the cage to satisfy the child, and much to her dismay, we discovered the monkey lying flatout on its back with its arms and legs akimbo as though it were posing for one of those pictures of Bali dancers you see in National Geographic.
Rufus opened the cage door and reached in and shook the monkey to see if it were dead. Twice, three times he poked it with his index finger. On the fourth poke, the monkey grabbed his wrist with both of its paws and sunk its teeth into his thumb. Rufus jumped back, pulling the monkey from the cage, and shaking his arm wildly about, trying to dislodge the animal and slinging drops of blood from his thumb onto the Confederate flag that covered the window. Rufus was swinging his arm and cussing to beat the band, and the child was reaching out for the monkey and screaming at the top of her lungs.
Uncle Tally came running into the house to see what all the commotion was about, and as he opened the door Lazarus sprung through the threshhold, knocking Tally to the floor and leaping up trying to get at the monkey. The fourth time Lazarus leaped, the monkey sprang from Rufus and landed square in the bulldog’s back, gripped the dog by the ears, and sunk its teeth into the loose flesh on the back of the dog’s neck. Lazarus was jumping and snarling and bleeding and crashing into the table in the kitchen, where he knocked over a quart of Blue Plate Mayonnaise that was setting on the table. Unable to free himself of the monkey, Lazarus headed down the hall to the bedroom, knowing, I suspect, that he could crawl beneath the old big four poster bed Rufus had bought in the mountains when they went to see Rock City. I reckon Lazarus hoped to scrape the monkey off, whereupon he could turn on it and chew the hellfire out of it. However, the monkey had the dog by the ears and commenced to steer him as though the dog were a horse, its ears were a bridle, and the monkey were an accomplished equestrian.
Up the hall they came, the dog howling and the monkey screeching, its teeth bared. The dog’s feet slipped in the mayonnaise and he went into a sitting position, sliding his behind through the mayonnaise as well such that it became slippery and he continued to slide across the linoleum floor, looking for a moment in that position somewhat like the RCA Victor mascot with a monkey chewing the living hell out of its neck. As they shot into the living room were we all stood, the monkey leaped from the dog’s back and caught onto the Confederate curtain, climbed quickly to the top, and peed out into the room, shaking his monkeyhood and screeching at the top of its lungs as if to say, “Now, by God, do you understand who is in charge here?” From that day forward, the monkey, soon named Satchmo, had complete run of the place. There ain’t no pit bull as mean as an angry monkey. No sir, no way.