Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's about time I came clean around here and start telling our readers who I am. Or in this case, what I was. Because isn't my first job in the wonderful world of toys...first, I was a cat.

I was, in fact, an awesome cat. I was...Hello Kitty.

Back in high school, I worked with a Sanrio retail store in the US and part of my job involved wearing ginormous costumes to appear at various events - those child ID days? I was there. Mall events, grand openings, parades, you name it. And at every one of them, I wore a huge, fur-covered cat suit and greeted kids for hours on end. I loved the job, but it did have it's challenges - and not just from the handful of kids who are invariably afraid of costumed characters (there are always a few).

First of all, let me tell you: costume work is serious business. Those suits are heavy and hot. You should also know I'm from the South, so outdoor events and parades were brutal inside my mobile sauna made of pasteboard, fur and fabric. Of course nobody on the outside could see me sweat, but there's no getting around the fact that nobody's pretty after an hour inside 50 pounds of cat suit. Don't be fooled by the big eyes and the red bow: you gotta be tough to be Hello Kitty! You also have to be able to do the Hokey-Pokey in giant feet, and that's a skill few others can put on their resume.

Anyway, as I said, I loved it...most of the time. But there were a few incidents that made for interesting times with Hello Kitty. First was a "Child Safe Day" sponsored by the local police department. I'd done plenty of those before without problems, but on this one particular day, things got a little out of hand. The police department had rented a "robot" McGruff the Crime Dog for the event, and I never suspected what would happen when you mix a costumed cat and a robot dog in a hot mall parking lot on a summer day.

Now to be perfectly honest, calling that McGruff a robot was a stretch - it was really more like a mannequin on a platform that officers moved by remote control. It had buttons that said things like "Ruff! Ruff! Take a bite out of crime!" in a grizzled voice, and it stood with one arm bent, pointing his dog-finger. Another button would move the arm up and down in a sort-of "tsk tsk" motion, as if he were wagging his finger at you. But that's really all he did - rolling around, saying the same phrases over and over, pointing at people. As it turned out, Hello Kitty was infinitely more popular with the kids than McGruff, so the officers controlling his joystick got a little bored. That's when they realized that they had a dog and that I was a cat...and that somehow, comedy gold would be born from this combination.

I believe I was doing my usual waving, dancing and posing for picture routine when something bumped into me from behind. Then it happened again, and again. I was pretty accustomed to having my "tail" pulled (kids did that a lot), but far less accustomed to actually having something hit me over and over in that general area. One more thing I should mention - there's horrible visibility inside that giant head! I could only see through a small screen in the nose, and all that fur makes it difficult to hear. The world can be a little confusing as Hello Kitty, but that's usually not a big deal. At least not until someone...or something is goosing you from behind and you can't turn around fast enough to figure out what's happening. Because McGruff was a bit more agile with his RC wheel platform than I was in my giant feet, trying not to step on children, I didn't know that the cops were navigating that thing up to poke me with it's pointing finger, then rolling him away as I turned. So I'd wave to kids, then suddenly get poked in the rear, and jump. It isn't easy to jump in that costume either! I'd turn to look for the culprit and find none. By the time I realized what was going on, the kids were laughing and giggling so hard, there was really no way to stop it. The police decided to chase me around the parking lot with Robot McGruff poking at my heels the whole way. And while I'm sure it looked hysterical from outside the costume...inside I was dying! It was a hot day and the costume was broiling. I kept trying to get them to stop, but the first rule of being Hello Kitty is: DO NOT TALK! I wasn't about to spoil anything for the kids, so all I could do is plead with my hands, wag my finger, mime crying...and run in giant cat feet when the dog came back around for more.

There came a point, however, when it was obvious that I had to somehow stop the madness. I'd been in the costume too long already (there are rules about that, you know! You can pass out in there!), and I was getting dehydrated from running around in the heat. But when I tried to go into the trailer for some water and a cool-off break, the cops thought it was funny to stop me. They parked Robot McGruff right in my path and set him to bark repeatedly. Now honestly, I considered just knocking that cheap "robot" dog contraption over and going on past. I mean really now - I may have looked like Hello Kitty, but I was really a human being. One who could easily pummel an annoying dog to get a drink of water! I can only imagine how that would have looked to the kids though. Hello Kitty suddenly freaks out and beats up McGruff? They'd be traumatized!

Instead I marched over to the table where two officers were laughing and controlling the miserable cur. I reached out with my huge mitten-paw hands and wrapped them around the head of the officer with the remote control and pulled his face right up to the nose (my eye-hole). Let. me. in. the. trailer. before I die. I growled through clenched teeth, before giving him a big Hello Kitty hug and turning to wave back at the kids as if that were all part of the plan. As I started back toward the promise of a much-deserved break, all I could hear was a chorus of little girls squealing "OOOOoooh!" and tons of giggles.

Only later did I understand what happened, when my boss called upset about "trouble" in the costume. I thought she was on my side, perhaps upset with the police for running me about so. I couldn't have been more wrong. It seems that when I drew the officer close to speak, things were a little misconstrued. From outside the costume, it appeared that I had just grabbed a policeman and given him a long, passionate Hello Kitty kiss, which didn't go over well with some of the parents. If only they knew what really happened! Lesson learned: I should have just clobbered McGruff.

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