My son loves Elmo. Sometimes I think it’s something a child is born with. They arrive in the world predisposed to a particular muppet. One day after civilization has fallen apart a little bit more and then put itself together again it will have more significance. I’m sure deep at that point it will be like the zodiac or Chinese New Year. Your muppet says something about who you are as a person. Until that time, Max just loves Elmo. As parents when we are in the city we rarely go above 34th st. I work at 26th and above 33rd it just gets to be too much. I like the idea of going up town, but most of the time the idea becomes preferable to the reality. Taking the subway with a stroller is difficult. You would think a system this big would have more elevators and even the ones it does have only work about 50% of the time. That’s not really a complaint, even though it is it. There are a lot of people in this city and because of that moving parts break down all the time. Easter Sunday we went up to Times Square. We had brunch plans with our friends Rachel, Sully, Victoria, and Patrick. Sully is in a show on the Bway and we wanted to make it easy for him to get to the theater so we decided on a place near by on 49th and Broadway. Going there we had to get off the train at 40th because of the usual weekend work they do now. We were already late so we carried the stroller quickly up the stairs and realized that we thought the restaurant was on 44th. We began hustling through the ever growing crowd pushing our way through the hordes of tourists. As we approached 42nd I saw, on the corner, Elmo and Cookie Monster. This is sort of a new phenomenon, though I’m surprised some enterprising young stoner didn’t think of it sooner. You go to Times Square dressed like a muppet and get people to take a picture with you, then you pull out the little pouch that is the same color as your fur, so no one notices it’s there, and you ask for money. These guys must make a killing. I don’t know if they are part of some larger, insidious, muppet /human driven organization, but I don know 2 things. First, because of all the tourists they make bank. Second, they are fucking dirty. Times Square is one of the dirtiest places I know. In the Summer it is a sewer. Literally. That’s not the humidity, that’s the piss. There is literal piss in the air. Piss is evaporating into the heat and we are walking through it. So as I look forward I see Elmo and Cookie Monster spy Max. It was like a slow motion scene from a Michael Bay movie.
We see the Muppets heads turn.
We see Max, oblivious to the fact that one of his first dreams come true is right in front of him.
We see my face as I see them see us. Then a close up of my eyes. They’re like Clint Eastwood’s eyes. Old, sun worn, and almost closed I’m squinting so much.
I turn to my wife who is smiling and saying “Look Max, it’s Elmo.”
Then I jump in front of them.
“Don’t let them touch him!” I say.
They make their move and go in a for a big furry Ebola filled hug and we dodge. Narrowly avoiding what could have made my skin crawl for weeks. My son is fine. Unfazed and untainted. He smiles and giggles having no idea that moments ago he faced what could have been the black death. We move on. I breath and go back to being annoyed by the tourists in my way. I have nothing against these people. The human muppets. They are just trying to make some money. That’s fine. But they touch thousands of people everyday and sweat in those suits like it’s a hobby. I’ve never equated this word to those muppets, but I will now. Filth. Literal filth.
So we arrived at the restaurant and had the kind of meal every parent of a toddler has. One of you eats and talks while the other chases Max around the room. Our Max is a joyous child so chasing him around a restaurant is actually a lot of fun. He entertains everyone and smiles everywhere he goes. He’s a flirt and a comedian, just like his mom. It’s all sweet and fun. Except when he goes for the stairs. It really is true that children can find the most dangerous thing in the room with out even seeing it. They have an instinct that there is danger and they go toward it. Children must hurt themselves to learn, it’s nature, and so often, there is a positive out come, a learning outcome, but not when there is a flight 25 foot flight of stairs that goes down at a steep incline. We saw Max going for the curtain, that partition, that small room right before you go down the stairs to the kitchen of the restaurant. We were up in a shot. Nicole before me. Mothers are always faster in these situations. She disappeared around the curtain and the whole table held it’s breath. It seemed like ten minutes before she came back. Max smiling in her arms, giggling like a little monkey. This time we put Max in a hi-chair and kept him in one spot for a while. We talked with our friends who we had not seen for sometime. I am always amazed the great things the people I know do. Running theater companies, acting, singing, dancing, playing many different instruments. As I sat with these people I was taken but how amazing they all are and thought to myself, that no matter how difficult it can be to be an artist, just to be surrounded by a bunch of talented people is an honor. To say I know these people and commune with them is amazing. I can feel jealously, from time to time, of other writers, other people who make art. I felt none at that moment. I was just glad to be there.
Max finished his food and started crying to get out of his seat. It was time to walk again. So we put him down and let him loose upon the restaurant again. This was one of those Restaurant Row places so it was deep and we were in the back. Luckily it was not crowded so he could run and not worry about tripping some poor server with a tray of glasses. I’ve been in a really crowded small restaurant with him before. It’s like trying to hold onto an arm full of lemurs. I let him run through the restaurant to the front where he stopped. Looking out the window he stuck his hand out and pointed. “OOOOOOO’ He grunted. Across the street was a Broadway theater, it’s lights aglow for the matinee. I picked him up and we looked out the window together. He just kept pointing at different lights he saw. Let’s keep in mind there are thousands. When he had had his fill I put him down and let him run back to our table. Of course he headed for that stairway, and I had to grab him before he made his way down. Danger first, that’s a toddlers way.
We said our goodbyes and walked away from the restaurant. Since we were leaving we were in no real hurry and could amble a little more. Our friend Patrick walked with us. We walked and talked and once were were out of Times Square, it was even relaxing. One of those wonderful New York walks, just after a meal with friends when you are in no hurry and you can just enjoy the city for a moment. I started thinking about what a hard Winter this was. I mean the weather wasn’t as bad as others but it was our first real winter with him. The first actual winter he was just a little baby, an infant. He could hardly move by himself and here I was chasing him down before he runs into traffic. He was, is, a little boy now. His mother and I have managed to keep him alive for a little over a year year. In that time we have collectively produced 2 plays, choreographed one, learned to sleep, finished a screenplay, been evacuated from our home, written 2 plays, learned to walk, taken on cooking as as serious hobby, said Momma, Dada, tar(It’s star with no s, not the pits in LA) have been to the West Coast, Up and down the East, to the Dominican Republic, been very sick, gotten well, stopped and started exercising, and on and on… As Buster said i Arrested Development “It’s tired in here.”
Then I saw them. Staring at us. Determination in their furry faces.. Elmo and Cookie Monster. Though I knew they had not waited for us, looking at their eyes, it was as if they had waited only for us. That the thousands of other people were only precursors to the main event. My son. We got closer and I told Nicole, don’t let them…but it was too late. I saw Max’s face light up as the furry red hand reach toward his face and then lightly brushed his cheek. I cringed a little and then looked at him. Really looked at him. All he knew was that these things, these furry things, live in the world. He lives in a place where these guys just walk around like the rest of us. They are just here and for him that’s wonderful. So I stood back, instead of trying to leave, I took a picture.
And let him enjoy this moment. Sometimes you just have to say fuck it and stop being such a nervous little fellow. I’m talking about me, not him.