Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Tag: memories (page 3 of 6)

Things Chuck Remembers

Transmissions From Baby-Town: “Feeding Time At The Baby Paddock”

Somebody — and I won’t name names, but he’s the tiny dude over there in the high chair, ahem — is now eating solid food. And by “solid” I of course mean “pureed into a largely non-solid state.” It’s not like he’s eating turkey legs or shelling pistachios. Though, given the way this kid eats, it would not surprise me.

Just the same, I thought, it’s time to talk about feeding the baby.

Those of you with weak constitutions, troubled hearts or a fear of adorable small people…


* * *

I didn’t teach him this.

In fact, unless Santa Claus or some other fairy being is secretly involved, I don’t think anybody taught him this — but somehow he knows. He’s been studying us eating and from the first time I scooped a blob of pureed pears onto his baby-sized purple pastel spoon, he’s been ready. He opened his ravenous maw wide and blinked at me with those big blue eyes (the same eyes that are cute enough to prevent us from dropping him off at the local recycling center) and was ready to eat. No coaxing needed. No dabbing a little on his lips to be like, “Mmm, see? No, no, I know, it features none of the pillowy comfort of a boob, but hey! Apples!” None of that. He just opened his mouth and was ready to go and no training was necessary.

Humans are impressive machines.

If only potty-training will be this easy.

* * *

The kid, he hungers.

You know Jabba the Hutt? How his slug tongue licks the lips and he gleefully pops that screaming squirming tadpole thing into the foul slit that monster calls a mouth?

Yeah, that’s my son.

* * *


Okay, fine, grab the spoon.

Now his hands are sticky. And they’ll be sticky all day because somehow, perfectly cleaning an infant’s fingers is impossible. Later I’ll wonder, “How did this clump of food end up behind my ear? Was I sleep-eating again? Did someone slip me some Ambien? What the hell is it?” *taste* “Mmm. Peas.”

* * *

I cannot feed him fast enough.

They say his stomach is as big as his fist and he’s not exactly a huge kid — he’s lean, lanky, but not heavy.

So, when he wolfs down two full containers of food and then another two or three servings of rice cereal, I worry. This can’t be natural, I think. Kid’s got a tapeworm. Hell, he might have a stomach full of screeching baby falcons. But the doctor and all the baby books say, “Keep feeding him when he’s hungry,” but his hunger knows no bounds. I half expect to look under his high chair and see that it’s all just fallen through him, dropped through some empty space and onto the floor.

If I don’t feed him fast enough, he makes… impatient noises.


* * *


If he had teeth he’d bite at the air — clack clack clack.

* * *

Peas, though. He doesn’t like peas. He eats peas, he gets this face like, “Did you just spit in my mouth? What is this? Rubber cement? Pencil shavings? Goose poop? Fuck is wrong with you people?”

A genetic component, perhaps. I hated peas as a kid, too. From pureed peas onward. My mother says I could eat a glob of food and if there were peas in it I’d eat the rest of the food and then spit out the individual peas as if I was just cleaning them, making them shiny for someone else. Ptoo, ptoo, ptoo.

* * *


* * *

Baby food is delicious.

I squeezed out some mango puree and tasted it and immediately wanted to stir in some rum, toss it in a fruity glass with a swirly straw and guzzle that bad-boy down. No wonder the kid loves this stuff.

I mean, this strawberry-apple puree? I’d kill a dude for a second taste.

Though, yesterday I saw some of the meat-based baby foods at Target.

The “ham” puree has a color exactly that of Caucasian flesh.

As if it’s a jar of ground-up pink-cheeked street urchin.

I think we’re going to hold off on giving him meats for as long as we can.

* * *


* * *

The poop changes once you start feeding them.

It comes more often, for one thing.

Really, though, it starts looking like proper poop. No longer a mysterious mud-glop in a soft white shell — now it’s human waste. It’s what you or I do, just on a smaller scale. The glory days are over.

