Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Transmissions From Baby-Town: “The Elmo Problem”


Fuuuuuckin’ Elmo.

By this point, the Baby Formerly And Still Actually Known As “B-Dub” is four months old. He’s a smiley, gurgly, farty beast. He grabs his feet. He shoves everything into his mouth. With his mouth he chews, he chews hard, his gums crushing my index finger daily. (Yes, he’s probably starting to teethe already.) He sleeps, but not much. He’s awake frequently. He’s very alert. He now laughs. That’s a delightful sound whose gravity is inescapable: we will do anything to make the baby laugh. Smack self in crotch with hammer? Drive car through a K-Mart? Kill so many nuns their bodies stack like firewood? Whatever you need, B-Dub. Just laugh for us. Just laugh.

I recognize already the danger of this path: a path many parents have gone down, a path where they work against good sense to keep their own children happy — no matter how little it helps them or the aforementioned children. There they walk, pandering to teenagers or adult children in order to win their friendship. Desperate and pleading and chasing the dragon just the same. Just love me, angry teenager. Just love me. And also, stop throwing food from the refrigerator at my head. Unless that makes you happy! Does that make you happy, angry teenager? What do you need? A sandwich? A dirt bike? A Taser? A hobo I purchased from the hobo black market? OH MY GOD I NEED YOUR APPROVAL

I can quit any time.

After all, our kid is a mere four months old and if I could bottle that laugh, you would buy it.

Here, listen:

Laughing Baby from Chuck Wendig on Vimeo.

See? You’d buy it. Right now.

Point being, we are happy to have an amused four-month-old rather than the occasionally epically cranky four-month-old. And one of the things that amuses Baby B-Dub is when we put on Sesame Street.

I grew up with Sesame Street. Loved it as a kid, and pretty much love it even still. This is Jim Henson we’re talking about. These are Muppets. Who doesn’t love Muppets? Al Qaeda. That’s who doesn’t love Muppets.

I understand the prevailing wisdom that says very young children shouldn’t watch television, and for the most part, Baby B-Dub faces us while we watch the Tube of the Boob. But we let him watch Sesame Street. I was pleased to turn it on and discover that it has not gone the way of other programming, which is to say, flashy ADD can’t-hold-an-image-for-more-than-a-few-picoseconds. Hell, watching some of Sesame Street I’m reminded of how ADD I’ve become. I watched one the other day that had Snuffleupagus suffering with a sneezing problem and by the end I was checking my watch. “Let’s wrap this shit up,” I’m saying.

B-Dub, though, he’s rapt. He’ll brighten when Big Bird comes on. He’ll talk to Abby the whatever-the-fuck-she-is. Fairy? She’s a fairy, right? Hell, soon as that new guy Murray shows up, B-Dub’s in. He’s invested.

And then, of course, Elmo shows.

It’s inevitable. It happens every episode. And the baby loves it. Elmo is a bright spot in a dark day, Elmo is a dollop of red whimsy, a giddy supernova, a blob of ketchup on a really great hamburger.

That is, it’s all those things for him. For the baby.

For me, Elmo is a fly inside my ear. He’s a broken fingernail, a bearded psychopath who won’t leave my TV.

Part of it is… part of it’s the laugh. This is like, a… a Joker-tormenting-the-Batman laugh. I tried to mimic the noise of Elmo’s laugh with my own mouth and I woke up two days later just outside of Carson City, Nevada, covered in scorpions and cradling some guy’s severed foot. Dead toes on my dry tongue.

Elmo’s mouth is the mouth of madness.

I try to get my head around Elmo and I feel woozy. I mean, okay, Elmo’s kind of like, a little kid, right? He represents the children watching. He’s playful and weird and frankly, a little bit stupid. (But that’s okay because he’s always learning. I guess. I dunno. Shut up.) So, why is it that Elmo lives alone? Who let Elmo have a house? Is he renting? Did he take advantage of a down market and buy a place? Are kids allowed to buy houses on Sesame Street? Jesus Christmas. No wonder we’re in the middle of an economic crisis. We let monster toddlers procure real estate. Great lesson, there. Someone call Tim Geithner.

Another great lesson: Elmo speaks in third person.

“Elmo this,” and “Elmo that.” Who does that? “Elmo’s fur is dyed with the blood of a hundred other Muppets!” Elmo cries. Then giggles as invisible hands tickle him.

Yes, please, Elmo, teach my son to refer to himself in the third person.

And why is Elmo asking a baby about anything? Every segment of Elmo’s World generally orbits a specific topic: doctors, bugs, cats, merkins, Lemon Pledge, torture porn, the methamphetamine epidemic, lasagna, whatever. Every part of the segment goes toward exploring the topic. Which is fine, in theory. Elmo sings a song, which is essentially Elmo just yammering the topic’s name over and over again, often set to a Christmas carol. Elmo talks to his fish, Dorothy, who often imagines Elmo in weird get-ups (Elmo is a caterpillar! Elmo is Rapunzel! Elmo is a cranky dominatrix!).

And then, inevitably, Elmo talks to a baby. He doesn’t refer to this baby by name. He just calls it “baby.”

“Hi, baby! What do you think about D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, baby?”

In response, the baby gurgles and spits up and tries to eat Elmo’s proboscis.

