It's possible he did. The mascot career attracts some unsavory elements. To quote a textbook written by Calgary-based mascot consultant Glenn Street, "Your greatest concerns [when hiring someone as a mascot] will be to fend off pedophiles or persons with records of uncontrolled violence."
Both Street and Deschesnes warn against picking up children (as in, off the ground). Street's book includes a photograph of an alligator in a Santa hat losing his grip on a small boy. You can't see the child's face, but a mittened hand is outthrust, attempting to break the fall. For a mascot this is a career-ender.
Deschesnes continues giving Boyd and me feedback on our maiden outing. "Don't be shy, stay calm, take your time." The consensus is that we were both a little stiff. "Go home," he tells Boyd, "put on your head and feet, and practice." He instructs me to show up this evening, with the other sports mascots, at the Kansas Coliseum. On the drive back to my hotel I pass an exit for the airport. It's all I can do not to take it.
The Wichita Thunder is warming up for the game. I envy the players, not for their fame or athletic achievements, but because they get to perform on a sheet of ice. It's unbelievably hot inside a mascot suit. How hot is it? Hot enough that 58% of mascots surveyed in 2001 by Johns Hopkins researchers, for a study entitled Epidemiology of Injuries Among Professional Mascots, had suffered heat illness or some other heat-related malady during the previous year.
Deschesnes has the four of us—two dogs, a draft horse and a hydrocephalic boy named Kirby—working the gates and the concession area as the fans arrive. We high-five or shake hands with the big fans; the little ones we hug and kiss. If all the politicians in the land were struck mute, this would pretty much be their job.
I solicit a hug from a passing preteen and her friend. They keep walking, as though perhaps they failed to notice the towering, blazing-blue dog standing directly in their path with its arms wide open. A child's indifference does not hurt like a blow to the midsection, but it hurts nonetheless.
Shawn Christopherson, who doubles as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Raymond, tells a story about having rushed across town in his suit for an appearance at a children's cancer ward. He arrived at the appointed hour, huffing and sweating, feeling virtuous for making it there on time and being able to bring a moment of joy to the life of a dying girl. Expecting a brave smile, he leaned in for a hug. "She goes, 'Raymond? You need to take a bath.' "
Deschesnes has materialized at my side to offer some coaching.
What can I do? I shrug and raise my paws, a la Jack Benny. A man high-fives the right one.
"You follow them, you improvise something," he says. "You have to feel you are the king in this building."