Oh, I know, here I am another parent talking about baby poop but suck it, that’s what we have to deal with. People talk about their experiences and new parents experience a whole lotta poop. You grow eerily and wearily comfortable with human effluence. You ever have someone pee in your face?

Have a baby. You’ll see.

* * *


* * *

His one hand grabs for the spoon. The other hand floats in the air like he’s conducting some kind of baby-food symphony. And his head bobs and weaves like he’s a drunken Stevie Wonder.

* * *

Soon, I think we’ll start making food for him. Get a rocking blender, something like a Vita-Mix, and just go to town. A lot of the store-bought food comes in crazy combos: for Thanksgiving, we gave him sweet potatoes + pumpkin + apple + blueberries, all in one squeezable food-tube. I’m oddly excited for the ability to mix up batches of whatever combos I choose. Spinach! Apples! Papaya! Wood grubs! Alpo! Caramel sauce! Bacon! NOM NOM NOM.

And yes, he really does like spinach.

* * *

All my years of video game training have led me to this.

Sure, there’s a technique — food on the end of the spoon, go in high, use his upper lip to kind of shear the food into his mouth, let him suck off the rest, then use the spoon to scrape the remaining goo off his lips.

But he keeps it interesting. He’ll open up reaaaaal biiiiig and just as you get close — BOOM — the hangar doors slam shut and the airplane crashes and the food is a casualty crammed against his face.

Or he’ll pivot to look at the dog.

Or he’ll try to be an active eater and lunge for the food.

You can’t fall asleep on this job. No automatic behaviors will do.

The kid, he’s squirrelly.

* * *


* * *

He keeps eating

and eating

and eating.

I’m half-tempted to shoot a goat and throw it on the tray.

Just to see.

Just to see.

* * *

The doctor tells us it’s time to start feeding him more than once a day. Three times. Meal times. Brekkie, lunch, dinner. It strikes you at times like this: oh shit, he’s like a real person.

This isn’t a dream. He’s not a puppy.

Deep breath.

* * *

I bet he’d eat that goat.

* * *


* * *

When we’re done eating, I approach his face as if the washcloth is a shark — I even make the JAWS music, dun-dun, duunnn-duuun — though it would be far easier if I could just drop him in the driveway and hose him off with the power-washer. Then I clean the tray and plant toys before him. He loves toys, now. It’s amazing how fast the changes occur with these wee little humans. Now he can drag himself toward things half-a-room away. Now he shoots out an arm and grabs things like some kind of snake-trained ninja. Now he studies objects and does more than just bang them into his head or shove them into his mouth.

Now he eats solid food.

Now he’s six months old.

* * *

Why I love feeding the boy:

Because it’s my time with him. I mean, I have a lot of time with him but it’s a time I can plop him down and his eyes are eerily focused on me and my Magical Spoon and I get to play the role of nurturing food-dude — after all, it’s not like I can breastfeed him or anything. (And no, I have not tried, weirdo.)

I like that time. Even when he shellacs his own eye shut with smashed carrots or gnaws on the food tray or turns his head at the last second thus ensuring I jam a dollop of prunes into his ear. I like the fundamental connection of parent-and-child, the uncomplicated rigors of I have food and you want this food and we are father and son and let’s laugh as you accidentally snort mashed banana into your brain.

It’s a sweet time and a highlight of my day and I cherish it.

I mean, don’t tell him that.

Transmissions From Baby-Town: “The Face Of My Father”

It happens once a day, maybe.

My son will be looking at me — he’s five-and-a-half-months now, you see — and then comes this moment. It’s not one thing: it’s the alchemy of muscle movements, facial tics, of whatever unseen elements constitute our faces. All of it adds up to a single sum, an equation answered by my father’s face. Staring back at me.

It’s pretty weird, seeing your father’s face. In infant form. It’s like seeing a ghost. A ghost that has taken over my baby — but then you realize, that’s not it, that’s not right at all. The ghost hasn’t taken over my baby.

This is my baby.

Holy shit.

