ELMO

No one signs up to be a Times Square Elmo. It’s not anybody’s lifelong dream. And for good reason! The suit is hot, the hours are long, and worst of all, you’re forced into near-constant interaction with the most god-awful, soulless species of subhuman ever to grace the planet: the New York City tourist. Ugh! Fanny packs, cankles, sweat, dripping sunscreen. The whole nine yards. It’s disgusting. Some might even say humiliating. Look, I’m not going to lie to you. Putting on the suit each day is a struggle. Standing in Times Square, begging for tips, dancing for quarters like a monkey in some cheap circus. It’s a tough life, I tell you. A tough, tough life.

But you know what? I make it work. There are ways to make a living out of anything. Heck, if you do it right, you can even make a killing.

Let me give you just one example.

The other day, this woman comes up to me for a photo. Now, this woman – though I hesitate to even use that word – is one of the most repugnant creatures I’ve ever seen. Three hundred pounds of seething flesh and fat. Bulldyke haircut. Tye dye Tweety Bird tee. Khaki shorts. Dear God, the shorts! I get the shivers just thinking about it. She’s got these rolls of fat billowing out from beneath her shorts. Her calves and ankles are like fucking oceans. And these fat rolls, they’re positively teeming with movement. Rolling over each other, blubbering up and down. It’s like they’ve got a mind of their own, throbbing here and there in all directions. The varicose veins alone could have formed their own society. There are thousands of them, wiggling and jiggling through the fat like little snakes. The craziest part is, I can actually feel this extraordinary specimen of sexless middle American mediocrity before I see her. The ground shakes noticeably with each one of her footfalls. At first I’m thinking, gee, I don’t remember there being earthquakes in the forecast. And then I see her, coming around the corner of Forty-First and Broadway. The first thing I think is, oh God, it’s one of those giant worms from the movie Tremors with Kevin Bacon. Then I think no, actually it’s just an elephant. I’ve got to do a triple-take to even confirm that it’s a human being.

Finally, when she’s just a few yards away I notice she has a child. Oh, hohoho. This changes things. A child, to an Elmo, means one thing, and one thing alone: Payday.

Now, this kid is the frailest, most sickly-looking infant I’ve ever seen. He’s as pale as a maggot, and as skinny as an earthworm. He’s sticking close to the bulging calves of his mother, obviously terrified they might get separated in the crowd. Of course, by doing this he’s exposing himself to a potentially even greater calamity: being crushed to death by the elephantine feet of Big Mama. The poor tyke’s darting between her legs, racing back and forth like the Road Runner from Looney Toons. Every so often, one of the fat rolls whacks him in the back of the head and sends him sprawling. Then, he’s got to roll out of the way to avoid getting flattened. The mother notices none of it. She stares straight ahead as she marches along like a Civil War soldier. She is intent, driven. She’s only got eyes for one thing: the gaggle of Elmos milling about in the halogen glow of the Cup Noodles billboard. This bitch wants a souvenir photo, god damn it. And she’s going to get one.

Now, by this point many of the other Elmos have scattered and run for cover. And hey, who can blame them? The earthquake induced by the woman’s approach is maxing out the Richter scale. People are falling to the ground left and right. Debris is flying off of buildings. Me, I’m holding fast. I plant my feet firmly against the pavement. Keep my furry head held high. This is how I do it, baby. This is how I roll.

Look. There’s a finesse to being an Elmo. A certain je ne sais quois to the hustle. You’ve got to lure them in. You’ve got to entice them. They have to want you. They have to believe it’s their choice. You don’t want to be the cleanest Elmo of the bunch, or the biggest, or the closest to looking like the real Elmo. If you stand out too much, if you’re too polished, too perfect, the other Elmos are going to get jealous. I’ve seen Elmos get beaten to a pulp for the mere crime of verisimilitude. At the same time, you don’t want to be too ratty-looking, either. You’ve got to find the sweet spot right in the middle. You’ve got to be better than all the other Elmos, but in a way that’s not too conspicuous. What’s the solution, you ask? Well, as with most things, the devil’s in the details. Once a week, I soak my suit in the special blend of pheromones they put in McDonald’s cheeseburgers. My buddy Tony is a delivery driver for Mickey D’s. He gets me whole cases of the stuff. Costs me a mint to buy in quantity, but it’s worth it for the dollars I rake in in tips. I swear, one whiff of my pheromone-drenched fur and it’s over for these Bread Basket motherfuckers.

