That’s how we learn…

Yesterday evening, I sent Dada and TGG on one errand while J (who would have been horribly bored elsewhere) and I went to Target.  The flight plan was the same as usual: make sure the seatbelt straps in the cart are not tangled, lift the red flap to “close” the seating area of the basket, and off to do the long circuit of the store.

We walked around the Men’s section to look at lounge pants, and J couldn’t find anything he wanted.  We moved on to the movies, and J made sure everything was properly lined up, stacked in the right stack, and -of course- as his reward for all this labor he chose Goof Troop Volume I for purchase.  I had promised him Super Mario Kart for his Wii so we made sure they had it available, and then I set off to find a friendly Electronics employee to get it for us.  All was well, and J was happy, but then Bullseye walked out of the stock room and straight towards us….

Poor Bullseye!  I am sure when this person got hired to wear this costume they weren’t told “some day a tall, strapping young man wearing a newsboy cap, a thumb immobilizer, and six-hundred bandaids will react to your enthusiastic appearance as if you were wearing the garments of the Grim Reaper himself.”  Not ten yards stood between us, and J started squealing (OK…it was more like screeching) and backing away as if Bullseye was about to pounce on him.

When J was very young we took him to Knott’s Berry Farm, and he was totally fine with Snoopy coming up to him at Camp Snoopy.  He posed happily, squeezed Snoopy’s nose (and was informed by the human within to NOT TOUCH) and that was that.  He was seven at the time…you’d think that’s the core memory in his database…

Well, no…not exactly…

Seven years ago, TGG was The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz in high school.  He was FANTASTIC!  He had the costume, the hair, the growl, the makeup…  J LOVED watching the show, listening to the songs, watching Dorothy, The Tin Man, The Scarecrow and The Cowardly Lion prancing around the theater to get back to the stage and arrive at Oz.  It was an amazing experience.  J was thrilled to hear something familiar under all that fake fur and paint.  After the show came the meet-and-greet, and the whole audience was out and about saying hello to Munchkins, witches, flying monkeys, the Lollipop Guild and the brave quartet that had traipsed around on its way to see the Wizard…

“Hey, J!  HI!,” said the Lion…and the screeching, screaming and backing away started in earnest.  That thing, we’re sure he thought, had swallowed his brother…  Dada took J with him to calm him down, TGG finished his meet-and-greet, got cleaned up and then came out to prove he was alive, well, and in one piece…

Yesterday I found myself trying to get Bullseye (who probably couldn’t hear anything other than J’s screaming) to back away without feeling offended.  “AUTISM!  HE DOESN’T KNOW YOU’RE A HUMAN!!!” I said this while trying to keep J from bolting, people from staring and our friendly Electronics employee from calling security.  Bullseye got the picture, and skedaddled.  J, however, was shaken enough by the appearance of the mascot to cling to me while looking around, wondering if Bullseye was just waiting to jump out from behind a display to scare him.

It is move-in weekend at the college so there are a lot of people out and about shopping for things their kids need for the dorms.  I am sure that we cut quite a figure walking surreptitiously and looking around every corner to determine if the person clad in fake fur, and an oversized dog’s head was around.  J would motion for me to go ahead of him to reconnoiter, and I obliged because I didn’t really want a repeat of the squealing and screaming.

I caught sight of Bullseye in the distance a couple of times; the closest we got was about thirty feet, but I managed to steer J away from the path of the poor (underpaid, I’m sure) employee dressed in what amounts to a very pretty sauna to engage with customers.  After about fifteen minutes of this, I saw Dada and TGG in the distance, and waved vigorously for them to join us.  When they came closer I explained what had happened, and we formed a ring around J, moving towards the registers in what can only be compared to rescuing the world’s biggest pop star from a horde of fans chasing after him/her.  I have no doubt that people who didn’t know what was happening questioned our sanity before going back to their shopping.

Suffice it to say we’re never taking J to Disneyland, Disney World or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade…  If he couldn’t take a little trip to the Natural History Museum in D.C. without thinking the animals were about to start moving, he won’t be able to deal with Goofy and all Seven Dwarves approaching him.  I would really hate for him to be afraid of Donald Duck, Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger…  The princesses are another story…seeing those live would be a thrill, but the other stuff???  Too traumatic for him.

I’d like to state clearly that I feel very guilty about whatever emotional distress the poor employee in the Bullseye suit felt when J reacted as he did.  The kid (it might’ve been a girl, but I’m not sure) was just doing a job and trying to earn a living, and J reacted like J reacts to these things.  I had a talk with him later, and I can tell he isn’t buying the whole “it’s just a person in there, you know” argument.  In his mind there is no way he can, unless he sees them getting dressed, that someone would get into The Cowardly Lion, Bullseye or any other character, voluntarily.  There HAS to be some sort of devouring of people happening…

As I say when he encounters dogs and reacts in a negative way: he has to learn.  How I will get around him learning about the inner workings of a mascot?  I have no idea…but I’ll figure it out somehow.