I mean, it makes sense, of course. Genetically, the baby is in part the product of me and I am the product of my father and By The Mighty Scepter Of Science I conclude that, yes, indeed, it totally tracks that certain physical traits will make themselves known over the course of our lives. It goes deeper than that, however. Our faces are more than just the features. It’s more than just a delicate twining of DNA spawning certain recurrent elements. This equation has imaginary numbers.

Here’s what I mean:

When my father passed away, I was present. And when he died, I knew he was gone — no longer present — before any of the signs and signals were made clear. It wasn’t merely the slackening of features — you could tell that something had gone. Poof. Vanished into the ether. I don’t mean to suggest you have to believe in a soul, but just the same, life is different from death (a-duh), and so when life vacates the body, the body changes. The body and the face become reflective of that inert state.

Life has left the building.

The body, given up the ghost.

But now sometimes I see the ghost — my father’s life — on my son’s face. The way he moves his nose. Or the way he smiles. My father used to get this puckish grin on his face — curiously, the same look I sometimes saw on my grandmother’s face, even after she had her stroke — and now there it lives, sometimes floating to the surface on this cute round little baby head. Again, I don’t know that you can even pinpoint it.

It’s just… there.

I have it in me, too. Maybe not the face. I don’t look at myself often enough to see it. But I hear it. In my voice, in my words. Something in the tone or tenor. Word choice, maybe. (My father, after all, is where my love of profanity was born. He celebrated profanity, and now I do, too, for better or for worse.)

I’m named after my father.

My first name is his.

My first name and his first name is also my son’s middle name.


It’s too early to see how else or how often that glimmer of my father will appear in my son — maybe it’ll come and go and then leave for a time, or maybe it’ll always be there. My son is strong. Independent and stubborn. Like my father and, perhaps to a lesser degree, like me. He’s already good with his hands — my father worked with his hands. Maybe I’m just making all this up. Perhaps I’m hungry to see connections that aren’t there. That’s what some will say. That’s what some will think. Maybe they’re right.

Maybe they’re just assholes.

Who knows?

What I know is, I’m sad my father never knew my son. While the last thing I want to think about is my son one day passing on, but perhaps some day long and far away from here and now the two of them will travel together in the great Happy Hunting Ground up in the sky. Some of the things my father taught me, I’ll teach my son. Some of the things he taught me, I won’t. But other things I can’t stop and don’t want to stop. The ghost lives on. The ghost persists. The soul — or whatever that passes for it, whatever uncertain and spectral vehicle is the thing that carries that ember of life, that living mask, that visage as unique as a fingerprint — is here in my son’s eyes and smile and in the shape of his nose.

And I’m happy for that. It’s the only way he’ll know his grandfather.

That, and the stories we’ll tell.

Putting the name and the life to the face.

Filling in the ghost.

Happy birthday, Dad. You would’ve been 68, today, I think.

Go bag a great big heavenly elk and use his antlers to fight the Devil and give him what-for.

Do You Believe In Ghosts?

Before we get into the actual post —

Hey! Guess what? Got totally taint-punched by the insane October snowstorm that, well, went around on Saturday punching taints across the Northeast. The weather reports were all like, “Blah blah blah rain will change over to snow by 2PM and nothing will stick on the roads and four inches and snargh pbbbt bleaaargh.” In short: “Oh, don’t worry, no big deal.”

Except, I noticed the snow was starting at 9AM.

And starting to stick at 10AM.

By mid-day they revised their weather report to: OH HOLY SHIT EL BLIZARRDO LOCO RUN FOR YOUR LIVES PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN AND SENSITIVE PETS and then just after mid-day we lost power. And that continues to be the case as I type this. (I’m using a relative’s computer to hammer this out, FYI.)

I took a drive around our little forested nook of the area yesterday and all the powerlines look like they were attacked by werewolves. Shredded wheat, all of them. Many laying across driveways! Lots of trees down. Branches. It’s a mess.

It’s cold. We’ve no power. The baby and the dog are not thrilled. The parents (us): even less so.

Regardless, here I am, trying to bang out a quickie blog post for you all.

