I am driving down the highway in a car that reeks of mildew and regret. Puppet hair blankets my body, and in the back seat my coworker, the only person I have talked to all day, sobs uncontrollably. I try to look through my rearview mirror, but mountains of disembodied puppet heads impede my view. As I merge into traffic, I silently pray to God that a car will hit mine and end it all in a torrent of fire, metal and prosthetic dog hair. I work at a puppet factory, and I hate my life.
p. We sell five different puppets at the puppet factory. Their names, in order of popularity, are Danny the Dog, Mrs. Moo the Cow, Franklin the Frog, Patricia the Gorilla and Skeeter the Cat. The products bug me. Each puppet is a floating head and comes attached to an illustrated book that provides the corresponding body. Since the body is illustrated, it is much smaller than the puppet head. This makes every puppet look deformed — like someone with a brain tumor or Rocky from the movie “The Mask.”
My boss explains the value of the removable head as she tears the puppet from the book, where it is Velcro-ed.
p. “Once kids get tired of reading the book, they can decapitate the puppet and play with him,” my boss says, shoving her hand up the puppet’s butthole.
p. “Don’t you want to play with me, James?” the puppet squeaks. “Don’t I look like the best present ever?” I gaze into the puppet’s squished fabric face and consider tearing its nose off.
p. “I have taken shits that looked cuter than you,” I want to say. But I control myself and instead nod absently. I tell my boss what a great idea these puppets were, and then I return to my cubicle, where I play solitaire for an hour.
p. Every day I arrive at the office and see what orders have arrived. If nothing needs to be shipped or I had a particularly troubling night of puppet-related night terrors, then I might stay at the office and sort mail. However, if the workload is heavy and I feel psychologically ready, then I drive 10 minutes to the warehouse. Inside, boxes filled with puppets stacked 20 feet high scrape the ceiling. At some point in my life, I will open every single one of these boxes to inspect the toys inside. Every time I open a box, I know that six glossy eyes will stare up at me.
p. My most important job is trimming the fur around these puppets’ eyes. The puppets were poorly manufactured overseas, and they suffer from numerous defects. Aside from hairy eyes, some puppets have bits of crusty fur, which I pull out with my fingers. Other puppets have holes where their eyes should be. One time my coworker, Jessie, found a puppet that was constructed inside out and laughed hysterically.
p. “It’s fine,” she explained. “I just found this puppet turned inside out. For a second I had thought I might be losing my mind.”
I laughed, too. Despite the lunacy of her statement, what she said made sense. Being around puppets for too long should be added to the short list of things that evoke madness.
p. To stave off insanity, my coworker and I talk as we work. Sometimes we talk about movies or the last game of Dungeons and Dragons that she played with her boyfriend.
p. “You just don’t understand,” she yelled at me one time. “I could have been something great if I had only applied myself during high school.” She held the scissors we use to trim puppets in one hand and pointed the blade inches from my heart. We had previously been discussing my acceptance into college.
p. “It’s okay,” I said. “You can still be a lawyer if you want.” I comforted her with a pat on the shoulder, and then we returned to work. She trimmed the puppets as I attached cardboard tags to their ears.
p. Sometimes, I wonder why I still ship puppets for the puppet factory. It certainly is not the pay, nor my coworkers, though I did like Jessie until she left to work at her mom’s office. Her mom runs a sort of Make-a-Wish Foundation for old people, where she grants final wishes to old ladies. Jessie’s mom helps the old people meet celebrities and takes them to glamorous dinner cruises. I toyed with the idea of asking Jessie for a job, but I feel too loyal to the puppet factory. If it weren’t for me, children across the United States, Mexico and Canada would never enjoy our puppet line. Or, as my boss likes to call them, our puppet family.
p. __James Damon is a Confusion Corner columnist. His life is a black abyss. __