It's not very easy being the fair mascot, but the experience lingers on.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CANFIELD -- I try to be friendly, but for some reason, children are hesitant to come near me. I wave. I bounce up and down. I tell them not to be scared.
They're still intimidated by an 8-foot-tall inflatable rooster.
Such is life for the Canfield Fair mascot.
I spent about an hour walking around the fair Thursday afternoon in the mascot suit. The experience left me tired, drenched in sweat and wondering why I couldn't stop saying hello to random fair visitors.
It also gave me a great deal of respect for those who have had to dance around in a very large, stiff mascot costume before me. That includes George Less, a Canfield Fair board member from Green Township, who puts on the rooster suit a few times each year.
Less helped me into the rooster suit before it was inflated behind the fair maintenance building, strapping my feet onto the rooster feet and tightening the harness carrying the suit's battery and compressor. The harness weighs about 30 pounds.
Limited view: There was plenty of space inside the suit once it was inflated, but the only view of the outside world was through a 6-inch wide, 2-foot long mesh window in rooster's stomach. I could see only straight ahead.
Walking was another challenge, because it seemed like I was waddling in antique snowshoes. The rooster's legs came only to the middle of my shin, so I had to rock back and forth to ensure that I picked up the feet and moved forward.
As I started to step, I started to sweat. The white and yellow plastic of the suit wouldn't let hot air escape, giving new meaning to the term "greenhouse effect."
Seeking children: Still, I longed to go out into the fair concourse, where I hoped to put a smile on the faces of some young children. The fair Howdy Girls came along to point me in the right direction and protect me from groups of roaming teens yearning for the distinction of tackling the rooster.
Once I actually started walking around, most children first looked at me with trepidation. It's the parents who smiled immediately, urging their children toward what must have looked like a towering bird of prey.
Many of the children eventually smiled, yet only after having cautiously reached to shake my hand in the wing of the suit.
A few screamed and cried before finally being hustled away by their parents. That didn't stop other parents from urging their children toward me.
The children who did smile and were excited about meeting the rooster made me forget about my other discomforts. After only 15 minutes in the suit, I was sweating like I was in a sauna. It was pouring down my face, and my glasses were constantly fogging up.
I waddled to the concourse near the grandstand, where I encountered my first group of teen-age boys. The Howdy Girls had warned me: They'll want to use me to get attention for themselves.
Oh, no! Suddenly, I was swamped by teen boys hugging me. One checked between my legs to determine if I was a male rooster or a female rooster. Kids.
Using the sway they can hold over teen boys, the Howdy Girls were able to send the boys away after a few seconds of hugs. Lee Stacey, the fair board's director of publicity, then told me I was wanted at the karaoke stage to lead the crowd in the chicken dance.
Thirty minutes had passed; my shirt was soaked. But I wanted to meet the responsibilities of a mascot and be the best rooster I could be.
So I led the crowd through one chicken dance. Then two. Then three.
I was having a great time, but my lower back was starting to ache from the harness. Stacey eventually had to tell the DJ to stop playing the chicken dance song.
Relief in sight: I walked around the fair for 15 more minutes, feeling completely out of energy. The Howdy Girls eventually encouraged me to go behind the karaoke stage, where I took the suit off and lay onthe ground. The temperature outside was 85. It felt refreshing.
The Howdy Girls and I packed up the suit and walked to the fair maintenance building. As we walked, I found myself saying hello to children and other fairgoers as if I were still wearing the costume.
Once a mascot, always a mascot.