I’ve also long been a practitioner of a hypnotic technique known as The Great Lull. I was taught The Great Lull by my guru, Sri Naghwandhi Bhagandhi, ascended master and founder of the Order of the Bloated Lotus. I lived on Sri Bhagandhi’s ashram outside of Hoboken for three years in my early twenties. After graduating from Bronx Community College with an Associate’s Degree in Business Marketing and Management (awarded cum laude, I might add), I had what you might call a crisis of faith. I didn’t know what my purpose in life was. I’d been raised Catholic, but the rituals and ceremonies of the church had long since become hollow, meaningless gestures, shadow-signals devoid of any transcendent meaning. I began working at a beef processing plant in Hackensack, New Jersey. Now there’s a dirty job. The cows would get motored in on a giant conveyor belt, hanging from their ankles, still gushing blood from the freshly-cut gashes in their throats. Then a whole crew of us guys would start hacking away at the muscles and flesh with machetes until voila! A perfect stack of juicy steaks, ready to be plopped on styrofoam trays, shrink wrapped, and shipped to your nearest supermarket.

Man, was that hard work! Fourteen hours a day I worked in that abattoir, six days a week. Made good money, too. Good enough to afford rent on a two-bedroom condo with wall-to-wall carpeting in Jersey City. Nice area, too. And the building had all the amenities you could ask for. I was living the American Dream. A walking, talking symbol of what can happen with hard work and perseverance. And the women! My God, the women. I couldn’t keep them off me. I was batting bitches away left and right. It must have had something to do with how ripped I’d gotten working at the plant. Either that, or the smell of blood turned them on. Who can say, really? Who can unravel the inscrutable tangle of motives buried in the heart of the female sex? Certainly not me. Hey. I had my fun. I messed around. But mostly, I just lived for the grind. No woman ever gave me as much pleasure as I got from the sweet, sweet feeling of that weekly paycheck hitting my direct deposit. Whoo-ee! Cha-CHING!

But something was off. I couldn’t figure it out. I had everything I needed, everything I dreamed of, and more. There was something missing in my life, a hole in my heart. Some nights I’d lie awake on my circular novelty bachelor mattress, tossing and turning and wondering what was wrong. I wouldn’t say I prayed, necessarily. Just asked questions silently in my head. Questions like, what am I here for? What is my purpose? And why am I on this stinking rock, anyway? I never expected an answer. But nevertheless, one day, one came.

My local bodega was owned by a gentleman named Mohammed Mohammed. Mohammed Mohammed was the smoothest hustler I ever met. His bodega was beautiful. It sparkled. There was a crystal chandelier in the middle of the ceiling. That guy sold everything. He sold cigarettes for five dollars below the state minimum. He sold synthetic marijuana, salvia, weird lab-created hallucinogens in little foil packets. His selection of bongs and glass pipes was the finest in the tri-state area. Or so he claimed. I used to stop by Mohammed’s bodega after work most days to pick up a 40 ounce bottle of King Cobra and a Wise Owl flavored cigar. I know most people use those things to roll up grass, but me, I just like the flavored tobacco. Tutti frutti, white raspberry, rum raisin. Mmm. Man, those things are great.

Anyway, one night while unpacking my purchases I was surprised to find a small pamphlet tucked between a grape- and a clementine-flavored cigar. The pamphlet advertised a place called the Ashram of Perpetual Engorgement. Do you lack purpose? read the pamphlet. Do you hunger for higher knowledge? Join us at the Ashram of Perpetual Engorgement. Let your hunger lead you here.

There were photographs of the ashram on the inside flaps of the pamphlet. Long-haired people in brightly colored robes stood before gazebos and little decorative ponds, holding roasted turkey legs, ice cream cones, and other delicious-looking foods. Most of the people did look pretty engorged. But there was something else about them. They looked enlightened. They looked happy. Theirs was a thick, muscular type of bulk. They looked strong and spiritually radiant. On the back of the pamphlet was a photo of Sri Naghwandhi Bagandhi. His beautiful dark eyes seemed to penetrate through to my very soul. He saw through to the heart of me. He understood me. He called out to me. And reader, I answered the call.

