How A Mascot Convention Became A Super Spreader Event

I don’t even know why I brought it with me. I guess it’s one of those things–you find the perfect dress on a clearance rack at TJ Maxx and save it for five months so you can wear it at a dinner party that only happens once a year, but then a global pandemic breaks out and the board of mascots, in all their wisdom, ruins everything by reversing decades of precedent, making us actually wear our masks at the annual convention like we’re some kind of furry group who rented out a La Quinta Inn in Palm Springs to talk about the merits of t-shirt cannons and silly string. I do look good though.

The conference guidelines don’t say anything about wearing your full costume. Mr. Met has been walking around like he’s Hugh Hefner since the quarantine, in his giant head and silk pajamas. So I don’t know, maybe I could be a little more more like Mr. Met. Not that he’s a role model or anything. I get the sense that guy would release baby pigeons in a cat cafe if he thought it would get him attention from Mets fans. Personally, I don’t think it’s healthy–a big head with deleterious tendencies. I mean he’s literally freeballing in silk pajamas. Is that even safe?

The rules at the conference have always been clear. You are required to adhere to a policy of complete anonymity, and there are strict regulations that keep your public identity a secret. For instance, no name dropping–unless it’s LeBron or Jay-Z. Everyone knows them and it’s silly to pretend otherwise. No dancing–everyone has a tell. No miming, unless it’s a part of a conference session, in which case you’re allowed to mime but you have to do your best to mime a midwestern accent like a newscaster. And yeah, I do mean to say mime not American Sign Language because this industry is messed up and full of ableists. Anyway, even hinting at the market where you work could lead to suspension of your license. Can you imagine if the public found out that Wally the Green Monster was actually Jordan from Boxborough? That guy’s a douche. I dated him. He makes spaghetti in the microwave.

The point is no one’s allowed to know who you are. I mean, they can know your name, We all know each other’s names. We wear those little tags that say “Hi, my name is.” But no one can know which mascot you are. So everyone knows your secret real name but no one knows your public fake name. At the La Quinta, I’m Brenda the forty-six year old stunt woman from Van Nuys. But I think they’d be pretty shocked to learn I’m actually Wild Wing of the Anaheim Ducks–and that’s why I love coming to this conference. It’s tough to meet people in the real world, and you can’t really beat the freedom that comes from a hotel full of mascots in Palm Springs. Most years, at least. Thanks, 2020.

I guess it could have been worse. COVID nearly canceled the whole thing all together. But the board eventually decided we could still have a safe gathering if we stuck to a strict mask policy. Which is fine by me. I’m trying to make it through this whole pandemic thing until there’s a vaccine. I don’t mess with COVID. I just thought they meant the cloth masks we all wear to the grocery store.

Nope. It turns out the safety committee is full of anti-maskers, which, let’s face it, I’m not all that surprised that the Suns Gorilla and that Viking from Minnesota are shitty humans. The rumor is that when the safety committee started planning conference guidelines all of the anti-maskers threatened to hold everything up if masks were going to be required. Apparently, they made this big stand about liberty, and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and bla bla bla. I’m sorry, but doctors wear several masks at a time for like 12 hours every day. You’re a gorilla. Get over yourself.

I actually think people like that are just using COVID as a crutch to cover their RMIS (Reverse Mascot Identity Syndrome). If you ask me, they’re uncomfortable with reality. It’s a common problem with white male mascots ages 30–54. They get so caught up in the thrill of being anthropomorphic dogs, or goats, or whatever the fuck the Phillie Phanatic is, they start to sort of think the job is real life and real life is oppression. I mean, you literally work as a gorilla for a living. You’re a clown in a gorilla costume. What is more privileged?

So anyway, the compromise was that we’d wear our work masks to the conference instead of N95s. Which, if I’m being honest, I have to admit it’s actually a little easier to breathe with a duck on my head than through an N95. But still, that doesn’t mean I wanted to walk around looking like Donald Duck in drag all weekend. Each year we get one chance to be seen and known like a regular person with a regular job, and the fucking Suns gorilla took that away from all of us. The Suns gorilla!

What does a gorilla have to do with Phoenix anyway? He was literally a mascot born from a singing telegram. I’m not kidding. A guy with no training or background who worked for one of those personal telegram companies, someone who had no experiences in the field of mascotry mind you, none of those telegram weirdos ever do, showed up to a basketball game in a gorilla costume to deliver a message and the Suns went ahead and made him the face of the franchise. What the hell is wrong with the people in Arizona?

Maybe it’s what we deserve. The power structure of the mascot industry seems to reward secretive and unstable personalities. For instance, our governing board is strictly anonymous. Except, like, reverse anonymous. We don’t actually know the secret real identities of the people who serve on the board. We only know the mascots. Mr. Met just retired as chair after ten years, but no one has any idea who Mr. Met is. He could be a serial killer.

After the U.S. lockdown, the board started holding regular meetings on Zoom. Imagine nine mascots with virtual backgrounds staring at each other in complete silence while they type messages of veiled political threats to each other. I don’t know why they didn’t just run the meetings over email, or literally held them in any other format because in the first meeting you could see everyone’s screens reflected in their eyes, and let’s just say none of us ever asked what type of porn Hugo the Hornet watches–during a board meeting–but we all know now.

