In the 1930’s the character of the Shadow started appearing in pulp magazines. The Shadow was a costumed vigilante with the power to cloud men’s (and women’s) minds and make himself invisible. He was actually the rich bachelor about-town Lamont Cranston in a move totally stolen, admittedly so, by the creators of Batman. There was a radio drama starring Orson Welles and there has since been comic books and book books and television shows and movies.
When I was little I had a bunch of old radio dramas on cassette tapes. The Sherlock Holmes show starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce was my favorite. I still have them all on my phone to this day. However, second place went to The Shadow.
The other day, finally, after decades of waiting, I got to actually BE the Shadow.
Just not, you know, the superhero one.
Mid-December I was sitting at my little desk in my office downstairs when my phone rang. The display showed it was Legacy Elementary, T2’s school. I wasn’t concerned. T2 actually calls home on a somewhat regular basis, having forgotten his lunch, or wanting cough drops brought in to him or just to talk. Not too long ago he convinced his teacher (who is great) that he was supposed to call home. Then he convinced the front office ladies (also great) that his mom was supposed to come and get him and take him to lunch. He called his mother and asked when she was going to pick him up so they could go to Top Golf, where she works, have lunch and hit some golf balls.
He wasn’t, to his way of thinking, being deceptive. As he walked out the door that morning he had said, “Hey mom, you should pick me up and take me to lunch today.”
“Sure,” she said, being clearly, to everyone but T2, sarcastic, “I’ll just come and get you and we’ll go to Top Golf.”
“I was just doing what she told me to do!” he later claimed.
Anyway, I wasn’t worried about why school was calling me, expecting to hear his voice on the other end of the line wanting something.
It wasn’t him though; it was one of the aforementioned front office ladies.
I love these ladies. They completely keep that school, which is excellent, running. They were also more or less the first new people I spoke to when we arrived in Virginia. Cass and I got our place and moved in a few days before the boys got back from California. The first thing we did after the movers got done doing their thing was go to the boys’ schools and get them signed up. Legacy was our first stop. Everyone was super helpful, they got T2 registered, answered all of our questions and generally made us feel very welcome.
It was sort of my first real step-dad activity, going to Legacy and talking to them. I was more than a little concerned about how I would do fake dadding it. They made my first test very easy and so I’ve always had a soft spot for them.
I think they like me too, as they always make fun of me when I show up at school. Also, because they asked me to be Shadow.
The school’s mascot is the Lab, specifically, a giant black Labrador retriever named Shadow. He doesn’t, like Lamont Cranston, have the power to cloud men’s minds but he doesn’t have the power to make first graders lose theirs.
“Mr. Ayers,” said the woman on the other line, whose name I know but who I didn’t ask if I could talk about on here so who will remain anonymous, “this is [REDACTED] at Legacy.”
“Hi,” I said, “what did he do?”
“Oh no,” she said, “everything is fine, we just have a favor to ask.”
“Would you be interested in coming in and dressing up as Shadow the mascot for our school holiday sing along?” she asked,
“Sure,” I said, immediately and without thinking.
I think she was slightly taken aback by my lack of consideration.
“Oh,” she said. “Well. Okay then, great. That was easy. Could you be here at 7:50 on Friday so we can get you suited up.”
“Sure,” I said, “see you then.”
I didn’t tell her, because it would have been bragging, but I actually have a long history of dressing up as giant, anthropomorphic dogs. When I was in high school I worked at a book store. One day we had an in store promotion where I had to dress up as Clifford the Big Red Dog. That’s right people, I’ve got furry experience. The line for paw-autographs starts right over there.
I didn’t tell T2 what I was doing. The morning of the Holiday Sing Along Cass dropped T2 off at school and then I snuck in right behind him. There was a bit of trouble actually finding the costume, but it eventually arrived and Cass helped me get dressed.
A word about mascots. My good friend Jake Johnson, who among my friends from college I’ve always described as “the best of us” was the Musketeer when we were at Xavier. We teased him about it mercilessly, because we were gigantic jerks. He was good at it and was even in an ESPN commercial. He would walk around the basketball area with a giant D’Artagnan costume on, giving little kids high fives, waving to adults and interacting with the cheerleaders. He would go upstairs and down stairs and jump around.
Jake is now a high school principal. He has a lovely wife and a passel of cool kids and doesn’t need my affirmation but I just wanted to say, publicly, I am sorry if I ever teased you about being the Muskie because holy hell, mascoting is serious business.
Lamont Cranston, as the Shadow, could cloud men’s minds and make himself invisible. When I put the Shadow head on, the rest of the world became invisible. You can’t see ANYTHING while wearing it. You especially can’t see anything below mid-chest level, a fact I proved by taking two steps and tripping over a rug.
Also, mascot costumes are hot. I had dressed in shorts and a t-shirt and still was sweating like I was in second grade, had checked a book out of the library and then lost it. Don’t judge me, I had odd anxieties as a child. I began sweating immediately and profusely.
Cass took me by the paw and led me to the gym, where the whole school was waiting. I’m not saying that the place erupted into a roar of excitement when the six foot plus giant dog walked in, but there were cheers.
I danced around, I gave lots and lots of high fives to the kids sitting on the floor. I waved to the kids in the stands. I occasionally snuck out to the music room to take my head off and have Cass wipe my face, which made me feel a little like the Godfather of Soul James Brown. I managed not to fall down, although it wasn’t easy. Luckily, I didn’t have to do much, because I couldn’t have managed much.
Before the program began I roamed around. When the kids began the show, each grade singing a Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Diwali song (we have a very diverse school) I got to sit down off to the side. The kids were great. The teachers and staff joined in. There was a surprise appearance by Mr. Duckworth, the man who until last year had been the school’s principal and who everyone treats pretty much like a demi-god. If you asked T2 to list the greatest people in the world he would say Barack Obama, NFL player JJ Watt, and Mr. Duckworth, probably not in that order. Mostly I hung off to the side, using Cass as my seeing eye dog. It was a great program, lasted about forty minutes and then was done.
Afterward I stood outside the gym and greeted the kids as they came out. The older kids played it semi-cool, giving high fives. The younger kids, we’re talking second grade and down here, were less restrained.
In the cinema classic Return of the Jedi, the last bit of action takes place on the forest moon of Endor, where the rebels led by Princess Leia and Han Solo team up with the Ewoks, who are basically walking teddy bears, to defeat the Empire’s Stormtroopers. I always wondered, “how did the Empire’s army get beaten by a bunch of stuffed animals?”
Now I know. The Stormtroopers were wearing these big helmets. They probably never even SAW the Ewoks.
I was swarmed by little kids, none of who were in my very limited line of site. It was like being in a massive, invisible hug. I was afraid to move, because I would crush them. They weren’t hugging gently, they were flinging themselves at Shadow, and I couldn’t brace for the attacks because I couldn’t tell which direction they were coming from. I understand it wasn’t about me, it was about the mascot of the school they loved. But it was me in the costume suddenly concerned about taking a series of groin shots.
I avoided that but one little boy did, in his excitement, bite me on the arm. Thank god the suit is padded. Their teachers peeled them off and I made my way back to the music room, where Cass had grabbed T2.
When I took the head off he started laughing.
“I wondered why mom was suddenly so tight with Shadow,” he said. And then, ”Jeez Louise, you are sweaty and gross.”
He was right.