Sometimes before I go to bed I like to play a clip of Andrea Bocelli singing Elmo a lullaby. Elmo doesn't want to go to sleep, because he is still excited about his day and all the playing that he did with his friends, but Bocelli gently prods him to close his eyes and give in to his weariness. It always brings a tear to my eye.
Elmo can be grating to certain cold souls, but to the rest of us he's a sweet innocent who refers to himself in the third person.
By now we all know that the hand that has been up Elmo's ass for years has now been tarnished. Puppeteer Kevin Clash has been hit with accusations of engaging in sex with underage partners and been forced to resign. All the fighting in the Middle East, all the talk of secession over here in America, and none of it matches this stunning, depressing news for me. Will Elmo recover? Probably. I've heard enough ironic Elmo impersonations over the years to know that someone else will step up and take over. But what folks don't want to talk about is the fodder this has given the far right, who now have yet another "gay pedophilia" scandal. Men can prey on young girls and just be seen as perverts; men who do so with boys are "gay perverts," or just "gay." Because that's what gay people do. You can't trust them with your children. Sigh.
Well you guessed it, I headed to the Castro this week, my favorite neighborhood. I went to Harvey's, which is named for Harvey Milk. The Castro is loaded with bars, and loaded with food places, but Harvey's is the only large bar that also has food. It's fun to sit by the window and people-and-dog-watch. Everyone who walks by looks well-off, except for the cabal spare-changing outside of Walgreens.
I brought my friend, who wants to be referred to as Chauncey, since the name sounds pretentious and he is not. He is, however, very opinionated, and I had a flashback to the one time he and I had a fight about Ernie and Bert, and whether or not they were gay. This was a big discussion at one time. Chauncey is gay, but refuses to believe that a Muppet could have a sexuality. That argument is of course easy to knock down, because you just have to look at Kermit and Miss Piggy. Also that slut Janice from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.
"Is nothing sacred?" he bellowed. "Do I have to think about a puppet having an afterglow?"
The bartenders at Harvey's are young, not-so-dumb, and seemingly full of cum, as they say, but also friendly and energetic. Chauncey moved on to his third old fashioned after the barkeep plunked it down before him. The drink is trendy right now. Everything old fashioned is new again, San Francisco.
I laid out my argument for the gayness of Ernie and Bert. First, they sleep in the same room with each other. Secondly, they fight like only two lovers can; passion turns to rage turns to bitterness. Third, Ernie puts up with Bert's love of pigeons, something only a lover could do, and Bert lets Ernie sing in the bathtub and loudly squeeze his rubber ducky and eat cookies in bed. I counted off all of these on my fingers, only to glance up to Chauncey's steely glare.
"Muppets are not sexual. They are just Muppets," he said. I pointed out that you don't have to be sexual to be gay. You are just born gay. The comic strip The Family Circus doesn't have sex in it between the parents, but it's implied, because they have a shit-ton of kids. Two gay men cannot have children biologically, so Ernie and Bert have no spawn, but they are still a homosexual couple. It's understood.
"Nooo!" he said, covering up his ears to block out the real world. "It's bad enough that every time I see Elmo I am going to think 'pedo' now."
He had a point. In fact, he sort of shocked me back into my senses. I need the Muppets to be chaste and sexless. I need Elmo to exist on his own, despite whoever is pulling his strings. I need him to play with his friends all day and have a hard time getting to sleep. I need him to be a red version of Grover, another tender little buddy-wuddy. Yes. At this point I also need Ernie and Bert to be to roommates with no genitals and no hard-wired sexuality of any kind.
"You're right," I said, giving up. This was a shock of course, because this is what we do. We come up with something dumb to debate and then squeeze the life out of it and possibly hold a grudge about it for years. Chauncey fell silent, lost. As for me, I recalibrated my Muppet hard drive back to "innocent." I felt a wave of relief. I would watch the Elmo clip that night and just see him as his own little fella, not the extension of an imperfect man.
I knew just what to say. "Old-fashioneds are trendy now." I knew this would bother a dedicated indie dude. He flinched a bit. Then, as expected, he countered with "What makes you say that?" and it was on from there.
Sometimes it's just so easy.