You Grab the Monkey; We'll Bring the Knife

Monkey Knife Fight is everywhere, but what -- oh what -- does it mean?

Say the words "Monkey Knife Fight" to anyone who lives in the Mission District, and you'll probably get one hell of a reaction. Prepare to be grabbed by your lapels and thrown a look of excitement and confusion, as if you somehow entered the person's dreams last night: "What is that?! Tell me! TELL ME!"

"Monkey Knife Fight" is everywhere in our little neighborhood: spray-painted via stencil on sidewalks, slapped up as miniposters on buildings, strewn in the form of stickers in bathrooms. And it's not just the Mission. There have been MKF sightings in SOMA, Noe Valley, the Inner Sunset, the Western Addition, and Alamo Square Park. Everyone's seen it, yet nobody seems to know what it is. No three words have ever inspired such bafflement and curiosity -- not even the infamous "Yuppie Eradication Project." To give you an idea how big this thing is, consider: Monkey Knife Fight has imitators. "Junky Wife Bite" is now appearing throughout the Mission, and "Worm Knife Fight" can be spotted in Noe Valley.

Naturally, we are compelled to investigate this holy grail of San Francisco mystery graffiti. We try the Internet first, and from a five-hour, caffeine-fueled Google search, we learn the following:

- A team named Monkey Knife Fight competed (poorly) in a recent trivia contest at Williams College in Massachusetts.

- A cartoonist from God knows where used to call himself "The artist formerly known as Monkey Knife Fight" but now calls himself "Anarchy in UTK." (Presumably, at some point long ago, he called himself "Monkey Knife Fight"; this apparent fact, however, could not be confirmed.)

- Monkey Knife Fight is not an uncommon name for a band. We confirm the existence of MKF bands from Boston, Mass.; Townsville, Australia; and Dunedin, New Zealand. We also discover leads pointing to possible bands in West Virginia and Connecticut. Strangely, nothing band-related points to San Francisco.

- Nodding Head Brewing in Philadelphia produces a beer called Monkey Knife Fight, which is apparently quite good.

- An actual monkey knife fight occurred on a yacht in international waters on Jan. 23, 2000, during The Simpsons, Episode No. BABF08, with Britney Spears as the guest voice. A monkey named Furious George was seriously injured. Britney Spears was unharmed.

- Monkey Fight, Monkey Dogfight, Monkey Race, Super Monkey Ball, Monkey Golf, and Monkey Tennis are Sega video games, and have nothing to do with Monkey Knife Fight.

For the first time ever, Google has failed us. Later that night, we hit the streets, dazed yet determined. We pay a visit to Bret at Leather Tongue Video. If you don't know Bret ... OK, scratch that. Everyone knows Bret, the most likable and unpretentious guy in the Mission. He's the pre-eminent word-on-the-street kind of dude. "Bret, I've got three words for you," we say, swaggering into the store like John Wayne. "Monkey Knife Fight." Bret gives us a cool smile. Holy shit, he knows what it means! He knows! It takes every ounce of energy to contain our excitement. But Bret's got to help a customer, so we're forced to wait.

We peruse the videos, and as fate would have it, our eyes are drawn to Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys.The back of the box reads, "Between the past and the future, sanity and madness, dreams and reality, lies the mystery of the Twelve Monkeys ...." We feel a sudden chill. Bret disposes of his customer and turns his attention back to us. "It doesn't mean anything," he explains. "It's just these three girls who go around tagging everything with "Monkey Knife Fight.'"

We're incredulous.

"Nothing?" we ask incredulously. "You've met these people?"

"Yeah, three girls who were bored or something," he says. "They hang out at the 500 Club."

So we spend the entire weekend interrogating every living creature in or around the 500 Club. Everybody's intrigued; nobody knows a damn thing. At this point, things start to get strange. At the end of each night's work, we post signs. We need to talk to the chicks who are Monkey Knife Fight regarding an issue of vital civic importance. Email Mysteriously, each morning our signs are gone.

By Sunday evening, we're feeling more than a little delirious. We've expanded our street interrogations to the entire Mission, and we're not doing it very tactfully, either. It's with some horror that we realize our adventure has turned into that damn Twelve Monkeys film. We've become like that Bruce Willis character, half-crazed, drooling, lurking around the city, examining obscure graffiti while screaming, "Monkey Knife Fight! Monkey Knife Fight!" to a frightened and perplexed citizenry. Jesus. Couldn't we at least have become Brad Pitt? To top it all off, in a follow-up visit to Bret we're informed that he was wrong. The three girls were involved in a monkey-related venture, but not Monkey Knife Fight. Doh!

After a couple of days' rest, we start up again. We decide to visit some record shops, since the most popular theory is that it's a band. First stop: Amoeba Music. Wouldn't you know it, there's an MKF sticker right there on one of the computer terminals. I ask a clerk. She has no idea. I point to the sticker. She shrugs. She asks her co-workers, and they all do a little synchronized shrug. We visit Mission Records, Aquarius Records, and practically every other record shop in town, interrogating music experts of every color and creed. We fail to meet a single person who has actually seen this band. So, we're able to pretty much rule out the band possibility. But that doesn't solve the mystery.

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