Dear Complaining Mother,

About the “obscene hand gesture” you mentioned in your letter to park management. Had I fingers, or even hands, I might confirm your sighting of same—wearing a badly-stained dog costume ten hours a day yields a bracingly low reward:loss of dignity ratio.

But, mother, we’re talking about two asymmetrical gobbets of burlap-enforced, Sno-Kone-and-chili-dog-encrusted fabric, neither of which I’m able to manipulate into anything resembling specific motion, let alone condemnatory gesture. Gesture-wise, I’m a non-starter. Like, I tried to communicate via A.S.L. with a kid in a school group one day? People thought I was trying to signal that I’d caught on fire.

But I grant you—some days, the finger would be a relief. Something to particularize the despair, you know? We’re so bare bones here at Animal Legends that the bones are getting a little shardy. We’re talking, no animatronics. No c.g.i. No harnesses. Nothing but felt.

All of which breeds the discontent specific to the park that is blighted by both corporate malaise and limited licensing fees. I mean, you try to calm the kid who’s been told he can’t ride the William Shat-narwhal or the Stan Musialbatross because their breathing apparatuses need new mouthpieces; you tell a vanload of seniors that they won’t be cavorting anytime soon with the inoperative Eunicecorn Shriver. It hurts the heart.

As do your accusations. Even though, a finger’s the least of it. In fact, thank you for the finger, mother. Thank you for the way the finger obscures all the other stuff—the times I’ve told whiny parents that the bathrooms are located several miles from the park, just under the crust of the earth. The time I told the kid baffled by the identities of Sharpei-braham Lincoln and Manateena Sinatra that they are very, very minor “Shrek” characters. The time a kid asked me why I was wearing a “You can pet me today!” button and I told him, “So you can feel my disease.”

I’m not proud of any of this. Regrets, I have a few. But when your professional life is predicated solely upon your once having fit into a soul-crushing fur sack, you get a different vantage point on things. One time a mother shook the excess fabric on my arms and said, “Guess you’re still growing?” So I nodded my headpiece and said, “Like fingernails on a corpse.”

But we’re not even talking about that stuff. We’re merely talking about posing for pictures—a service, I should add, that I offer parkgoers without expectation of gratuity or even compliment.

And this is where the mind boggles, mother. You’re telling me that you bring a kid to a germ laboratory where he will ingest car-sized portions of artery-clogging food prior to his being hurled about in the air by rusted pieces of metal that are curiously absent of inspection stickers, and all you can come up with is “Chow Chow En- Lai gave my kid the finger!”? O, mother—I applaud your audacity! ‘Tis you with the engorged glandular bits betwixt your hindquarters! Your sense of self outdoes even Dudley Mooreangutan’s.

Look, I realize that most people don’t want to hear the truth. People don’t want to know that a costumed character with only one facial expression may in fact be experiencing a rainbow of emotion. The mouth-less Hello Kitty cannot even respond to the salutation that is her name.

However, to the extent that anyone wants to hear how a man who spends his life inside a chow chow costume actually feels—that word, “felt”: kind of ironic now, am I right?—I’m going to tell you where I’m at.

For the record: inasmuch as I am able to give you, or any parkgoer, the finger, I did. Which is to say, I gave you the paw. Paw you, mom. Paw you, and all your motherpawing lawyers.

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