So anyway, I don’t think I’m gonna wear the dress. I don’t even know if I want to go to the party now anyway. We’ve been stuck in this La Quinta for almost two weeks and I’m not really sure I want to say goodbye to any of these people. I wonder if Cindy is gonna go? I can’t ask her. I don’t even know who Cindy is. Honestly, she could be anyone. If I was gonna guess, maybe someone like Jaxson de Ville or Captain Fear? She kinda has a Florida vibe about her.

God, I can’t believe it’s been almost two weeks in this La Quinta. I only packed enough clothes for the conference and I’ve been wearing the same jeans for so long that I almost forgot to take them off when I got in the shower this morning. I guess it was nice of La Quinta to offer us employee uniforms for extra clothes, but then it got super weird when all the mascots started wearing them. For a few days there, this place looked like a comet cult whose members were really excited animals in white polos and khakis. Honestly, it would have been a lot better if the hotel just allowed us to get an Amazon package or two. The managers cited health and safety reasons for why we couldn’t. But personally I think they were just mad at the whole eccentric anti-mask mascots who exposed the entire La Quinta to coronavirus elements of the situation.

That goddamn Suns gorilla deserves what’s coming to him. He was the first to take his mask off. Well, the first of the mascots who wear a mask to take it off. There are a few people in the industry who don’t wear masks at all–mostly college kids who are learning to be animal handlers. And then there’s Ragnar, that viking dude from Minnesota who, by the way, isn’t even technically a mascot anymore. His contract wasn’t renewed a few years ago but he’s been showing up to the conference trying to get a new one. Like, who needs a real life viking in any scenario in 2020? Anyway, none of us would be here if it weren’t for him and that gorilla.

His name is Gerald, by the way. The gorilla. Gerald De’jeraeux–the absolute worst man, woman, or animal in American sports.

As far as we can tell, someone must have been exposed to COVID on the plane or been asymptomatic when they arrived. How it happened isn’t really that important, because on the first day of the conference–the very night we’re supposed to hold our opening social and the very reason I even own this dress–Ragnar developed symptoms. So the party was, of course, cancelled. Ragnar was told to quarantine in his room. Needless to say I was livid when the announcement slid under my hotel door. I mean, everyone understood the risks coming here. I guess no one should be surprised that the hulking bearded man who wears a viking helmet even when he’s off the clock is the one who got the virus first.

So anyway, Gerald De’jereaux, using every ounce of wisdom contained inside a $40 gorilla suit, saw Ragnar in his hotel room that same night. He claims that he wore his mask but it doesn’t matter. It’s a highly contagious disease. Not to mention, you can literally see his eyeballs through his mask. It’s not exactly a HAZMAT suit. By the third day of the conference Gerald had symptoms and had been going to sessions and before you could say Cincinnati Bengals so did every animal handler and college student in Palm Springs. It turns out the students threw their annual rager in the Bevo handlers’ room despite the virus, and suddenly our conference became a super spreader event in less than 72 hours. And yeah, I get it, most years that college party is a hell of a time. The USC trojan, who is almost always a first year freshmen film major, gets super drunk and talks about his introduction to film class and how we all need to see Donnie Darko. It’s hilarious. But not this year.

By Saturday night, the entire La Quinta Inn was shut down and under quarantine. Turns out mascot masks aren’t all that great at stopping the virus. Thankfully, the board got the word out to all of our teams and let them know we’d be stuck for a few weeks. The NHL is in the offseason, so my job is safe. But there hasn’t been a baseball game with a mascot in the stands for two weeks outside of Sutter Health Park. That’s where the Sacramento River Cats play. Their mascot, Dinger, is a drunk who probably missed his flight here or forgot about the conference all together. He might have also chosen not to come because he’s tired of everyone accusing him of being a drunk. We’re not the most supportive group. Either way, he never showed up and he kept working and it was national news because the River Cats were selling out every seat–which proves fans come to the games for more than just a bunch of overpaid players.

A few days ago the Giants called him up from Triple A to fill in for Lou Seal since we’re in quarantine. I guess he’s been pretty good. It’s a good thing too, because I haven’t seen Lou around the hotel for a while now, not since we all wore the La Quinta uniforms, and I don’t want to jump too quickly to any conclusions, but I think he might be dead. Rumor has it someone died in their room. The board won’t make an announcement because they don’t want to spur any identity quests. But CNN has been covering our lockdown since it started and Jake Tapper reported a few days ago that someone in the facility died. So I’d say it’s a pretty strong rumor, right? And Lou Seal is infamous for his morning waffles and salmon cream cheese and it’s been almost a week since anyone has seen him at the breakfast bar.

Sadly, I saw Ragnar and the Suns gorilla, Gerald, by the pool yesterday so if anyone died it wasn’t them. And I know that’s a pretty terrible thing to say because you shouldn’t wish death on any man or animal, but they’re just so awful, and actually the moral boundaries of wishing death on a man who pretends to be an animal is a little more squishy than you might think. Anyway, I hope Lou is alright, but he’s probably not. RIP Lou.

That’s exactly why I can’t go to this party, even if I do put out crazy strong Helen Miren vibes in this dress. I’ve tested negative every single day so far. And the last thing I need is to be Brenda, the woman who got COVID in a duck mask and a Helen Miren dress while resenting anthropomorphism, politicizing human health, the idiocy of modern Americans, the loss of a really good conference friend in Cindy, and the governing structure of professional mascotry.

I’m going home.