I’d never heard of Monkeyshine before that day. I don’t even think I knew that the Chinese New Year had dawned. But a text message from my girlfriend’s father got me interested. “Look up Monkeyshine Tacoma,” he said. Within 15 minutes I was out the door; on a modern day hunt for buried treasure.
Monkeyshines is a peculiar event in Tacoma. It started in 2003 and is headed by the mysterious Miss Monkey. Hundreds of handcrafted glass floats and medallions are strategically hidden throughout the city on the eve of the Lunar New Year for residents to find. Each unique piece is stamped with an emblem displaying the Zodiac animal symbol of the coming year. People hit the streets as early as 4 a.m. and comb through trees, bushes and local landmarks in search of the elusive Monkeyshines — because if you find one, you get to keep it. The game was afoot.
A newbie Shiner, I started five hours later than the hardcore adventurers, but I was determined. Online buzz suggested that the Proctor District, University of Puget Sound and the median strip along the center of Union Avenue were all emptied of glass prizes.
I needed a win. I was frustrated at work and feeling a cold coming on. It was a terrible week and part of me wanted to just stay in bed. But something else had stirred deep within me. A hunter’s instinct, a pulse of raw adrenaline. I knew that the whole week could be redeemed by a few ounces of glass.
So, I headed away from the popular areas. Instead, I struck north, to nondescript Jane Clark Park. I was not alone. Another Monkeyshiner was prowling the perimeter. After a few tense seconds, she headed one direction and I took the opposite, splitting the park in twain. My canvas shoes were quickly soaked in the dew that clung to the grass. I came up empty handed.
I headed east, making for Puget Park. It was a small urban playground nestled between a bridge and a wooded traihead. If there was any Monkeyshine hidden there, it was long gone. At that point I had been at it for almost an hour. I began to worry that I had started too late. A small team of fellow glass-seekers arrived soon after me, armed with walkie-talkies, a search plan and military precision.
I retreated into the nearby business district — little more than a barbershop, a bar and a garden supply store. The sidewalks were lined with planters. If I couldn’t find something shiny there, I was ready to call it quits and head home. I had articles to write and bills to pay.
I was headed back to my car, defeated, when a glint of light caught my eye. Something gleamed in the shadow under a potted shrub. I pushed back a branch and there it was, a beautiful glass medallion four inches across, embedded with swirling tendrils of vibrant orange and red. A horse was stamped on its face.
For the first time all week, I felt alive. I’d found a one-of-a-kind piece of local art. It was incredible. I couldn’t have been happier if I’d stumbled acrossed the Holy Grail itself. I was connected to the artist and to the city of Tacoma in a real, tangible way and all of the stress of the week dissolved away as I safely tucked my Monkeyshine into the pocket of my damp pea coat.
That’s the power of art. It binds us together and serves as a lens through which we can see the world in a radical new way. Next year, I’ll be out early, flashlight in hand, to find another treasure. Once you’ve found Monkeyshine, you’re addicted. As long as there are artists to make and hide these beautiful keepsakes, I’ll be hunting for them.
— 30 —
Jonny Eberle is a first-time Monkeyshiner, newly-minted Tacoman and writer of many words. Special thanks to Exit133, Post Defiance and Roxanne Cooke for providing background on the event. You can follow my quest for meaning and shiny things on Twitter. Thanks for reading!