At this time twenty years ago, I was just getting to know JR, my new housemate. We’d come to live together via a mutual friend, Kyoko, who had lived with JR previously and assured me, when proposing the three of us share a home, that not only would I love JR, but he would prove to be entirely unlike anyone I’d ever met.
A few weeks after we moved into our new house, I told Kyoko the story of Coconut Harry, a Golden Retriever in the Florida Keys who’d been swept off a sailboat and lost at sea, only to turn up over a week later on a remote island inhabited only by monkeys. At some point in the telling (I can’t remember the context) I said, “That’s what happens when you put a bunch of monkeys on an island!”
After a momentary, thoughtful pause, Kyoko said, “The next time we’re with JR, one of us should randomly drop that sentence into the conversation. Whatever we’re talking about, whenever there’s a pause, just drop it in. No explanation. I’m telling you, he’ll go with it like it’s totally normal.”
We got our chance that night, while chatting in the front room after dinner. Out of absolutely nowhere, Kyoko turned to JR and declared, “That’s what happens when you put a bunch of monkeys on an island!”
“I know!” JR enthusiastically replied.
Kyoko stared at him, her look incredulous. I sat on the couch, watching like a spectator at a tennis match.
Kyoko: “Wait. What? What do you know?”
JR: “That that’s what happens.”
Kyoko: “What’s what happens?”
JR: “That’s what happens when you put a bunch of monkeys on an island!”
Kyoko: “But what are you talking about?”
JR: “I don’t know. What are you talking about?”
It was perfect.
I’ve recalled that exchange a lot over the past ten months, as I’ve tried to channel JR’s bottomless ability to shift gears and adapt. These days, I consider “monkeys on an island” as a battle cry of sorts. New COVID variants? Monkeys on an island! Insurrection at the Capitol? Monkeys on an island! Jewish space laser conspiracies? Monkeys on an island! Yet another month of quarantine? Monkeys on an island!
This all-purpose declaration serves me in the same way “It is what it is” served my dad during times of unwelcome, jarring change. However, it’s much more fun to say. Also, it really takes the sting out of stressful events to picture a Golden Retriever, having just escaped the jaws of a watery death, joyously bounding around an island full of monkeys.
Oh, Coconut Harry. You must’ve thought you’d died and gone to Dog Heaven.