All day blankets sail into the yard, each bearing his likeness. They vary in size and color. Quilts, comforters, the odd duvet. Flannel and cotton form slouching drifts against his wooden privacy fence. At first he’s impressed by the sheer volume, but the longer he watches from his screened porch, the more he admires the rate they come in. Soon cartoon pictures of his own ping-pong-ball eyes and black gaping mouth hide the top edge of the fence. The deluge doesn’t stop for six hours. By afternoon, bed linens enclose the yard like a low mountain range. He’d planned to retire in the mountains in a few years, but this isn’t retirement. It’s exile.
A breeze off the Sound brings scents of various fabric softeners through the screen, coupled with sour odors of unwashed laundry. The mix isn’t entirely unpleasant. At least the blankets don’t reek of cookies. That would make him wretch. If chocolate chip cookie scent invaded his house, he’d have to leave.
Eventually, he’ll gather the blankets up, otherwise great swaths of grass will die off underneath. He hates a mess, always has. One thing he won’t miss about his job is carefully combing crumbs and melted chocolate out of his fur after each taping. Nor will he miss the schedule, the all-consuming push to get the next episode out. In every segment he appeared in, he went for it, jamming the cookies in his mouth with wild abandon. His gums and tongue are scarred, and his mandible now aches continuously. He developed Type 2 diabetes in 2000 and the producers had to make special sugarless cookies for shooting. The whole process left him totally wrecked each week, but he’d never once complained. Not once. For decades his job had been pleasing children. His job, not his whole life. Why did he have to be a sweet stupid monster all the time? Couldn’t he have a day off from being family-friendly? Apparently not.
Being famous means being held to a higher standard. Extend that standard skyward if you’re well known to children. Because when you fall, it’s not just the kids you disappoint; it’s also their parents, who are hysterically protective of their children’s self-esteem. Reynard, the French-Canadian who played Oscar, made this observation when the show was really taking off. “Outside work you cannot be good enough, mon ami,” the drab-green creature told him. “Keep that in mind.”
Back then he’d just shrugged, silently labeled Reynard a scold, and forgotten about it. But now, surrounded by invective on fine linen sheets, he can see Reynard’s point in Technicolor. Moving the blankets means he’ll no longer avoid the messages scrawled on them in all-weather paint or shoe polish. Get out. ¡Vete! No monsters in our town.
He grudgingly appreciates his neighbors’ sense of humor with the blankets. Two weeks earlier, he’d gone with a couple of young production assistants to a scotch bar. They’d just about closed the place down and never once thought kids would be there when they stumbled out to hail a cab. He can still envision the family standing in the 2 AM rain, parents hanging back while little Jackie or Joanie or whatever held out her gift of a cable-knit blanket adorned with his jocular face. Feeling mischievous, he whipped it over his head nun-style and capered down the block and back. He thought she’d love it, but the kid’s face cracked. She was deeply wounded. Was her favorite TV character making fun of her? The mother piped up haughtily, “That’s a gift, sir! She made it herself!”
Then things got ugly. Could’ve been the scotch. Or the wear. Or the years.
He told them he didn’t ask for a goddamn two-foot by two-foot blanket. What the fuck would that cover? Plus, if it was a gift, he could do what he fucking wanted with it. He mimed wiping his furry behind. “See? It’s mine now.” He tossed the blanket in the gutter. Her father stepped forward, jaw clenched, and he felt the assistants’ fingers digging into his arm. Before the guy could strike, his friends threw him in a taxi while the daughter buried her face in her hands. He never saw the teenager nearby with an iPhone trained on him.
His medium was television. He never paid much attention to the internet, never knew how fast things spread. The next morning, when he was showering cigar smoke out of his fur, the DJs on his favorite morning-drive show were doing impressions of him. His agent called when he got out. It was all over. His contract? Negated. Morals clause, you know. Out of work at fifty-seven. The Manhattan apartment had to go. His Audi, too. He had enough squirreled away for a tiny place on anonymous Long Island. He moved in early on a weekday, but someone must’ve seen him and called the local news. Reporters showed up in vans. He dismantled the doorbell and wouldn’t answer the knocks. And a week later: the blankets.
Looking at his defiled backyard, he downs a fiery gulp of scotch. Does no good to think about the faux pas now. His public life is over. Maybe he’ll try another line of work. He’d done a couple of semesters toward a Masters in Anthropology in the early Seventies, but didn’t finish because of the show. He finishes his drink and decides that’s a moronic idea. What college would put a blue-furred monster in front of a bunch of sophomores?