It was another 95 degree day in southwest Florida, pretty typical for July, either that or thunderstorms. It was Saturday. Saturday is birthday party day. It is Birthday party day everywhere in the country for that matter.
2-6 year olds are pretty much the sweet spot for birthday parties and, in 1984, Barney the purple dinosaur was the theme almost everyone wanted. Since children’s parties were my bread and butter, I rented whatever costume was available to make an appearance and entertain. Due to copyright laws, there was not a sanctioned Barney costume. Instead, it was called “ big purple dinosaur,” and trust me this costume was booked nonstop for over 2 years.
The costume consisted of a large worn, threadbare, matted faux fur suit, and an insanely large fiberglass, foam, and fur head that weighed about 15 pounds and rested on your shoulders. There was a little screen in the front that enabled you to see, but only straight ahead. No peripheral vision was possible, and to keep the head from falling off you could not move too abruptly. Have you ever been bowling and been handed the gnarliest rental shoes in the place? The ones that look like they have been fished out of a dumpster? The attendant picks up a spray bottle, gives the shoes a cursory spritz, and slides them over to you? Now imagine putting that on your head. That is sort of what a constantly rented by hundreds of people “purple dinosaur head” smells and feels like.
Working in a costume is always a challenge. But if it’s 95 degrees, being covered in fur from head to toe is about as challenging as it can get. IF you take the job of being a costumed character seriously, it is even more challenging. Of course, I always took it seriously.
Today was a 4 year old’s birthday party. The working class neighborhood where the party was being held was typical of the area: a small stucco home on a 80 X 160 lot with Bahai grass and 2 small landscape trees that were required by code. Homes were spaced out by many lots, development was sparse and random. I started by doing a drive by to determine a game plan, decide where to park, and how to make my big entrance. Thank God this party was being held inside. Had they splurged on a water slide in addition to my one off Barney impersonator, I may have had to be outside for the entire party.
Since there were few homes or trees or well, anything to obscure the view, I decided it was best to park down the block and walk a bit so as not to spoil the total mystery. The kids would be scarred for life if they saw fake Barney driving!
Confident that I had parked far enough away to avoid detection, I locked the car, tucked the car keys into the giant fur foot (painful, but obviously there were no pockets in this contraption). I started walking down the road toward the party house. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that in my purple mittened hand I clung to a Mylar balloon decorated with the real, licensed Barney to bestow upon the birthday boy.
Cursing the heat, I trudged toward the home mustering up party enthusiasm and mentally rehearsing to be the best faux Barney I could be. Even though it was only a few blocks, it seemed like I was traversing the Sahara Desert in my giant, foul smelling, fur covered prison. Sweat was already pouring down my face, I could hear the sound of my own hot breath echoing in the giant head. Okay, you are almost there, get ready to be bouncy & fun, hold the balloon tight, ignore the sweat, it will be over before you know it, hold on to the balloon, ignore the keys grinding into your foot, ignore the smell, you’ve got this!
And then, in an instant Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh SHIT, the mylar balloon slipped out of my purple mittened hand. Balloons get away fast and always go up. Within seconds it caught on a live electric wire.
Rarely do people see what happens when a mylar balloon makes contact with a live electric wire, but it is actually quite spectacular!
After a deafening clap of thunder & sparks flying, every home in about a 12 block radius experienced an electrical outage. Air conditioners whirred to a halt, fans, lights, music, television, all were silenced by a mere birthday balloon. People started coming out of their homes to see WTF was happening.
There was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. I was just coming up to my destination when this happened. I had to face the music or, in this case, the silence. I rang the bell. OOPS, no electricity, no doorbell. I knocked a muted knock with my mittened hand. The door opened instantly. What I assumed was the father of the birthday child looked at me and with a thick Hispanic accent said “BAD BARNEY”
They had been watching out of the window the whole time.