If I Could Have Dinner With Elmo

If you had asked me in my younger years, I’d have probably said “Kurt Cobain”. He died before I graduated high school and, as a huge Nirvana fan, I had a ton of respect for the  music he created. In my teen years, I would have chosen him in an instant.

If it was after that, my answer would have fluctuated depending on the year and who was asking. In some instances, it could have been a historic figure like George Washington or Abe Lincoln. If I really wanted to make you feel I was smart, I would have thrown out Socrates, even though I wouldn’t have understood a word he said. Bill and Ted showed me that.

That was then. This is now. After all these years of raising kids and now free from the youthful temptation of impressing everyone, I can be honest with my choice. If I could sit down and have dinner with any one person, alive or dead, it wouldn’t be a person at all. It would be with the most influential creature of my adult life. It would be a monster. It would be Elmo.

Yeah. Laugh it up, Grouchy. It sounds ridiculous and it is ridiculous, but for over a decade, the furry red menace has entrenched himself deeper into my life for much longer than I ever dreamed possible. From the birth of my twelve-year-old daughter back in the Bush administration to my nine-year-old non-verbal son literally this morning, the Sesame Street resident has made my world into Elmo’s World.

Before we get started, I know what you’re thinking. Can’t I just do the Sesame Place character dinner with Elmo? Sure. But that’s not an intimate one-on-one meal. That’s like feeding time in a preschool prison. Plus, that Elmo is ten feet tall and silent. I’m talking a private table with the little singing Muppet version. Let’s just get that straight.

I know what else you’re thinking. What do I serve him? What exactly does Elmo eat? That’s a tough one. They don’t really go into that on the show. Cookie Monster eats cookies. Big Bird eats bird seed. The Count, I’m assuming, sucks blood from his numerous (ah, ha, ha) victims. Elmo, though – no clue. I’d probably serve him Lobster Thermador with a nice Chardonnay. Hey. This is Elmo, we’re talking about here. He deserves some respect. Ya’ll better recognize. I’m not going to insult him with Taco Bell. He’s an actual monster. One false move and he’s liable to tear me apart limb from limb. I always imagined him having orangutan-like strength with muscles that feel like pulled rope. The last thing you want to do is have to explain to people that the cute little Tickle-Me guy ripped your nose off.

Once we took our seats and exchanged formalities, I’d jump right in and ask why he doesn’t speak in the first person. After all, he lives on a street dedicated to education and he still says, “Elmo likes roller skating” or whatever it is he likes. Why does no one correct him? Not once has Maria or Gordon ever said, “No, Elmo. I. It’s “I like roller skating”. You sound like a dope.” My only guess is because they fear his orangutan strength. I’ve seen them put their hands on his shoulder. They can feel it for themselves. I knew it.

Once we got grammar out of the way, I’d move on to more pressing issues like how he can still be five years old when I’ve seen him on this show since the mid-80s. Was he born on February 29th? That’s the only possible explanation. Even so, it feels like a cop-out.

By now, I’m sure we’ve built a rapport, probably five glasses into that second bottle of wine, and sharing battle stories from wars we didn’t fight in. We’re belting out Billy Joel hits and getting hard glares from the Grovers and Gonzos at the tables around us. I can be a little more open and ask what I really want to know.

How do you do it, Elmo? How did you manage to captivate my kids?

I mean, my daughter carried a doll of yours around for years. From the bassinet to the start of grade school, she had a stuffed cotton version of you that started fluffy before eventually earning the nickname “Ratty Elmo”. It looked just like the name implies. The fur was matted to its dilapidated body. The nose was hanging on by a thread. Yet, my little girl loved it like there was no tomorrow. It’s gone now but the memory lives on. We talk about it today as if it was a pet that passed away.

My son has autism and, even during the hardest times I had communicating with him, he always perked up for you, Elmo. Maybe it was helium-inspired voice or the song parodies you sang based on Goo Goo Doll hits. All I know is that when Lucas was at his most difficult-to-reach days, he was always ready to watch Elmo’s World. As years went on, it became Elmo The Musical. I’m sure he’ll be on board with whatever comes along next. Elmo Fight Club? Sign him up. He’s in.

In fact, it’s my boy who has kept you relevant in my household. You could have been relegated to memory status like DJ Lance, Wow Wow Wubzy, Max, and Ruby. My daughter’s childhood shows faded away. But Lucas keeps you alive an well. You’re remained in my life far beyond I ever expected and you don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

I never dreamed that this monster would play such a pivotal role in my adulthood, but here he is. I’m in my forties and I’ve probably seen Elmo on television more than any other celebrity. He’s reached my kids at times when I couldn’t. He still does it to this day. To think, I used to find him annoying.

Secret? I still find him annoying. My kids loved him though. For that, he gets a pass. In fact, for that, he earns my respect. As a dad, it’s easy to come down on television and screen time, but without this show, my children and I would have missed out on some major moments. In our house, Elmo is a star. And I’m not just saying that because I think he could kill me.

Although, it’s definitely a part of it.

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