Friday, March 25, 2011

Tale of a Drunk Monkey

OK, though I've been sick with this cold for the last two or three days, my mail says that you want to know about my getting drunk with a monkey in the Philippines.  So here it goes!

You might want to get something to drink, sit back, and get ready to hear a tale that is as true as I can tell it. It is a true story about being on Liberty in Subic Bay, Philippines.

I hope you like Sea Stories because this took place back in 1975. It's a time that's forever ago yet sometimes feels like yesterday.  I was stationed aboard the USS Hancock, the "Hanna."

She was a grand old lady of a ship, and we just pulled back into port at Subic Bay after leaving the South China Sea.

This was right after the evacuations of Phnom Penh and Saigon after they fell to the Communists.  And it was after we were called out to support the recovery mission of the SS Mayaguez, and its 39 Merchant Marine Seamen who were taken captive by Khmer Rouge pirates. And while I can make the claim that I almost got the chance to fight pirates, our ship was too late to the fight to take part in it. 

I was a Marine with the ship's Marine Detachment. I was Sea Going and on Liberty, and so I'm sitting in this bar in Olongapo.  It was the garden spot of the Philippines where every Sailor and Marine in the 7th Fleet came to play while overseas.

Olongapo was a sort of Disneyland for Servicemen.  It was wall-to-wall bars, with every sort of music you wanted to hear, with young women all ready to be your "girlfriend" for the night or the duration of your time in port.  The music was great, and the drinks were as cheap as the women there.

I started drinking San Miguel beer earlier, first at the beach swimming most of the day, and then in town.  And yes, for you who have been there, I did make sure that I held each San Miguel beer bottle up to the light first before taking a drink. As you who've been there know, that beer was well-known for having things swim around in it. Most held it up to a light to make sure nothing was swimming in it before taking a drink.

Later, I started drinking what the locals called "Mojo." Mojo was really an interesting drink.  The bars all along the main drag in Olongapo served it in a plastic quart pitcher.  It contained about a double shot or two of rum, vodka, bourbon, and gin. If I remember right, I think they threw in a beer before they added pineapple and orange juices, or whatever else they had on hand. It was green.

They charged 3 pesos for the pitcher and the going exchange rate back then was about 15 pesos to a dollar on the Black Market.  The regular exchange was about 8 or 9 to 1. So either way, it was a deal!

Like I said before, they served it in a plastic pitcher along with as many plastic cups as you wanted.  Most of the time three cups were all we needed.  Of course, the problem with Mojo was its effect on a person.  It was sort of like Torpedo Juice in that it didn't taste like much at first but it hit you slowly.

First, you think everything is fine until you try to stand up and find that you've lost the use of your legs.  Then for some reason, your tongue stops working and you lose the ability to speak coherently.  Before you know it you're saying things to the local gals that you'd never imagine saying to a gal back in the States.

Things like, "Sure I'll take you State-side.  Come with me and I'll buy you an air-conditioned helicopter with a sidecar."  And since most of the gals only spoke very little English and mostly their native Tagalog, God only knows how that translated.

Please understand that when you're a teenager and in the Service, this is as close to Heaven as you can get in those days.  Besides, for less than 25 cents a pitcher, it was a cheap way of having a great time while getting pretty plastered.

Then in comes this young boy with an arm full of "puka shells" and a monkey on his shoulder.  Now over the years, I've wondered what kind of monkey he was, and I would guess a friendly one thank God.

I had just poured my second or third cup of Mojo when the boy asked me if I wanted to buy some puka shells?   I didn't want any puka shells but the monkey looked like it was looking for a new home, so I asked the boy to sell me the monkey. At first, I was just looking for a drinking buddy. Who knew it would turn into my trying to change its life.

The boy said he wanted 2 pesos per puka shell necklace, and I said that I'd give him 3 pesos for the monkey.  And this went back and forth a few times until I upped it to 6 pesos for the monkey.  Then the monkey was mine.

