I always make a point of honking and giving a good wave to the Chicken Dude whenever I happen to be transporting or just cruising by his assigned street corner. I shouldn_t assume it_s a dude, but it_s hard to discern gender with all that distal nap and fluff.„

I find it reassuring to know that regardless of what_s going on while on duty, I can always count on this mime with feathers to be prancing around like a blithering idiot, making a spectacle of himself in an attempt to entice customers toward the chicken wing restaurant. One usually has to work the downtown shift after midnight to see a public display with such moronic impunity and disregard for self-respect.„

It wasn_t until I was dispatched to a call of a mascot down that I began to appreciate the hazards of professional costume prancing. Sure, the job doesn_t require memorizing lines, nor does one have to be good at making facial expressions, seeing as you_re stuck within the frozen facial expression confines of a papier-m¥chô head. Another positive aspectƒknowing you_re completely anonymous under fur or feathers gives you an opportunity to completely let go of inhibitions and be silly as hell. (It also entitles you to work under the Federal Witness Protection Program and still be in a public setting.)„

The challenge to being a successful mascot lies in the ability to be outrageously enthusiastic and slapstickish, which can prove difficult depending on the anatomy of the character. Peripheral visual restrictions and big feet can lead to tripping. Long-necked characters can throw off one_s balance and lead to cervical strain issues.

Theme park characters are prone to hazmat spills from eager, hugging children who aren_t so eager to learn potty trainingƒwhich I guess is still better than portraying oneself as a food chain mascot. They just stand around looking stupid and unapproachable, because nobody is going to be drawn to a walking milk carton, unless these sad passersby are really desperate for a hug. For the rest of society, it_s just too creepy. How do I know this? I don_t. I_m making this %$#! up as I go along, which proves I_m a paramedic.

A lot of people think being a sports mascot would be the best kind of costumed quipster. Indeed sports mascots get to mock, heckle and ridicule sports officials, but you still have to know how to dodge beer cans and petrified funnel cakes thrown by fans. Sometimes you may have a run-in with the opposing team_s mascot (which would really suck if its mascot is a living, breathing animal, such as “Ralphie,” the buffalo from Colorado University).„

The call I was initially referring to was a “mascot behaving strangely.” (How are we supposed to take that seriously?) It was the hottest part of the day in the cool month of August in an open-air arts festival. Apparently, this character had been acting strangely for several hours before 9-1-1 was summoned. Had the mascot been dressed as anything other than an unrecognizable alien figure, he may have received help sooner, but when people don_t know what you_re supposed to be, they can_t distinguish idiosyncratic behavior from the normal scripted antics of the character. The short end of that translation: When you_re dressed as a mascot that causes folks to gasp out, “What the hell is that supposed to be?” don_t expect help when you need it.

We found the patient lying supine, with people fanning him with festival pamphlets. From a distance, it looked like an ugly dog being beaten with newspapers by a gang of disgruntled AARP neighborhood watch members. The patient_s pupils were initially fixed and dilated, but then my partner told me to take off his head. Hot, sweaty steam came pouring out from the top of the patient_s costumed neckline, along with the odor of chicken soup. He was not yet at heat stroke level, but his initial signs and symptoms made it a no-brainer to implement our heat-exhaustion protocols. “I think I found a good IV site,” my partner whispered. “Don_t you think we should take the costume off first,” I retorted sharply. “Fine, but I know I could have easily gotten a 14-gauge angio in his antenna.” “Ask him if he was wearing any sunscreen,” I fired back. As you guessed, the humor began to flow, and even our patient began to laugh at our twisted comments once we installed an air-conditioner unit to his tail flap.

So next time you see someone dressed in 50 lbs. of unventilated cloth and feathers all day long in unfavorable weather conditions with no chance of filing for worker_s comp or unionizing, give Âem a wave. Even consider offering rehydration fluids. Better yet, pull over and engage in some 90_s style street dance competitions with them. You_d be amazed at the honking that goes on during such boogie challenges.

I_ll close by admitting I was offered a mascot position once when I was in college. I was so excited to get my cartoon costume, until they said, “What costume? Show up as is.”

Until next time, be safe.JEMS

Steve Berryhas been a paramedic for the past 25 years in the southern Colorado region. He_s the author of the cartoon book series I_m Not An Ambulance Driver and invites you to join him and others of the EMS community to ride in the 2009 National EMS Memorial Bike Ride(www.muddyangels.org). Visit his Web site atwww.iamnotanambulancedriver.com to purchase his books or CDs.