For three days during the Ann Arbor Art Fair, I did something that few adults will consent to do, even in pleasant weather: I willingly put on a full-body buffalo costume and paraded myself through crowds of onlookers.
My feelings about the experience are mixed. While the wearing of the suit was incredibly difficult, the actual experience of becoming "Blazin' the Buffalo©" was... well, it was fun. I liked it.
Putting on the buffalo suit (or any mascot outfit) equals instant popularity. Everyone loves a mascot. They're funny, instantly likable, and always up for a good joke. Total strangers will wave to you like an old friend. Children will run up to you and hug you without prompting. Strangers will ask if they can take their pictures with you. In assuming the identity of a mascot, you're essentially given carte blanche by the normally all-powerful Social Contract.
You can do any damn fool thing you want, when you're in a buffalo suit. You can dance in public, try on hats, check yourself out in a mirror, mock authority figures, try on hats (or even more flamboyant articles of clothing), and people eat it up. They love it! They want to take pictures of Blazin' the Buffalo wearing their merchandise, perusing their art, or playing with their children
Sometimes, the smaller kids were afraid of me, but all I had to do was "cry" for a moment, and they would usually get over their fears, in order to comfort the "sad buffalo". As for older kids (i.e., seven- to thirteen-year-olds) could go wither way; some thought I was really cool, others seemed embarrassed by my attentions, as if I were implying that they were younger than they really were. Teens, I noticed, were generally keen on having their pictures taken with me. Adults were generally indulgent, but didn't seem eager to get too close to me.
But please, for the love of God, PLEASE STOP ASKING MASCOTS IF THEY'RE FEELING HOT!!! Just knock it off! It's incredibly hot work, but we work hard to stay in character and have a good time, and be friendly and silly. We do it for the kids. When you ask us if we're hot, or say how you pity us, or commend our bravery for coming outside in "this awful heat", you're forcing us to break character, to acknowledge that we are not a mascot, but just a man in a costume. It's no different (and no less rude) than walking up to an actor in the midst of a performance and asking them how they stay in character when they're surrounded by such crappy sets. It takes the magic out, if deflates the fun. When I'm trying to be the Buffalo, I don;'t need people reminding me every few seconds that I'm really just a cook in a faux-fur suit, sweating my balls off and wishing desperately for a cup of ice-cold water. So for the love of God, STOP ASKING US IF WE'RE HOT!!!!
Whew! Glad I got that of my chest.
Anyway, the process of becoming a mascot was fascinating. It reminded me of those Vodouisants who "become" the god whose mask they wear.
It might be a slightly creepy way to describe the experience, but at times, it felt less like I was inhabiting the role, and more like the persona of "Blazin' the Buffalo©" was carrying me along of its own volition. I always knew what to say and do, what gestures to make, without ever having to think about it. I guess I knew how to be a mascot without having to be trained, just from watching them in action. It was an experiment in acting, subconscious learning, and... dare I say it?... spirituality.
It was almost as if "Blazin'" himself were acting through me. All I had to do was let go of my ego, the part of me that would have been embarrassed to be seen in public wearing a fur suit, and just... let the Buffalo do the talking.