Turns out the giant Peppy Purgolder costume doesn't smell at all like the last person who wore it. It smells like the last 15 people who wore it. A swarm of stench: fermented fart, sweat, old cologne, perfume, and the long-spent scent of various flavors of deodorant.
That's just the suit. The actual massive cat head is an ocean of olfactory assault unto itself, the place where mouth mist, hair grease and other humid human juices have gone to stew over the course of entire football games, pep rallies and weekend-long tournaments.
Once Peppy's head was pulled into place my eyes watered as though I had been belted by a Mace baton. The student who volunteers to be Peppy should be given an automatic four-year college scholarship upon graduation.
Like you, I'm the kind of guy who will promise to do anything for friends if they ask me far enough in advance. I'll commit to cleaning out a veal pen if you ask me to do it three months from now.
So a couple months ago when I got the call to appear as Peppy for an athletic fundraiser at the Brink Lounge in March I didn't hesitate. In Wisconsin, in winter, March never comes. They may as well have said 2016.
But here it is, and Peppy's shoes, the size of microwave ovens, don't fit over mine. "They're supposed to," says our East senior, Riley, to his father, who's standing in the living room with a big yellow cat suit on. I slide my shoeless feet into Peppy's roomy golden sneakers. Big mistake, but Matt, my ride to the Brink, is here and there's no time for fine-tuning.
Clomping down the Brink's entrance stairway is tough in full Peppy regalia. His shoes are longer than the treads are wide. I take comfort knowing that the head will cushion the trauma when I tumble backward.
It's a nice crowd. People who encounter mascots fall roughly into one of two groups. The high-fivers and the huggers. To the soundtrack of pulsing '60s rock, I enter the room to a flurry of both. People love Peppy. Never before have I had this much sunshine blown up my ass in the course of one minute.
Only a few of the organizers know it's me inside the costume. My anonymity is strengthened by my conscious decision to play Peppy without speaking. The real mascot way. Even in the early minutes this is a huge test for me since I love the sound of my own voice.
"Peppy's here!" High five. "I love you, Peppy!" Hug. I've also decided, out of respect, that although this is an adult event with beverages served and items auctioned, Peppy will behave, even though the temptation to let him off the leash is immense.
I do take one strange liberty with that tactic. Fifteen minutes in, I pass by the high-fivers altogether and go straight for the hugs. In fact, Peppy is now the one who initiates them, particularly with men; some I know and some I don't.
It's not just a hug. It's a mini-science experiment. Once I have my arms fully draped around a gentleman, I don't let go. Instead I squeeze him and pat him on the back as the clock ticks. "Okay, okay, Peppy," comes the response after about 30 seconds. But I'm just getting started. These hugs last a good minute and a half. Most dudes head straight for the bar upon release.
There's a fun presentation at about 9:30 p.m. emceed by a popular former vice principal decked out in a tuxedo. Coaches are honored, and during their rousing comments I do mascot things. Clasping hands like a champion over my head. Fist pumps. Clapping (rendered silent by Peppy's four-fingered, furry mitts). I have new respect for mascots of all stripes. There are only so many ways to express excitement with your body.
My ride home is due in the parking lot around 10:15 p.m. I'm so glad to see Matt when he pulls up that I let my guard down and allow Peppy to commit the one inappropriate act that, let's just say, wasn't in the greatest of taste.... It only lasts a second, but that's all it takes for some East revelers coming out of the event to catch me. Rats.
I climb into the car. I'm bushed. And I realize that I've not only grown accustomed to the smell in the suit, I've now deposited my own. My donation of DNA to an icon that will, in one form or another, be around a lot longer than I will.