I understand why you might not take stuffed animals to the crag with you. Especially if you’re in your early 30s, like I am.
This past Christmas, I received a custom chalk bag from Crimp Chimps, a Boulder, Colorado-based company that makes chalk bags out of stuffed animals. Someone incredibly thoughtful paid $53 to have one made out of a 12-inch plush Cookie Monster, who now hangs under the waistbelt of my harness.
When people comment on it, I like to reply, “We all need role models.”
You may not vividly remember Cookie Monster. That’s okay. You’re not alone. Some Philistines people have mistakenly called him “Elmo” in my presence, which I assume is due to Sesame Street’s emphasis on a little squeaky-voiced red guy. Who does not eat cookies. And whose “Tickle Me” plush toys probably outsold Cookie Monster’s 1,000 to one.
In 2008, NPR interviewed Cookie Monster as part of its series “In Character,” which profiled characters who had broadly influenced Americans — like The Dude from The Big Lebowski, and Cookie Monster. Frank Oz, the voice of the Cookie Monster character since 1969, pointed out that Cookie Monster was a bit of a monomaniac (ahem, “Monster”), but he knew the key to happiness, quite unlike most of us: “He only needs one thing, and that’s a cookie,” Oz said in the interview.
But Muppet creator Jim Henson would not make an actual “monster,” a character that would scare anyone. Cookie Monster, all along, has been nothing but lovable, a furry, blue, somewhat pear-shaped goofball with googly eyes that each spiraled on their own. As Sesame Street writer Norman Stiles told NPR in 2008, “”All of his monomania — that would not stop him from caring about somebody else.” “He’s not gonna knock anybody over to get the cookie. He’s gonna try to get around them to get the cookie. He’s gonna beg for the cookie.”
We like to debate whether professional athletes should be our role models, and often we find out they’re surprisingly flawed (like us?) when it comes to things like infidelity, drug use, cheating, and all kinds of other things. You know who never lets you down? Muppets. Aside from Miss Piggy (sometimes), they’re sweet, and act more like we should act.
The Cookie Monster loves one thing, simply, focused, and passionately. But that one thing does not get in the way of his relationships with people. Sometimes we take things in the outdoors a little seriously (“Summit or die!”), and the more important things in our lives (spouses, family, climbers) become collateral damage.
When I watch footage of Cookie Monster eating a cookie (actually, usually multiple cookies), I see complete rapture. This is how I want to feel about the things I do in my life that fall under the “not work” category. Climbing is fun. Get excited about it. So excited, you have to dig into it with two hands and your eyes roll in different directions. Think NOMNOMNOMNOM when you’re pulling fun moves on a route. Be nice to people. Be fun. Be the Cookie Monster.
A miniature plush Cookie Monster has been part of my “home” (even when that home is a car or van) since late 1999. Now, when I get sweaty palms, I get in touch with Cookie Monster, sticking my hand in a pocket carefully carved into the base of his neck, to nudge some chalk out of the chalk ball I keep in there next to the rock my friend Lee brought back for me from the base of Fitz Roy.
I am aware of the ridiculousness of my stuffed-Muppet chalk bag. But I never finish a day of climbing, at the gym or outdoors, and wish I had done anything else, whether or not I sent my hardest route ever, or summited, or led all the hard pitches. When the day’s climbing is done, I take off my shoes, then untie my chalk bag and stuff it into a Ziploc, before I slip my harness off. It’s hard to hold a foot-tall Cookie Monster in both hands and do anything but smile.
A young gentleman at Momentum in Sandy, Utah, recently used the word “steez” when referring to my chalk bag. I would like to think he got it. But just in case he didn’t, I said, “Thanks. We all need role models out there.”