Last week, I walked over to the Fox Theater and bought these two tickets. I was going to see if they had any available for this week, but then the guy behind the ticket window told me he had two front row center tickets available for that morning's show. "She won't be scared of the giant characters that close, will she?" the guy asked.

"We can only hope so," I replied, realizing for the first time that this little indulgence could have unintended benefits. Perhaps a guy dancing in a six-foot Elmo costume just a few feet away would terrify my daughter so much that she would no longer have any interest in her mangy-red beloved. Here I was, willing to pay for and sit through two hours of canned dialogue and live-muppet dancing just to see the interior of Detroit's Fox Theater, and not only had I scored front row tickets without paying the 50 percent Ticketmaster surcharge, but could I also potentially release the headlock that the Sesame Workshop would have on my kid for the next three years in just a few minutes of screech-inducing costume-inspired terror? I had high hopes as I swiped the tickets away from the seller and giddily handed them to the top-hatted usher who opened the deco door for us into the theater's warm lobby.

The Fox is one of those theaters built in the Jazz age intended to transport the average theatergoer to a different world: with a gust of perfumed air it would blow the factory dust from their evening jackets and lift them up onto a magic red-velvet carpet and through an arabesque network of colonnades filled with tuxedoed booze-and-popcorn vendors, up and up through archways guarded by dragons and monkeys and Siamese coquettes, mezzanines under sixty-foot frescoed ceilings populated by armies of ushers eager to shuttle you to your proper entrance to the theater, and then you finally enter the theater itself, an orgy of oriental ornament held up by cyclopean Corinthian columns flanked by pensive Burmese Buddhas and Persian lions contemplating nicely-nippled Hindu deities. Outside in the snow and the soot and the wind chill you could not hide from Detroit in February, but inside this theater, the price of a ticket bought you not only the words and the songs and the sights of whatever was to appear on stage, but it took you off those streets and into Kublai Khan's court; into the dreams of Nebuchadrezzar himself.

I carried Juniper in my right arm, holding her cheek up to my cheek and pointing at the elaborate ceiling, the opulence that threatened, I thought, to overwhelm us both. "Isn't it beautiful, Juney? Look up. Isn't it amazing?"

"Elmo!" she shouted.

Sure enough, among the seraphim and cherubim adorning the ceiling, I saw Elmo's bug-eyed mangy red mug staring down at me. Smiling. It was a giant mylar balloon that some spoiled little chit had carelessly released from his grip during a previous matinée. I speculated about how they could ever get it down. Slingshot? BB gun? While I wondered, Juniper looked back from her front row perch at the hundreds of kids who were filling the seats behind her and the balcony above. "Who's that boy?" she asked. I had no idea which one of the kids holding flashing LED Elmo gewgaws or clutching other trappings from the concession stands she meant. "That boy is someone's whose parents planned ahead and did not wait until the morning of the show to buy him tickets," I said. "Ha ha!" I added.

We sat and waited until fifteen minutes after the show was supposed to start before the lights finally dimmed. I stood Juniper on my lap so her butt rested on my chest. I wanted to get a good look at her face when the characters came out, and I wanted to be ready to catch her and comfort her in case she decided she was terrified of those real, giant muppets and needed to leave immediately.

But even to my hardened heart, the pure joy in my daughter's eyes melted me so much I grabbed her close and smelled her hair as Bert walked out on the stage, followed by Ernie, followed by Prairie Dawn, and she pointed and despite the blaring noise from the speakers I could see each word on her lips as she said it. I never looked at the stage. My eyes were on my daughter's face. When a half dozen or so characters had made it out on stage, dancing to the opening number, the look on her face was the same as I imagine might have fallen across Coronado's visage had he discovered the seven cities of Cíbola in the Arizona desert rather than tumbleweeds. It was the same look Sir Galahad might have given the holy grail after years of toil and search. It was how Albert Einstein might have looked at a sheet of notebook paper that contained a unified field theory.

She was, in other words, delighted.

I looked up at the stage. Prairie Dawn, Telly, Baby Bear, Zoe, Big Bird, Burt and Ernie were all there. The Count was there. The turquoise one who is always talking about burritos and amigos was there.

