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4 Important Lessons You Learn as a Birthday Party Mascot

There comes a time in every man's life when he finds he's lost his way, or maybe he just never had much of a grasp on it in the first place, because he is a 22-year-old liberal arts graduate and no one is immediately handing him a job for some reason. When this moment arises, there are three -- and only three -- choices he can make to find his way again:

1. Dig down deep and make his family proud.

2. Let the overwhelming weight of life crush him.

3. Dress up as off-brand cartoon characters and tie animal balloons at kids' birthday parties on the weekends.

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Success is completely subjective.

Now, while there are few who would look at that list and not immediately be drawn to the romanticism of choice number 3, I'm here to tell you that, just like when you chose creative writing as your major, it is not without its perils and pitfalls. And for those few who think wearing an awkwardly shaped human oven into some of the seediest parts of your respective city is somehow "demeaning" or "the first step in a life of bad decisions," I assure you that it can be much more moderately rewarding than you're anticipating. I'm not here to persuade or dissuade, but merely to offer a few tips and life lessons from one who has acted as the hot, breathy soul of plush cartoon characters and lived to tell about it.

#4. Kids Are Terrified of You (Unless You Are G.I. Joe)

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There is a reason that kids love Elmo: He is a cute little lovable monster with a funny voice on their television who teaches them that the letter "Z" is hilarious. Now take that vision of Elmo and blow him up into a real-life 5'9" red monster of body odor who has a nasally voice with a hangover rattle and a "magic box" of candy, and who could possibly blame them for being scared? The question we should be asking is: Why are the kids the only ones at the party who seem to get this? There has never been a parent in the history of time who, instead of making their screaming child take a picture with the thing they currently fear most in the world, has said:

"You know what? My 3-year-old's instincts on this are something that I should probably be encouraging. Maybe I shouldn't force her into the arms of what she perceives to be either a fire monster of death or just a strange man in a mask. I'm going to let her just go hang out at the swings until she has matured enough to realize that it's a real novelty to have a grown man who has chosen the parachute game as a career trajectory just wandering among us."

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"He won't eat you. He only eats 99 cent frozen burritos."

Now there are different levels of fear, depending on the costume; Pikachu scares the shit out of kids, as do all of the Teletubbies (especially together). Clowns tend to be a mixed bag; some kids are terrified of them, and some are too stupid to know any better. But G.I. Joe ... well, G.I. Joe is special. Never once did I go to a party as G.I. Joe in which all kids weren't thrilled by the end.

I have a few theories around this. First of all, most G.I. Joe parties skew older. Second, G.I. Joe does not have a mask -- he's just a guy in camouflage face paint and some dog tags. And third (and most importantly): Kids love doing pushups. G.I. Joe's big thing besides making a lot of balloon swords (bazookas take way too much time) is that he tells kids to drop and give him pushups nonstop. A kid is crying because he isn't getting any presents on his sibling's birthday? "Drop and give me 5." The kid has already forgotten what sadness is because he's doing some goddamn pushups. Is there something to be drawn from this? I don't know, except maybe parents should be making their kids do a lot more pushups.


"That's right, I called you yellow."

#3. Kill the Head and the Party Will Die

If you've ever been playing fetch with a dog and pretended to throw a ball for him but actually held on to it, that look -- that brief flash of bewilderment and betrayal when he looks back at you and sees it still in your hand -- that's the closest I can come to explaining the look on a 3-year-old's face when Bugs Bunny reaches over for a piece of candy and his head falls off, and in its place has sprouted the head of a liberal arts graduate.


And thanks to the ridiculously oversized feet, you can't even run away.

The main difference between these two scenarios is that for the dog, this brief moment gives way to total euphoria -- the ball has been found and can now be thrown again -- and all is forgotten. For the 3-year-old, the look gives way to a cranial reactor meltdown complete with tears, a little bit of puking, future therapy and a call to the party agency to explain why Bugs has been asked to leave early.

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"Wait ... you majored in creative writing? What the fuck were you thinking?"

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