Monkeying around

Ever notice how households seize upon crazes? Everybody gets the same mania at the same time, a shared insanity, an inside joke.

These family fads can go on for years before something else distracts us, or the kids go off to college, or the family dynamic is fractured by some other tragedy, such as certain people becoming aloof teen-agers.

One goofy fad at our house concerned a Christmas gag gift called the Monkey Toy. It’s the simplest of dime-store toys. A round plastic box with a picture of a monkey on it, connected by a wire to a large push-button. When you push the button, the box makes a high-pitched monkey sound: “Oo-oo-ooh-ah-hah!” One of those silly, do-nothing toys that makes you laugh the first 30 times you hear it, even while driving you crazy.

The joy of the Monkey Toy comes from triggering it at inopportune moments, such as during serious discussions of, say, curfews.

Dad: “And that’s the last time I’ll tell you--”
Monkey: “Oo-oo-ooh-ah-hah!”
Everyone: Helpless laughter.

My younger son thinks it’s extremely humorous to hide the Monkey Toy in furniture, with the trigger button under the seat cushion. When a perfectly innocent person sits, it goes, “Oo-oo-ooh-ah-hah!” This is even better than a whoopee cushion, when you consider the possible whereabouts of that monkey.

Just the sort of nonsense that can overtake a family. Pretty soon, everywhere you turn, you’re stepping/sitting/lying/bumping into that button. “Oo-oo-ooh-ah-hah!”

My brother and I spent a large portion of our teen years jumping into my dad’s big reclining chair whenever he left the room. We had a hierarchy of chairs. Dad’s was best, then Mom’s, then the couch. Beyond that, you might as well go upstairs. Every time Dad returned to the living room and demanded his usual chair-that-he-paid-for, it would cause hilarious shock waves in the pecking order.

Sometimes, whole families get captivated by a particular TV show or computer game, so that everyone’s on the same page for a while, hooked on “The Simpsons” or “The Sims” or Yahtzee.
When our sons were small, we lost years of our lives to Pokemon. Once in a while, I still stumble across a card or a plastic figurine, and I’ll remember fondly the way the folks at Nintendo milked us all.

Sometimes, family quirks stick around long enough to become traditions. In my wife’s family, it’s required that you surprise other family members on Christmas Eve, preferably before they’ve had time to wake up properly, by shouting “Christmas Eve gift!” The original idea was that by doing this, you’d entitle yourself to open a gift one day early. Nobody actually opens gifts early, of course. It’s all about saying it, getting the jump on your siblings. Counting coup.

The best family craze I’ve heard lately came from a friend who returned from visiting his grandkids in Texas. They had these popguns that fired miniature marshmallows. Intended for the children, of course, but soon full-grown adults were laughing and running around the house, shooting marshmallows.

With repeated use, he reported, the marshmallows would get gummy, and once in a while, you could make one stick to your opponent’s cheek or forehead. I believe this was extra points.

The visit soon came to an end, so the Marshmallow Wars were settled by treaty and the weapons will end up retired in a toy box.

But something else will come along to jazz the family and bring it closer together. I recommend the Monkey Toy.

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