So, for what seemed like the longest time that night, the monkey and I sat there talking about his future and what we'll do when we'd get back to the states. And yes, we drank cups of Mojo. Of course, I had no idea that monkeys took to adult beverages. But between us, they can't handle their liquor. For example, you know how when you have been drinking with a few friends and you have that one friend who gets sort of giggly and laughs at just about anything, and another who wants you to hear the same story over and over again, and that one who gets all sappy and blue, then there's that friend that's ready to pick a fight with anyone? 

Well, drinking with a monkey is sort of like drinking with all of them at once. A monkey can look very serious, laugh like hell, appear down in the dumps, and get pissed if he doesn't get another round. The drunker they get, the more their attitude changes. And of course, you immediately realize that it's a good thing that he's not packing a pistol.  

As the night went on, the monkey and I drank a lot of Mojo together.  Personally, it was my first time drinking with a monkey and I was really impressed by how well he handled his booze. Well, sort of. There was the incident with the bar gal -- but it was a complete misunderstanding. I swear, I was right there and he didn't touch her.

As the night went on, I realized that first things came first, he had to become an American citizen before anything else would take place.  Even back then we heard about people getting Social Security cards for their dogs and such, so why not a monkey?  I saw no reason to deprive him of the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

He needed papers! 

So I decided to take him up the after brow and aboard the Hanna where I was sure that my Captain, or my X.O., would make him raise a hand or paw, and swear to be a good citizen.  I was lucky in the fact that I had great Officers in charge of my Marine Detachment. They were great and I respected them like no one ever knew. So yes, I figured that that's what I needed to do. Since they could make him an American, I needed to get him aboard my ship. Besides, I know my Captain would make him a citizen just to do it!

It is amazing how Mojo can make things clear to someone.

For good measure, I stuffed "Henry" into my field jacket as I boarded the after-brow.  It was just in case I ran into someone that didn't like monkeys and wanted to pick a fight with him.  There are all sorts of people in the world. And yes, even back then, I knew there were some Sailors who don't cotton to monkeys.

Take it from this former Marine, I know these things.

I tried to keep him from chattering so much as we went up the after-brow.  When I reached the quarter-deck, I turned to salute the colors and then turned to salute and request permission to come aboard.  And that's when an old Chief Petty Officer heard the monkey chattering under my field jacket and demanded, "You get 'Son of King Kong' off my boat!"

Then before I could say anything, I remember hearing the word "Now!"  And with that, I made a swift about-face and hustled back down the after-brow with "Son of King Kong" still chattering away.

In those days the Philippines was under Martial Law and there was a midnight curfew outside of the base.  I knew it was too close to curfew to go back into town and try to find a home for the monkey there, so instead the monkey and I went to the Enlisted Men's Club, aka the EM Club, to have a beer or two and try to figure out our next move. After all, there had to be a way to get him back to the States.

Sitting there, we discussed our dilemma, his future if I could get him back to the States somehow, and what our next move would be.  If I could get him to the States, then I figured I'd enroll him in some sort of good school as a Foreign Exchange Student.  Knowing that a lot of Universities are only concerned about getting their money, I was willing to bet that no one would care if he didn't show up for classes.

Subsequently, I was betting that no one would find out that he was a monkey until after he got his degree.  Then what can they say?  Nothing probably, and I'd almost bet the farm that it even goes on today.

I thought maybe I'd enroll him with a major in Political Science with a minor in English Lit.  It would be perfect for Henry Olongapo. And yes, Henry Olongapo seemed a good name for a monkey, especially a monkey who would one day be a pseudo-intellectual. Maybe one day he'd be a Liberal snob!

Why Liberal snob? Well, I figured the students who want jobs enroll in courses and major in things that can get them jobs. Students wanting to get on a Police Department or say do Security Consulting enroll in Criminal Justice or Administration of Justice courses.  Students who want to find jobs in the power industry or say in construction enroll and major in courses like Engineering, Drafting, Electronics, Welding, and such. Those are usable classes in the real world. 

