It is a 20-year-old tale told by a fool, full of drunkenness and pity, signifying something, and when the Facebook friend request popped up I ignored her on instinct. The following message made me grin, wide, but guilt as cargo. My wife sat three feet away on the family living room sofa as I read.
What is the airspeed velocity of a flying monkey?
I remembered. Two decades earlier the person behind the message and I sat on a sad, yellowed couch watching The Simpsons. It was the episode where Mr. Burns unleashes his flying monkeys. We quoted every line, laughed at each joke, and plotted our own entertainment successes that never happened. Against better judgment, I answered.
Fly my pretties! Fly!
I didn’t wait for her response. I shut my laptop and walked into the kitchen to look for a diet soda. I opened the refrigerator, popped the top, and drifted into a memory.
I stood in front of a dirty fridge looking at a twelve pack of beer, a pack of cheese, some condiments and left over pizza. She had followed me into the kitchen, chattering about our plans.
“When we make it as comedy writers and stand ups, we’re never drinking cheap beer from a can.”
I swigged a Natural Light while tossing her one as she leaned against the lime green wall phone with a cord that could stretch into all five rooms; kitchen, bathroom, living room and two bedrooms. She caught it with her left hand and said.
“Tell me your first joke you’re going to do at the open mic tomorrow.”
I frowned at the thought of performing in front of just her. As close as we were, it was a competitive relationship. I didn’t trust her. If she liked my material, she’d downplay her delight. If she didn’t like it, she’s patronize my feelings. I took the bait like a hungry catfish.
“Hey, how’s everyone doing? I just graduated college and my post graduate work is making strangers laugh enough so that the important guy in the back running this place gives me a break and I’ll have my own sitcom by Christmas. So please, for the love of poverty, don’t forget to tip your waitresses. I plan on sweet talking one for a twenty buck loan at the end of the night.”
She drank her beer, then grinned. I fumed.
“What?” I demanded.
She stepped toward me, tossed back another drink, and answered.
“That’s so adorable, you’ll get laughs and get laid by the waitress.”
She patronized me. I knew her so well. I walked past her and looked for the black spiral notebook that contained my best stuff. I felt her hand on my back as I reached the bedroom.
“Who is she?”
The refrigerator door shut and I was back. My wife stood a few feet away with her arms crossed, holding her cell phone with raised eyebrows and a mischievous smile.
“Somebody I used to know from my stand up comedy days. I denied the friend request. answered her message, then walked away. I was going to tell you.”
She met me in front of the fridge and leaned in for a kiss. She brushed away strands of brown but gray-tinged hair from my eyes.
“I know, but I was bad. I looked her up on my phone. She’s not as pretty as me, and it looks like she’s unhappy with her life. If she messages you again, tell me, and I’ll have her killed by the end of the day.”
We both broke into loud laughter. I composed myself, kissed her, then said.
“You’re the funny one, these days. Maybe I should take you to an open mic.”
I followed her into the living room. We never said anything else, about her, or my life, back then.