“I found the Cookie Monster in that room,” he told me as he left my downstairs bathroom. His hands were wet – hopefully from having just washed them – and he rubbed them on his jeans for a second. He looked up at me just then, his face unfamiliar still. In less than forty-five minutes I would end up on top of him and fine, maybe that wasn’t my finest or most hard-to-get hour, but I have to go ahead and admit that it was still a really good hour.
He’d already smiled when he saw that my phone’s case has Cookie Monster’s gigantic black and white bobbly eyes splayed across it and he’d seen the “Got Milk?” ad with the furry monster that was framed and hanging on my kitchen wall.
“I like that,” he’d said with a laugh. He used his head to nod towards it in a way that weirdly read to me as confident. And so I told him about the time my former boyfriend and I were driving home from seeing a Jets game and how we were in standstill gridlock after it had already taken just about forever to make it out of the parking lot of the stadium. An entire CD had played all the way through and we still were nowhere close to the New York border and I was contemplating moving to New Jersey just so I could say I was already home and that’s when I saw a flash of electric blue up ahead on a billboard. It was Cookie, my all-time favorite monster, and chocolate chip cookies, his all-time favorite snack, surrounded him. He held an empty glass and the words for the milk campaign were emblazoned above his head and in the background of the car in which I sat I could still hear the sounds of a very disgruntled boyfriend who was annoyed with the team for losing and annoyed with the unwavering traffic for being unwavering and annoyed with his girlfriend for saying things like, “There’s nothing we can do. Thousands and thousands of people just left a parking lot at the exact same time. There’s gonna be traffic. Now, would it make you feel better if I took off my shirt?” Truth be told, by the time I got to the topless offer, he’d already shut down. He was grumpy from my attempts to calm him. Looking back, I owe that guy a lot because he taught me to let men deal with their shit on their own terms and in their own time and just be there when they eventually ask for some comfort instead of trying to turn the situation into something better.
It’s funny: I knew already in that car on that day after that game that this guy and I wouldn’t end up together. I also knew that I was going to have to be the one to end it and I really wasn’t looking forward to that conversation or to the overlapping weeks that followed where I questioned whether or not I’d made the right choice, a pattern that was a habit and not really driven by any sort of genuine conflicting feelings. But still, in that car on that night, it didn’t matter that my boyfriend was in a shitty mood or that I had no desire anymore to flash him or that soon I’d answer, “Nope! I’m single!” to people when they asked me outright when I stood on a city street very late at night with a few of my friends. All that mattered right then was that I could see a glimpse of Cookie Monster in the distance, lording over the skyline as only he should. I reacted to the sight of plush blue like Fitzgerald probably wanted the reader to react to the sign above the highway in The Great Gatsby that advertised the services of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, which is to say that it haunted me and I had to have that advertisement immediately.
After a while his mood faded and my boyfriend told me he’d find that poster for me but I knew him well enough by then to know that he did things in his own time and I was tired of waiting – for so many things. I went ahead and found that ad myself and ordered it in poster form and had it framed and hung it up on my wall all by myself.
“I was going to do that for you!” he said when he saw it. His voice sounded accusatory.
“Now you don’t have to,” I responded with a shrug.
The guy is gone and the wall the image hangs off of now is a different wall in a different home in a different town, but I still smile at it every morning when I’m drinking my coffee and I sometimes still stare at the array of cookies laid out in front of my favorite Sesame Street character ever and I ponder which of those cookies looks the best. I’m slightly ashamed to say that I’ve actually stared at that ad for twenty minutes straight while thinking things like, That cookie has more chocolate chips but that one way over there looks like it might be both crunchy and chewy and isn’t that all I have ever looked for in a cookie? (Just to be clear, I’m way more ashamed for ranking imaginary cookies than I am for climbing atop a man I hardly knew at the time because the cookie thing makes me weird but the guy thing makes me adventurous. Sound convincing?)
Speaking of that guy, I found it cute that, for the next day or so, he would randomly call out “Found one!” when he entered another room and saw yet another Cookie Monster. It made me realize for the first time how many Cookie Monsters live in my home. There is literally one in almost every room, a Where’s Waldo game that nobody including me realized I was playing.
