Picture, if you will, a day at the beach. You’ve sunned all day and are now ready to enjoy the slightly cooler boardwalk in the early evening, taking in the smells of fried foods mixed with saltwater. A Ferris wheel lights up in the distance, and sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between the screams of gulls and the laughs of children.
But wait a second. Focus again. A little to the left. A storefront of a burger joint, people packed in to the gills. And in the front a large, furry brown bear with an enormous belly wearing a t-shirt advertising the restaurant.
That bear is me.
That’s right, fellow collegiettes, I spent the summer between my freshmen and sophomore years of college working as a mascot. The Stewarts’ Root Bear, to be exact, the symbol of Stewarts’ Root Beer. Oh, you didn’t know they had a mascot? That’s all right, he’s not very well known.
I hadn’t heard of him, either, until I saw a friend’s post on Facebook. The restaurant she worked at needed a mascot, someone who could hop in the suit on the weekends. Although I already had a job waitressing at a different restaurant, I was looking for something that would give me a little extra money with a lot less thinking involved. (Contrary to popular belief, being a waitress requires quite a lot of thinking in addition to the back breaking pace.) I sent her a message, and one meeting with the manager later I had the job.
I’ll admit, I was looking forward to it. I’m an actor, and this was basically an acting job. I’d never worked as a fur character before, but I’d certainly never had any qualms about being ridiculous in front of strangers. The fact that I was completely anonymous inside my suit didn’t hurt.
My first surprise came when I went to get into the suit, and they handed me a vest that looked like something a police officer would wear. I had to fill it with tubes of ice before putting it on. Then I had to attach my stomach, which was basically a giant pillow that attached around my neck and at the small at my back like an apron. Then the main suit, then the feet. At this point one of the servers had to help me put the shirt on, since it Velcro-d shut in the back. Then the furry hands, and then finally the head, and I emerged from the back of the restaurant having fully become the Root Bear.
And so, collegiettes, to describe the experience, I shall give you a list of (drumroll please)…. Pros and cons of being a mascot! I’m generally a positive person and like to end on a happy note, so first I bring you…
People have zero respect for a person in a mascot costume. I suspect that people forget that you are a person. Did you know that at major theme parks, like Disney, all of the fur characters have a designated handler? The handler is basically designed to keep the character safe. I did not have a handler. This means that, for example, on the day that three teenage boys decided to spend several hours harassing me, I had no defense. One of them tackled me, believe it or not. (It didn’t help that since I’m pretty tall, they most likely assumed there was a guy in the costume.) In the end, I called a friend who worked nearby and he come over after his shift, actually standing between me and these kids to keep them from knocking me over. It didn’t happen a lot, but the lesson? FUR CHARACTERS ARE PEOPLE.
The heat. Oh, the heat. I worked at the Jersey shore, and it would be in the nineties while I was basically in a full body fur coat. The ice pack vest, while helpful, didn’t nearly do the job well enough. I used to take my breaks sitting in the walk in cooler in the back (and I took those for fifteen minutes every hour, to avoid passing out).
Sometimes kids cry when they see you. That’s always kind of a shame.
But wait! The job, I promise, was not the worst thing. I give you….
Have you ever had the complete and utter freedom to do whatever you want and know that no matter what you did, you couldn’t be judged for it? That is the beauty of anonymity, and being a fur character is ultimate anonymity. I would high five strangers, try to get kids to do the Macarena (they usually did) and have dance parties by myself to the karaoke I could just barely hear. And since I was already in a giant animal costume, there was no way I could be embarrassed.
Have you ever seen the look of total awe on a child’s face when a huge furry bear kneels down and gives them a hug or a high five? I’ve been on the receiving end, and trust me when I say it’s fantastic.
I’m a hugger. And what is more huggable than a giant fluffy bear? Not much, my friends, not much.
In the end, I actually really did enjoy the job. The pros did outweigh the cons, and believe me when I say that there is nothing like the escape of a character costume like that. So, collegiettes, if you ever get the opportunity to do this sort of thing, seize it! After all, you only live once. And the next time you pass a mascot, give them a smile and a high five. After all, giant fluffy animals are people too.