The Gross National Debt

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dark Humor in the style of National Lampoon

This is a piece I wrote years ago. It's long. It's also, to me anyway, brilliant. There is a part II to this, which is also long and also brilliant.

This is not for kids.

There was a time when he was No. 1, the big monster on the street, the idol of every child's eye, the one who everyone looked up to. He had many roles back then, a caped superhero, a bumbling waiter, and of course he was the star of Monster At The End Of This Book, a frightening, and some would say foretelling, journey into the psyche of the mind of a veritable genius. So what went wrong? Which turn on the way to get to Sesame Street did Grover, the Furry Blue Monster pass by? We sent our undercover reporter John Diamond on the trail of Grover to find out exactly where this tale of fun and games went so horribly wrong.

Diamond reports: I suspected something was wrong some years back when Rose O'Donnell started making such a huge fuss over the high pitched squeaky voiced and barely able to articulate much less form compound and complex sentences red-furred scab replacement Elmo. I tell you as a Sesame Street veteran, that pipsqueak can't hold a candle to Grover and yet kids today flock to him instead of Grover. Why? I suspect it's the 'Dumbing Down of America.' Kids today just can't handle the more eloquent and sagacious Grover, so they have turned to more simplistic Elmo.

I really didn't know what to expect when I met Grover. I knew he was still on Sesame Street, still working but not with the same frenetic schedule he used to have. I also knew that many of the Sesame Street regulars were no longer around, having been replaced by younger, fresher faces. Age does not sit well with the youth of today apparently.

I met Grover in his brownstone on Thyme Avenue a few blocks from Sesame Street and definitely in the high rent district of this neighborhood. Sweetums, Grover's personal bodyguard met me at the door. I flashed my credentials. Sweetums called up and Grover beeped me through. As I passed, Sweetums frisked me and rumbled, "Sorry about that gov'ner, but I have my orders. You won't believe the crazies trying to get in here these days. Between the right-wing fanatics who believe Barney is the antiChrist and Grover is the world's only saviour and the left-wing commandos bent on a new world order based on the Teletubbies, the boss, he` just don't feel safe no more."

I rode the elevator up to the penthouse while the Sesame Street theme song played softly. At the top, the elevator dinged softly and the doors opened. There was Grover wearing a silk smoking jacket, holding what, to my trained nose, was a well aged bourbon and a smoking one of Castro's finest. Without saying a word, he waved at a small end table just outside the elevator door. A second Grover: of bourbon and a stogie waited my attention. While I fired up, Grover walked into the main room and sat down in a recliner. I sat opposite him and laid my recorder on the table.

DIAMOND: You were once king of the hill. What happened?

GROVER: Man. I don’t have a clue. One day I was riding high, everyone was my friend and the next day, WHAMMO! Man. I’m telling you it came from nowhere. No warning signs. No nothing I went from hero to damn near zero. It was incredible.

SUPERGROVER at the top of his game.

DIAMOND: You had no warning signs that your were about to be dethroned then?

GROVER: None. And if by saying be dethroned, you mean that sniveling little (*&&#$ Elmo, ^&%$^% no. I never saw it coming. Ungrateful little bastard. You know, I took him under my wing, to turn a phrase. I helped him. I got him started. I talked to the producers and got Elmo his stint on the show. If it wasn’t for me, he would have been cleaned up by the street sweepers that same afternoon I found him. Yeah, I am bitter about it. I opened my home to him, helped him get started, gave him clothes, money, loaned him a car, fixed him up with Zoe and what does he do? Never looked back.

Elmo and SuperGrover in the beginning.

DIAMOND: You found Elmo? Where?

GROVER: It was one day after we were done shooting. Oscar and I were shooting the breeze at his garbage can when we heard this moaning from back behind the cans. Oscar, he didn’t pay it a bit of mind. “I love the sounds of a big city,” were his exact words. Me, I just had to look. Could have been one of the kids you know? Man, I couldn’t stomach anything happening to those kids. Just couldn’t. Oscar, well, he’s a different story. You should sometime pull a background check on him. Nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I mean NOTHING bro. The monster absolutely does not exist on paper. Does that tell you something?

Anyway, I looked back there and here was this pile of dirty, rancid fur that kept shivering and moaning and whining. When I saw it wasn’t a kid, man I was relieved. As I knelt down to see exactly what it was, I said to Oscar “Man, you need to treat your hookers better.” That’s a joke, see. Oscar doesn’t do hookers. I pushed the pile and it, or rather Elmo, rolled over. “Damn man!” I shouted jumping back. Elmo looked up at me with one eye. His right eye was swollen shut. Someone had beat him hard man. I’m talking laid down on that monster with some serious Louisville Slugger notes. Oscar had closed his can and was probably halfway to Grouchland so I knew he was gonna be no help. As the set was shutting down, the only folks there were the Puerto Ricans we hired to clean up the mess. They didn’t speak English, so they were gonna be absolutely no help. Besides which the union rules prohibited me from talking to them and them from working for me.

