Lost & Never Found Again: Elmo The Comb

Published on March 25th, 2010 in: Lost & Never Found Again |

blue comb SMALL

It is 1978. I am nine years old, a lonely, rootless kid riding in the back of a dilapidated Trailways bus rumbling across dusty Wyoming, and the whole of my life is a magical-realist, country-and-western version of David Copperfield. I’m talking about Dickens, though in retrospect I did seem pretty good at making people disappear.

Everything is television. It’s the only reliable thing. We go from town to town. I know nobody, and my inherent weirdness goes a long way towards keeping it that way. But when I turn on that TV, I know everybody, everything is funny or interesting or comforting. It doesn’t matter what town I’m in, or who I’m with: there is always Fred G. Sanford. As long as his heart can take it.

I am obsessed with cartoons, and a new one started early that school year. It is called Baggy Pants and the Nitwits. The first part is about a cat—aforementioned Baggy Pants—who thinks he’s Charlie Chaplin. He wears pants but can’t speak, and in the mirror-universe of TV that strikes me as a bit odd. The second part is about a pair of elderly, retired superheroes, Tyrone and Gladys. Tyrone’s old and feeble, but he finds the power to fly, defeat preposterous villains, and do all kinds of other superhuman folderol by use of his magic cane, Elmo. With whom he would have lengthy conversations.

blue comb

Christmas 1977 came, and in my threadbare little stocking next to a satsuma and a new toothbrush was a blue comb. Manufactured by the Elmo comb company. In big embossed letters. E-L-M-O. I pulled it out of that stocking like a fine-toothed 29-cent Excalibur.

And half a year later I am on that Trailways headed for Cheyenne and then on to Nebraska, and I have spent five months of my life waving that magic comb around to thwart villains real and imagined, engaging it in long, loud conversations on the nature of spacetime and the use of flashback in À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu and my crushes on Suzi Quatro and Chastity Bono. It freaks people out, which only makes me delight in it that much more. But I am bored, and restless, at which point I absently notice that the comb fits fairly neatly in the slot of the window air conditioning vent, the way your tongue fits neatly and compulsively into that disturbingly sharp-edged mouth slot on the plastic C3P0 Halloween mask.

The driver hits a huge bump, and I am graceless, and Elmo the magical comb drops down the A/C vent, down into the side of the bus, forever. For that moment I’m Charlie Brown the Christmas tree murderer. That comb (sniff) was MY BEST FRIEND!

But then I remember: I’m nine now, and far too clever for sentiment. I laugh it off. It was all a gag! I didn’t really care about enchanted combs. But as I stumble forlorn off the bus clutching my little blue ladies’ suitcase, I start to think about what lies ahead for old Elmo. The stories that comb will hear! The places he’ll go! Towns and cities and highways I’ll never see. Always at home, never alone, dear old Elmo out to see the world. Or at least the greater Midwest.

It is 33 years later. Trying to sleep, staring up at the ceiling. Every so often, that nine-year-old voice whispers: do you suppose he’s in a junkyard? Melted down for scrap? Hotwired and driven down to Mexico? All I know, kid, is in a thousand years, maybe ten times ten thousand, some lonely, ragtag alien pilot is going to find that comb in the rubble, and use its infinite knowledge and mighty power to hold off the dastardly hordes of night.
—Cait Brennan

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