Following the likes of Adele and other great talents who take the occasional break from the limelight, I let someone else be the neighborhood Easter Bunny last year. Whereas Adele spent her time writing songs for an album that would go on to sell millions, I’d spent mine at Page After Page bookstore in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, hoping Good Luck With That Thing You’re Doing would go on to sell hundreds. Okay, fine, tens.
Before going out on mascot sabbatical last year, I at least did the neighborhood the favor of upgrading the suit. At the risk of insulting the old costume, it definitely explains why we sometimes refer to clothes as “duds.” When I agreed to return to rabbit form for the annual egg hunt this past Saturday, I was looking forward to wearing a suit that didn’t have a demented face and eyeballs that might go airborne at the first hint of a breeze.
As Saturday approached, my excitement was tempered with a touch of nerves. Change is difficult for a mascot of my stature, and I knew this would be a transition year for reasons beyond the new suit: my previous handler and chauffeur, Sue, had taken herself out of the lineup this year. The departure of this talented veteran left me with vacancies at two key positions. I conducted an extensive search that consisted of combing my family’s ranks for members who are especially susceptible to bribes. The Roommates would have been my top choice, if only either of them had a driver’s license. I had to settle for my parents instead, and I bought them off with an early morning trip to see the Cherry Blossoms and then breakfast afterwards. What Mom and Dad lacked in tenure, they made up for with enthusiasm, probably because I’d pumped them full of caffeine during breakfast.
The event organizers and I had agreed that I would appear at the annual egg hunt at 10:10 a.m, so at 9:55, I put on the new suit. I noticed a major difference in quality immediately. Suit 2.0 was made of much sturdier stuff than the original, which increased its heft, along with my chances of suffocating inside of it. Not only was it hotter than the first suit, but the air holes, if there were any, did not come close to aligning with my mouth or nose.
As I frantically adjusted the head, Mom said, “There’s something wrong with the mouth.”
“You mean because there’s no air passing through it?” I said, gasping for breath as I yanked it off.
“No,” she said. “It looks funny.”
I was about to chastise her for prioritizing aesthetics over the threat of asphyxiation, but when I turned the head around to study the face, I had to agree: that rabbit looked truly down in the mouth, particularly on one side. He sported an expression I knew only too well, one that says, “I just had a root canal and won’t be able to feel the right half of my face for a week.” I began to worry about being the first mascot ever to drool.
Mom and I tried to turn that half-frown upside-down, but we couldn’t even coax it to lay flat. On realizing we were running out of time, Mom re-capitated me, and then she and Dad loaded me into the car. We’d been so caught up in fixing my face that I’d forgotten to tell my mother what to do. Since we had only a 90-second drive to the park, I gave her two simple instructions: 1. Keep me from maiming myself; and 2. Keep me from maiming small children. The last thing I needed was to trample a kid and touch off a Pamplona-style toddler stampede.
As she guided me into the park, Mom told me the egg hunt was in full swing. Because of the suit’s limited visibility, I usually rely on the sound of screams to tell me we’ve reached the spot where most of the kids are congregated. But this year I heard no evidence of children in distress. Instead, I heard only my mother’s ground report, which relayed the improbable news that kids were actually trying to get closer to me.
As they came up, most kids gave me a hug (including the stalker from my first year. I’m flattered that she’s still carrying a torch.). Several handed me their plastic eggs and one kid gave me a Hershey’s kiss. I showed my heartfelt appreciation for these gifts by grinning uselessly inside the suit and then either missing the delivery or dropping every item that was placed in my mitts.
I was so surprised by this outpouring of affection that I didn’t realize anything was amiss with my costume until Mom said, “Wheat, you gotta get your head screwed on straight.” She’d probably been waiting 40 years for the perfect opening to give me that piece of advice. As usual, she was right: the Easter Bunny had the kind of head/body alignment problem no chiropractor could fix.
“I felt like I was in ‘The Exorcist,'” Mom said afterwards.
Thirty minutes and several gallons of sweat later, my handler guided me back to the car. She and my chauffeur agreed the appearance had been a huge success. I reflected on what caused this year’s unexpected surge in little kid affection and decided it was not my superior skills so much as sympathy. If mascot magnetism depends not on flashing a megawatt smile but in looking like you’ve survived dental trauma, I’ll be glad to host the pity party again next year.