You know when you vaguely recall something from your youth, something that you try for years to remember, but just can't come up with it...something that you can only recollect pieces of...pieces that have been blurred by time, the puberty years and loads of marijuana.
This is a story, something like that...the story of Hugo: Man Of 1,000 Faces...a toy that I have tried to find for many years...but didn't know what it was called...until now. In all likely hood, Hugo is the contributing factor to why I had a fear of bald men, until I was in my teens...and why I shave my scrotum today.
Second Grade class at John Greenleaf Whittier Elementary School was like any other classroom of the very early 80's...stuffy, annoying and full of rowdy little shitheads in C-3PO t-shirts,...little rapscallionous buggars that smelt a bit like dookie balls [a very common term in that class, that, and poppin' forts]...myself included, I'm sure. The teacher for this class escapes me [save for the fact, that she was an African American lady], so we won't trip on this detail.
Anyhooo...in said classroom, we had a toy chest full of crappy, city donated toys to play with during recess. This toy chest was in a coat closet...which was behind a partition, that served as a bulletin board for handprint turkeys, crayon drawings and other scholastic ephemera.
One day, I went to hang my little coat in the closet, on a brass hook...just one, in a long line of coated brass hooks. That's when I first noticed him...peering out of the toy chest...a tiny little plastic man, in a blue peasants blouse, like a hippie might wear...he had a shiny, bald head...and a placid, almost unassuming look on his puss, but with something in his eyes that said "I am not to be trusted". His eyes followed you, as you moved back and forth...not unlike the eyes in the painting above the old widow Crenshaw's fireplace mantle...that of her late husband, Col. Jebediah Crenshaw...the cut-throat Civil War traitor.
This was to be my initial encounter with...Hugo: Man of 1,000 Faces.
I can think of many comparisons as to what Hugo looked like...for example...Fantomas, the French movie villain [if he had been a healthy flesh color and not blue], The Dave Bowman Space Fetus in 2001 a Space Odyssey, Uncle Fester...etc...there are many others.
I was not immediately terrified by Hugo. Yes indeed, I thought he was somewhat disturbing, but he didn't scare me...I just chose to avoid him/it, when I went into the closet to get a toy or my wrap or my nap mat, I did not look at him. And this worked...out of sight, out of mind.
Time went on...and it seemed that nobody ever played with Hugo, he was always at the bottom of the toy-heap...not unlike that lowly kid, last picked in dodge ball, you know, the scrawny kid with boogers in his hair...who probably grew up to become the CEO of some Fortune 500 company...or more plausible, the cat that guns down 15 from a church bell tower.
Then came that fateful day...the day when Merle Taylor came runnin' like some demon sent from Hell, out of the coat closet. Like a hades-spawned hellion-child if you will, with an unsettling gleam in his eyes and a devilish smirk about his crusty lips. And who was with him at the helm?...Hugo, that God damned son of bitch Hugo...whom Merle was now holding out in front of himself with both arms, as if Hugo was the ghastly figurehead of Satan's pirate ship, sent to destroy everyone and everything in it's path. He had discovered Hugo, for the first time...and like a boy with a new puppy or a little girl with a big piece of birthday cake, Merle was in love.
I guess the old adage...that says "There's somebody for everybody" is true. That evil little cocksucker Merle Taylor had found a playmate...and in turn, the toy Hugo, who had fallen by the wayside, was now loved. And this unholy union would last over the next few weeks of school...much to every ones dismay.
Merle Taylor for lack of better terms, was a mess. Unfortunately, the boy always smelled of hickory because his family didn't have a modern furnace, they relied on old fashioned wood stove heat...this earned him the cruel monikers of "Bacon Boy" and "Smokey Joe". Suffice to say, years of this torment, screwed him up a little.
On a daily basis, Merle would run to the closet at recess...and dig out Hugo, whom he had by now hidden somewhere, part of their pact I would imagine. Then, he would run out...screaming in some ancient form of dialect, that only a schizophrenic could understand. Shaking Hugo, out in front himself...he would do laps around the classroom, thrusting the doll into the kids faces...and the teachers face as well. Sometimes he would bash Hugo's hairless cranium into the tables or the walls, and even the fish tank. And the most frightening thing, you could even witness Merle talking to Hugo, in whispers...conversations about slaughtering the class...killing the teacher...setting the school ablaze...robbing banks...putting firecrackers in cats asses...who knows.
He took extra measures, when it came to torturing me...because some shit-ass had informed him that I was not fond of Hugo. Every lap he would make, he stuck that ugly fucker in my face, sometimes even hitting me with Hugo's head...laughing his ass off, so hard...that tears ran down his cheeks...the boy was insane. This scene played out everyday, for about two weeks.
Then one day...recess came...Merle charged into his dark, musty, coat filled labyrinth...30 minutes of pure insanity was set to begin...time passed...the other children sat quietly, awaiting their demise...I lay, curled into the fetal position under a table, praying that this would be the day when Merle tripped, and was impaled on a pair of safety scissors. You could hear stuff being thrown about, in the closet, as if a desperate search was underway...tensions mounted...muffled cussing could be heard...and then...he emerged...the usual shenanigan bent face, was now a face of disbelief and sadness...because even at 7 or 8 years old...he realized, he'd just been fucked over by the man. The teacher had initialized a coup...and Hugo was gone...forever.
Merle went into hysterics...threw a big bawl-baby tantrum, and his mother had to be called down to control him...which in those days meant...that he was gonna get the paddlin' of his life, right there in front of everybody...and he did...I saw it happen. And at that moment, for the first time in my young life, I tasted vindication...and it was sweet...like the milk of a teet.
Nobody ever pondered what had happened to Hugo...nobody cared. It was a general consensus amongst the wee ones in room 206..."That Hugo was a crappy toy", and that "He smelled funny"...which is no surprise, I mean...he was the best pal to a little rat that smelled like he bathed in a tub of Liquid Smoke every night.
Merle got over it...the memory of Hugo passed into the ages...all was well in the world. As Merle grew up, he was not nearly as much of jerk, as he was in second grade, well...he was still a jerk, but so was I, and birds of a feather shall flock. We actually started walking to school together, because we both liked to throw empty beer bottles at cars and break the windows out of abandoned houses. I followed Merle through school, up until about the 8th grade...and never saw him again.
That agent of chaos...Hugo, was most likely transported by a big burly janitor...out to the rancid smelling...sour milk saturated dumpster, beside the building, and is now quietly decomposing in a landfill somewhere...all accept for his head.
Years later...I have developed a somewhat twisted concept of reality...I like to imagine Hugo, still there...haunting the halls and rooms of that old grade school...scaring the piss out of lil' bastards like me...lookin' up ladies skirts...spittin' in the mashed potatoes...watchin' little girls go to the potty and calmly planning a massive world domination. Ocassionally thinking about the boy, who once loved him...for a few weeks...back in 1982...a boy, who would now be in his mid-30's...and fully transformed into a piece of hickory wood.
Hugo: Man Of 1,000 Faces was a toy/game...put out by Kenner in 1975...he was made to be sort of a Lon Chaney Sr. if you will...he came with a variety of facials applications, wigs, glasses and other things...and he also came with a glue stick, so you could glue the pieces onto his head and face...I am told by some folks that had one...that it worked, but slightly half-assed.
Hugo was the brainchild of special effects artist, Alan Ormsby, who directed the film "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things".
He was featured as a prop, in the original Pee Wee Herman stage show.
As much as I hated Hugo's ass then...I would love to have one now.