The poster is in the kitchen. In the downstairs bathroom, there is a small shelf that holds some bottles of perfume (Happy; Beach Velvet Orchid – because wearing it makes me think of Tom Ford and I strongly believe that everything in life should always remind me of that man’s perfect face) and some lotions (coconut, always coconut) and a small plastic Cookie Monster figurine. I have no memory of where I got that figurine or who gave it to me or if maybe it was once on a birthday cake or if I possibly (probably) stole it from a small child. What I do know is that seeing it makes me smile. I don’t think there’s a sign of the monster anywhere in my living room or dining room, but I could probably locate one somewhere if I searched. Upstairs, there’s a Cookie frame on one of my dressers that holds a frozen image of the time I went trick or treating with my nephew when he was still sort of a baby. There he is, clad in the yellow terrycloth onesie that I loved. My sister had sewn (or stapled) webbed duck-style feet onto the outfit and my nephew became a duck before my eyes. I am dressed like a fairy. I have on a pink dress and a white tulle skirt and my hair is up in a bun and ribbons are running through it and I am wearing silver wings that sparkle. (“I thought you were scared of things with wings,” my sister said to me when I showed her my costume. “If they’re attached to me, I can’t see them to be afraid of them,” I’d explained.) At any rate, I snagged a bushel of candy on that trick or treat excursion and so I immortalized the moment with a Cookie Monster frame.
Deep in my bedroom closet lives a white garbage bag and inside of it is the first Cookie Monster I ever received when I was less than a year old. He was big and fluffy and his plastic eyes might have rattled once, but I can’t remember anymore. What I do remember is that he went everywhere with me. Disney World? He traveled there and I’m pretty sure he liked the monorail. The hospital for an ear surgery? He got an ID bracelet there that matched mine. I used to bring him to the pediatrician when I went and I’d also be toting my little doctor kit and everything Dr. Schwager did to me, I turned around and did to Cookie. But by the time high school started, Cookie had grown old. Both of his eyes were gone and there were black holes in the top of his blue head where his eyes had once been. Yellow foam started to peek out from there and from a tear under his left arm. I’d wake up in the morning with his insides strewn across my bed and my mother – never the craftiest woman around – tried with all of her might to mend him like he was a war hero. I brought him to college with me and shot looks filled with poisonous daggers at anyone who made so much as a comment that he wasn’t looking his best, but then a bunch of years ago I decided it was time to put him away. He became too old to travel and I respected him enough to not want his stuffing to fall out because, in a strange way, his stuffing feels personal to me. I’ve cried into that doll’s stomach and hugged him tightly around the neck and dragged him from room to room and from house to house by his arm. Everything he is happens to be everything I am too and I’m smart enough by now to want to protect both of us.
But away from the geriatric Cookie who has been banished to the closet for the safest of keeping, there is an office/dressing room that’s probably my favorite room and inside it is a high ledge. On top sits a more youthful-looking Cookie Monster – a botoxed kind of monster – and surrounding him are some of his friends. There’s Kermit and Elmo and Zoe and Big Bird and a large stuffed monkey that another boyfriend won for me at a fair upstate and my trusted old teddy bear, Mr. Gerber. They sit close to the ceiling; you can only notice them if you look up and on some days I don’t find myself looking up all that often, but whenever I remember that I should, I smile.
(I don’t think there’s a Cookie Monster anywhere to be found in my upstairs bathroom, but I might just be forgetting. Do they make Cookie Monster tampons?)
I’ve thought a lot about what it is about that character that makes me love him so dearly even though I’m clearly no longer part of the intended demographic. The truth is, I can’t really explain the appeal. All I know is that seeing simply an image of him makes me take in a happy breath and then smile and that his particular color of blue is the prettiest color in all the land. I appreciate Cookie Monster in all of his incarnations. I liked when he played a version of Aleister Crowley back in the day (he went by Aleister Cookie and I was a toddler then with no idea about my favorite monster’s namesake’s commitment to the dark arts or that Jimmy Page worshiped him so deeply that there would be rumors for eons that the members of Led Zeppelin had literally sold their souls to the devil) and I also liked it when he played Sherlock Cookie and solved crimes. I like it still when he dresses up to be a part of a movie parody that ends up being shown on EW.com. I’ve seen him in Jurassic Cookie and he played the hell out of The Hulk in Sesame Street’s version of The Avengers and the furry dude was positively transcendent in Crumby Pictures’ latest The Spy Who Loved Cookies. He’s very versatile, that blue monster.