And then Elmo laughs: “Ha ha ha, you’re so stupid, baby. Babies don’t know about early silent films that were also used as recruitment tools for the Klu Klux Klan! You’re just a baby! Ha ha ha!”

Why? Why? Why do you ask a baby, Elmo? That baby doesn’t know jack shit. That baby never knows jack shit. You’re not helping anybody. And frankly, you’re embarrassing that poor baby. You know what happens to the babies that end up on the Elmo’s World segment? They get put up for adoption. Or sometimes they get turned into cat food. That’s true! I read it somewhere. The parents are so ashamed of their stupid babies — stupidity exposed by that sinister fiend, Elmo — that they have little choice but to go on without them.

I think I read it in Newsweek.


None of that, none of it, worries me more than —

Yes, you guessed it.

Mister Noodle.

Or Mister Noodle’s brother, Mister Noodle.

Or any of the foul miscreants from the dread Noodle clan.

Here’s the thing.

I’m pretty sure Mister Noodle is a kid-toucher. I know he’s a weirdo. He’s definitely an idiot.

But I think he’s got a thing for kids.

And given the fact that Elmo appears to be a kid, this adds a whole creepy vibe to the Elmo-Mister Noodle relationship. Let’s break it down a little bit and you can see what I’m talking about.

Every segment, Elmo opens his window (which for some reason is a struggle and the window resists Elmo’s attempts — possibly because the window has Elmo’s best interests at heart, which is good, because Elmo is a three-year-old who lives on his own because his parents probably died in a house fire that Elmo himself set). When Elmo opens his window… there stands Mister Noodle.

Mister Noodle waits for Elmo to do this. He hangs out outside Elmo’s window. All the time!

Staring. Lingering. Waiting.

Just the other day I watched one where the window opened and, as always, Mister Noodle stood right outside the window. But here’s the kicker, and this is not a joke: he was touching his crotch. Seriously! Not kidding! His left hand was hovering over his crotch. As if he had been interrupted. As if, had Elmo waited only 30 seconds longer, we would’ve caught Mister Noodle with his, erm, “mister noodle” out.

This segment-within-a-segment always goes the same way. Elmo asks Mister Noodle to expound upon the current topic du jour, and Mister Noodle spectacularly botches any implementation of said topic. If the topic is about brushing your teeth, Mister Noodle will shove a toothbrush up into his brain (don’t worry, there’s not much going on up there). If the topic is about dogs, Mister Noodle will try to leash and walk a hot dog. If the topic is about molecular microbiology, Mister Noodle will concoct a devastating flu plague that eradicates the Muppet population (the “Fozzy Flu,” they call it).

Then, some disembodied child’s voice — not Elmo’s — castigates Mister Noodle for dicking it up again. “No, Mister Noodle, we don’t eat 9-volt batteries. Silly Mister Noodle.”

Finally, Mister Noodle comes closer and…

… well, he frequently touches Elmo.

Like, one episode was about doctors. And Mister Noodle was fucking around with a stethoscope. When he finally learned how to use it, he walked to the window and used it on Elmo. Fine in theory, but it’s the way he uses it. He lingers on Elmo’s chest. He slowly draws the stethoscope’s head down and circles it there like he’s trying to do more than just hear this Muppet’s dubious heartbeat.

But here’s the really creepy example.

One segment was about “skin.”

Yes. Skin.

A serial killer topic if ever there was one. I’m just glad Elmo eschewed singing the “skinning a hooker” song.

Anyway, so around rolls the Mister Noodle sketch and of course Mister Noodle has to lean inside Elmo’s window with his blank eyes and his creepy mustache. And then Elmo says, “Slip me some skin!” which already is a red flag, because here I think Mister Noodle is going to go all Buffalo Bill and open a suitcase filled with tanned human flesh, but what happens instead is worse. Mister Noodle slowly, tenderly drags his fingers up Elmo’s wormy puppet arms — seriously, it’s like, a sensual touch — before finally caressing Elmo’s hairy palms. Then — then! — it’s time for “back-scratches.” Which look like backrubs. Because there’s nothing like teaching your small children to give and receive backrubs from weird adult neighbors. And the backrubs are, again, sensual. These aren’t manly backrubs. They’re not silly. They’re blissful, erotic massages. Mister Noodle seriously actually embraces Elmo and pulls him close.

Eventually that segment ends with Elmo singing the “skin” song, which is Elmo saying SKIN SKIN SKIN over and over again set to the tune of “Jingle Bells,” and then a book floats nearby, a book that I am led to believe is bound in some kind of skin, and Mister Noodle dances outside, high on Muppet-touching.

My child is eventually going to go to school and there they will tell him about “Stranger Danger” and then he’ll come home and watch Elmo get caressed by this mutant who may not even be Elmo’s neighbor. For all I know, Mister Noodle just lives in the bushes, having escaped some kind of… facility. Does Elmo run? Does Elmo say no, then go, then tell? No. Instead Elmo lets Mister Noodle kiss his neck while Elmo munches away on M&Ms that smell like weird chemicals. Good job, Sesame Street. Nice work there.

So, that’s what I see as the “Elmo Problem.”

Anybody else? Just me?

I’m doomed, aren’t I?