Let us begin.

I Believe In Ghosts

I’m going to say up front that I believe in ghosts. I, in fact, have all the proof I need that something exists beyond death, and ghosts are part of that equation. I’m sure I’ve regaled you all with tales like this before (though if I haven’t, say so), but I grew up in a haunted house whose haunting many other sane and rational folks witnessed — years before discovering a boy had died on our property before it was in our family, I discovered that boy’s name come up during a Ouija board session.

Which pretty much tweaked my noodle.

It was that Ouija session that actually, I feel, “unlocked” the haunting to some degree. Because after that was when it manifested: again and again, until I went away to college.

So, what I’m asking you is:

Do you believe in ghosts?

Do you think it’s all bullshit? (It’s okay if you do.)

Better yet: ever had any experiences with ghosts? Or anything at all you can’t explain? It’s Halloween. It’s the time of stories like these. So, let’s hear ’em.

Tell us your spooky — and true as you see them — stories.

Why I Wrote Shotgun Gravy

I think I might do this for all my releases going forward: a post on why I wrote what I wrote. For good or bad, a look into the creative process — like a piranha frenzy or a garter snake breeding ball — that results in the grim and gory birth of fiction. Here, then, is a look into why I went ahead and wrote SHOTGUN GRAVY. If you feel like picking up the book (and I’d obviously appreciate it if you did), your procurement options are as follows:

Kindle (US): Buy Here

Kindle (UK): Buy Here

Nook: [Still not available, razza-frazza B&N]

PDF (Direct): Buy Here


It’s like the Pirandello play, in which I have a character — and, also, a title — in search of a story.

Way back when, when writing one of the many drafts of the script for HiM (Hope is Missing), our producer was talking about screenwriting and, in particular, brevity of description. Description in a script needs to be kept lean. Functional without being flashy, yet retaining that most elusive of things: voice.

And in this discussion he mentioned the script for Gone with the Wind, which reportedly relegates the scene of the city of Atlanta burning to a simple two-word description: “Atlanta burns.”

At first I was struck by the simplicity of that as a descriptor — I don’t know if that’s how it is in the script, as I don’t have a copy, but the lesson is still a powerful one…

You can get a lot of mileage out of short, sharp language.

But then I had a second thought:

Man, that’s a great name for a character.

Atlanta Burns.

So, I tucked that away in my brain the way a chipmunk squirrels away an acorn in his bulging cheek.

(Can a chipmunk squirrel something? That seems wrong somehow, like I’m flagrantly punching Mother Nature in her leafy, verdant vagina. It also seems doubly unfair to the squirrel, as he can not “chipmunk” anything. Though perhaps the squirrel should just take it as an honor that his actions have earned him verb status? Well. Greater minds than mine will have to ferret out the truth. OH SHIT FERRET never mind.)

Cut to later on, where I was eating at a little breakfast joint in Bethlehem, PA, and I saw on the menu a delightful-sounding item: “Shotgun Gravy.” Sausage gravy over biscuits and home fries.

And again I was like, “Yum,” but then, “Hot damn, that’d make a fine title for a story someday.”

Suddenly, Atlanta Burns — a character without a face, a voice, a life — popped up and I was like, “Ooh! Me me me!” Waving her hands in the air like a needy student. Jumping up and down. Oh-so-eager.

Atlanta Burns and Shotgun Gravy married together in my mind. Fused together.

Character and title.

But no story.

That was, mmm, I dunno. Almost two years ago, I figure.

Over the course of those two years, my brain did its thing, which is basically rolling around my environment like a giant whisky-sodden katamari ball, collecting whatever insane detritus and idea lint with which it comes in contact. Rolling, rolling, picking up crap. Lots of things started to get stuck to my brain-ball: the “It Gets Better” movement, Veronica Mars, Glee, gay-bashing, Neo-Nazis, kielbasa, cyber-bullying.

It was the “bullying” that kind of crystallized for me.

