Yesterday on some late night show Leno? Conan? I saw Rashida Jones tell a story about the time she got bit by a monkey. For one terrifying moment I thought she might have been the girl I was babysitting for in the Central Park Zoo twenty-five years ago. Then I realized she was probably not old enough to be that girl. Also she told everyone it was Michael Jackson's monkey Bubbles. The girl I babysat for was visiting her dad in New York. The job was actually for my sis but she couldn't do it. I think the dad was some bigwig in the music business. The kid was in town visiting and hanging out at the record company.
So I went to his office to pick up the girl and he asked me to take her to Central Park, play in the playground, go to the zoo, have lunch, see the animals, and return to the office in around four hours. I was 17 or 18 and the job paid well. These one shot hotel or office babysitting jobs always paid better than my regular gigs so I was pretty psyched. I think I was getting $5 an hour by then but I figured I'd probably get at least $30 this job and the job was a cinch. I did not have to do the entertaining. The environment would be stimulating enough.
She behaved kind of bratty. There was nothing I could say that she was not ready with a snappy comeback.
"Throw the garbage in the trash."
"No! It looks pretty on the ground."
"Hold my hand when we cross the street."
"No! I can fly over the cars if they come."
"Don't throw rocks at the pigeons."
"They like it."
It was exhausting but I was getting paid to do it. I held on to her little hand tightly in dark buildings. She tried to pull away and run. She tried to reach into the cages in the reptile house. I warned her that she might get bit but she said, "I will bite back."
As our visit to the zoo came to an end, we headed for the middle plaza. Back then, it was not the big seal pool. There were some bird cages and a big open space. I let loose her sticky hand and away she ran. Come back, wait for me, I lamely shouted. Where could she go? Into the bird cages?
By the time I caught up to her, it was too late. Like slow motion I remember thinking that there were not supposed to be monkeys in those cages. There were no guard rails so she was able to reach her fingers right into the cage. The nearest monkey grabbed her fingers in both its tiny paws and chomp. I pulled on her arm but I felt substantial resistance so I let go. What if I pulled and her fingers came off?
After what seemed like five minutes the monkey let go. The girl was screaming and blood was seriously spraying out of her fingers like in a Monty Python skit. I didn't know what to do. I had warned her but she didn't listen. Why did I let her run? Why were there monkeys in there? Did I even know that monkeys could bite? Was I wearing anything nice that I would never be able to wear again?
Suddenly we were surrounded by strangers and zoo employees. An ambulance was summoned and while we were waiting, an animal attendant asked if I thought I might be able to identify which monkey had been the biter. No way, they all looked the same. By now my little charge had calmed down considerably. She was humbled but slowly building herself up, gradually restoring the proper power balance. "They're going to arrest that monkey, aren't they? They're going to send him to jail, right?" "Yes, they are," I reassured her. "That was a bad, bad monkey!" We were almost laughing about it by now. I had never been in an ambulance before. Behind my reassuring words was the crushing thought that I had failed in my caretaking job. I also might have sentenced a monkey to death by making a false ID.
I had called her dad before we left the zoo and he met us at the hospital. He asked me if I had enough money to get home and when I said yes, he said goodbye. I waved at the little girl, so small and now so brave telling her dad the story. She smiled and waved back. We had been through a lot together and now I was alone.
I started crying and went to my mom's job. She took one look at me and thought I had been hit by a car. No, I'm okay ...not my blood... the whole story spilling out... and he didn't even pay me for all the time I babysat.
So who was that little girl? I have always wondered. If it was Rashida Jones, it would make sense that I picked her up at a record company. I guess that white guy who met me at the hospital was not her dad. I probably would have remembered the name Rashida though.
But seriously Bubbles? It makes a good story but Bubbles is not a monkey but a chimp. Do chimps live in cages? Do they bite? Maybe like in most families, the truth got stretched and enhanced to make a better story. Ms. Jones, if you are out there, ask your dad if that's the real story. And if it is not, I'm really sorry. I should have done a better job protecting you no matter how strong you thought you were.
5 hours ago