The Monkey Money Collector

It’s county fair week around us.  Ah, yes, the county fair, where idyllic rural farm life meets the crazed mania of the Midway, where you can watch a tractor pull, dance to some bluegrass music and win your kid a giant stuffed animal, where you can dine on delicious but overpriced Italian sausage sandwiches, corn dogs, caramel apples and elephant ears, all delivered fresh from portable trailer restaurants, where you can walk through barns full of horses and cows and cattle and pigs and goats and sheep and rabbits all raised by proud 4-H kids, where you can see giant alligators and other reptiles and where you can “people watch” folks from all walks of life.  It’s the county fair and it’s an all-American tradition.

We have been attending the same county fair for the 16 years that we have lived in our house. We don’t make it every year, but we have most.  Sometimes, like this year we will go twice.  A friend of my daughters was showing her horse in the riding competitions and we spent Sunday afternoon watching her and walking through the barns and looking at the animals. We hope our daughter will be riding in these same competitions next year. Later this week we will go back for an evening and ride the rides and eat cotton candy and elephant ears.

At this particular fair, as people walk the main pathway from the barns over to the midway and back, somewhere in the middle, just past the grandstand, they have typically come upon a large congregation of people standing in a half circle and watching something. Often there are kids in the front row and adults squatting down.  From the back it’s tough to see what is going on, to see what all these spectators are riveted on.  Pushing through, however, one can finally witness the strange event that has drawn this crowd of onlookers.

There, facing the crowd is a tall, gangly and scraggly looking man, dressed in an old tattered suit that has seen better days. The man looks tired as if Fair life has worn him down. He doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t smile or perform any tricks. He doesn’t speak or show any emotion, he just stands there… for he is not the performer.  In front of this man, on a thin string-like leash is a monkey, dressed as well, in a charming little vest and shorts and a hat with a string around his chin, and he is working this crowd of kids and adults hard. But he is not juggling, he is not opening and eating a banana, he is not riding a unicycle… nothing like that. He is collecting coins from the spectators.  The people in the front row are reaching into their pockets and grabbing coins and holding them towards the monkey who walks up to them and takes the coins and returns them back to the man in the suit.  Parents are handing coins to their children so that they too can experience this monkey taking coins from their hands. One after another after another, coin after coin after coin.  It’s cute and adorable and weird and sick and twisted… and absolutely brilliant!

It’s the Monkey Money Collector…

One year while at the fair, after seeing this Monkey Money Collector do his thing, I succumbed to my urges to participate in this bizarre spectacle and I grabbed a quarter out of my pocket and squatted down with anticipation. There we were, that cute little monkey and me, facing each other amongst this crowd of people. I smiled and held my hand out and the monkey saw the bright, shiny quarter. With a gleam in his eye he came running over to me and with his tiny little monkey hand he grabbed the quarter from me. Then he ran back to his owner and gave him the quarter.  Just like that, with only seconds of time having ticked off the clock, I was 25 cents poorer and the man in the suit was 25 cents richer.  He quickly left me and moved onto the next participant. I don’t quite remember, but I’m pretty sure I then handed coins to my kids who in turn gave them to the monkey.

I have to admit, as amusing as the whole concept is to me of training a monkey to take money from people, I have always felt sorry for this little fellow, as I tend to with any animal that I see out of its normal habitat. In hindsight, I suppose he probably has a good life with the strange, un-emotional man who is his keeper.  I’d venture to guess, as well, that this man and his monkey are not living the high-life somewhere, off of the income earned at the county fairs they worked.  But capitalism works in strange ways and somewhere, deep down inside, I hope that they have a decent life.

As my family and I walked through the fair on Sunday, I didn’t see the Monkey Money Collector and I wondered why they weren’t there.  Maybe they just weren’t working this day, or maybe one of them has passed away… or maybe they have retired to a tropical island somewhere! If they are there when we attend later this week, perhaps I’ll search my pockets for a shiny new quarter.

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30 responses to “The Monkey Money Collector

  1. My favourite indulgence at our fair is the mini-donuts. Similar to an elephant ear in composition, I suppose, but each donut is just bite size… of course, no one would eat just one…

  2. bigsheepcommunications

    Since there seems to be an opening for a money-collecting animal, some enterprising person could attach a purse or bucket of some sort to an irresistibly cute goat and make some extra $$, don’t you think?

  3. Hey that’s good thinking, but I think the goats would be more interested in the food people have, than in any money they might be handing out.