I was bullied as a kid. I think most kids were — you’re either predator or prey in grade school, and your role there is by no means a fixed position. A bully who throws you around at school might get the snot beaten out of him at home — the “kick-the-dog syndrome” laid bare, a cruel infinite leminiscate loop of use and abuse. The bullied often become bullies themselves, and sometimes the bullies end up as the victims.

What I’m saying is: the worm turns.

Any bullying I suffered was never epic — I got jacked against a few lockers, got called names. Early on kids will bully you for anything: I remember someone making fun of the way I chewed in like, 5th grade. That became a thing for a time, and it was nonsensical (turns out, I chew just fine, though that maybe gave me a slight neurosis for a good year or two, thanks, assholes), but it was what it was. Eventually I grew up — literally, as an early-bloomer I got tall for awhile until I got shorter again what with everyone springing up around me — and for the most part the rough-and-tumble bullying fell to other victims.

Thing is, you don’t have to look hard to find bullies. It’s there in the workplace. In the political process. Hell, women, homosexuals, transgendered, developmentally disabled folks, overweight kids, they all end up as the target of some mean-ass shit. Sometimes just hard, cruel words. Sometimes it goes a lot deeper and gets a lot worse. We live in this sort of… predatory world, right? Where the strong try to abuse the weak. Psychologically, physically, sexually. And in a lot of cases, it’s damn near okay. Kansas decriminalizing domestic abuse? The so-called “Protect Life Act?”

Hell, look at the rhetoric often surrounding rape cases: rape victims are forced to run a rough gauntlet wherein they must effectively prove that they weren’t somehow deserving of getting raped. That whole, “Well, what were you wearing?” question. Would it matter if she were naked? Does a low-cut blouse signify a rape beacon, drawing bad men like moths? “She was asking for it.” Yeah, not unless she was actually asking for it, thanks. Nobody ever asks this of murder victims, you’ll note. “Huh, what kind of shoes were the murder victim wearing? Can we just label this a ‘suicide’ and move on? Those are suicide shoes, jack.”

All this stuff came swirling together in my head — and then came the discussions around whether Young Adult books were getting too dark. I wrote a post back then (“Adolescence Sucks, Which Is Why YA Rocks“) which cuts to the heart of it: if YA is reflective of troubled teen culture, then we should embrace that. Because kids want to talk about this stuff. They want to acknowledge it and find power to shine the light of that acknowledgment and bite back the shadows of ignorance, because I promise you that ignorance is far more damaging. Seeing what hides behind the shadows steals the power from the darkness.

And suddenly, Atlanta Burns had her story.

Her story comes from it all: troubled teens and bullying and DADT and whatever. It’s about taking back some of that power, about turning the table on the bullies — but at the same time, that’s not an easy path, and not necessarily a sane path, either. You fight fire with fire, you might burn the whole house down, you know what I mean? Therein lurks a moral complexity and a darkness framed around a teen existence.

Does that make it YA? Does that make it noir? Probably not. I dunno. I’m not sure those terms are even well defined anymore. I know that Atlanta is, in her own way, a bit of a loser — and the book damn sure doesn’t have a straight-up happy ending, and it definitely deals with teen issues. Which is why I think of it as noir-flavored YA, or YA-flavored noir. Or maybe it’s just a story about a girl, her shotgun, and how she tries to protect a couple of friends from bullies.

It’s a bit dark, but I think it’s got some lightness in there, too. Humor and hope, not always completely realized. But in there just the same, struggling to come out. We’ll see if they do.

Because this is only the first novella, as I’ve mentioned. I’ve got more on the way — er, provided this one sells okay. (I won’t lie: the first couple days of sales were okay, but fairly low compared to my other e-books, even compared to Irregular Creatures.) I will ask that if you like the book, I could use you to spread the word. Maybe leave a review somewhere. Hopefully the story works for you. Her story just… tumbled forth, like apples from an overturned bag, and usually I like to think that it means there’s something there, something people might really respond to, but that’s up to you to say, not me.

