For reasons known only to God and the Long Island medium, from as far back as I can remember my lifelong dream has been to be a mascot. I don’t have a particular obsession with a professional sports team; a random tiger, ground squirrel or Chuck-E-Cheese would have suited me just fine. I think ultimately the appeal was the ability to act wild and crazy in front of thousands of spectators with zero potential for public humiliation. There is safety behind the costume; total anonymity.
Also you have complete license to randomly grab and eat people’s stadium food, and we all know how I feel about nacho cheese. The only thing more delicious than nacho cheese is free nacho cheese.
Fifteen years ago when I interviewed for a new job as a brand manager at an ad agency, I told my prospective boss that I would take the job, but if the Cardinals called I was giving notice. He laughed. I wasn’t joking.
Fast forward seven years, and aside from a lousy commercial where I got to dress up as a grizzly bear with zero public fanfare (though I did take it home overnight and walk around the block a time or two), my mascot dreams went unfulfilled. I was beginning to think it was never going to happen.
That is, until one fateful Wednesday morning when my team and I sat in a conference room pitching the Subway sandwich account.
“What is this line item in your budget for… Sub…man?” I squinted at the spreadsheet and looked up questionably at the row of prospective clients sitting on the other side of the table.
“Oh, we hire a college kid a couple of times a month to dress up in this giant sandwich costume we have and stand on the street and wave signs at cars and stuff. It’s pretty awful.”
My eyes darted around wildly, finally resting on my boss sitting in the back of the room. He was making a subtle slicing motion across his throat with his finger and mouthing the word no. I decided to go for it.
“Well,” I began, slowly pushing my chair back, standing up and clearing my throat. “I might know a way we can save you money if you go with us. You see, I’ve always had this dream… hit the music, Jim.”
The following week we got the account.
As it turns out, being a mascot is a pretty shitty job. First off – the uniform is not what you might call, “An environment conducive to sustaining human life.” The Subman sandwich costume consisted of a neon blue full body spandex suit that did nothing to protect my tender flesh from bitter cold wind, yet somehow in the blistering heat managed to lock in every ounce of body heat until I took it off or got brain damage, whichever came first.
One particularly hot and muggy night I was standing outside a country line dancing bar waiting to make an appearance and somehow wandered into a swarm of mosquitoes. They penetrated the styrofoam loaf and started attacking me through the neon spandex. I couldn’t get my hands inside the suit to swat them so I just took off blindly waving my arms and running into traffic, hoping someone’s car would mercifully make contact and put me out of my misery.
Inside, the suit featured a halo-like contraption that balanced on my scalp, which meant the entire weight of the sandwich (which I would estimate at about 15 – 20 pounds) rested on the top of my head. The day after wearing it I woke up feeling like I had been rear ended by a Mac truck. Filled with sub sandwiches.
The other big problem with being a mascot is that anyone under the age of twelve feels the uncontrollable need to beat the living crap out of you. It’s like they can’t even control it – something primal awakens deep inside and they just start screaming inaudible threats while throwing kicks and punches.
“Die, SPIDERMAN!” They screamed at me.
“I’m a fucking SANDWICH, you little shithead,” I screamed back.
Adult bystanders think it’s cute; they stood around snapping pictures and yelling at their kids to smile while they kick me in the shins. The suit offers no peripheral vision so I was at a total disadvantage when trying to defend myself. I jumped to terror level orange at the faintest sound of childrens’ laughter.
One particularly blustery February day the wind chill dipped down to the single digits; Jared was in town and we had a full day of promotional events planned.
“So you’re Subman?” He asked as I met him in the lobby of the Four Seasons wearing nothing but the neon blue spandex suit and two rock hard titanium nipples. “Aren’t you the account lead?”
“It’s just a little hobby of mine,” I said, handing him a Starbucks and scratching my crotch. Spandex is itchy. “I just do it for the cheese.”
