My Summer As A Costumed Character

Sometimes, on late-night talk shows or women’s magazines, an interviewer will ask a successful actor about the terrible jobs they had on their way up. And invariably, the star will respond that at some point, they had to dress up in an embarrassing costume for minimum wage. And guys, stars really ARE just like us, because I had to do the same thing! Here is my story.

The summer after my junior year of college, I decided I was so over working at a movie theatre box office/ concession stand and found a new job as a hostess at a family dining chain that I’ll call Blue Bluebird. In case you’ve never been to a restaurant, a  hostess is a person who underestimates your wait time, shows you to your table, and is dressed as a human. Within a few days, it was pretty clear that the head hostess absolutely hated me. She was a young blonde girl around my age, who went to community college nearby. She’d do things like “forget” to give me all of the training information, so that I’d fail the stupid test we had to take on what goes on the Mexican Fiesta Fun burger.

After I’d been on the job for a few weeks, this girl decided that, since one of the other hostesses was away at dance camp, I’d have to start taking shifts as “Blue,” the chain’s costumed bluebird who appears in the lobby to terrify children a few times a week. As time wore on, I noticed that I was having to dress as Blue almost every shift.

In case you’ve never worked as a costumed character, here are some things you should know:

– So that you don’t overheat in the costume, you have to strap ice packs to your person. The device pretty much resembles an armored vest full of freeze-pops. This is so cold that it hurts upon contact, but once you have been walking around in costume for a few minutes, it is entirely useless.

– Like a baby or a bride, you cannot be trusted to dress yourself. Fortunately I’m not very shy.

– No, seriously, fortunately I’m not very shy. There is no changing room, so you get dressed in a corner of the stock room. You were allowed to get changed behind the coat rack. But it was summer, and the coat rack was empty, and you can’t hide a half-naked, half-bird-costumed body behind a metal pole with bare hangers on it.

– As often as not,  the bus boy had to get something from this part of the stock room exactly at this time. I don’t mean to flatter myself too much, as he was a very busy young man who often had to retrieve things.

– As Blue, you had to have a buddy lead you around because your field of vision was very small. You could see in front of you, beginning at about 4 feet ahead – you couldn’t see your feet and had no peripheral vision.

– The buddy also had to play lookout to see if there were any kids who were terrified of you.

– One toddler came up to me and wanted a high five, so I put my hand out. Then the toddler started crying, and the mom FREAKED OUT on me. Lady, I don’t know your baby! And don’t even try to pretend that two year olds are logical, ‘cause they’re not.

– A 12-ish year old girl who seemed like she had special needs insisted on hugging me for so long that I thought I was going to get prosecuted for child abuse.

– When you weren’t being led from table to table, you were supposed to hop around with balloons and dance like a buffoon in the front lobby.

– The job was sort of cushy in that you had to take breaks once an hour or so so that you didn’t overheat and die.

– The costume consisted of an enormous bird head, a bird body, shiny yellow leggings, and oversized sneakers. Although I’d started wearing leggings because they were “in” in Spain during my semester abroad, they hadn’t caught on in the states yet. This was 2007 or so. Thus, most people hadn’t seen a lady in leggings for about 20 years. As such, despite the fact that I was dressed as a horrific costumed bird, more than a few adults made inappropriate comments about my legs. I don’t think this would happen these days, because leggings aren’t so out of the ordinary. Although, these are adults making obscene comments to a young lady dressed as a cartoon bluebird, who am I to say where they draw the line?

– In general, adults are very likely to say horrible things to you or try to touch you if they can’t see your face.

– Some children are little a-holes who will try to trip you and taunt you. They will probably grow into adults who make lurid comments to college-aged girls dressed as birds.

By the end of the summer, the mean hostess girl had taken a Disney internship, where I hope they made her dress as Chip or Dale, but where it is more likely that she bossed around her poor underlings at Ariel’s Grotto. And shortly after that, I was long gone, back to college with only terrible memories, minimum wage savings, and probably a few extra pounds from the unlimited french fries I consumed to drown my embarrassment.

‘Parks And Recreation’: A Love Letter To The Hometown

After I graduated law school, I found a job in the legal profession (!) … in my hometown. Here I am, back where it all began.

English: City of Rochester, New York.

