Last Saturday morning, I was sitting on a bench in Central Park in NY. I looked up from my New York Times to see that a six-foot-tall, red, furry creature had sat down next to me. “Hi,” it said. “I’m Elmo.”
“Hi, Elmo.” I said and carried on reading. Only in New York.
Carlo from the Dominican Republic was inside the shaggy red costume. He’d bought it on the internet for $175. “I’ve been doing it for nine months. It came from Mexico.”
I nodded, as if that explained everything. “Is Elmo a dog?” I asked.
“I really don’t know what I am”, Carlo said from somewhere inside his huge, shaggy head. He had plastic bucket on the ground in front of him, which was rapidly filling up with dollar bills as families walked by and stopped and the kids shouted: “Elmo!”
“Not a bad little business you’ve got here, Elmo.” I said. Elmo confided: “I’m raising money for the day-care centre I run with my wife in Connecticut.”
“It must get sweaty in there in the summer, Elmo.” I said. “I take it to the dry cleaners. It’s a three-piece,” he tells me. “The head, the body and the boots.”
Everyone was very friendly to Elmo. The cameras were snapping away and the kids were happy.
“Wait a minute! He’s wearing glasses!” a wise guy with red hair, about 10- years-old, shouted to his parents. I suddenly felt very protective of Elmo. “So what if he’s wearing glasses?” I yelled. “What’s your problem, kid? You think you’ve got the monopoly on glasses here!”
A little girl of about five came up and offered Elmo her lollipop – and at the same time tried to take a dollar bill out of the bucket. She had to be a professional. The old “distracting lollipop” routine.
“Hey, kid, why don’t you take a take a ride!” I said, and she cycled off back to her parents on her tricycle.
Carlos said: “I was a truck driver before I got laid off. My wife said one day, ‘wouldn’t it be good if we could get an Elmo outfit and go to the Park – it’s up to them if they donate and we can put the money to buying new toys for the day-care.'”
I decided to go into business with Elmo – and started addressing people who stopped to take pictures with their kids and didn’t give money. “Hey guy! C’mon! Elmo’s raising money for his day-care centre in Connecticut. Put a dollar in the bucket. OK, kids, now you can give Elmo a high five.
Elmo was now really getting… there’s no other word for it- animated. He was up on his feet and high-fiving kids right, left and centre We must have made over a 100 dollars in an hour.
“So tell me something, Elmo. What’s the most anyone has ever given you?” “$10” he says.
“Elmo, I’m appointing you a personal friend of Peter Rosengard.” I said. “I just had an unexpected vacancy come up.” When Elmo’s wasn’t looking, I dropped a 20- dollar bill into the bucket: I never forget the Special Relationship.
I got up to go. Elmo jumped to his feet and hugged me. We swapped emails.
As I walked away, I knew that if I got stuck in a snow drift at five in the morning I could rely on a large red furry creature to come and pull me out.