I stripped off the ridiculous costume and headed for the shower. I had to get it off. All of it—the sweat, the stink, and that feeling like I'd just done something reprehensible. I needed refuge.
Whatever part of me that got me here, the one that said, "Yeah, that's a good idea—it'll be fun, you should do it," was totally fucking wrong. But I suppose you never really know what it's like until you strap on those two-foot-long shoes, put on the mask, and humiliate yourself before an audience of a few thousand. So thanks a lot, spirit of adventure. We can now cross "professional mascot" off the list.
At first I was surprised that the LumberJax, Portland's professional lacrosse team, actually agreed to let me wear their mascot's costume during a game. In fact, I still am. The games themselves are an odd, yet enjoyable spectacle—somewhat like hockey, but with shorts and without skates. Metal songs blast during the game and fights are strongly encouraged.
The mascot's name is Jaxon. He's a seven-foot-tall lumberjack in shredded jean shorts and a flannel. He's got stubble, a beanie, and a maniacal grin. I picture him having been awake for two weeks straight on some horrible, twisted meth binge.
At the Rose Garden loading dock two people are waiting for me. There was a woman from marketing with a schedule—my handler—and Trampus, the usual mascot. "Call me T," he kept telling people we encountered. It seemed strange that they hadn't already met.
"T" is oddly mellow. Sipping his cup of soda he tells me about his first mascot gig as Larry the Cucumber. He doesn't seem to mind that I'll be handling his job for a bit, as if he's happy to be getting a break. Not a good sign.
They park me in a dressing room. I'm supposed to be suited up in 10 minutes, but no one knows where the costume is. They find the T-shirt gun, but nobody seems ready to let me touch it. So there we are, pacing around the dressing room.
Is this where they keep the rock stars? Does Anthony Kiedis do his make-up in these mirrors? Has Elton John shat here? Finally a massive duffle bag containing the suit arrives and I'm saved from pondering such ridiculously stupid things.
The moment "T" unzips the bag I can smell it. Months, maybe years of stale, moldy sweat.
"Jesus, you guys gotta have this thing drycleaned," I blurt out.
"We can't," the handler says. I find this very hard to believe.
Forget the stink—on with it. Here we go. Big floppy cut-off jean shorts, a muscle suit, and a flannel—hey, at least it's not a trail cat or a sassy bear. God, though, it really reeks.
The boots are like clown shoes only bigger, and the weak straps barely keep them on. I picture myself tripping, slamming awkwardly into the AstroTurf as the head pops off and rolls away.
Back at it. Put it on. The gloves, now the mask. Staring out through the grinning teeth, I can't see much. It's stuffy. The sweat smell drifts up and gets trapped inside the mask.
"First we've got a meet 'n' greet with the owner's kids," the handler says. "It's their birthday and you're going to take some pictures."
WHAT?! The owner's kids?! That's where we're starting? Great. Just fucking great. I can hardly move. I probably look drunk.
The kids aren't here yet, but in the tunnels people are starting to mill around—players, refs, photographers, cheerleaders, and the like. It's getting hot. I take the mask off. "YOU CAN'T DO THAT!" the handler bristles. Great. So much for fresh air.
Finally the owner's kids show up with what looks like mom and grandma. One last word of advice from the handler as she shuttles me over to them: "Don't say anything!" Great.
High-fives and bad shaky dancing with the kids. I pick them up, one in each arm, for a photo. Grandma doesn't know how to work the camera. I'm standing there with these two children in my arms and she's fumbling. It's troublesome. Finally the shutter snaps and I set them down. Now the sweating truly begins. Underneath all the fake muscles and mask it's a sauna. Soon sweat'll be dripping off my nose and into my eyes like a faucet.
All of a sudden 200 kids start parading down the tunnel. Oh Jesus. I'm trapped. High-fives and machine-gun punches and more bad dancing. Not used to expressing myself so physically, I find myself making strange faces through the mask that no one can see.
The kids seem happy enough. One little boy, maybe nine years old, wraps himself around my leg for a hug.
"Ewww, YOU STINK!" he says before cowering away. I do indeed, son. Terribly.
The kids are all around me now and they're getting older. Oh no... teens. The pimply faced older ones. The ones that are too cool to be here, and yet here they are. They surround me, start with a sort of group hug that turns into a half-hearted smash. Then they start jabbing.
They're fucking with me and hell, they should be. Mercifully, they eventually become bored with my humiliation and buzz off.
Onto the field for introductions. "T" has one last bit of advice: "Just dance around and go crazy! Remember, you're anonymous in there. When I put the mask on it changes me!"
Suddenly, the lights are low and the music is blasting and I'm in the middle of the field. The players run through the tunnel and past me for high-fives. Some diss me and skip it, while others deliver thumping body checks. Thanks dudes.
Is anyone looking at me here on the field? Do they care? I can't see a damn thing with this mask on—not into the stands anyway. It's tough to know what to do without seeing the response. Sweat getting out of control now. Totally soaked. Stinging saltiness is in my eyes. I wonder if I'll leave a puddle.
Off the field and back into the tunnels. The handler's leading me through the dark back alleys and she's got a list of things we've got to do—unfortunately I stopped caring about 20 minutes ago.
It's some kid's birthday and we've got another meet 'n' greet. I feel like a whore. But it's about to get worse. At the next station I'm to do a credit card promo. Kill me now.
Now, in the main concourse, kids want attention while teens want my butt. The guys are kicking it and the girls are grabbing. This can't end soon enough.
Next we're supposed to upgrade some customers to better seats. It's the boy's birthday and his mom is super hot. To him, however, I am about as exciting as a plate of broccoli with a side of homework. I'm dancing and disgusted.
Moments later I'm in the stands alone. People keep shouting for my attention. They want me to dance or rock out or give high-fives. The many grown men calling my name confound me. "HEY JAXON!" I turn around and there he is, wide-eyed and 40. Thumbs up, bro! It's inexplicable.
The clock is crawling. Why are there so many stops in play!? Get me out of here! Time hasn't moved so slowly since grade school—like waiting for that clock to hit 3 pm to set me free. Go, damn you, GO!
Finally we're headed back to the dressing room. I give "T" the suit. It's drenched. I have no idea how he does this, or why he'd want to. Perhaps the anonymity gives him some power or high he can't find elsewhere. But despite the cloak, that same anonymity couldn't save me from feeling hopelessly degraded. People keep asking me if I've got some newfound respect for the people underneath the mask. All I can say is that I'm not the right man for the job.
With my head slung low, I hit the showers, needing much more than water to wash myself clean.