Within two weeks I’d given up all my worldly possessions and gone to live at the Ashram of Perpetual Engorgement. For my entire first year at the ashram, I never even saw Sri Bhagandhi. The guru kept himself pretty scarce. Me and the other novices had to wake up every day at 4 a.m. We’d do our morning prayers and chanting, then immediately get to work. We cleaned and we cooked and we tended the gardens. We did the shopping, the sewing, the plumbing, all the building maintenance and repairs. We wore black robes, to signify the empty, yearning pit of our stomachs, and our souls. We weren’t allowed to speak, except for the chanting. The second-years taught us rudimentary signs we could do with our hands when we needed to express something. All we could eat was salted rice porridge and cabbage soup. Two meals per day. We slept on wooden cots in dormitory-style rooms, six cots to a room, one novice per cot. I’m not going to lie to you. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. But only through struggle can progress be made. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

At the end of our first year, a great banquet was held. I’ve never seen such a spread in all my life. There were two dozen different curries and half as many styles of rice. There were whole roast turkeys and chickens, charred bright red with Tandoori spices. There were grilled vegetable dishes, hot samosas, flatbreads, stewed spinach, peas with paneer cheese, soups, salads. Everything you could ask for. For dessert, great bucketfuls of ice cream appeared on the tables, with dishes of sliced peaches floating in delicate nectar to drizzle over as a topping. And the most incredible part was, the more I ate, the more enlightened I felt. The food seemed to nourish not just my body, but my spirit as well. After a year of emptying myself out, I was finally beginning to understand what engorgement was all about.

After the dinner was over, we all filed outside to the courtyard, where a great bonfire had been lit. There, standing in the flickering light of the fire, was Sri Nhagwandhi Bhagandhi. It was the first time I’d seen him in the flesh. I swear the man was glowing. He was as thick as a redwood tree, regal and proud in his orange master’s robes. Opposite the guru was a third-year disciple holding the end of a long chain. The other end of the chain was wrapped around the neck of an enormous Siberian tiger. The tiger paced back and forth, eyeing the guru hungrily. But Sri Bhagandhi was unbothered. He shrugged out of his robes and displayed himself before us, fully nude. He beat his chest and let out a magnificent roar. Even the tiger seemed to shrink back in awe. Sri Bhagandhi turned to face the beast, then nodded. The disciple released the animal from its chains. The two adversaries circled each other slowly, each waiting for the other to make his move.

Finally, the tiger lunged. The guru hopped out of the way easily, spinning on his heel as he landed and, in one fluid motion, launching himself onto the tiger’s back. He wrapped his thick forearm around the tiger’s neck and squeezed. The beast whipped its head from side to side, bucking like a bronco, trying as hard as it could to roll the guru off. But it was no use. The tiger had met its match. After a minute or two, it was all over. The tiger gave one final kick, and then it was still. But the spectacle did not end there.

Me and the other disciples watched in awe as Sri Naghwandhi Bhagandhi, still fully nude, tore the tiger limb from limb with his bare hands, shoveling humongous hunks of tiger meat into his mouth. He slurped up the intestines like spaghetti. He threw the eyeballs up in the air like grapes, then caught them in his mouth. He ground the bones to dust with his fists, then got down on all fours and licked it up. The last thing left was the tiger’s heart. The guru held the heart in both hands for all of us to see. Then, it was like his jaw came unhinged. The edges of his mouth stretched open in all directions. He held the heart to his lips and sucked. The heart disappeared down his gullet. I could see its outline pushing against the skin of his neck, like a snake swallowing a rodent. When he’d finished, he just stood there, radiant and glowing. I swear at that moment he looked twelve feet tall. He was as big as an ox. As big as heaven itself. He smiled at all of us, and I felt myself cleansed in his Christ-like benevolence.

Then he let out a giant belch.

From that moment on, I was obsessed with Sri Bhagandhi. I wanted to be just like him. For my remaining two years on the ashram, I dedicated myself to learning the sacred art of engorgement. I memorized every chant. I practiced meditation for hours each day. Most important, I stuffed myself with every food I could get my hands on. I ate so much it was unbelievable. I could feel the food nourishing the deepest parts of me, unraveling the mysteries of life and death, of God and Earth and the meaning of everything.