In contrast, students who want to work at a hamburger joint for most of their lives making minimum wage and complaining about it -- all major in things like Chinese Art Studies, English Literature, Drama, Psychology, Sociology, Astronomy, African Studies, Gender Misappropriation Studies of Gay Men in Hollywood, Global Warming and the Impact of Another Ice Age, World Unionization, United Nations Economic Studies, and of course Political Science and Anti-Americanism in Leftist America -- basically most of the same courses that most liberals take today. 

And no it wasn't all that crazy!  I figured that maybe after he gets his Bachelor's Degree in a Liberal Arts Major like Gender Misappropriation Studies of Gay Men in Hollywood, or say Post Adolescence Studies of an Urban Wombat, then I'd be able to find him a job with the Democratic National Committee as an Intern at the State level.  California is ripe with those types, so I figured it would be easy to get him a start.

I figured he'd fit in perfectly with them and could be used to fill one of the spots on a hiring quota.  He was a primate of color, black, actually a dark gray really.  And of course, he was Asian, he spoke a foreign language, and he needed assistance.  So I figured, he'd be perfect!

Yes, there was that thing about him being foreign-born, but it does help when you try to get College tuition assistance.  It is a little bit of a problem if I wanted to run him for Congress, but not much after all I can say that he comes from a very environmentally friendly family. Which, of course, is not lying.

It would be bad if I wanted to run him for President, I mean how can I explain him getting tuition as a Foreign Exchange Student and then turn around and say he's really a citizen? No one would ever think of trying such a thing -- or would they?

I had seen fake driver's licenses, and fake passports, and I even saw a fake green card once, so how hard would it be to phony up a fake birth certificate.  I figured it had to have been done before. After all, I couldn't be the first person to think of it. And besides, my monkey needed to be a U.S. citizen.  As I said, if they do it with driver's licenses, why not a birth certificate?

Back in 1975, I would have bet just about anything that trying to produce a birth certificate when there isn't one just so he can be President would be hard to find even by the most tireless Newspaper people.  I knew that there had to be a way of doing it.

I figured they'd hound him, and sooner or later my monkey Henry would be shipped back to the Philippines once they found out the truth.  Oath of Office or not, I had this feeling it would matter!

But it was no big deal really. My dreams of him going on to bigger and better things were just shot in the butt by a Chief Petty Officer who didn't know that he just ordered a future Senator off the ship.  And now what do we do?

Well while we were discussing this, I got hungry.  So thinking that the curfew hadn't started yet I figured I'd take a chance and try to get across the Shit River Bridge and over to the Bar-B-Q stands to grab something to eat.

While standing there ordering some meat sticks, the owner asked me to trade meat sticks for my monkey.  At first, I thought no, but then the owner raised the ante to five sticks so I gave him up. Goodbye, Henry!

So I'm standing there now all alone when the owner and the monkey disappear in the back of the shack, then I hear this terrible scream.  That's when I scaled the counter and see my monkey Henry being held down on a chopping block while the owner holding a clever is about to chop him up for more meat sticks.

So I shoved the owner aside and took the monkey, and we were out of there.

On the way back to the EM Club, I remember thinking that I could maybe find him a small sailor's uniform and get him aboard that way.  He had too much hair to be a Marine, but I figured he'd easily pass for a sailor. But then I decided no, I better not.  Henry would have been a great sailor and knowing the Navy, they probably would have him driving the ship.

And even back then I knew that there were a few important rules regarding monkeys.  First, no matter how responsible they might act - never ever give a monkey a loaded gun or allow them to drive the ship! 

Second, a monkey driving anything is asking for problems.  Car, bus, motorcycle, train, airplane, aircraft carrier, it doesn't matter because it won't be pretty and the monkey will either wreck it or put everyone way of course.  That's just the way they are!

And third, monkeys lie!  They may try to tell you that they will only do good - but we all know what happens when you leave a monkey to his or her own devices.  That's right, they always decide to change everything even if some things didn't need changing.  That's why they call it "monkeying around!" It's never a good thing.

Earlier at the Enlisted Men's Club, I had bumped into an old Boot Camp buddy by the name of R.E. Smith.  We had gone through Boot Camp and Infantry Training School together, and as I went to Sea Duty - he was stationed at the upper MAU Camp there in Subic.  I figured that I needed to find him.

