The youngest finally said, "I think I see it."
Suddenly there was competition.
"I do, too," another said.
"No, you don't."
"Yes, I did."
And so it went all the way home.
Along the way I was pelted with questions.
Where did they come from? Do they bite? Can we catch one and keep it as a pet?
"They are called the 'Laguna monkeys,'" I said in my most earnest, scholarly voice, "because a long time ago someone from Central America came here on a ship with some monkeys, and they escaped."
I proceeded to tell a wily, long-winded yarn about what the monkeys ate, whether they were friendly, if they carried diseases and so on.
It's amazing how many questions that boys who were raised on "Pirates of the Caribbean" can come up with.
In the end, they bought it, more or less. Which is scary.
Don't be cynical when it comes to our youth: They will believe anything you tell them because you are Dad.
Nonetheless, I felt like I needed to reinforce my story, so that night after they went to bed I created a webpage that features the little-known "Laguna Beach monkeys," which you can easily find.
The next morning I casually brought up the monkeys, and when the oldest started doubting me, I said, "You can Google it."
Of course, the Internet doesn't lie.
My account was verified with online images of flying monkeys, a map and a history. They were hooked.
So almost every day during the last few years when we passed through the wilderness area, they would try to spot a monkey. Occasionally, I would throw in a "what's that moving way up there in the tree near the ridge?"
I have always felt a little guilty about the white lie — well, it's really a bald-faced, elaborate lie.
Am I duping gullible kids who ultimately will be disappointed and grow up with serious trust issues? Or am I fostering a positive environment of imagination?
I suppose it's like other legends and myths — the ones that are an "accepted" part of our culture. They are meaningful traditions meant to instill a larger lesson about giving or sacrifice or love.
This one is about how to keep bored kids from beating each other up.
But I'd like to think it's more than that.
Perhaps it's how we make our ordinary lives more interesting. It's how we see things differently in our everyday world; the monkeys may or may not be there, but that's not the point. They could be.
It's creating our world through fantasy, imagination, metaphor and storytelling.
It's having fun by bending reality, Photoshopping the hard lines of our lives.
It's teaching ourselves to see Laguna Beach monkeys because we are not constrained by the rules of what we should see and do.
Like the monkeys, we are free to enjoy the forest of our own making.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.