At the end of three years, each disciple was invited into Sri Bhagandhi’s chambers for a personal interview. We were each allowed to ask the guru a single question. I thought about my question for weeks ahead of time. When I finally found myself face to face with the master, I knew just what to ask. For the first few moments of the interview, I allowed myself to simply bask in the guru’s presence. In the rarefied atmosphere of his private chambers, Sri Bhagandhi looked like an alien from outer space. Heck, for all I know, he was an alien. I admired his long, lustrous locks, and absorbed the benevolence from his kindly expression. Finally, when I could no longer bear the silence, I spoke.

“Oh wise master,” I said. “I have memorized every chant. I have meditated for hours on end. I have engorged myself every day under your beneficent tutelage. But I still have one doubt. I feel on the verge of enlightenment, and yet, I still don’t know what my purpose in life is! Tell me, wise master. What is my purpose? What am I here for? What am I to do, when I leave the safety and warmth of these familiar walls?”

Sri Bhagandhi threw back his head and laughed.

“Your purpose?” he said. “Silly child! You do not know that yet? You do not yet see all I have taught you? Your purpose, my son, is the hustle. You must hustle and hustle, climbing higher and higher, until you’ve hustled all the way to the heaven, where you will meet God, the greatest hustler of all.”

That’s when Sri Bhagandhi taught me The Great Lull. To my knowledge, I’m the only one of his disciples who ever learned it. I’ll never know why he took such a liking to me. But I took his message to heart. As soon as I re-entered society, I made the hustle my business. I made it my life’s work, and my one true passion. My operation started small. In the beginning, it was just me, a telephone, and a voice modulator. The way I did it was, I’d cold call landlines between the hours of three and five p.m. That way, I could catch all the kids who’d gotten home from school before their parents finished work. I used the voice modulator to change my voice into the voices of various popular cartoon characters. Then I’d read the kids a message. The message went something like this:

“Hey kids, it’s me, Spongebob! Boy, I sure would like to get a Happy Meal from McDonald’s. But I don’t have any money. Boo! Please, go find your parents’ credit card and read me the numbers.”

Using this script, combined with my training in the Great Lull, I reached a success rate of over ninety percent on my fraudulent calls. The marks never knew what hit them. The kids would put the credit cards back where they found them, and no one was any the wiser. Until that month’s statement came in the mail, of course. At first I used the cards myself, buying up expensive merchandise at big box stores, which I could later trade for cash on the black market. Eventually, however, a more direct approach became necessary. For this, I turned to someone from my past: my old pal, Mohammed Mohammed.

Man, you should have seen his face when I walked into that bodega. He sprang from behind the counter and ran to greet me, squeezing my hand in his and pumping my arm so hard I thought he would dislocate my shoulder.

“Mohammed Mohammed,” I said. “How can I ever repay you? That pamphlet changed my life. You are responsible for my happiness, my success in life and in business. There must be something I can do in return, though in truth, I can hardly imagine a favor to rival the one you’ve done for me.”

“Nonsense,” said Mohammed Mohammed. He was all smiles, friendliness and warmth. “My friend, I knew from the moment we met, that you were a man after my own heart. As they are fond of saying in this beautiful country, ‘real recognizes real.’ If there is anything I can do for you, any small way I can be of service, please do not hesitate to ask.”

“Well,” I said. “Now that you mention it, there is one thing. You see, I’ve gotten to a position in my business where I need extra help. I can’t handle everything on my own. I need someone who will buy these credit card numbers directly. And I think I’m going to need an employee.”

Mohammed Mohammed scratched his head.

“Hmmm,” he said. “Well, as to the credit cards, you happen to be in luck. I will purchase the numbers directly from you, my friend. As for employees, I believe I have just the thing.”

His eyes twinkled as he handed me a business card. On the card was written the the following:

Flopstick

917-666-8414

“Call the number on this card, my friend,” said Mohammed Mohammed. “The one who answers will help with what you need.”

That very night I called the number on the card. Within an hour of speaking to the person on the other line, there was a knock at my apartment door. When I opened it, at first I saw no one. I looked to the left, then to the right. Finally, I heard someone clearing their throat. The sound was coming from the level of my knees. I looked down, and lo and behold, there, standing before me, was the gayest little eight-year-old I’d ever seen. And I don’t mean “gay” in a derogatory way. It’s just how he was. That little bastard was more flaming than a cross at a KKK rally.

