It's a disconcerting thing, talking to a human being wearing a furry, full-body costume. Not just because it's tough to know where to look, although that's not an easy one. Into the plastic googly eyes? Where the costumed person's head probably is, which is somewhere around the fuzzy throat of their knockoff Elmo costume, which is sold for copyright reasons as Pink Boy or Fuzzy Manfriend? Or do you look at your shoes in sympathy-pang embarrassment for the adult dressed in that sweltering, matted Elmo/Pink Boy/Fuzzy Manfriend suit, right there in the middle of Times Square and out of any comprehensible context?
At any given moment -- even this one, with the heat index comfortably into triple digits as I write this, there are costumed people milling about the pedestrian area of Times Square, waving furiously at fanny-packed Germans who are just trying to read their maps and trying to get tourists to take photos with them in exchange for tips. These photos will be memories of a lifetime, the sort of thing you show grandkids to remind them of the time you got an iPhone snapshot taken in front of the M&M Store with two sweating men wearing slightly different Minnie Mouse costumes and also Spiderman and Buzz Lightyear, and then gave them each five dollars.
This is all a long way of saying that, unless you've been asked to do so by the hosts of a child's birthday party or a collegiate or professional sports operation, it's probably best not to wear a fuzzy costume. It is uncomfortable in there, and everyone else is more uncomfortable for having you around, and ... anyway, you don't need to hear this. You are probably not going to dress up as the Phillie Phanatic -- or the bootleg version, Lime Green Belly Creature -- and walk around your neighborhood, accosting strangers. This is to your credit, but it's also a thing that separates you from John Paul Weier, a man whose greatest ambition is to be the official mascot of the officially mascot-less Chicago Cubs.
It's to Weier's credit that he's not just sitting around all day dreaming of doing the chicken dance on a Wrigley Field dugout and walking around nodding and rubbing his belly for no reason. Instead, Weier has, since 2007, made his dream a reality by dressing as Billy Cub and walking around Wrigleyville on Cubs game days, getting his picture taken -- and accepting tips for that service -- and high-fiving kids and rubbing his belly and doing other mascot-y things that Major League Baseball and Cubs management believe violates the team's intellectual property.
MLB sent Weier a 120-page cease-and-desist letter not-quite-asking that Weier knock it off. And also that the other Billy Cubs do the same -- when operating at what industry experts refer to as Peak Mascot, Weier had three other people working for him, all of them walking around Wrigleyville in costume, high-fiving kids, rubbing their bellies, and so on. Only one of those Billy Cubs was accused of being "abusive and even racially insensitive to fans," which is obviously uncool, but anyway Weier got rid of that Billy Cub. Look, this is all pretty complicated, and you should probably just watch the video, from NBC Chicago.
I should have warned you about the moment when reporter Phil Rogers says, "(beat) un-BEAR-able (beat)" and I'm sorry about that. While it's easy to see where and how the Cubs might get frustrated/litigious, it's equally easy to feel some sympathy for Weier. (There's a Change.org petition on his and Billy Cub's behalf, if you're feeling more than some sympathy.) It's also difficult not to feel some admiration for the way that Weier, deep in character as the mascot he invented, fended off an angry line of questioning from a Cubs executive by making various goofy mascot-ly gesticulations and faux-chagrined whoopsie gestures.
Weier has an impressively committed and crazy-eyed sincerity about him -- imagine a smaller version of The Miz, who wants only to wander around Wrigleyville and act like a silly bear on Cubs game days. He claims not to be making much money from his work, or at least not to be trying to make much money. That he turned down a $15,000 offer from the Cubs to buy out the trademark suggests that he's for real in his enthusiasm for his role.
The Cubs clearly do not appreciate his mascot wildcatting and have all kinds of rights not to like it and get him to stop. But, in the more general question of whether or not adults should wander through crowds dressed in furry costumes while trying to get people to take pictures with them, we may have found an exception that proves the rule. That rule remains Please Don't Do That, It's Upsetting And Besides Why Are You Even Doing That? Either way, let's hope that John Paul Weier remains the weird, bought-in dude that he is, and maybe remains Billy Cub for a little longer, too.
Image via NBC Chicago.