“I need to write something about people being nice to me while I travel.”
“You should write about Sock Monkey.”
“Oh, that was awesome, wasn’t it? I like thinking about him in the co-pilot’s seat, traveling across the Outback with the mail. The pilot saying (in his Aussie drawl), “Sorry, this is just a drop stop, mate, but at the next one, you can get out. At this one, we just hand off the goods on the runway.” And there’s Sock Monkey, in his co-pilot’s headphones, looking out the little window on the lower part of the door because he can’t see past the controls…”
“Sock Monkey is a little disappointed lately, you don’t take him along any more. He just sits at home getting dusty.”
“Are you sure this is about Sock Monkey?”
My best friend L isn’t a traveler by occupation. He’s a day job kind of guy, the kind of guy who, like most people, uses his vacation time to visit his family or to go away for the weekend with his husband. He’s got the typical American situation of not enough time off and when he does have time off, he doesn’t always have the cash to pay for a fancy trip. L still jokes about my being a spy — my ability to travel so frequently remains a mystery to him. His version of tagging along was to send Sock Monkey with me on my adventures.
Sock Money appeared ages back, when L dated another friend of mine, K. During the course of their relationship, K gave L this sock monkey. L went on to make a bunch of crazy alternative sock monkeys, including one named Lumpy, who the husband and I took on a very long road trip around Canada. We returned Lumpy back home wearing a maple leaf sweater that we’d acquired at a Build a Bear store in some tourist town, maybe Banff, in the Canadian Rockies. I’ll never forget the stone face on the clerk when, at check out, she asked me if I’d like a bag for the tiny sweater.
“No,” I said, putting Lumpy on the counter, “He’ll wear it.” She was not amused.
The proliferation of sock monkeys – Lumpy and his brothers – meant that I eventually adopted Original Sock Monkey, as he came to be known. But before he lived at our house full time, he traveled with us through Australia. “Take him with you,” said L, and I could not refuse.
About a week into the trip, Sock Monkey was left behind in a hotel room in Alice Springs. How this came to happen remains a subject of contention. I say he was pushed out of the bed into a corner intentionally; the husband accuses me of abandoning him. Sock Monkey isn’t saying, and the statute of limitations on the case is up – plus, no signs of abuse were reported.
I was devastated when I realized Sock Monkey was missing, and because we’d been in the Outback, it took several days before I could call the hotel to see if they’d found him. “Oh, yeah, we’ve got him. We’ve been wondering about this little guy, he’s been sitting with us at the front desk for almost a week now! Where would you like us to send him?” I pictured Sock Monkey taking calls and hanging room keys in cubbies on the wall. “Alice Springs Resort, this is Sock Monkey. How can I help you?”
When we reached the Cairns hotel where we’d return to things like reliable running water and electricity, Sock Monkey was waiting for us. He’d spent a week, maybe more, in transit, flying with mail. When I released him from his yellow padded envelope sleeping bag, he was no worse for wear. I was relieved to have him back — I could not bear the idea of returning to the US and telling L that Sock Monkey had, as they say in that part of the world, “gone bush”, never to be seen again.
Our adventures were remarkable – we were driving sweep for an extreme cross country bike race through Queensland, Australia and we were often far, far, far off the grid. Once, our rig was surrounded in a cattle drive; we had to turn off the motor and wait for the herd to pass. During another segment of the trip, I had to drive some extremely challenging terrain. I asked my Italian co-driver for help navigating the dry river bed. When sent her out to walk the route, she just wandered off ahead, not understanding what I needed. While driving a run from one support station to another, I knocked on the door of a farmhouse to ask for permission to use the road, and there I encountered three women who could have been MacBeth’s weird sisters, ancient as stones, knitting in the heat while seated in very low rocking chairs. I told them what was up and the first question they asked me? “Any women riding that race?”
That’s why I like imagining what Sock Monkey could have got up to in that week when he traveled on his own. And I am grateful that not only did he have his own adventures, but that, thanks to those nice people at the Alice Springs hotel, he found his way back to me.
I should take him along on my next trip. (Oh, and maybe I should take the husband too.)