It takes a solid 90 minutes of clodding around town before the epiphany strikes me like a shoe flung from the cheap seats: Concealed by costume, I can flout society’s conventions. I can (and do) press my face up against the windows of idling cars or crab-walk across the floor of the local pizza joint. Sure, sweat is coursing down my body with the intensity of a storm-swelled river, and sure, I itch in places that are unscratchable, given my slab-thick fingers. But I take solace in my costume cover. I can almost hear myself excusing some borderline-felonious behavior to the nice prosecutor by saying, “Sir, that’s totally not me under the pooch head.”
I bask in this recrimination-free anonymity at our next stop: Roosevelt’s, a warm neighborhood pub. Rather than repeating my skipping/thrashing act of the preceding hours, I approach a table populated by four 20-somethings, grab their pitcher of beer, nod solemnly and walk away with it. Without the costume, I’d have found myself on the receiving end of a boot. With it, I get a laugh and a request to pose for photos. I am definitely on to something.
The evening concludes with a personality-development workshop (in sketching Striker as “not as mature or as smart as he thinks he is,” I unwittingly described myself) and prop drills (“they’re tax-deductible!” Blank notes cheerily). When I arrive back at the hotel at 9:45 p.m., I am thoroughly exhausted. A quick hop on the scale reveals that I weighed 7 pounds less at the end of the day than I did at its outset — and that was 15 minutes after I consumed my weight in cheese at a postclass pizza party.
Still, I take my newfound sense of liberation into the second day of mascot camp. While drills and video study are on the agenda, we mascots are about one thing and one thing only: the halftime performance. Prior to their departure the night before, Blank and Somerset Patriots mascot Sparkee had choreographed our “Thriller” routine. Mixing a zombie shuffle with elements of “The Macarena” and “The Hustle,” the routine made up in originality what it lacked in stylistic coherence. Watching myself perform it in the studio’s mirrored walls, I appear to be in the throes of a stop-motion seizure.
When we make our way over to the stadium, the Moravian band is in the process of throwing down the gauntlet. Our performance is immediately preceded by a Styx melody, complete with “Mr. Roboto.” Still, the early-arriving fans are thrilled to see us. Never have I found myself in such high demand as a photo model. Soccer’s popularity among young children in the Bethlehem metropolitan area is quite high, it seems.
It is at this point when I lose my enthusiasm for the task at hand. Don’t get me wrong — I have lotsa love for kids, old people, puppies and every other mascot-appreciating constituency, but I can’t think of what to do to entertain them (and myself) for the hour leading up to kickoff. It doesn’t help that I am unable to squelch a trio of sneezes, which renders the inside of my costume head as moist and fragrant as a hamster’s cage.
The only good that comes out of this stretch is the accidental discovery of intense mascot chemistry with Loco, a big, bulbous, blue … something. We dance and gyrate. We mock-duel. After Loco runs off, ostensibly to secure a restraining order, I think to myself: Striker could’ve loved him/her/it.