The second anyone I know announces that she’s carting around a fetus, I start sticking Cookie Monster items into shopping carts all over the internet. It’s very possible that the good people at amazon.com think I have sextuplets – and I need to pause there to get over such a horrible image settling into my mind of me with six children and having to share my toys with them. Fuck that. For other people though, I have purchased Cookie Monster rattles and bibs and bathrobes and light-up phones and big-buttoned guitars. I have bought dolls made of the kind of fabric that infants are meant to drool right into. I have bought books where Cookie Monster instructs children about how to share (I think one was called Sharing is Fun! When I sent the book to my sister for my niece, she called me. She sounded very confused that I had sent that particular book because, as she said rather bluntly, “You don’t share.” I’d be completely offended but she’s not wrong.) The only thing I won’t do is actually purchase any of the items until after the baby is born because I’m superstitious like that.
But then came the day when a good friend of mine was about to have her baby shower and I told my other friend that I would take care of the gift for us. I’d scour the online universe like I was attempting to discover a brand new world in which gorgeous bearded men hung from the trees like perfectly dangling fruit, a land where chocolate had no caloric intake whatsoever, and I would gather the finest Cookie Monster items that had ever been brought into the material world by the Gods of Licensing over at PBS. And just then, just as I was about to embark on a spending adventure, I was told that our friend wanted no Cookie Monster stuff for her offspring at all. She wanted to outfit the kid’s nursery in foxes. I clearly I needed to call her immediately.
“Hey!” she said happily.
“You don’t want this child to have anything Cookie Monster?” I responded instead of saying “hello” back to her.
“Not really,” she said. I could hear the sigh in her voice and I knew that breaking this news brought her no sense of joy but that she had decided that between us – between her baby and me – she cared more about her baby. It was something I begrudgingly accepted since I’m fucking normal.
I’m a good friend. I went out and bought a board book about a wise fox the kid could gnaw on when he grew himself some teeth. I picked out a fox stuffed animal and showed it to my friend who was giving the gift with me and she made me choose a different fox, one way less cute.
“Nicole will like this one better,” she said. “Trust me.” And I did trust her and I knew she was probably right, that this realistic-looking fox would make my friend happy and so I bought the thing and then had to go lie down for a while.
At the shower – which had a really good cake that tasted like a giant cannoli – my friend sat in a chair and unwrapped presents for what seemed hours. After the first hour, I no longer had it in me to coo over some blanket the baby would spit up on and so I sat back and talked with the people at my table about the kinds of things you chat with semi-strangers about: the never-ending snow, how pretty our pregnant friend looked, and if I could maybe have the icing flower on the tops of all of their slices of cake. Just as I was trying to negotiate the pink flower from a girl I’d met twice, I heard Nicole yell out, “I love this! But Nell, no Cookie Monster?” and I almost burned the entire place down out of spontaneous fury but then I remembered that pregnant women are hormonal and allowed to say one thing while meaning another and I promised myself that I would sneak something Cookie Monster into that kid’s life before he eventually left for college.
The day he was born, I stopped at a store on the way to the hospital and I purchased the following, all plush, all furry:
I shoved them all into a bag and made some tissue paper fans as I drove and I arrived at the maternity ward with the kind of gift I thought would make a precognitive child smile. I actually have no idea about the reality of the precognition time period, but I know that giving my friend and her baby that gift bag made me very happy and she looked happy when she opened it. I went to her house a few weeks later and all of the Sesame Street gang were sitting up in a basket in the baby’s room and they looked adorable and I gave them a smile while hissing quietly at all of the foxes.
Look, I have no idea why I’m like this, but I guess it’s good that I appreciate a fictional character instead of appreciating meth. I don’t act crazy about any of it either. I don’t wear Cookie Monster clothing or watch Sesame Street in my off time. I personally wish that Cookie would speak in a manner that is grammatically correct and bellow something like, “I want cookies!” instead of, “Me want cookies!” But I also wish that sometimes my arms were made of elastic and could stretch far enough that I could stay in bed upstairs while my arms traveled the distance downstairs and poured me a glass of water without my having to move an inch. Not every dream comes true.
What I have to allow myself to consider is that I have always had a predilection for monsters, ones I thought and hoped maybe had a soft center, and Cookie was just the first one who presented himself. The ones who came later were real and they weren’t blue and some of them were almost as furry with scruff, though a few of them were not. They all looked intimidating a bit on the outside but they looked adorable on the outside too and, despite myself, I was drawn in. I think I wanted to see what I could uncover if only I moved some of their stuffing around. I guess I wanted to tame the beast. Part of me still believes that something is only worth having if you have to fight for it and fight so hard that you will eventually need to sit back and take some deep breaths and drink some water. I’d also say that it would probably be lovely to share a cookie in that moment, but I don’t share.
Nell Kalter is the author of the books Student and That Year, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.