When I was ten years old my brother was sixteen and learning to drive. I sat in the back of the car and chuckled rather maliciously as he nervously clutched the wheel readying himself for an impossible task. We were smack in the middle of the busiest place on earth – Sheppard’s Plaza – and my brother had to back out of a parking spot into what could only be described as Sabbath Pandemonium.
Friday afternoon at Bathurst and Sheppard was not a place for the faint of heart. Jews converged to fight for their right to that last braided Challah or the last remaining moist, decadent chocolate Bubka. Old, young, religious, secular, black hat, long skirt, jeans, or otherwise, sat in their cars, blocking the flow of traffic, or simply resting their hand on their horn for minutes at a time. Not known for being quiet or for seeing far over the dashboard, the Jews here instead flailed their arms and cursed a few lovely Yiddish words.
My family being a tall Jewish species managed quite nicely in these parts due to our height advantage. Unfortunately, us against them in a race against sunset meant little when it came to time to extricate ourselves from this god-forsaken parking lot. As my brother put the gear in reverse and turned his neck to look back from left to right, my father pretended to remain calm in the passenger seat. His lips were sealed likely due to fear. He too looked left to right, right to left and so on and so forth. This was not, after all, a place for a new driver. The car inched backwards slow and steady and I too began to look cautiously side-to-side, left to right. Cars surrounded our coveted parking spot like ants on sugar.
We were just about to safely reverse when an impatient Bubby jockeyed for position. Overtaking two other minivans vying for our sliver of pavement, she revved her car forward and in those few seconds it was clear a collision was imminent.
But my father is a learned man. He responded swiftly. With his lips still tightly fastened like the seatbelt that covered his chest – he clapped. Ferociously he clapped. He clapped as if he had just watched the greatest symphony performance of ALL TIME. It was like a warning signal between primates. Words couldn’t have worked any better. My brother slammed on the breaks – and Bubby came to a halt mere inches from our car bumper. It was on this day, that I learned a valuable lesson: when in danger… CLAP.
Many years later I was on a safari trip in Nigeria. Back at base camp, we were dogged by the wild and aggressive baboons. These baboons were fearless breaking into buildings and cars to steal any food they could find. I was alone with my gigantic backpack standing near our truck when one of the larger baboons sauntered on on over. With attitude, he looked me up and down before approaching to skillfully grab the handle of my bag and drag it away. My only retrieval technique was to do what I learned when I was ten-years-old. I clapped my hands together as I backed away with a reasonable amount of fear for this type of situation. Of course, not as adept as my father, I added in the eloquent words, NO BABOON, NO BABOON! Surprisingly the baboon stopped and stared at me curiously, perhaps pitifully and voila, backpack saved.
A few more months after that, I was relaxing in bed reading a book in my cheap and basic hotel room in northern India. It was a hot day of course (as most stories go from third world countries) and my balcony door was open letting in a soft breeze and an unwelcome monkey. The aggressive, hungry little shit invited himself in to grab my sealed package of rice cakes. Rarely a treat for humans, who knew monkeys enjoyed styrofoam? I sat up trapped and terrified in bed and what did I do? I clapped. This time fear of death by monkey in a confined space rendered me speechless. But that’s okay, because the clapping worked.