My instructions were simple: Meet a high school girl named Laura in the parking lot behind the scoreboard before the Los Alamitos-St. John Bosco football game at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach. Strip down to shorts and a T-shirt. Put on the Griffin mascot costume.
My wife was nervous--not about the pregame rendezvous, but about piercing my corporate camouflage in such a public display.
"It certainly sounds like you," she said, "But are you sure this is a good idea?"
In my younger days, my mission in life was to entertain a crowd.
I was the class clown, the neighborhood prankster, the center of attention at any family gathering. The world was my stage. The bigger the audience, the better.
Around the office I'm known as a quiet, reserved, button-down-and-wingtip type of guy--a carefully crafted veil designed to disguise my spandex-clad, lock-up-your-daughters, howling-and-hollering, rock 'n' roll singer past.
My boss knows this. It's one of the reasons she hired me. I believe "outgoing" was the euphemism used in my performance review.
So when the "opportunity" arose for a Times staffer to perform as a mascot at a high school football game, she knew there was really only one candidate.
As 17-year-old senior Laura Anderson and I climbed into the twin Los Alamitos mascot outfits, we reviewed the legend of the Griffin: the mythical monster with the head of an eagle and body of a lion was chosen because the two middle schools that feed into Los Alamitos used the bird and beast as their mascots.
Each week during the football season, two students are secretly and randomly selected to suit up and perform as the mascots during the game. Successes and failures in the endeavor are equally random.
Laura and I adjusted our cotton-filled lion tails and strapped on our three-foot Styrofoam eagle heads. The band played the National Anthem. It was time: Cue the Griffins.
As we stepped through the rear gate into Veterans Stadium, I realized just how hot the fuzzy orange outfit was going to be and how little peripheral vision the eye hole under my beak was going to provide.
My pregame visions of somersaults along the sidelines, crowd surfing across the student section and end zone celebrations with the players quickly faded.
Sharply, I felt Laura's elbow in my ribs. I turned like a whiplash victim wearing a neck brace to find my fellow Griffin saluting the flag. I snapped to attention. Suddenly, my spirits soared.
We carefully made our way across the field to join the cheerleaders. Almost instantly, perpetually peppy Lauren Nein handed us some pom-pons and started teaching us cheers and dance routines. Before long the 15-year-old sophomore cheerleading dynamo had us shaking our hips, wagging our tails and pumping our fists to the music. Not unlike my rock star days, I thought.
Soon we were emboldened--venturing into the crowd, mingling with the band, tormenting the St. John Bosco fans.
The possibilities seemed limitless, the limitations numerous.
What you can do when you're a fuzzy eagle-lion: hug cute teenage girls, head "beak" self-conscious boys, shadow box bratty little brothers, squeeze in between cuddling couples, play drums with the band, get into the game without a ticket.
What you can't do when you're wearing a three-foot head and furry pajamas: see your feet, tie your shoes, go to the bathroom, walk up and down stairs, avoid sitting on your tail, keep kids from tweaking your beak.
By now, sweat was pouring down my face and my shirt was sticking to my skin. It felt like 125 degrees inside the costume. Water was not an option without removing the eagle head.
But I was having too good a time to notice.
I tried to catch an extra-point attempt and nearly got knocked in the beak by the ball. I stole the drum major's fancy hat and put it on my gold dome. And I got booed by the crowd when I followed up a string of cheerleaders' flying leaps and flips with a sideways somersault (my big head got in the way).
Hailey Wigod, 3, couldn't get enough of the Griffins. The athletic director's daughter wanted to hug, hold hands, dance. She watched our every move and followed us everywhere.
The school principal's 1 1/2-year-old son was not as happy to see the Griffins. His eyes bugged out when I tried to calm his fears. As we walked away, I heard him screeching, "Ducks, momma, big ducks."
Throughout the game, students kept coming up to us trying to guess which of their classmates we were. Some thought I was the principal, others the volleyball coach and one group of guys was convinced I was their friend Dan. I played mute.
Just before halftime I spotted my wife and friends who came to provide moral support and collect ammunition for future humiliation. They tried to hide under the bleachers when I climbed into the stands and lay down on their laps.
After the game, I went to the bathroom to splash some cold water on my face. I did a double take when I saw my reflection in the mirror. I was a Griffin no more.
No more beak tweakings from bratty boys. No more high-fiving cheerleaders. No more dancing with little girls. My stage was dark again.
I imagined what it would be like to wear the Griffin costume all the time--driving to work, mowing the lawn, changing a tire on the side of the road. I laughed out loud in the cavernous bathroom.
Back at work the next day, I tried to demonstrate the sideways somersaults and the head beakings, but it just wasn't the same without the fuzzy orange costume.