Friday, February 22, 2013

Dr. Seuss Panic Attack: The Pale Green Pants With Nobody Inside Them

Imagine you're a five-year-old flipping through a collection of stories by Dr. Seuss.  You're just chilling out in your pink stretch pants and ruffly little-girl socks, enjoying all the cool-sounding imaginary words and fun illustrations, when suddenly this assaults your senses:

I don't know about you, but when I encountered the last installment* of "The Sneetches and Other Stories," one thought flashed through my mind.  And that thought went something like this:


Reading the story through to the end did little to assuage my fear of the evil vomit-colored possessed pants.  Looking back on my childhood, I've often wondered if my reaction was unfair. After all, the pants didn't actually turn out to be evil.  The tale was a simple fable about the importance of not judging others for being different; the narrator is initially afraid of the pants and tries to avoid them, but then he discovers that they're afraid of him as well.  They both get over their fear and become friends.

Sounds innocent enough, right?

Then I read it again as an adult.

I couldn't help but notice something disturbing, something I think I subconsciously picked up on when I was little but wasn't quite worldly enough to fully recognize for the big red flag it was.

The pants seem to be following the narrator.  And they seem to be putting themselves through a good deal of inconvenience  to do so.

He first encounters them while walking through the woods at night.  Startling, I'm sure, but that could at least be a coincidence.  

The next time he sees them, they almost mow him down on a city street.  On a bicycle.  Despite the fact that, even in a Dr. Seuss book, it must be extremely difficult for a disembodied pair of pants to ride a bike.  What with their lack of hands and feet and all.

Then the narrator tries to calm his nerves with a nice fishing trip, only to see the pants rowing ominously toward him on the river, even though a boat must be as hard for animated monster-pants to pilot as a bike.  That marks the third time the pants just "happened" to be where the narrator is. It was also when I began to suspect that none of these run-ins were accidents.

The big climactic encounter confirmed my suspicions.  The narrator goes out one night** to pick "a peck of Snide."  The text doesn't make it clear what Snide is or why he needs it, but I like to think that he planned to somehow distill it into a powerful pepper-spray-like substance and take care of those pesky creep-trousers once and for all.  Anyway, the narrator makes it clear that the Snide-field is a very big place: "almost nine miles wide," to be exact.  So of course, he unsuspectingly reaches into a Snide bush and finds himself touching...

The. Pale. Green. Pants.

Nine whole miles of Snide-field, and those damn pants just had to be right there beside him.

They're always there.

Seriously, there's no way that any of this is coincidental.  There's no avoiding the ugly truth: our dear narrator is being stalked.  The only time he briefly has a moment's peace is when he eludes the pants by hiding in a Brickle bush for two nights straight.  I doubt he can make that work again, though; since the pants were present at his Snide-picking session they probably saw him emerging from his hiding place.

And by the end of the story he's played directly into their nonexistent hands.  He approaches them without fear and says "Hi" when he passes them in the street.  He's given them his trust.

Trust that will indubitably be used against him when the evil haunted pants-people of the night finally rise up and take over the world.  

*The story's official title is "What Was I Scared Of?," but it's been forever cemented in my mind as "That Creepy Friggin' Pale-Green-Pants-With-Nobody-Inside-Them Story."

**I did wonder why the narrator kept going out at night, even though it seemed pretty obvious that the pants are more active after dark.  The best I could come up with is the possibility that the species of bear (or bunny, or chinchilla, or whatever) the narrator belongs to is naturally nocturnal in its habits.  That, or he's a sucker for punishment.

1 comment:

  1. This story became a sort of jungle cult for my brother and I when we were 4 and 6. We declaimed lines from it incessantly and made an idol out of a pair of green jeans stuffed with newspaper that we stood in a corner of our room.

    I have no idea why we were so taken with these images, but I've since found out we were not alone; for being one of the good Doctor's lesser-known tales (didn't even get a mention on the book's cover, just a Gilliganesque "and the rest" snub) it stuck hard for many of us.

    And I concur with your analysis. The actions of those pants were clearly premeditated.

    Rusty Ring: Reflections of an Old-Timey Hermit