  4. Sounds like a good gig, as far as fair gigs go. At least he didn’t have to yell at people or guess their weight.

    I haven’t been to a fair in years. I used to go every year (sometimes as many as 3 times) when I was younger. It signaled the end of summer and was the last fun time before school started. I have noticed that any time I go to a place where there are portable trailer restaurants, elephant ears have been replaced by funnel cakes. Not a good trade-off. I don’t care for powdered sugar and miss the cinnamon and sugar. Ah, good memories. Thanks.

  5. I used to love our State Fair. Not so much now. I don’t know what’s changed: me, I guess. I notice the mess, the unhealthy food, the overweight people eating the unhealthy food. It bums me out.

    • All true but I still find it to be a lot of fun! You’re response brings up the question: some places have State Fairs, we have county fairs so they are going on in different places all the time in late summer and fall. Is the State Fair different, i.e. one big fair for the whole state? Hope that’s not a stupid question!

  6. Actually, I prefer this version of the profession. In Hollywood, instead of cute little monkeys, they use cute little women with hardly any clothes on. You have to give them dollar bills, and you don’t even get to see them turn over part of it to the big gorilla backstage.

    I went to the Iowa State Fair for 12 years when I lived in Des Moines as a kid. I still haven’t figured out why every year they displayed a life-size cow carved out of butter, in a refrigerated case. There’s a kind of absurdity on display at fairs, coexisting with the arts and crafts and farm and ranch-related activities. That’s where the monkey comes into it. Thanks for reminding me!

  7. Sounds like fun!! We don’t really have anything like that here, well not that I have heard of anyway…

  8. I enjoy zoos to see the animals but I always feel guilty cos that’s NOT their environment (I know the arguments “for” zoos). Likewise, I feel weird about “show biz” animals — but worse.

    That said, it’s still a bit fun — you have to sort of block your adult knowledge of their lives. There used to be a guy at Grant’s Farm with a similar setup. I’ve given (as a small child) the monkey a coin and it was a thrill to feel its little hand against mine. For YEARS I wanted my own cappuccine (sp?) monkey–probably due to the experience. A Flip friend told me she had a monkey as a pet (as many Flips do) and told me “they’re mean and nasty–not you DO NOT want a monkey!” She was so set that she convinced me 🙂

  9. Most of us have probably wanted a monkey at some time in our younger lives, having no idea what a monkey is really like. And you are right, it is fun, I still really enjoy going to the fair, even though its the same thing year after year after year.

  10. It is Royal Melbourne Show time here – which is a bit like a fair, I think. We won’t be going this year, too expensive!

  11. I miss the fairs. For years when I was growing up….”The Mid-South Fair” was here every September. We had a permanent amusement park called “Libertyland” & the fair would hook up with it. It was really great, but then a few years ago…they quit bringing it here & they closed & tore down Libertyland. They have since brought back a smaller fair in a different location, but it’s just not the same. Great post & I’m with you on taking the animals out of their natural habitat unless they are really well cared for.

  12. It does leave me a bit sad about the monkey and his master. I felt the same way attending a carnival with my husband, where for only $1 you could go through curtains and see “the world’s smallest woman.” For some reason I didn’t think anything of it, until I walked around the corner in the hot, sticky tent to see a tiny non-American speaking woman sitting there, smiling with a bucket for tips next to her feet. It made me hope her life is good, but I do doubt it.

    Great post!

  13. Great cameo. It put me in mind of Gerald Durrell, MyFamily And Other Animals and the Rose beetle man he meets on the road. It also put me in mind of a sort of Thomas Hardy character; someone from a bygone era. Thanks for sharing that, it was a poignant and clear image.

  14. I bet the Monkey Man is a fairly wealthy individual … who doesn’t tell people what he does for his money, if he doesn’t have to.

    I used to go to the Fall Fair every year as a kid, it sounds similar to the one you described.
    I remember my friend playing a roulette type game with a quarter anti called anchors and crowns. I think my friend was supposed to be 18 to play, but it helped having a beard at 14.

  15. Wow. I know just how that monkey feels. I mean, I do that every day, except I’m bringing it back to my wife.

  16. wordsfallfrommyeyes

    This was really vivid, you really took me there. I feel the same re trained monkeys. I guess they have ‘some kind of a life’, yes, but I wonder if at all the monkey has any memory of swinging in trees, being free. I always wonder where these people get their animals from. I absolutely hate to see trained bears with a ring & rope in their nose.

  17. jodi

    I know this monkey, his name is Pedro. He’s one of my favorite attractions at the fair. Last year I figured out that if I line up coins on my hand, we get to spend a little more time together. He wasn’t there this year 😦

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