Getting a Head: Touring the World as a Giant Dancing Bear
If you aren’t crazy before you travel across the continent in a van, performing in packed theaters wearing a mascot costume of a famous cartoon character, you sure as hell will be afterwards. Daniel Falk invites you to join his descent into madness, and to meet the friends he made on his way down.
Do You Know Who I Am?
BY DANIEL FALK
Occasionally companies hire us to bring some of the popular characters from our shows to do guest appearances and meet-and-greets at events like street festivals, exhibitions, or ceremonial Christmas tree lightings. It’s shitty work, particularly at outdoor events in the summer.
At least the pay is good.
I no longer do the big meet-and-greets in costume. I get really anxious knowing I’m surrounded by thousands of children and not able to outrun them if it came to that. I still help out as a wrangler—guiding the costumed characters around and fielding questions for them. But even that has its share of annoyances.
The wrangler is the one who needs to keep the line from descending into a chaotic man-in-the-state-of-nature Hobbesian nightmare. You’ve got to deal with the parents who blatantly cut in front of hundreds of other families in line and then feign the inability to speak English when you ask them to line up like a decent human being. Usually the best way to deal with them is just to let them get their picture, get rid of them, and apologize to the next family in line. If you can get their photo in fast enough, then hurry the next kid into picture-taking position, the parents get too distracted trying to prepare for the shot to realize how outraged they are.
A wrangler’s most important job is protecting the poor souls inside the costumes. I don’t know enough about child psychology to understand why, after seeing their favourite cartoon bear, one would immediately launch into the kind of full frontal assault that would impress a regiment of late medieval heavy cavalry. But it happens, usually to the humiliation of the parents involved.
One such assault occurred at a season opening party for a team in the Canadian Football League. There were four or five characters total and I was assigned as the guardian of Penguin. The event was moving along well until one blonde, five-year-old treasure decided it would be super fun to punch Penguin in the stomach as hard as he could. I stepped between him and the injured Antarctic bird and said, “Whoa, take it easy there, little buddy! Not so rough, okay?”
Usually after such displays of gratuitous childhood violence, a very embarrassed parent rushes in, apologizes, and then drags their sociopathic rage machine away. But this time there was no parent. Just a very tired looking Filipino woman who silently toted him off.
I asked Penguin if she was okay. She gave me the thumbs up and we continued moving through the line up. But that was not the last we were to see of our blonde-haired little treasure.
I don’t know what he had against Penguin, but he returned a second time. This time he accosted Penguin while I was trying to teach a grown man how to use his own camera. By the time I was able to step between them, Blondie got in another punch in the stomach and a kick in the shins. Penguin shoved God’s gift to humanity away and I stepped between them saying, “Calm down, little guy! Where’s your mom and dad?”
The angelic little cutie pie spit on the ground and disappeared into the throng of families, pursued by his flagging Filipino supervisor. Penguin assured me she was okay and we worked through the remaining families as quickly as possible to avoid any further assaults. I walked the animals back to the change room, then got to work packing up to go home.
It was here I was approached by an enraged, spray-tan orange, blonde haired monstrosity.
“How dare you tell my son to calm down!”
It would have taken a blind and deaf person in a vegetative coma to have been unable to draw the connection between son and mother. I’ve dealt with a lot of shitty, aggressive kids in my day, and a lot of shittier, more aggressive parents. But even the worst parents usually turn into puddles of contrition after their little pieces of shit blatantly assault someone in a mascot costume. People realize there are lines you don’t cross. The person in that suit is suffering enough as it is.
But this woman didn’t seem to get it.
“How dare you tell my son to take it easy! He is a good boy!” she continued.
I really didn’t know what to say in response. The gears were working in my head, but the only logical response I could come up with was that it was my responsibility to the rest of humanity to throw this woman off a cliff. I still believe that would have probably been the best thing to have done, from a long-term, strictly Utilitarian point of view. But some selfish part of me knew that if I threw her off a cliff I would wind up in jail, so I failed to do my duty to humanity. And for that I am sorry.
I was so utterly dumbfounded the only thing I could think to say was:
“He’s just a little rambunctious and that Penguin had no right to shove him!”
I still had no response whatsoever. So my previous one seemed like it would suffice.
“Do you know who I am?” the orange woman demanded.
“A very tall Oompa Loompa?” Is what I did not say. What I did say was:
“Do you know who I am?”
“My husband is the owner of this team.”
“I could have you fired!”
It was at this point that she stormed off, never to be heard from again. It could be that she told her long suffering husband about the ordeal and he just rolled his eyes, and once again calculated how much fifty percent of his property added up to. Or it could be that I had simply called her bluff and she stormed off to drink sour apple martinis or flavourless, low-carb, low-calorie beer with the other VIP moms. Who knows? All I know is that I wasn’t fired or even reprimanded.
I drove home that night and thought about how I could have handled the encounter better. I kept thinking of other clever one-liners with which I could have zinged her, but knew that would have only escalated the problem. I could have apologized and tried to calm her down, but I doubt that would have helped. All I did was wait out the storm, and, to be honest, I think that was probably the best thing.
After all, if we seriously answer the question “Do you know who I am?” the answer paints a relatively sympathetic picture. I do know who she is. She is the fading token wife of a wealthy sports team owner. Nobody wants to be that.
I don’t resent the kid for being a piece of shit. Some kids are just crazy. They have more energy than they know what to do with, and no sense of how to channel it yet. I was one of those pieces of shit.
But my parents knew I could be difficult to deal with. They apologized to my teachers when I decided to answer all questions in song or creatively re-interpreted my homework assignments in some smart-ass way. I would feel terrible for what my parents had to go through, except that I know that, Karmaically, I will eventually have some screaming, puking piece of shit of my own to apologize for.
The problem isn’t the piece-of-shit kids. The problem is the piece-of-shit parents who do nothing but drink sour apple martinis and take pictures on their iPads while exasperated Filipino nannies chase down their children.
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