“Yaaaaaas,” he said, snapping his fingers and posing with his hands in front of his face. “I’m Flopstick, hunty. I’m the baddest bitch in the five boroughs, mawma. You betta recognize!”

He spun around in a circle, jumped up in the air and landed on the floor in a full split. Then he jumped to his feet again and bowed. He was dressed like a Victorian street urchin. Tunic, little cap, stockinged feet. I brought him inside and sat him down at the table. He explained that he was the leader of a gang of homosexual orphans who modeled their lifestyle after the pickpockets from Oliver Twist. I have to admit, I found the child enchanting. He had a bubbly, vivacious personality, and was full of style and fashion tips to boot.

Within thirty minutes we had hammered out a deal. And just like that, my empire was born.

Man, did I love those gay little orphans. I loved them like they were my own children. There was Chuzzle, Flopstick of course, Jimmy Rig, Dingleberry, C Nugz, Flam, Fig Drizzle, Bubble Yum, Newman, Crispin, Tox, Balboa, Corn Nut, Doohickey, Bobcat, Ringworm, Fiddle Faddle, Bolus, Shopping Spree, Turtle, Chipmunk, Judge Joe Brown, Ovaltine, Valentine, Knick Knack, and, last but not least, Paul. Paul was actually a girl, the only one in the group. Her parents, hoping for a boy, picked out the name before she was born. They chose Paul because it belonged to their favorite YouTube celebrities, Jake and Logan Paul. They figured if they named their kid after the Pauls, it was bound to get rich. But when her parents both died in a tragic indoor skydiving accident, Paul became destitute. She had no other family to speak of. She bounced around in foster care a few years before running away and joining up with the boys.

For five beautiful years, everything was great. The orphans were perfect. They worked hard, they never complained, and best of all, I could pay them in candy. Starburst, Bubble Tape, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. It was all they really cared about. I sold thousands of credit card numbers to Mohammed Mohammed each week. In no time at all, I was rich.

But you know what they say. Pride comes before the fall. I never really knew what that phrase meant, until I experienced it myself. But oh, did I experience it. Reader, did I ever.

By this time I was living it up in lower Manhattan. I had a beautiful two-story condo in a building called the Montgomery Clift, down on Bleecker Street. Stainless steel appliances. Marble bathtub. Full-time housekeeper. The works. I had a call center downstairs, where five or six orphans sat all day and night making fraudulent calls. By this time, I weighed two hundred and sixty pounds and my hair was down to my ankles, in accordance with Bloated Lotus principles. It took a lot of work to maintain all that hair. Each week I’d go to the salon for a blowout. I know it’s not very manly of me, but trust me, it was necessary.

One night, when I returned from my hair appointment, I had a most peculiar encounter. I’d just parked my Mercedes in my building’s garage, and was walking to the entrance, when a figure appeared from the shadows and blocked my path.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said the figure, in a melodious female voice. “I’m a friend. I just need a moment of your time.”

I thought about running, but decided against it. The woman was the size and shape of a large refrigerator. She was wearing a trenchcoat and a hat that covered the top part of her face. Even taking into account my voluminous bulk, I wasn’t sure I could take her. There was something about her that frightened me. I didn’t know if she was armed, either. The best course of action was to let her speak.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m listening.”

“I’ll get straight to the point,” she said. “I have been sent to deliver a message. The party I represent is prepared to offer a considerable sum for each child you deliver into my care. For each –”

“Hold on a minute,” I said. “You want to buy my orphans? No way! Not a chance. Those kids, they’re like my family. No amount of money could change my mind.”

The woman smiled, then handed me a slip of paper. When I saw the number written upon it, my eyes nearly bulged clear out of my skull.

“You can’t be serious,” I said.

“Do I look like I’m joking?” said the woman.

I have to admit it: she did not.

Look. I know it’s not right. I shouldn’t have done it. But I had so many expenses. Mohammed Mohammed had recently raised the cut he took from buying my credit card numbers. Plus, the telephone companies were beginning to get wise to scammers like me. More and more people had caller ID installed. And the systems were getting smarter, too. Better able to recognize where calls were coming from, and to label them as fraudulent. I was beginning to feel squeezed from all directions. I’m ashamed to admit it, dear reader. But I did it. I began to sell my orphans to the refrigerator lady.