I realized it didn't matter what the characters were saying. For the first ten minutes of the show, all the kids in the theater basically just pointed at the stage and at the top of their lungs screamed the preschooler equivalent of: "ARRGGHHAHHOOOOAYEAYEYIIIIII HOLY FUCKING SHIT THERE'S COOKIE MONSTER!!!!!!!" Still, there was something in Juniper's eyes that indicated anxiety. It wasn't just her. As time went on and more and more characters came on stage, but still there was a definite sense of unease among the entire audience. What was wrong with all these preschoolers? Couldn't they just sit back and enjoy a dance routine about oral hygiene or whatever? Then I realized what geniuses the writers of Sesame Street Live truly were. It was all dramatic tension. The song quieted down, the dancing muppets moved to the side of the stage, and one spotlight focused on the middle of the set. There was a burst of paper, a flash of red fur, and then every living being in the joint under the age of six suddenly collectively lost their shit. It was like 1955 Elvis Presley combined with the 1964 Beatles with a dash of 1988 Joey McIntyre and just a pinch of 1997 Leonardo DiCaprio (in Japan). There was a sudden sonic vacuum in the theater as hundreds and hundreds and children captured their breath and then released, screaming and pointing at the stage:


And my sweet Juniper was right there with them. The hair stood up on the back of my neck.

So a man standing there in the six-foot Elmo costume basked in the love of a thousand ecstatic toddlers, while a pre-recorded voice sang and he flapped the giant muppet lips to the words. It didn't matter what he said. It didn't matter what any of them said. As long as Grover fell down, as long as Elmo was always on stage, the dollars all those parents spent on tickets and ticketmaster fees and LED spinning Elmo gewgaws and stuffed Elmos and overpriced popcorn and juice boxes was worth it. I tried to pay attention to the nonsensical plot but lost interest after about five minutes, when I started imagining what the lives of the touring Sesame Street Live: Super Grover! Ready for Action road crew were like in between performances. From the several characters that came out without muppet costumes, I could tell they were all in their early twenties. This was probably a pretty good gig for a graduate from the Dance-Theater department of the College of Wooster, you know, before they move to New York City and work as receptionists at pilates studios before making their big breaks and proving to their parents that it was all worth it. I imagined the romance and heartbreak that must occur among the staff: Ernie catching Bert giving an assistant carpenter head behind Hooper's store; The Count making gentle love to the guy who plays the dancing broccoli without taking his costume head off. Elmo telling Zoe that she's a sweet girl, and the time they spent together was nice, but when they get to Fargo and the tour ends, he's going back to a girl who's been Glinda's understudy in the traveling production of Wicked. Zoe getting all drunk and fucking Telly back in the hotel room they've been sharing just to make Elmo jealous. I like Telly. He reminds me of the oafish kid in your fifth grade class who's two months late for a haircut and who brought homemade cupcakes on his birthday but one of them had a dead fly in the frosting and everyone in the class made fun of him and no one ate theirs, including you, but you still want to hug him and tell him that everything will be all right some day even though you're pretty sure things will never be right for him in this world.

The plot had something to do with superheroes or something. I think they were trying to get Grover his superpowers back by learning even superheroes need baths and sleep and good nutrition. All I know is I haven't seen a more inspiring performance of Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out for a Hero since the climactic moments of Short Circuit 2.

About forty minutes in the bastards left the stage for a fifteen-minute intermission, and all the kids shook their heads groggily from the muppet-induced hysteria. It was then that they brought out the balloons. An army of men carrying dozens of the same mylar Elmo balloons Juniper had spotted on the ceiling emerged from cloisters at the sides of the theater, creating a feeding frenzy of children begging for and parents buying the $10 souvenirs. Juniper started walking over to a guy with the balloons all by herself, screaming for one as I dragged her back to our seats. Soon the theater behind her was filled with dispersed floating evidence that I am a lousy father. A lousy father who waited with her for the lights to dim again, feeding her cherrios, and then watching her face while the muppets reappeared and the desire for mylar diminished, and the spectacle of color, and fur, and song spread out across the stage just inches from her eyes.

Behind me a black father wooted during one skit when Cookie Monster started "rapping." I turned and saw the honest joy in his eyes as he stood up and did a little dance, enjoying the show with his two little girls as wide-eyed as mine. God it was so lame, and so awesome. We are parents. This is what we do.