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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Secrets of a Mall Bunny (March 29, 2012)

Among the jobs I’ve held over the years one standout provides a good story. I was a 25-year-old artist who needed a financial booster shot before the next scheduled painting gig. My salvation came under the category of “Seasonal Work” in the Reader’s employment section. It was early spring and the listing was for a photographer at the Easter Bunny Booth at Parkway Plaza mall. I suppose the photography angle made the job seem more artistic than flipping burgers or selling socks. I liked kids and the gig fit my need for short-term work: for 3 or 4 weekends leading up to Easter I would snap photos of kids as they sat with the real Easter Bunny!

The logistics of getting The Easter Bunny from the dressing room to the booth were a team effort. We Bunny Helpers changed into our pastel shirts in a vacant store, while the Easter Bunny straightened his ears and cleaned his whiskers. We escorted the bunny to the booth and if kids approached us we’d explain that Bunny didn’t talk but could wave hello, do High-Fives and hug. We corrected the teens that told kids that there was a person in the bunny suit. I’ll let you in on a Bunny Booth secret, but only if you promise not to tell anyone under the age of twelve. Here it is: yes, our bunny actually was a person in a bunny suit. Obviously, the real Easter Bunny was busy at Bunny Headquarters, overseeing the egg-painting, candy-making, and basket assembly. He sent a representative out instead, but let’s keep this secret from the kids.

The reality of the photography gig was a little lacking. There were long stretches of time when no kids came. I was bored. These were the days before digital cameras and our Polaroid-type camera malfunctioned a lot, producing blurry photos. The re-circulated mall air was stuffy. And did I mention that a lot of kids are downright petrified of a 6-foot tall bunny? Kids would cry, scream and run away from the bunny as frazzled parents coaxed, cajoled and pleaded with them to sit for just a minute! Babies were tricky. To get their attention, I’d wave a toy with one hand while rying to operate the camera with the other as I called to the babies to look at me. “This way! Right here! Coochie-Coo! Please?”

One day things got a little more interesting for me. The lady in the bunny suit started feeling dizzy. She was on a diet drug that didn’t agree with the 110-degree sauna inside the white fur suit. I volunteered to finish her shift as Bunny, upgrading a teen-aged Bunny Helper to replace me as the Big-Shot Photographer. In our fluorescent-lit Bunny Changing Room I pulled on the fuzzy white jumpsuit and removed my shoes to slip on fur flippers. Bunny’s head was as big as the spherical noggin in the Jack-in-the-Box commercials. Bunny wasn’t supposed to talk but its smiling mouth had a dark screen I could see out of. Welcome to Show Biz! We set out toward center stage and I took my Oath of Silence. I was already sweating but there were kids who needed their Easter Photos. The show must go on!

My time as Bunny was only an hour or two but I remember it clearly even today, thirteen Easters later. Maybe some of the kids I sat with remember our meeting too. The ones who weren’t scared really liked posing for photos. I think a few might have kissed me. When the booth closed that afternoon, I walked back to the Bunny Dressing Room, because Easter Bunnies don’t hop. I removed the oversized head and cool air hit my red, damp face. Ahhhhhhh. Relief. My brief character career was fun but it was time to retire from Bunnyhood. A year later the photography company contacted me to reprise my role in the booth but I politely declined. After all, a lady bunny always knows when to leave.

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