THE ONLY TIME I got really scared was when the mob surrounded me and began beating on my head. Fortunately, it was not my usual head: It was the head of a giant lizard.
I was wearing the giant-lizard head because -- and this is why people who value their dignity should avoid journalism -- I thought it would be fun to write about being a sports team mascot and engaging in comical high jinks with the crowd. The mascot that I wound up being is named "P.K.," which stands for "Penalty Kick." P.K., a seven-foot green lizard, is the mascot for the Miami Fusion, a professional soccer team of which I'm a big fan.
I like soccer because there's a lot of action and drama. There are no timeouts, so the only way players can catch their breath is to sustain a major injury, which some of them are very good at. A guy will get bumped by another player, or a beam of sunlight, and he'll hurl himself dramatically to the ground, writhing and clutching his leg (not necessarily the leg that got bumped) and screaming that the referee should get a priest out there immediately to administer the last rites, or at least call a foul. The referee generally ignores the player, who, after a while, gets up and continues playing. Some players suffer four or five fatal injuries per game. That's how tough they are.
Here's another example of soccer player toughness, which I am not making up: Last year, in Brazil, there was a soccer match between two arch-rival teams, one of which is nicknamed "the Rabbits." The other team scored a goal, and the guy who scored it celebrated by reaching into his shorts, pulling out a carrot, and eating it. He had a carrot in his shorts the whole time! Talk about team spirit! You wonder what he'd do if he played a team nicknamed "the Eel Eaters."
But back to my point: I asked Fusion officials if I could wear the P.K. costume at a game, and they said okay. And so one Sunday afternoon I found myself in an office next to the stadium, struggling into the P.K. outfit, which includes green leggings, green arms with only four fingers per hand, big feet, a four-foot tail and a large lizard head with buggy eyes and a grinning, snouty mouth. Helping me put these items on was the regular Fusion mascot, Tony Mozzott, who, when he is not a giant lizard, manages a supermarket meat department. As he attached my tail, Tony gave me some mascoting tips, such as: "I high-five people, because if you shake their hands, they'll try to take off your fingers."
Finally I was suited up, and, with Tony guiding me, I waddled into the stadium. I wish you could have seen the crowd reaction. I wish I could have seen it, too. But it turns out that -- biologists, take note -- lizards actually see through their mouths, and my mouth was pointing down at a 45-degree angle, so all I could see was legs and small children. I saw a lot of children. They love to run directly into mascots at full speed, and they tend to hit you right where you'd carry your carrot, if you catch my drift.
Keeping a wary eye out for incoming tots, I moved slowly and blindly around the stadium, pausing every now and then to wave at the crowd, enthusiastically and totally cluelessly, exactly like a U.S. presidential candidate. It was going pretty well until I wandered into the stadium end zone, where a group of hard-core soccer fans hang out. Going there was a bad idea for two reasons: (1) Serious soccer purists are not fond of the mascot concept; and (2) the opposing team had just scored a goal. So the mood in the hard-core zone was unhappy.
Of course P.K. the lizard did not know any of this. P.K. was just shuffling along, a big, blind, green, high-fivin', wavin' wad of fun. My first inkling of trouble came when a man stuck his face deep into my mouth opening and made a very uncomplimentary remark. Hoping to win him over via high jinks, I attempted to high-five him, but somebody grabbed me, and then somebody else yanked on my tail, and within seconds there were people all around me, shouting and grabbing and pounding on my head. It was like being inside the bass drum at a Metallica concert.
The problem with being a mascot in this situation is that you have no way to indicate distress: Your mascot face keeps right on smiling happily. But believe me, the inner lizard was scared. Fortunately, Tony and some security guards quickly came to my rescue, and the remainder of my stint as mascot went smoothly. The rest of the crowd seemed friendly; I high-fived and waved at a lot of invisible people. I also noted one interesting fact: If you're wearing a lizard costume, and a woman walks up and stands right in front of you, you are looking, through the lizard's mouth, directly at the female attributes that women are always accusing guys of looking at. You can't help it! But the woman cannot tell, because the eyeballs on your mascot head appear to be making mature eye contact with her.
I pass this fact along for you guys who are pondering a career in the giant-lizard field. My advice is, stay out of the end zone. And wear a cup.