Sending a Message

A little girl stuck her tongue out at me yesterday at the grocery store. She was a pretty little blond girl in a pink coat. I had just picked up a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. When I turned around she was hanging from the bottom of her cart and her tongue was sticking out. It was not a mistake. The tip was hooked behind her teeth and the rest was pushed out wide and aggressively through her teeth and pursed lips. My cheeks burned like I had rubbed them with adobo sauce.

I wasn’t sure if I was embarrassed for myself or for her, or if that was even the right emotion. I felt like I was taking an emotional IQ test where I was supposed to identify an emotion by looking at a still photo of a person. Was the person expressing embarrassment or anger? I wasn’t sure.

A few weeks earlier a capuchin monkey had done the same thing to my husband. The monkey hadn’t stuck out its tongue, but the emotion seemed the same.  While were vacationing in Costa Rica we walked to an island at low tide. After making our way back to the beach, we sat eating a snack and looking out at the water.

We heard rustling in the trees behind us that stopped every time we turned around. We assumed it was a man working, but after investigating we found a pasture with horses, cows and finally a group of capuchins.  I had been to Costa Rica before and told my husband you couldn’t throw a stick without hitting a monkey, but having been there a few days and not seeing any he was sure I was telling tales. Now, we moved toward the trees to get a closer look and some pictures.

At first, we were snapping pictures, zooming in indiscriminately and mostly taking extreme close-ups of the leaves. After few minutes, our aim got better and then one of the monkeys hopped down on a tree in the clearing. My husband started whistling to get the capuchin to look at us, as you might to a dog.

The monkey finally did look, and as I took a picture, it flashed its teeth at me. We laughed, knowing that he wasn’t smiling, but registering his annoyance with us. Just then another monkey jumped down on the branch in front of the other and flashed his teeth, doubling the message and resulting in twice the laughter. We got the message and decided to leave them alone, heading down the beach, happy with our pictures.

I suppose that’s why I felt embarrassed after seeing the girl stick her tongue out at me in the grocery store. I even quickened my step as I headed down the aisle past her.  It didn’t really matter whether I deserved her aggression or not. She sent a message and I got it.

That’s how monkeys and girls figure out what works. I suppose this won’t be the first time she’ll stick her tongue out at someone in the store. She might do it every time she feels a bit crabby. If I see her again, I think I’ll flash her my biggest smile. That’s how you send a message.


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