He had gone out in town to find companionship. After not finding it for the right price, he came back to the Enlisted Club. That's when I told him that there was no way of me getting that monkey back to the States to run for Congress or be President, I figured we had to set him free. Who knew that even back then I was acting like a good Republican who just wanted others to enjoy more freedom in life.

My drunk monkey needed to be AWOL from anyone's shoulder.  After all, there was always the chance that his owner might get hungry and Henry would become Bar-B-Q.

My old friend was more than willing to help out.  After brainstorming, having a few more beers and a couple of shots, I had a plan of action.  I looked at my options and knew what needed to happen. We jumped in Smith's jeep and headed toward the MAU Camp.

As we went along we talked about messing with the Navy and giving poor Henry to the Commanding Officer of the Base as a present.  We knew where the Admiral in charge of the Subic Bay base lived.  We thought about maybe slipping Henry into the Admiral's bedroom.  And of course, we laughed at the thought of the Admiral's wife meeting Henry in the middle of the night. 

But no, maybe it was because the booze was wearing off or simply a case of good judgment - but instead, we decided to go up into the hills into the jungle and turn him loose.  My friend R.E. Smith knew where there were a lot of other monkeys.  Albeit not one as drunk as our monkey.

So there on that night, with me by then fairly sober, up past the upper MAU Camp in an isolated area that my old friend knew well, without ceremony or fanfare, we set Henry Olongapo free.

I would love to say that he turned around and snapped me a salute or a big thumbs up, but no he didn't.  Instead, the drunk monkey just sort of staggered into the bush.

Later when I got back to the ship, I walked up the after-brown and again faced aft to salute the colors and again requested permission to come aboard - but this time without "Son of King Kong" with me.

It's strange that no one believed me when I told them that I was drinking with someone that night who was meant to be our future President. But that's okay. The fact is that almost 40 years later I'm almost sure some monkey is telling his grandkids the story about the time he got drunk with a young U.S. Marine who set him free!

©Tom Correa


  1. Seriously? No comments?? Honestly, my wife and I want to hang out with you, based on your personality.

  2. Aww that is an awesome story! I could hang out and listen to your stories all day.

  3. That story you just told should be made into a comedy movie. I can just imagine it. "Getting Drunk With Henry" starring Ben Affleck. The movie would still take place in 975 but the movie could add a little bits and pieces to it. And yes, I know I chose Ben Affleck to play you because here lately, I'm running out of ideas for actors that could play a good role in a movie about a random person's life and also here lately, Leonardo DiCaprio gets all the fun. And I really didn't wanna go with Tom Cruise. But I do think that "Getting Drunk With Henry" should be a the next big comedy. And I can already imagine Kevin James or Lewis Black as the guy on the ship that tells you to get the "Son Of King Kong" off the boat. Looking forward to that. But if it does come out, it will have to be with your blessing I'm sure. And you have to find the perfect monkey to play Henry. And you can't film in a war torn country. However, Brazil should be fine. You and Henry would have loved it there. You also need a good animal trainer. And the monkey has to pay attention. If he breaks character, he could lose his banana privileges. And the director has to be great. However we can do this is how we're gonna do it. But we have GOT to turn this story into a movie. A guy getting drunk with a monkey in the Philippines in the 70s? Who wouldn't wanna buy that? I'd give anything to go see that film! Let's make it happen! Getting Drunk With Henry! Gonna do some monkey business. See ya soon.

  4. I'm still on board for a film about you and Henry called, "Getting Drunk With Henry". The movie will take place in 1975 and I will play the role of Hugo in the film. There's gonna be a scene in the film where Henry takes my beer and chugs it while my back is turned. I then pull out a 1911 pistol and shoot at Henry who starts dancing and then slaps me in the face. Then your character will ask me why I did that and I will say, "Because he drank my last beer!" LOL Wish me luck.

  5. Having been aboard the USS Coral Sea in the 70s, I too enjoyed many liberty calls in Olongapo. You have taken me back to the sights, sounds and smells of my time there. Thank you! May you & yours always have fair winds & following sea's.


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