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Volume 4, Issue 56: Fredbird
"There is no person in there. That bird is alive."
You may remember, almost a year ago now, the fifth-annual Will Leitch Newsletter NCAA Tournament Pool. The winner of the pool, every year, gets to assign me a newsletter topic of their choice. (This is why I once wrote about a baseball team made up of serial killers.) We’ll be doing this again next month.
Last year’s pool was won by a guy named Mike, who, alas, never emailed me to claim his prize. That is, until last week, when he—like you should, right now!—pre-ordered The Time Has Come and noted that he had forgotten to give me my newsletter assignment. His story checks out: He did in fact win. So I have a newsletter to give out today. Here is what Mike has in mind for me, in his own words:
I’d like it if your wrote something about mascots, preferably SEC mascots, but really it can be anything mascot related. History, (why so many Tigers and Dogs in SEC?) or Which mascot would win in a cage fight? Have fun with it and maybe I’ll learn something as well.
I really enjoy your newsletter, much more than I thought I would. As a loyal supporter for a year+ now, two things about Athens, GA you seem to have mostly overlooked.
1) the very best live jam band formed in Athens and is still going strong.
Yes, I will be seeing Widespread Panic for 3 nights in St Augustine next month. They are the best thing going when it comes to live music nowadays.
2) every Friday and Saturday during SEC baseball season, there are a plethora of future MLB talent playing whoever Georgia is playing that week in baseball. I would encourage you to see some local, high quality baseball. And, if you ever are passing thru Gainesville on I-75 during baseball season, I’d gladly meet you at the Gators new $65 million baseball facility. (That’s my meetup pitch for buying the new book).
Take care, Go Gators!
P.S. I plan to win March madness contest in back-to-back years, just like the Florida Gators were the last team to repeat. Go Gators!
Thanks, Mike! Your punishment for being a Florida Gator is me not correcting any of the grammatical errors in your email. Though you did go to Florida: It’s possible that school doesn’t think those are errors at all.
(I have gotten better at SEC trash talk after nearly a decade down here, no?)
Anyway: I’m just going to go off the “mascots” prompt. For Mike today, I’m going to write about mascots.
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I woke up a few weeks ago to my son William watching this video—rapt.
You can argue about the inherent brutality of football, and I am not going to disagree with you. But little kids being jacked up on the field by mascots? Holy cow is that funny. (Here’s another good one.) We all have our quirks and kinks, and mine is mascot comedy. There is almost nothing a mascot can do that I will not find funny. Particularly when they are smashing children into the ground.
The best thing about mascot-destroying-children videos is that they at last give mascots a chance to strike back again a world that submits them to endless cruelty. Because the only thing that’s as funny as a mascot flattening a nine-year-old is something violent happening to a mascot. That happens a lot more often. One Saturday morning, back when I had more time to laze around on Saturday mornings than I do now, I once watched this video 15 consecutive times. It had me rolling on the floor each time.
My God that is funny. I sometimes dream about that video.
The inherent amusement of mascots suffering some sort of injury lies in the fact that, while we intellectually know there’s a person in that costume, we are incapable of holding that information in our brain when actually interacting with a mascot. When someone puts on that costume, they are no longer a human being—they become the mascot. That is not a person wearing a furry costume, nope; that is a smiling polar bear that cannot stop falling down. Putting the outfit on strips them, instantly, of their humanity. They are transformed. They simply are the polar bear.
And we—especially children—are biologically driven to hurt them.
My senior year of high school, my baseball coach, who was also an assistant coach on the football team, approached me before our Homecoming game.
“Will, you’re a high energy guy,” he said. He always said stuff like this. He was the sort of guy who wore golf shirts tucked into his sweatpants and always a whistle around his neck, even when he wasn’t coaching, just walking down the hallway. “We’re trying to get the fans fired up tonight, and we haven’t brought the mascot out all year. You want to go out and put on the costume?”
Mattoon High School’s nickname was—is—the Green Wave, meant to represent “the waves of corn in the fields surrounding the community of Mattoon.” This is a terrifically apt nickname: There is no better way to describe the sensation of growing up in Mattoon, Illinois than “being surrounded in all directions by infinite fields of corn.” This is the Mattoon Green Wave logo.
There is no existing picture of the Mattoon Green Wave mascot, but in 1993, anyway, the Green Wave mascot was indistinguishable from Gumby. The unofficial mascot nickname actually was Gumby, even though the school itself had no connection to the character. Hoping being agreeable and “high-energy” might get me more playing time come baseball season—it ultimately would not—I told Coach I’d do it. Thus, about half hour before kickoff, I donned the Gumby costume, tried out some aspects of my new persona (I imagined him as an embittered middle-aged divorced Gumby dad who had made a mess of his life but saw his shared success with the Mattoon High School football team as his one last shot at redemption) and ran out onto Gaines Field with the cheerleaders. I turned to the crowd, raised my Gumby arm in the air and began to cheer: “M-A-T-T-O-O-N! Mattoon! Mattoon! Go! Fight! Win!”
