It was, while recently in the midst of compiling the annual (and always dreaded) Christmas gift wish list — that itemized-in-order-of-importance list requested by those who are close enough to me to desire purchasing a holiday present, but not in tune enough to recognize my tastes or likes and dislikes — that I made a startling self discovery.
Reminiscing on Christmases past, I revisited Santa letters remembered from my youth, searching for perhaps one item requested, yet never received, a long since forgotten link to my carefree past. Sitting there in the soft glow of the computer monitor, scanning and re-examining and ranking my wants, I found myself 10 years old again and staring straight into the face of one of my deepest, darkest fears.
Those beady button eyes, unblinking, distant and lacking all emotion, gazed directly into my soul. The lips, permanently curled into a blood red smirk, grinned as I imagined the devil would. I shuddered, while the hair on the back of my neck stood on end, and I had the distinct and uneasy feeling of something standing behind me. As much as I wanted to turn away, I couldn’t. The hand controlling the mouse was suddenly immobile, paralyzed by some unforeseen evil, preventing me from navigating away from this demons’ visage. I let out an almost inaudible whimper just as my wife walked into the room, glanced over my shoulder and exclaimed in that familiar, exasperated tone I’ve come to love, “Really, all the things you could ask for this Christmas, and you’re looking at a sock monkey?”
Yes, the sock monkey, undelivered for so many years, had caught my attention once again. Yet the sock monkey, so quaint and inviting all those holiday seasons ago, had inexplicably, over the years, obtained a disturbing, almost menacing aura. The sock monkey, I decided on that night, lay at the root of most evil. This whimsical stuffed toy had always given me the creeps; a bad case of the heebie-jeebies. Few things were as unsettling to me as these handmade-by-your-dust-bowl-era-Grandma play things. Not quite as spooky as ventriloquists or Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lector in “Silence of The Lambs” (yet a couple notches above the uneasiness caused when sitting in a restaurant observing the burly gent at the next table devouring a plate of steaming chicken gizzards), the floppy simian had never failed to bring bone-chilling horror with its presence.
They could always be found in one of two places — either sitting out on Grandma’s knick-knack shelf amongst the barn yard animal-shaped salt and pepper shakers, a vast array of porcelain bird figurines and several photos of relatives I didn’t know ... or discovered buried under a hand-knitted afghan in the overstuffed closet of the unused bedroom at the far end of the unheated, dimly-lit upstairs hallway. And it never failed, as the slightest movement in the room would cause them to fall, arms and legs and tail momentarily animated, that they would land in an awkward posture, unfazed and still grinning ear to ear ... and watching, always watching. Like a tiny, gray, woolen version of Regis Philbin, they appeared entertaining and harmless enough to the unsuspecting masses, but for the rest of us — the ones who knew, they were not to be trusted and kept under constant surveillance.
So my wife left me to sit there, alone in the dark, scrolling through page upon page of sock monkeys, and realizing I lived one of my favorite quotes ... ”You are only young once, but you can be immature forever.”
Chuck Mason, a self-described opinionated wiseguy, resides in Princeton. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.