One of our last stops that day was at some sort of afterschool program for underprivileged inner city kids. It was cute – they had art rooms and music rooms and a little area for imagination play. I immediately knew as we entered the building that I was going to get my ass kicked ten ways to Sunday.
We walked into the gym and they descended; within seconds I was the victim in a fraternity-style beat in.
“KILL IT!” I heard someone scream. It sounded like Jared.
One thing you should probably know about me is that when threatened I am not at all afraid to harm a child. Broken home or no… kick me and I’ll kick you back.
“Tell us who you REALLY are!” They screamed as one grabbed a handful of my felt tomatoes and pulled the suit down to peer into frisbee-sized pupils/face hole.
“Your MOM!” I bellowed right before throwing a palm to her jugular.
I glanced up at Jared for backup, who had long since written me off and was signing autographs for the teachers.
It wasn’t a tough decision to retire after only a few months of acting as the local sandwich hero. I happily passed the responsibility onto unsuspecting interns. My final appearance, however, was a big one. Throwing out the first pitch at an upcoming Cardinals game.
I spent the week prior to the big pitch in a vacant lot next to our ad agency having sandwich throwing practice with my art director Jason.
The problem wasn’t so much with the regular throwing part; as you may have guessed from my girth I played varsity softball. The problem was with the god forsaken onion sticking out the side of the suit near my head. Every time I threw the ball my arm got stuck and the ball went awry. One throw I overshot Jason and knocked down a lighted ceiling fan on our building’s patio about a mile to the left of where he was standing.
To help calm my nerves, I immersed myself in YouTube videos of first pitches gone awry. There was everything from the ball landing behind to in the stands to two feet in front of the embarrassed thrower. I was terrified that I was going to disappoint the brand, and mascots everywhere, by chucking one straight into the dirt. And from the looks of the videos that was a definite possibility.
The night arrived, and, of course because I was wearing the costume, it was 110 degrees. I decided to walk the three blocks from the ad agency to the stadium to get the most mileage out of my last hurrah as a giant sandwich. Friends and family came from all over to act as my handlers and help me fend off harm.
By this point the novelty of being a mascot had long since vanished. I was jaded; crusty. In atypical mascot fashion, I just wanted to walk through the packed pre-game streets of downtown St. Louis dressed as a giant sandwich and not get hassled. I had the charm of a ferrel cat. Sure – I handed out high fives. But I didn’t mean them.
By the time we arrived at the stadium I had lost 7 pounds in water weight and I lost feeling from the waist down. I decided the best way to hydrate was by chugging several cups of beer; I hadn’t been this nervous since I found out there were legal consequences for falsifying tax documents.
In the end, I made it over the plate. And over Skip Schumaker’s head. And square in the nuts of the cameraman standing behind home plate (apparently Fred Bird can talk, by the way). But in my defense after a combo sweaty head/moon walk spin the suit fell over my eyes and I threw the ball completely blind so I was lucky I didn’t nail one of those choir boys in the teeth.
Of course, despite the fact that I was imprisoned in a contraption that forced me to repeatedly inhale the boquet of my own stench, it was pretty awesome. I hadn’t necessarily itemized “throw out the first pitch in a sandwich suit” on my bucket list, but it is a unique conversation starter (stopper) at parties.
On Monday the duty officially fell off my shoulders. I always liked to see the look on the intern’s face as they reported in for work each morning when I broke the news they had to be Subman that day.
“Okay… so today you’ll be assisting on a photo shoot, running a report for Becky and, oh, wearing this.” At which point I yanked off the garment bag to reveal a loaf of bread smiling at them like a giant cheese dick.
They always tried to maintain composure and professionalism but inside I knew they were calculating if they could make it to the door before I could grab their feet and drag them back to the conference room.
I liked it so much, in fact, that sometimes I just photocopied a bunch of flyers I made myself, instructed them to stand outside the Eat Rite cafe and not return until they were empty handed. Because sometimes childhood dreams evolve from mascot to devious bitch, apparently.