March 17, 2007

Meet Gappy

Until today, I don't think I even knew that I had this list, but I've checked something off of it anyway. It's my "Things Not on My 'Things To Do Before I Die'" List. Apparently, one of those things was "Dress up like a giant cartoon recycle bin named 'Gappy' and mingle with a group of Longview children," and I can positively say that I've done it. Allow me to explain.

Today, St. Patrick's Day, was "Super Science Saturday" here at the library. It is a hectic morning for the children's librarians at the best of times, but this morning there were a record 30 kids, and the usual 4 staff members involved in the activities unexpectedly dropped to 2. Today's topic had something to do with recycling, and so of course the plan was for "Gappy" the city's recycling mascot (I don't know. Please don't ask.) to put in an appearance. The suit resides in our break room, and somebody needed to wear it. I happened to be at the top of the short list of possible volunteers, and (being a good sport) I reluctantly agreed to step in to those extra-large shoes. For the children.

At about 10:45, one of the children's librarians helped me into the thing so I could make my strange debut. The costume consists of the following: A blue shirt with long sleeves and straps at the wrists that hook around your fingers; a pair of blue sweatpants with straps at the ankles to hook under your feet and a pair of red shorts that go over the sweatpants; extra-large cartoonish red-and-white gloves; a giant pair of red-and-white felt tennis shoes, with laces and everything.

And then there's the pièce de résistance, of course. The body is a big, blue recycle bin with big cartoon eyes, a round nose, and a huge, open-mouth smile. The holes for the arms are in the front, under the mouth. Protruding from the top is a random assortment of actual garbage . . . pardon me, recyclables (and advertising opportunities): a Domino's pizza box, Diet Coke container, box of Rice Krispies, KFC tub, etc. This large, unwieldy mass is lifted above one's head and lowered down over one (the inside is completely empty except for two padded "crossbeams" that bring the costume to rest on the wearer's shoulders). Your arms come out through the correct holes and have hands added to them, and you are ready to go.

I am apparently slightly better coordinated than the people who generally wear the costume . . . It was expected that I would need to pretty much be led by the hand, but this was not the case. The gigantic (and rather loosely-fitting) shoes took a few steps to master, but my vision wasn't as bad as I expected. Moving around was chiefly a matter of discovering what sort of clearance I was capable of and turning sideways when necessary. Happily, Gappy is a mute, communicating only through body language and gestures.

Our route to the large room where such activities take place led out of the break room, past the administrative offices, through the children's section, and past the circulation desk and the narrows of the security measures at the entrance. The first person I saw (passing through the children's section) was a very small Hispanic girl, maybe two or three years of age, weeping openly. This would have been a somewhat disheartening beginning, except that I had noticed her crying when I went back to put the costume on in the first place, and so did not feel responsible. In fact, we paused as her mother brought her over, and after a few uncertain moments, she smiled and returned my wave. We proceeded without incident.

When my presence was announced to the roomful of children and their parents, the greeting was effusive. I moved forward slowly, feeling a bit disoriented by the level of activity in the room and the small knots of children edging in. Those that were smiling seemed to me to have a strangely feral glint in their eyes. My waving grew more frantic, and I threw in a little friendly bobbing. I felt ready to shake some hands . . . and then I discovered a problem.

I don't know how many of you have observed this, but children are short. The average child in that room passed completely out of my range of vision when they got within about five feet of me. I could feel them clustering in close . . . were they hugging me? tugging at my hand? punching me? attempting to climb my legs? I had no idea. I reached out blindly to pat heads and shake hands, and fumbled around a bit. I was touching someone, somewhere, but I had no idea who or how. The thickness of the costume made it impossible to tell. I decided I should stop before something bad happened, and I started sticking exclusively to gestures and waves.

I could hear fairly well, because kids are loud. After the initial rush a few boys started dancing around me in circles. One wanted me to "throw him in the trash" (he asked me this several times, and would go away for a few minutes only to return and renew his request). I don't know if he meant that he wanted to be stuffed into the nearest waste receptacle or perched atop my costume. Either would have been amusing enough, but neither was particularly feasible.

A hearty-looking lad (okay, he was fat) wanted me to give him something to eat, presumably out of the bounty he observed atop my head. My arms didn't even extend out of the costume as far as the elbow, so I couldn't have obliged him anyway. But I did helpfully point out a box of graham crackers on a nearby table.

Soon, the crowd dissipated a bit and I was able to move about the room freely. I have a strong feeling that there was a mischievous imp following very closely behind me during most of the time I was there, but I couldn't have turned fast enough to see anyway, so I ignored the feeling. I waved and bobbed all over that room . . . had my picture taken with a kid twice (his mom accidentally deleted the first shot out of her cell phone). A little girl with a hard-to-resist gap-tooth grin wanted me to come see her little brother. The brother proved to be an infant who was sitting with his parents against the far wall. I wandered over, and her dad called me "a brave soul."

I was probably only there for 15 to 20 minutes . . . and then I waved goodbye and clomped back to the break room to transform back into myself. I was starting to sweat in that thing, and I had an itch in the middle of my back that needed attention. I hope I didn't do too well . . . they might want me again.

Posted by Jared at March 17, 2007 12:34 PM | TrackBack