At first, I took it slow. I didn’t want the kids getting suspicious. I kept it to one sale every six months. At that rate, nobody would get wise. Orphans disappear all the time. There was no reason to suspect me. And, at least for a while, nobody did. Suspect me, I mean. Flopstick and the gang mourned their lost brethren, and I mourned right along with them. We mourned, and finished mourning, then got on with our lives. C’est la vie, c’est la va. So it goes.

But then something happened. Something inside me snapped. My eyes got too big for my stomach, you might say. My hunger got a little too vast. A six-story condominium was opening up in Trump Tower. It had always been my dream to live in the same building as my hero, Donald Trump. The only problem was, I didn’t have enough for a down payment. I could handle the monthly mortgage, no problem. I just needed a cash infusion. A big, quick payday. I figured, what harm could it do? I wouldn’t get in the habit of selling multiple orphans at once. It would just be one time. No hassle, no haggle.

It was a late night. The wee hours of the morning. Crispin, Tox, Fig Drizzle and Bubble Yum were finishing up their shift at the call center. I was in the kitchen, pouring milk and ice cream and GHB into my Vitamix 5200.

“Boys,” I shouted. “You’ve worked so hard tonight, why not turn in early? How about a milkshake? Hope you like chocolate!”

The orphans sashayed into the kitchen, dancing and twirling and chattering excitedly. I divided the GHB-laced shake into four glasses, and watched the orphans chug them down. Within minutes, they were sleeping on the tile floor like babies. They looked so innocent, so sweet. I felt a twinge of remorse as I shoved the children into burlap sacks. But by the time I’d lugged them down to the garage where the refrigerator lady was waiting with her black limousine, I was elated. I couldn’t believe it: finally, I’d get to live in Trump Tower. I was over the moon. On top of the world. Nothing could bring me down. I’d taken a small hit of the GHB myself, so maybe that added a bit to my euphoria. But whatever the cause, I was feeling good.

I never found out what happened to all the orphans I sold. I did hear a rumor about a businessman in Chicago who got busted with a bunch of street kids in his house. I guess he liked to cut their arms and legs off and make little pillows out of them. Some people are just sick, man. I hope my orphans didn’t end up with him.

Anyway, my excitement didn’t last long. As soon as I was back in the apartment, the telephone rang.

“Hello?” I said.

“They know,” said the voice on the other line.

My heart sank. I hung up the receiver and walked to the elevator. I reached out to press the “down” button. When my hand was halfway to the button, I stopped. On the LED panel above the door, the numbers were going up. The orphans were already on their way. I had no time to think. I had to act. I ran to the fire stairs. I took them two by two, racing to the top. I burst out onto the building’s roof. It was a cloudless night, but there were no stars. A giant full moon lit up the sky. Cool air filled my lungs. All of a sudden it hit me: my empire had fallen. But it didn’t feel bad. It felt good. Amazing, actually. For the first time in years, I felt free.

Do you think I’m a coward? Because I’m not. I’m just realistic. I knew from experience that those orphans did not fuck around. Don’t let their fabulousness fool you. Flopstick and the gang were stone-cold killers. And they outnumbered me in droves. I knew they wouldn’t spare me. Not after what I’d done. So I did the only thing I could. I jumped from my roof to the next building over. I shimmied down the fire escape and into the alley. I snuck past the orphans standing guard in the area around my building. And I went to the one place where I knew I’d be safe.

Mohammed Mohommed smiled as I crossed the threshold. He didn’t seem surprised to see me at all.

“Hello, my friend,” said Mohammed Mohammed. “What will it be today? Tutti frutti? Banana?”

“Not today, boss,” I said. “Today I need to ask for one last favor. And it’s a doozy, I’m afraid.”

“Anything I can do to help, sir. If it is in my power, it shall be done.”

I’ve got to admit it: I owe my life to that guy. He set me up with a beautiful hovel in the secret tunnels below his bodega, with a flat screen TV and a queen size Casper mattress, like the ones they advertise on all the subway cars. The hovel has no window, but what do I care? I’ve never been a big fan of sunlight anyway. It’s so shiny and bright. Who needs it?