Hopefully, BAIT DOG — which deals with animal abuse and dog-fighting — will find its way to the light. It’s a hard book to write, but again, one that refuses to be contained.

Thanks for reading.

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?


I think we’re supposed to talk about that day today. In some ways I get that — it was a giant tent spike through the heart of this country. On the other hand, there’s only so much memorializing you can do before it becomes a sickening buzz — the television stations are not our grief counselors but rather the vultures pulling the tendons of our fear, earning ad revenue for bludgeoning us over the head with non-stop 24/7 9/11 remembering. Talking heads telling us how to feel.

Remembering is good, though. Celebration isn’t, but that’s up to us not to turn this into some kind of crass holiday. Point being, I wasn’t going to write anything. And yet, here I am, barking into the void.

You want to know what I remember about 9/11? Here’s what I remember.

I remember driving to work in the middle of town and listening to the radio as it all unfolded. By the time I was getting to work the second plane had already struck.

The entire town was connected that day — as I got out of my car and walked to work I could literally follow the transmission of information. Some people had put radios outside. Some were yelling to one another to tell them what they just heard on the TV. Folks were standing out on sidewalks talking about it. People were bound together in tragedy. (And given what we eventually learned about 9/11, that our leaders had heard the warnings and ignored them, this is tragedy in the truest theatrical sense of the word.) I thought, this is our Kennedy assassination. This is that one moment that defines our generation. The one we’ll always talk about, the one we’ll always feel in our heart and in our bowels and the one we’ll always say, “I remember where I was on that day, when that horrible thing happened.”

And what I remember most is that connection between people.

And how for a good year, we were united in that memory and that experience. We were united in anger and hope and fear and that whole tangled thatch of emotion that came with the two towers tumbling down.

And I remember how that connection festered and was pulled apart. Because our leaders, instead of unifying us, found in that day opportunity. Opportunity to take us to war in that day’s name. Opportunity to pass legislation whose strictures were absurd and whose ghosts still haunt the so-called “homeland.” Opportunity to invoke that day as a campaign slogan.

Opportunity to divide, not unite.

You really think who we are as a nation now — a nation with boots stuck in the sucking mud of a double-dip recession, caught in the middle of a highly disordered and fractured two-party pissing match, afraid of anybody who looks even a leetle bit different than us or who worships in a way that seems no longer profound but only somehow perfidious — isn’t as a result of that day? Where we can’t bring a bottle of shampoo on a plane lest it contain some exotic-and-fragrant shampoo bomb? Where the specter of terrorism overrides the political needs of far greater crises?

I feel like the country went the wrong way after that day. Our leaders could’ve fostered that connectedness and instead exploited the disconnect. And in that gap rose a howling fearful wind.

But that’s them. That’s our leaders. That’s not us.

We are not our leaders. Not anymore.

The message here is that the connectedness we felt then can be reclaimed. As a weird side segue, would you believe that this is why I like social media? The sense of connectedness is robust and even at times profound (see the latest earthquake and hurricane for that, where I felt connected to people who I didn’t even know, who were hundreds of miles away — hell, see Egypt, or London for how people can bond together — the core notion of the Internet is connectedness, after all).

We need to move together, not fall apart. We need to find the bonds that bring us together and make us human, not highlight all the bullshit differences that take our humanity away.

That’s the thing I’d hope people remember today. The solidarity of the nation in that year following 9/11. A time when it felt like we were all in the same boat. Find that again. Trust in your neighbors, not in your leaders. We’re coming to a time once more when we will somehow need to remind our leaders that they must be accountable to us, not us accountable to them. The day of 9/11 is ours, not theirs.

They fear our connectedness, after all. As they should. Our ideas and connections have the power to change the world. That terrifies them. So be connected. Forge the connection with others once more. Talk to people. People you don’t always agree with. Common bonds exist; find them. When we find those things we can move forward again. We can find the things we believe are essential and work to accomplish them. We must not be led by a corrupt body of leadership or by a vocal minority of selfish monsters. We must reforge lost connections. That is how we can once more find truth and hope in a day like 9/11.