I got to the second “O” in Mattoon when two kids tackled me. I never saw them coming. There’s just no peripheral vision in those things.
I laid down there on the ground, certain that the MHS support stuff would quickly whisk these juvenile delinquents away and, presumably, cane those wisenheimers until their skin looked like a honeycrisp apple. But instead, the kids kept kicking me, and then more kids showed up, and then people were jumping on poor Gumby. I finally got to my feet and tried to join the cheerleaders again, but then Gumby caught a little kid’s boot to the groin. I crumpled to the turf.
From down in the dirt, I looked up at the crowd. They were roaring. They laughed, and laughed, and laughed. My dad was in the stands too, and I caught his eye. He was cracking up like everybody else. No one, not even your dad, remembers there’s a person in the suit.
We lost the game. I took off the costume at halftime, stuffed it in the back of my Ford Escort and forgot about it. I discovered weeks later that my mom had gotten sick of it sitting in the truck and threw it away. And that is why there is no existing picture of the Mattoon Green Wave mascot.
In 2013, I covered the Atlantic-10 tournament at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, one of the first events at the then-brand-new arena. The crowd was particularly sparse, and in between games, I wandered around the floor area, checking out the contours of the place. I ended up walking down the tunnel underneath the arena, and there, I ran into the VCU Ram.
The VCU Ram is actually named Rodney the Ram, a mascot that emerged after a “reimagining” in 2010, in which “the majority of respondents preferred a ram with hands and sneakers instead of front and hind hooves” and “Rodney’s horns received the biggest critique, with a wish to make them less mouse- or shrimp-like and more realistic.” In a perhaps related note, here is a video of Rodney the Ram doing what he can to have himself some sex:
But when I saw Rodney in 2013, he was not taking part in a mating ritual, at least not as far as I could tell. In fact, he wasn’t even wearing his head. Down in the bowels of Barclays Center, the college kid playing Rodney had his ram head lying on the ground as he, in costume, furiously chugged water. He saw me looking at him.
“Dude, it’s fucking hot in this thing,” he said.
I wanted to agree with him, to comfort him, to credit him for his dedication to school spirit. I’m sure it was fucking hot in that thing.
But I was too appalled to see him with his head off. To see him walking around in all that ram fur, but with the head of a dopey college student, struck me as weirdly upsetting—like watching Santa Claus pass gas, or your grandmother twerking. This beast in front of me, this half-ram, half-college student, was violently repulsive: An assault on reality as I knew it. Was it a person? Or was it a mascot? The two beings could never co-exist. What was this monstrosity?
I looked at him and, before I had a second to realize what I was saying, told him, “Man, aren’t you supposed to not take those things off?”
He stared at me like I was the biggest asshole in the world, and then walked away. I saw him during VCU’s game later that night. Some kid kicked him in the shin. I cheered. It is simply funny to see mascots in pain.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Your AL East Preview, MLB.com. Halfway there. I am always too low on the Yankees.
The Ten Most Likely Humans To Be President in February 2024, Medium. A new monthly (for now) series that might be fun, we’ll see.
My On-Scene Super Bowl Wrapup, New York. I’ll confess to being on Team You Can’t Make That Call. I wish I were better, but I’m not.
Which New MLB Manager Has the Toughest Job? MLB.com. I would have to think “taking over for Mike Matheny” can’t be that hard. Also, I was on MLB Network to talk about this piece this week—you can watch it through the MLB link to this piece, it’s right there at the top—and they have started running this hilarious bumper to introduce me:
Announcing Presidential Campaigns on Twitter Is Lame, Medium. I preferred when Obama froze his ass off in Springfield in February 2007.
Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “Magic Mike’s Last Dance,” “Sharper” and “Your Place Or Mine.”
Seeing Red, no show this week.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“Lyndon LaRouche Was the Godfather of Political Paranoia. His Cult Is Still Alive and Unwell,” Tommy Craggs, The New Republic. The great Tommy Craggs explains how the LaRouchians are still among us, everywhere.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
This is your reminder that if you write me a letter and put it in the mail, I will respond to it with a letter of my own, and send that letter right to you! It really happens! Hundreds of satisfied customers!
Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Chosen to Deserve,” Wednesday. I just discovered this band and they make me feel a little bit like I’m sitting on Lake Shelbyville, waiting for the sun to come down. They’re opening for the Drive-By Truckers at the annual Homecoming shows late March/early April here in Athens. Highly recommended.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
Saw an old friend at the Super Bowl last week.
Man, I miss that podcast.
Have a great weekend, all …
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