Thursday, 13 April 2017

Pale Green Pants With Anatta Inside

When my brother and I were four and five, we were obsessed with the Dr. Suess poem What Was I Scared Of?, better known to adherents as "Pale Green Pants With Nobody Inside".

This gothic thriller, in which a disembodied pair of cabbage-coloured dungarees relentlessly creeps out Our Protagonist, is ripped from the pages of The Sneetches and Other Stories. (Not literally, unless you want serious grup trouble.) These days you can also read it online, though the text is accompanied by only two of the original Lovecraftian illustrations. Suffice it to say the experience pal… I mean, underwhelms, by comparison.

For reasons I can no longer fathom, over a period of months this story completely possessed our young imaginations. At one point we actually stuffed a pair of green denim jeans with wadded newspaper and stood it in the corner of our shared bedroom, to serve as icon to our prostrations. Then we would cower on the far side of the bed, peek out at it, and scream "Pale green pants!" before diving to the floor.

Needless to say, the book itself became liturgy, to be read aloud (yet again) by any adult we could talk into it. The most memorable kokyo was my grandmother, who, having intoned the poem's macabre refrain ("Pale green pants…. WITH NOBODY INSIDE!"), remarked, "I think the pale green pants are scary enough." Commentary worthy of Mumon.

These days I judiciously abstain from looking deeply into this whole adventure, for fear of stumbling on uncomfortable truths about religion in general. But having recently recovered these memories – or recovered from them – I plunged down the Internet rabbit hole to find out if others were similarly enthralled to this scrap of Seussgeist.

tldr: Yes. Yes they were.

Far from falling into obscurity, it appears PGP is so popular today you can buy just that, stripped of epistolary padding. What's more, its illustrations – o feat of nefarious genius – now glow in the dark. Which has led one believing dad to read it to his kids under a black light. Or he did, until he was picked up by Child Welfare.

Nor are my brother and I alone in making idols unto the Chartreuse One. Another fellow stuffed a pair of pale green pants (!) and stood it in the corner of his preschooler's bedroom (!!) because the kid was afraid of the dark (!!!). OK, that guy may really be evil, but another – professional artist, this one – taxidermed some chromatically-correct britches in a relaxed yet empty posture and gave them to his (25-year-old) sister for Christmas.

Upshot: ours is not the only family to find Deep If Somewhat Disturbing Significance in this tale of tailored terror.

Surprisingly, I've yet to encounter a single Net-cruising helicopter pilot wailing, "Never let your tender darlings read this horrifying book!!!!!", or claiming that it's a thinly-veiled Wiccan conspiracy to make our children worship Satan and wear ugly pants. Closest was one mom who recommended only middle school kids be permitted to read it. Right, lady. Best get a few years under your belt before you meet The Doctor.

Or maybe that's insensitive. Perhaps the spectre of unfashionable clothing run amok has special resonance for women. I'll withdraw the statement.

In the end, it may be that the scariest thing about Pale Green Pants is its power to inspire such vague obedience in all of us who, once as children, fell under its mildly-alarming spell. It's the single thread running through every account I've collected, starting with my own: we all fear the Pants, we all cheer the Pants, we all stand ready, like an army of cereal-munching Renfields, to serve the Lime-Hued Lord. How much more exciting all of this might be if He actually wanted anything.

But now I'm back on religion. And in all candour, there may be a touch of Zen in there somewhere; a creak of the Gateless Gate in those selfless slacks. Witness this flash of Suessian insight:

I said, "I do not fear those pants
With nobody inside them."
I said, and said, and said those words.
I said them. But I lied them.

Been there, lied that.

(Adapted from Growing Up Home, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...