I hope you like that bridge because it took about 10 years to finish. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am from Rochester, New York. There are far worse places that you could live. In fact, as a pretty humble city, I suggest that Rochester adopts “there are far worse places that you could live” as its slogan. It has less violent crime than Detroit (Detroit has many fine attributes, like motown), lower average yearly snowfall than Anchorage (AND ten other U.S. Cities!), and, with over a million people in the Rochester metropolitan area, is by far the largest Rochester in the United States. George Eastman (founder of Kodak), Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Kristen Wiig have all called this city home. (A Marie Claire profile of Wiig referred to Rochester as a “suburban backwater,” which was a little harsh for a city with so many fine cultural institutions.)  Did I mention that the National Museum of Play is here, too?

But this piece isn’t about Rochester, this is about hometowns, and living in yours as an adult — whether you’re from a mid-sized city, a mega-metropolis, or a small town. There’s a tendency, I think, to feel like if you live where you did at 14, maybe the rest of your life has become stagnant, too (you know, like a suburban backwater?). It’s easy to fear becoming that former varsity athlete who works at the same gas station he did senior year, reliving his glory days. Luckily for me, I was never very good at anything in high school, so that’s not really a danger. I don’t think appearing in the chorus of high school musicals and playing second doubles in tennis counts as “glory days” by any standard.

One bright spot if you find yourself back in your place of birth is the NBC series Parks and Recreation. It is a love letter to the hometown. The protagonist, Leslie Knope, is proud to be from Pawnee, Indiana, and is proud to live there still. As you watch the series, you can’t help but fall in love with Leslie’s enthusiasm about Pawnee, and hopefully you can catch some enthusiasm about your hometown, too. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from everyone’s favorite mid-level municipal employee:

(1) Nobody insults your hometown but you. And maybe you shouldn’t either. You will never see Knope more angry than when residents of nearby Eagleton snub Pawnee. Eagletonians are jerks, though: “When a tornado went through Pawnee, we asked Eagleton for help, but they claimed they weren’t home. The whole town said they weren’t home.” Your hometown is like your siblings when you were a kid: you might have complaints about them, but you would not put up with that kind of talk from anyone else. So when people make fun of your city’s downtown crow infestation, you should either remind them that at least that means the city’s secret uranium store didn’t kill them all, or take a cue from Leslie Knope and shut the whole conversation down:

(2) First in friendship, fourth in obesity. There are negative things about every city. Maybe the local sweets factory has contributed to a full-blown obesity bonanza. Maybe teen girl battles have compromised the municipal transit system. Despite its flaws, there are certainly plenty of wonderful people in your hometown. There’s something great about friends you have known for decades. But, some of Leslie’s best friends are not native Pawneeans. Remember that just because you grew up in your city, doesn’t mean everyone you meet there did. Be friendly and welcoming to newcomers, and they just might fall in love with your hometown, too. Ben Wyatt thought he was just passing through Pawnee, but the wonderful locals (well, mostly Leslie) changed his mind.

Cover Illustration of The Wonderful Leaps of S...

This guy leaped off of waterfalls nationwide, but he died in OUR waterfall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(3) Lil’ Sebastian Makes Everything Better. In one of Leslie’s greatest triumphs, she brings hometown hero Lil’ Sebastian (a winsome, elderly pony) back to the Harvest Festival. One of the best things about living in your hometown is being familiar with the local shorthand and in-jokes. Someone from Indianapolis or Eagleton might not understand the appeal of a geriatric pony with a heart of gold, but Pawneeans do. My city has a flagpole strung with lights instead of a municipal Christmas tree, a laser light show about an ill-fated 19th century daredevil and his pet bear, and our must-try cuisine is called a garbage plate. I love them all, because I grew up with them — except for the garbage plate, anyway.  It is hard to understand these hometown heroes if you aren’t actually from the town – I remember the locals getting all fired up about “spiced wafers” when I lived in Philly, and I just didn’t understand it because they taste like a grandmother – but when you are from there, it’s magic.

(4) Success starts at home. Living in a small town doesn’t mean that Leslie Knope has given up on her dreams. Instead, she believes that she could be president one day. More importantly, she takes steps to achieve her dreams while she’s still in Pawnee, running an impassioned campaign to become Pawnee’s next councilwoman — just see her closing argument in “The Debate,” where Leslie suggests that maybe true success involves making a difference right where you are:

I love this town. And when you love something, you don’t punish it. You fight for it. You take care of it. You put it first. As your City Councilman, I will make sure that no one takes advantage of Pawnee. If I seem too passionate, it’s because I care. If I come on too strong, its because I feel strongly. And if I push too hard, it’s because things aren’t moving fast enough. This is my home, you are my family, and I promise you, I’m not going anywhere.