Elmo raised a bruised arm to me, three of his fingers broken, and said “help Elmo, please” in that squeaky voice of his. It just about tore me up. I had to help him. No question. I only later found out that voice is just an act and he has a master’s degree from Oxford in England.

Come to think of it, I never did find out why he was beaten up or back behind Oscar’s garbage can. Hmmmm.

DIAMOND: So, you took him to the hospital?

GROVER: No man. The only hospital we have around here is good for having babies. You got something wrong, you either die or get over it.That’s what happened to the original store owner, Mr. Henderson. He got hit by a cab. Nothing we could do. We just all sat around between takes and tried to ease his pain while he died. That night the street sweepers came and hauled his body away with the rest of the trash. It’s a harsh world around here man, much much harder than what you see on the TV show. You’ve heard the expression for every minute of pleasure there must be a minute of pain? Then think about it. Ever see anything really, really bad happen in the show? Of course not.

So no, I took him back to my house. Since the day’s work was over I could do that. If we’d been shooting, there was no way I could have done that. He’d have been left there and probably would have died. The editing crew would have just cut his dying sounds out. I did the best I could for him back at my place. It wasn’t much and I told him so, but the little bugger was determined to make it. If I had known just how far he’d intended to go, I would have left him behind Oscar’s garbage can.

DIAMOND: When did you first realize that Elmo was going to be such a hit?

GROVER: As for an exact date, I go back to that Rosie O’Donnell show where she went on and on about him. Up to that point, he was cool, just another monster on the block. But when she spouted off, he became The Monster on the Block. We co-existed peacefully up til that time.

Elmo and Rosie O'Donnell on the set of Sesame Street

DIAMOND: According to underground publications, you didn’t take that very well. One source says you went on a rampage and threatened Elmo and a few others.

GROVER: Well, yeah, I did. I went ape, man. I tore through that set like an Oklahoma twister through a trailer park. I’m telling you if Gordon hadn’t caught me and calmed me down, I might have done some things you’d still be reading about today.

DIAMOND: Is that the same time your career started to nose dive and you got into drugs?

GROVER: Drugs. How in the hell did you find out about that? Who told you? Man, I swear. Nobody and I mean nobody has a private life around here. [long pause]

DIAMOND: But is it true, the drugs?

GROVER: Well, man, yeah it is. But I’m sober now. Drugs. It was a simple escape from the reality and the pressures and the hell my life had become. I just didn’t know at the time that I couldn’t handle that stuff. Sure, it was fun, but man it nearly killed me on a few occasions. Mr. Snuffleupagus. I owe that hairy mastadon my life three times over. I was gone man, flatliner. He slammed that big ol trunk on me and started a cardio massage that brought me back from the brink. And that tunnel of light stuff you hear from the near death experience people, I didn’t see that. Nothing man. Nothing at all.

DIAMOND: So what did drugs did you do?

GROVER: All of it man. I tried everything. Funny thing is, us monsters, we have a different constitution than humans. Keith Richards, you know him man? From the Stones? Yeah. He used to come by late at night and we’d do heroin. He would be wasted. Me, I didn’t see the point. It did nothing for me and frankly, poking myself with a needle was not a lot of fun. I did it to keep him company. Did cocaine, crack, speed, crank, meth, dust, pot, some ‘ludes smuggled in from Rico by some of the janitors. Drank so much beer I got a massive gut. I lost some of it, but I’m always gonna have some of that beer belly left.

DIAMOND: But you said drugs nearly wrecked you. If they did not affect you, how can that be?

GROVER: Nutmeg man. Nutmeg.

DIAMOND: Nutmeg?

GROVER: I smoked that stuff as a gag one time with some college buddies who came over for a long weekend. They lit up and were getting wired. They passed the pipe to me. I said, “No man, that crap don’t work on me.” They kept after me, and well, I try to be accommodating and it’s just plain rude to keep refusing. So I took a hit.

Man, my world changed.

Grover, whacked out of his mind on nutmeg.

Everything was suddenly so right there man. I was on top of everything. I could handle anything. I was pumped to the max and broke the needle on the stop, man. I was flying, soaring, swimming, tunneling. I was the Egg Man, man. I was the Walrus. I knew it, man. I understood everything.  World hunger, man I solved it. Peace in the Middle East, man I had a treaty that would have left both side hailing me as  their new leader for life.

Then, I came down. I crashed and burned in the worst way. When I hit that tarmac, I kept right on going down, down, down. I was hurting. The only thing I could think about was getting my next fix. I had to have it. I don’t know if you’ve ever been addicted, man, but you go from hit to hit and in between you scramble to get the next one.

DIAMOND: Were you working through this period?