Mohammed Mohammed gave me my Elmo suit, too. He’s some guy. A true friend. A boon companion. It’s funny, when you think about it. He’s given me so much. He gave me the Ashram of Perpetual Engorgement. He gave me Flopstick, and the orphans. He gave me cash for my credit card numbers. He gave me a place to live when I had nothing. And now, it’s kind of like I owe him everything. If I think about it too much, I almost start getting suspicious. Like maybe he planned all of this. Maybe he was the architect of my rise and my fall. Like maybe him and Sri Bhagandhi and the refrigerator lady were all in cahoots, plotting my downfall. I never did find out who tipped off the orphans. Was it Mohammed Mohammed?

Eh. Probably not. It’s probably just all in my head.

But anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Big Mama.

So there we all are. Me, Big Mama, and the little infant. And I’m about to seal the deal. I’m utilizing my hypnotic skills to the best of my ability. And it’s working, dear reader. Oh, is it working.

“Delbert,” says the woman. “Go on over and give Elmo a big hug.”

Delbert is scared to death by the proposition of entering my vicinity, but nevertheless obeys his mother’s command. He totters over to where I’m standing. I kneel down, wrapping my arm around his shoulder and pulling him in close.

Now, this is where Paul comes in. Yeah, that Paul. She’s the one orphan who stuck by me in the aftermath of Flopstick’s rebellion. I’m not sure why she chose me. Maybe she just couldn’t handle all that fabulous energy. Anyway, Paul runs over to the woman and starts bawling her eyes out. She can’t find her mommy, she says. They got separated. She has to go to the bathroom. She screams and she cries. Boy, is she a pro. Every time the woman tries to comfort her, she screams even louder.

Meanwhile, I go to work on little Delbert. I slide one hand into my red fur haversack and pull out a switchblade. I flick the knife open and press the point into the small of his back. He whimpers a little. I feel him try to pull away. My grip on his forearm tightens. I lean my big furry head down to the kid’s ear and begin to whisper.

“Say one word, kid, and I’ll stick this knife up your ass. I’ll slice your spine up the middle and your guts’ll come flopping out your butt hole. Then I’ll cut your mother’s head off and stick my dick down the hole where her throat used to be. I’ll shoot my juice down there ‘till it fills up her stomach and she explodes. And you’ll be lying there like a gutted fish, flopping around, watching your own mother blown to smithereens as you bleed out. You don’t want that to happen, now do you?”

The kid shakes his head, eyes wide in terror.

“Good,” I say. “Now listen very carefully. Be a good boy. Go up to your mother, now. Sneak up behind her. Unclasp her fanny pack and bring it on over. But don’t let her see you! Remember what I told you. If she catches you, I’ll kill you both. I’ll kill your god damn mother, kid, and it’ll be all your fault.”

Then I let him go. He does just what I tell him, of course. He grabs the fanny pack, and mama’s never the wiser. By the time she notices anything’s wrong, I’ll be long gone. Vanished in a crowd of fifty other Elmos. There’s no way to tell us apart. That’s the genius of the thing. Nobody knows who I am. I’m hidden in plain sight.

That particular scam brought in a hundred and eighteen bucks. Paul gets twenty percent. The credit cards I sell to Mohammed Mohammed, just like old times. He keeps a bigger cut now than he used to. Most of it goes towards the rent on my underground hovel. I owe Mohammed Mohammed a lot in back rent. It’s not a cheap situation. Come to think of it, I have no idea how I’m going to pay him back everything I owe him. Funny how these things work, isn’t it? How one day, you’re on top of the world, and the next, you’re in a cheeseburger-smelling Elmo suit, slapping a handful of sweaty bills on the counter of your best friend’s bodega, pretending like he doesn’t own your very existence. Life is funny, I tell you. It sure is funny.

What I do know, is that this is only temporary. I’ll find my way out, and I’ll find my way up. I’ll hustle my way higher and higher, just like Sri Bhagandhi said. I’ll hustle all the way up to heaven, and meet God. ‘Cause I’m all about that hustle, baby. It’s what I live for. It’s what I do. 

— Todd Matthews is an author and CEO from Binghamton, New York.