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Smiling On The Outside

By Mordechai Schmutter
I’m kind of glad the summer is over, even though it means I have to go to school. But at least I don’t have to put on that mascot costume again for my kids’ camp. At least until next summer.
I don’t know how I got into that thing. Seriously. The zipper’s in the back. And there’s not a lot of room to maneuver. They say it’s “one size fits all,” but it definitely fits some better than others.
Anyway, the camp didn’t actually get to pick the size. A friend of the head counselor decided to donate it. He must have said, “Here, you’re running a camp. Have a crocodile suit.”
That’s kind of random. It’s like, “Here, you’re becoming a bus driver. Have a deep fryer.” When am I supposed to use this deep fryer? I’m trying to drive a bus.
So he called me. The night before camp started. And I asked, “Why can’t any of the counselors do it?”
And he said, “They all have kids to take care of.”
And it turns out that I didn’t, because my kids were at the camp, being taken care of by the counselors. I actually sent them to this camp so I could get some work done at home, such as sit around for hours and try to think of topics, which I wouldn’t be able to do if I’d come in.
But he liked the idea of a camp mascot, because this was a camp with lots of lessons and messages. And studies (in whatever book head counselors read) show that if you want kids to get your message, you should either say it into a megaphone or have a mascot act it out with his body.
Because, as it turns out, mascots can’t talk.
“Do I have to say anything?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “You’re not allowed to say anything.”
Because we want to be realistic. And crocodiles don’t talk. They just walk around on two legs, really close to children, and act out lessons with their bodies.
But that’s the one rule: You can’t talk. You can whisper to adults out of earshot of the kids, but the adults are going to keep asking, “What?” Because you’re basically wearing pillows on your head.
Here’s a Fun Crocodile Fact: Apparently, crocodiles have to be zipped up in the back by other crocodiles, as it’s incredibly difficult for the croc to do this himself, seeing as he has all five of his fingers crammed into a glove with only four places to put fingers, a very limited range of motion in a costume that doesn’t quite fit him, and a tail that keeps playfully getting in the way.
Oh, and here’s another Fun Crocodile Fact: Apparently, costume designers are not so concerned that the person in the costume should be able to actually see, hear, or feel anything that’s going on around him. I couldn’t really hear anyone any better than they could hear me, and I definitely couldn’t look out of the crocodile’s eyes. My entire head was situated in his mouth, like I got stuck while he was trying to eat me. And even from there, I didn’t have a great view of anything, because the designer’s priority was less about me being able to see out and more about the people outside not being able to see me. So all I could see is the kids’ faces. And no adults. Just their knees.
Also, there’s no air conditioning in there. The only place for breezes to come in is through that one mouth hole, and that hole is angled down. So you can literally bake things in that costume.
The first time he had me come in was the very first morning of camp, when the kids were arriving, and my job was to wave at everyone and hand out balloons. I guess that way, the kids would know me as the camp’s mascot. Or maybe it was because he thought some kids would be nervous. So here, give them balloons.
Yeah, let’s use a crocodile to calm down the kids.
“No, it’s a crocodile that walks on two legs and lives among humans! And can fit a head in its mouth!”
Oh, that’s better.
They also didn’t quite think about the ramifications of handing out helium balloons right before learning groups.
So I’m standing there in the suit, which is slowly filling up with sweat, my entire range of vision is limited to looking down at a 45-degree angle, the only way I can even see to the side is if I turn my entire body around and knock over whichever kid is behind me with my massive tail, and they hand me a huge bunch of helium balloons—enough to lift me off the ground. And all I can see are the strings.
I did not have a good system for getting balloons out of that tangled clump, with no grip and only four fingers. Some kids got a whole mass of balloons, some got only a piece of string, and I’m pretty sure I gave some adults balloons by accident.
I was also supposed to wave at all the cars that were coming in, except that I couldn’t actually see all the cars that were coming in. So I was just waving blindly with no way of knowing if there was an actual car there, or if I was even waving in the correct direction, as opposed to, say, at the wall of the building. So I was in my own little fantasy world, waving at the walls and handing balloons to adults who were trying to bring their kids to camp.
But my biggest issue was wandering into traffic. I eventually figured out, after some trial and error, that if I stood in certain places, I could see the edge of the sidewalk. So my goal became less about caring who I gave balloons to and more about keeping the sidewalk in my line of vision.
But this wasn’t easy, because some people wanted me to pose for pictures. They stood their kids next to me, assuming I had any idea that someone was standing next to me, and then they’d suddenly say, “Smile!” and I did. I don’t know why. No one knows I’m smiling in there. And the costume is already smiling.
But I kept on and didn’t say anything (obviously) until the staff all went inside to sort the kids out by age, and at some point I realized I was alone out there. I don’t know how long it took me to realize this; I couldn’t see my watch either.
Then I had to find my way back to the room that I’d gotten dressed in, and I had only been in the building once before—to get dressed. So I was groping around the building, trying to find a bunch of stairs I could fall down, but I had to keep my head on, because I had no way of knowing when there would be a kid standing within sight of me, and I wasn’t supposed to let the kids see me with my head off, chas v’shalom, because it would scar them for life. They’d know that the fake crocodile wasn’t really a fake crocodile, but a guy pretending to be a fake crocodile! Actually, they probably figured that. But they’d know what that guy looked like! We can’t have that.
And that was just the first day. I wasn’t the mascot every time, though. But they did bring me back, for example, to help them break out a Color War event. And it turns out that if you’re part of some kind of skit and you can’t speak, they make you spell out letters with your body.
“And then you’ll spell out ‘Color War’!” the head counselor had enthusiastically told me beforehand, by way of his megaphone.
“Okay, um, C,” I thought, trying as best I could to make that shape with my body, despite the fact that I could barely move. I had no idea what was going to happen when I got up to W.
My point, though, is that if you ever see one of those mascots waving at you—at a theme park, for example—he’s not being playful. He’s trying to signal for help. It’s possible he doesn’t even know that you’re there.
So be nice to him. Find him a drink with a really long straw, and then slowly feed that straw into what appears to be his mouth, and hope you don’t get him in the eye. You can offer to help him with his zipper. Or lead him back to wherever he came from. Don’t expect him to respond, though. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to

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Posted by on August 28, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.