(5) If all else fails, just slisten to Amy Poehler. Here is Poehler’s take on her character’s life in Pawnee: “I think there’s something very romantic about people deciding to be in love with your own small town. There’s a lot of arc in art and literature about moving to the big city, and there’s something really sweet about moving to a small town.” Whenever she talks about her character, Poehler respects Knope’s tenacity, and never acts like Leslie is at all pathetic for living in her hometown. And neither are you. Just ask Leslie Knope (…unless you’re from Eagleton).

The Enviable Tenacity of Paris Eustice Geller

paris

Paris Geller – a girl many look up to, yet fear at the same time. She’s extremely bright, surprisingly bi-lingual, a Yale graduate, and often times exudes Stalin-esque leadership skills. And there’s a part of me that wishes I had all of these qualities. Did I mention she’s a fictional character?

For those not in the Gilmore Girls know-how, Paris Geller is truly one of a kind. When we first meet Paris, she is the popular mean girl at the well-privileged private school Rory transfers to. Paris targets Rory and makes her her enemy because she’s the only one who could possibly compete with Paris intellectually, and vie for the Valedictorian spot come senior year. I have never seen a character on tv as studious, determined, hard-working, and ruthless as her. Some prime examples:

– Paris reveals to Rory she’s been volunteering for a Habitat for Humanity-like organization for years, because that’s what will get her into Harvard. “I started volunteering in fourth grade. I handed out cookies at the local children’s hospital. By ten, I was leading my first study group. The youngest person in the group was twelve. I’ve been a camp counselor. I organized a senior illiteracy program, I worked a suicide hotline, I manned a runaway center. I’ve adopted dolphins, taught sign language, trained seeing eye dogs.” This concerns Rory. She hasn’t done any of those things.

– In an attempt to gloat about her PSAT scores, Paris brags about her results to her friends, but when she asks Rory, she doesn’t oblige, and this drives Paris nuts. She knows Rory’s hiding her probably much higher score from her, and she even pulls a Mean Girls 3 way call scenario on her just to find out.

– When writing for the Yale Daily News’ Religion Beat, Paris goes hardcore when writing an article. “Look, Rory, if you want to crib your articles from the A.P. Wire, that’s your business. I, on the other hand, actually give a rat’s ass about journalistic integrity. When I write about Ramadan, I experience Ramadan. Are you chewing gum?

Throughout high school, Paris’s goal was to get into Harvard. When that didn’t pan out, she ended up going to Yale and becoming BFFs with Rory. She then spent all 4 years in college focusing on her next step, which was going to either med school or law school (she was so smart she could’ve taken up both professions, but she decided to be a doctor instead). Paris even created an extensive plan for her and Rory called “Operation Finish Line,” planning out in detail the last 5 months of their senior year. These boards included categories such as job fairs, tests, volunteer ops, seminars, classic college activities, etc. Most were legit (MCAT test prep classes) but others were default tactics, so as to not be unprepared come graduation (oceanography fellowship – ‘don’t even know what direction the ocean is in’).

THIS IS NOT HUMAN. Maybe this is how Type A Ivy Leaguers do it, but I can’t even begin to think about how much work she put into making those boards.* It’s crazy to think that there’s even a slight possibility someone out there in real life has mapped out an entire 5 month detailed plan of what they’ll do after they graduate college.**

This is not how I ever have or probably ever will treat an important life changing decision in my life. Frankly, I’m a little jealous. If I even had an ounce of what Paris had, I would probably have my act together and be 4 years into my ‘professional career’. But I’m not. I made no chart. I attended no seminars. I took no extemporaneous tests. The most I’ve ever done is make a pro and con list to decide whether to move to Los Angeles or not (embarassingly enough after Rory Gilmore’s decision making tactics). Even though I think Paris looks like a complete lunatic taking these extra steps in order to plan out her life, that’s precisely what I need right now. I need to figure out exactly what I want and create a clear cut goal to achieve. I need that rather annoying persistent determination to get it. I need to see the exact steps I have to take in order to reach that goal. I need to want to do all those things. Most of all, I need Paris to make these boards, and tell me what to do next, because i sure as hell don’t know myself. So if you’re out there, real life Paris, let me know. Because I could really use your help right now. Fictional Paris just isn’t going to cut it.

* I am fully aware this is not a real person

** Again, I can totally see an Ivy Leaguer doing this, but i went to Emerson. Unless it’s a storyboard for the movie you’re making, you didn’t do this.