It all started with a birthday gift my ex-girlfriend gave me. She knew I wanted to get into puppetry, but didn’t understand I meant the marionette kind, like in Being John Malkovich. She actually made me a dozen sock puppets. It was sweet, but I found this type of puppetry to be a bit hack. Still, there was something strange about these things. It didn’t take long. Maybe a couple of days. My friend Josh and I were talking. That’s when it started.
“So what did she get you?” Josh said.
“She got me this family of sock puppets called the Sockdolagers,” I replied.
“A family?” he said. “What, like the Waltons? The Bradys?”
“Well, where are they? Can I see them?”
“Not now,” I said. “They’re in the basement. They built themselves a dojo, and they’ve been training 24-7.”
“What? Wait, what’s a sockdolager? And what are you talking about training? Training for what?”
“Like, battles and shit. They’re like the Mighty Heroes.”
“You mean Strong Man, Rope Man, Tornado Man…”
“Diaper Man and Cuckoo Man, that’s right.”
“I used to love that. You can’t find it anymore.”
“No, it’s sad.”
“Do the socks have cool names?”
“I haven’t named them yet.
BAM!!! Suddenly my sock puppets came from downstairs and started fighting us, and winning! Josh had a bum leg, and I had just eaten a heavy lunch, so we didn’t last very long. We were both beaten senseless, as the Sockdolagers flew out of the house and into the real world.
So, then, four years later, this is all true, Josh, Brian, and I were driving to dinner. I don’t remember where. On the way, Brain ran over a belly dancer. I told him we needed to call the police. Josh said we need to toss the body into the river and move to Europe, or else she’ll start sending us “I Know What You Did” telegrams next spring. Brian chose, instead, to simply drive away. At the restaurant, I ordered veal, Brian ordered shrimp scampi, and Josh ordered tiramisu. I didn’t think to ask why he was ordering a dessert for dinner, because I was distracted by the sock puppet who was taking our order.
“What would you like, Sir?” he or she asked me.
“Veal Marsala, please.”
“Don’t you know what they do to the calves?”
“Hey, life sucks, Socky,” I said.
“I’ll see you in hell,” he replied. “What about you, ugly?”
“Ugly?” Brain said. “You’re mother didn’t think I was ugly when I took her where this guy’s hand goes.”
“All right, that’s it.” The sock came unattached from our waiter’s hand and lunged at Brian, choking him mercilessly. Josh and I just watched. It was happening again.
“You want to just go to Wendy’s?” Josh said.
“Yeah, all right,” I replied.
We left poor Brian fighting for his life. By the following spring, Brian was good as new, which was super because Josh was right. That belly dancer Brian ran over not only didn’t die, but she was indeed sending us threatening messages in the mail. Lucky for all of us, Josh was at the same restaurant Brian almost died in, eating tiramisu with the cult he had just joined, when he happened to meet Mae West, or a bag lady that had just mugged a drag queen. But it was a trap. The women was not a bag lady, or Mae West. It was an undercover belly dancer who kidnapped Josh and held him for ransom. Brian and I received a message to go to a building in the city. No doubt a belly dancer hideout, we thought. When we got there, a group of lovely, evil belly dancers led us to their boss. When we entered, he was in his chair, facing the window, and slowly turned to face us. It was Louie Wool Lips, leader of the New England chapter of the Sock Puppet League, and he looked angry.
“Boys, have a seat,” he said. “Now, as you may know, it hasn’t been a great couple of years for us sock puppets. MTV cancelled that wonderful sock puppet show Sifl & Olly. Shari Lewis passed way. Pets.com failed. Why, it hasn’t been great for socks in general. You see more people wearing open-toed sandals. Socks the cat is no longer in the White House. We all know the Red Sox haven’t won the Series in 83 years. So, why would you want to upset us?”
“Well, Sir, we…” I began.
“Hey, shoosh. I’m talking here,” Louie spat. “This kid, Brian, is it? You think you’re a tough guy bad-mouthing sock puppet’s mothers? And this after you run over one of my belly dancers? So, in exchange, first off, as we speak, I’ve got guys over your place stealing all you socks.”
“But, Louie, Mr. Wool Lips,” I said. “I don’t wear sandals. It’s very effeminate, if you ask me. I love socks, and I didn’t hurt anyone.”
“Yes, but you fraternize with scum like this.”
“Sir, please, I need my socks.”