GROVER: Man, you have got to be kidding. When you hear the Children’s Television Workshop owns us, man it is not a joke. Hell yes I worked. Whacked out of my furry blue mind on nutmeg, but I worked. I look back on those episodes now and I can see where I was stoned. And honestly, I have to say some of my work at that time was completely inspired, top rate and career pinnacle stuff. Some of it, I am ashamed to say I was alive at the time. But that good stuff, I should have won an Oscar, the award not the grouch, for that.

Grover and the restaurant customer in what Grover says is his best acting ever.

DIAMOND: What was the best?

GROVER: Oh man, it still brings tears to my eyes. [pause while Grover went in search of a box of tissues.] I never can remember the episode number because I am so hung on that scene. But it’s the one where Fred, the rounded headed guy who plays straight man to my clerk role, walked in to the Italian restaurant where I was a waiter. The repertoire we had in that scene, it was so on. He’d ask me for something off the menu and I would screw it up royally. I have never acted so well in my life and I never will act that well again.

DIAMOND: Who was your connection?

GROVER: Cookie Monster. Nobody thought anything of him walking around with nutmeg all the time. Everyone figured he was making cookies. Some friend he turned out to be.

DIAMOND: When and how did you kick the habit?

GROVER: I woke up one morning in Big Bird’s nest. He was asleep on his side, facing away from me. I have no idea how I got there or what happened. I got up and left without waking him. Neither of us have mentioned it before now. That settled it for me. I went cold turkey. Cookie Monster, the [expletive deleted], kept trying to give me a hit. Even offered it to me for free. But I kept my head screwed on straight and stayed away from it, man.

DIAMOND: On the show, everyone appears to be a great big happy family. Is that the case?

GROVER: Man, what have I just been telling you? You deaf or something?

DIAMOND: What can you tell us about some of your costars?

GROVER: I’m not really the kind to kiss and tell, except for what I’ve already told you. Sure we have problems, but we keep it to ourselves. It’s not because we really want to, we are beings after all, but we have to. We run a children’s show. If we ran around airing our dirty laundry everywhere, our careers would be over. Which begs the question why have I granted this interview? Some times stuff just needs to be set down and put straight. It’s high time for that to be done. Someone has to do it. This is my first and last interview though.

DIAMOND: But what about the rumors? Ernie and Bert being gay?

GROVER: No, they’re not gay, at least to my knowledge. Ernie experimented a few times, but nothing really connected he told me. He and Bert share an apartment because they’re used to each other now. They had to when they started out, sharing expenses kind of thing. Now, they just don’t like the idea of not being roommates. It is a truly platonic relationship. They're like brothers.

Since he’s come out about it, I guess it’s OK for me to talk about it. Big Bird has a massive problem. I forget how old he is, but he’s still not toilet trained. We have to leave newspapers laying all around the set. One of the Ricans comes in right before a shot and shovels the paper out of the way. Meantime we all just pray he’s not going to have an attack right there in front of the camera. Sometimes he slips. Hey. It’s a problem, he knows it and he’s working on it. Poor bird.

DIAMOND: At one time, Monster At The End Of This Book was a best seller and the No. 1 Sesame Street book. There are some who say it’s as much an autobiography, up to that point, as a children’s book. Now, you can’t find it in the stores any more. Do you have a sequel planned?

MONSTER the Sequel. Grover refuses to comment on it.

GROVER: No. That Elmo has captured the market. Besides which, I’m never going to do a sequel. You know, there really is a monster at the end of that book? It scares the fur off me every time I sit down and try to read it. A sequel? I don’t think so.

DIAMOND: How about your comeback career? Any thoughts of a spinoff perhaps?

GROVER: I’m coming back, yeah. The producers finally realized they cannot get rid of me. I am an icon, like it or not. They have to deal with me. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as big as I was, then again I don’t know if I want to be that big. Sometimes that kind of fame is frightening. I could not go out in public without being mobbed almost to death by kids. It’s scary to see a horde of kids come storming toward you. And when you consider some of those kids have loaded diapers... [Grover visibly shudders]

As for a spinoff, highly unlikely. CTW has us right where they want us. We do the show, 5 times a week and that’s it. You may remember Squirty from the first season. He tried to go his own way and do a spinoff. He was found a week later behind the apartment building. At least parts of him were found. The autopsy said his eyes had been used in a championship-caliber game of table tennis. I still have nightmares.

DIAMOND: What does the future hold for this furry blue monster?

GROVER: Good question. I have not given that a lot of thought, because like I said the CTW owns us man. A few have escaped. If I manage to get out, I don’t know, I’ve been smart and invested a lot of money. I can live comfortably with the returns on my investments. Yeah. That’s it man. Buy myself a beachfront bungalow in Venuzula or somewhere, kick back and enjoy life for a while on my terms.


  1. You're right, dark but funny. At least Grover is still around, albeit in a minor role. Miss Piggy and Kermit are gone. That makes me sad.

  2. No, weren't you reading? Kermie and Piggy escaped. They had to do the Muppet Show to make ends meet until they could survive. Now they just act when they want to.


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