The Num-a-Num

Plenty of things scare me now. There’s dying, of course, either my own untimely demise or the loss of someone I love. And I’m afraid of the other standard things, like war and violent crime and sickness and aging and financial ruin and natural disasters. Now that I’m an adult, I’m more aware of the world and all its wonderful and terrifying possibilities.

As a child, I was afraid of one thing, and that thing was a puppet.

It was a Muppet, to be exact. I loved the Muppets in general, and seeing or hearing them now always brings me great joy. But this was one of the nameless Muppet monsters, a creature with wild hair and a beard, stern eyebrows, and piercing eyes. Basically he was Charles Manson in puppet form. But it wasn’t just his eyes that got to me, it was also his voice. He spoke gruffly, and he had a vocabulary limited to one phrase: MAHNA MAHNA. Back then, I heard this as “A-NUM-A-NUM,” and because Jim Henson and his cohorts did not give this monster a proper name at the time, I began to refer to him as The Num-a-Num.

I was only three or four when I discovered The Num-a-Num and my fear of him. My sister was just a baby, and we shared a room, with her crib against one wall and my bed against the other. On many occasions, I’d have nightmares that The-Num-a-Num was living under my bed, and that he would rise at night, and creep up through the crack between my bed and the wall, and stare at me with those piercing eyes. Though my mother would do her best to console me, I knew, even then, that she was humoring me, that she thought it was hilarious that I would be so afraid of something as benign as a puppet.

The Num-a-Num eventually abandoned my dreams, but he has gone on to receive some notoriety in the Muppet world. He’s been given a makeover over the years; he’s now green and purple and his hair is orange, and his friendlier look is capped off with a pair of sunglasses over those eyes. He’s popular enough now that he’s even been given an official Muppet name: Mahna Mahna. But none of these niceties fool me. If there’s one thing I know for sure (and knew, clearly, from an early age), it’s that true terror strikes when and where we least expect it, and actually seems scarier when it comes from such innocuous origins — whether it’s a be-bopping puppet, a grandmother’s favorite doll, or just hitting that SEND button.

Lest you take any of this lightly, I invite you to behold The Num-a-Num for yourselves. Just don’t blame me if he starts visiting you, too.

5 thoughts on “The Num-a-Num

  1. Wow. I’m so sorry you had that horrible fear of this Muppet because that Manamana song has brought much joy to my brother and me. To this day one of us will go into that tune and then off on the scatting tangent, and we’ll laugh. My sons join in, too. But your post got me looking more closely and I realize he does seem a bit Manson-esque, although I didn’t remember an image to go along with the song. It’s always just been about the song and his funny way of riffing while the backup singers wait disapprovingly until he rejoins the fold.

    • The original puppet was featured in the very first season of Sesame Street, back in 1969. That’s the one I remember seeing (in reruns), and the one I posted here. But since then, they’ve changed him and the way they portray the song, and have made the whole thing sillier. I guess I’m just a victim of bad timing (and an overactive imagination).

      • I think an active imagination is wonderful and it’s obviously served you well in life. 🙂 I guess the take-away here for me is that when we create things (in this case, Jim Henson), we have no control over how it’ll be received on any certain day by any certain person. Unfortunately, that Muppet struck you in a very scary way and that was a valid response.

  2. My son has a similar story, except that he was terrified of my Pollyanna doll. My sister kept her for me until he was grown up, but he still thinks the doll is evil. Some frights never leave us.

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