“Why don’t you call the Bureau of Missing Socks? By the way, have you ever read Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks? Wonderful piece of literature. Brilliant. Anyway, Bobby Socks?” he called for one of his henchmen. “Take care of these clowns.”
“Please, Sir, don’t do this,” I pleaded.
“Why?” Louie said. “So you humans can go prancing around in your socks with no slippers, getting holes in them? So you can do your laundry and separate whites from coloreds, like you humans always do?”
Brian made a move towards him, but Louie wasn’t scared.
“Oh, tough guy, huh? Come on. I’ll knock your socks off, big boy. Sock it to me, and other sock-related sayings,” Louie said, and then paused. “Finish them!”
Louie’s henchmen grabbed us and started walking out. Just as it seemed we were done for, three little figures came through the window. They were sock puppets. But whose side were they on? They approached Louie, and one of them spoke.
“Stop this madness. Is this any way to honor the memory of Shari Lewis?” It was Lamb Chop, with Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse.
“Lamp Chop,” Louie said obsequiously. “I’m terribly sorry.”
“We should all learn to live together,” Charlie said.
“And be friends,” Hush Puppy added.
Then, we all formed a circle and sang “The Song That Doesn’t End” until we passed out from exhaustion.
Years later I got a job at the Sock Puppet Mental Clinic. I guess I got attached to the little things. They were not as powerful as years before. We’d get truckloads of depressed puppets every week. The main cause of depression in any sock puppet is the envy of bigger non-sock puppets such as Kermit the Frog, Henrietta Pussycat from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, or Matt Lauer. The deaths of Shari Lewis and Pets.com had steadily given us more and more patients as well. Many of these puppets had recurring dreams of humans walking in them, dogs chewing them, or Wade Boggs stuffing a baseball in them, hanging them from a tree, and swinging at them with a Louisville Slugger. So many of them were on puppet paxil.
Then they closed down the clinic. That’s when the real tragedies began. Junkie sock puppets loose on the street. And it all coincided with the mental breakdown of Josh. Soon there were dozens of sock puppets shooting up and leaping to their deaths from the roof of his house. I wasn’t even concerned with this. My main concern was Josh. The cult he had joined was one thing, but I had made the mistake of allowing him to rent the John Goodman film King Ralph. Not only did I fall asleep fifteen minutes into it, but when I woke up he was standing over me demanding that I bow before him. Since then, he turned his father’s filthy, old recliner into a throne and hired a harem and a court jester. In his grandmother’s bathrobe and a Burger King crown, Josh reigned supreme. He paid the harem fifty cents each a day, mainly because they were only a couple of nine-year-old girls, something I considered not only creepy, but illegal. His court jester was the crazy old man who lived on the parking lot roof of the library. Weeks later, Josh had acquired more court jesters.
“Why, Josh?” I asked him. “Why so many?”
“I had one fool,” he replied. “I wanted a chain of fools.”
“I don’t know. Bite me.”
I knew I couldn’t get Josh to stop, so I had a talk with his wife Lenore. I don’t know what was more difficult, understanding Josh’s insanity or talking to Lenore without satisfying the need to say “Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.’” She was as upset as I was, and she marched towards Josh’s kingdom and smacked him around good.
“Stop it! Hault!” he yelled.
“You stop with your nonsense! And stop making these little girls massage your feet.”
“Nameless here for evermore!”
“Get your ass inside and take out the trash!”
“I’m only running my little kingdom. Merely this and nothing more.”
“I told you to stop quoting that alcoholic!”
“See! On yon drear and rigid bier low lies thy love, Lenore!”
“You wanna get your ass sued?
I left shortly after this. I knew that was the last anyone would see of King Josh. The neighborhood was safe. Well, safe until we rented Splash and Josh went diving through the reservoir looking for mermaids. But the sock puppets had all died off. It took an entire day to get all the puppet carcasses off Josh’s front lawn. But this was the last anyone heard of the Sockdolagers.
Michael Frissore has a chapbook called Poetry is Dead (Coatlism, 2009) and a blog called michaelfrissore.blogspot.com. His writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Dzanc Books’ “Best of the Web” anthology, and included in humor journals alongside the likes of Sarah Silverman and Patton Oswalt. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 70 publications in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, India, and Australia. Mike grew up in Massachusetts and lives in Oro Valley, Arizona with his wife and son.