Today, we are pleased to present “A Suggestion” by New Voices author Lee Conell. In this pithy piece of flash, a man in a transitional phase of his life meets an Elmo impersonator at a bar. With his curiosity piqued, the man ventures to Times Square to witness the Elmos at work.
One summer afternoon, in a bar in Hell’s Kitchen, I met a guy who looked pretty normal. I mean, he looked pretty much like me: receding hairline, dark eyes. But when I asked him what he did for a living, he said, “Don’t laugh, man. I’ll tell you what I do, but don’t laugh.”
I promised I wouldn’t.
“I dress up as Elmo.” He grinned. “You know, the Muppet? The red one?” He said, “That’s my job.”
Impersonating Elmo, the man said, was tougher than it looked. Not only was the Elmo suit itself pricey, but you competed against a phalanx of Elmo impersonators dressed just like you, all hustling for tourist dollars. You had to not only gain tourists’ attention, but hold their attention long enough for them to take a photograph with you. After the photograph, you asked for money, working a fine strain of aggression into the request. The tourists were usually too embarrassed to refuse a Muppet, their kids being right there and all.
“You got kids?” the man asked me. “A wife?”
“I have an ex-wife.” I thought about her shiny hair and added, “She’s in computers.”
“I should have gone into computers.”
“She makes a lot of money.” I turned my drink around on its coaster.
“Hey, man. It’s okay to be mad.”
“I’m not mad,” I said.
“Where do you work?”
I’d lost my job in the recession. Why else would I be here, I asked, in the middle of the afternoon?
The man downed his beer and looked at me. “Maybe you should think about buying a suit.”
“I have a suit.”
He said, “You know what I mean.”