I'm alone in a second floor bathroom
at the American Museum of Natural History, studying myself in the
mirror under unflattering fluorescent light. Through the door I
can hear the chatter and squeals of a children's birthday party
already in progress. I'm looking at myself, but the reflection doesn't
quite resemble me; because this evening, in this bathroom, I'm dressed
in a giant green frog costume, a large foam frog head resting beside
me on the counter.
I arrived in my street clothes thirty minutes ago, the frog suit
stowed in a large black Hefty garbage bag, and was shown into the
bathroom/ green room. I stripped off my coat, sweater and jeans
and began the awkward metamorphosis. First, the clingy black tights,
which yanked and tore at my leg hair. Next, the frog get-up. A one-piece
suit made of spongy fabric; I had to wiggle my way up through the
belly to get inside. The effect once it's on is that I've been fused
with a giant amphibian in some sort of evil, sci-fi experiment á
la The Fly. Next, the green face paint. There was much debate
over the use of the make-up, with my supervisors arguing with the
party planner that it might frighten the children. And this suit
won't? Its use was approved earlier this afternoon and now,
armed with a make-up wedge, I spackle the caky green cosmetic onto
my face. By the time I have full coverage, I resemble a third-rate
horror movie zombie.
for the job itself, it's to go something like this. At the set time,
I'll be summoned by one of the party planners, at which point I'll
hop over to the thirty odd children and encourage them to chase
me through the museum, to the frog exhibit. That's where the magic
will happen. Or so I've been briefed. All aspects of the birthday
party are being overseen by an ultra-crisp, type-A personality Manhattan
party planner; an alpha-female dressed in a smart skirt and stylish
if sensible heels, her hair pulled taut behind her head. Devoid
of personality, she's the sort that operates with the precision
of a Swiss timepiece. The execution of the "show" has been sub-contracted
to a group specializing in children's birthdaysParty Makers.
The theme is based on the story "The Frog Prince"the age-old
fairy tale about a spoiled Princess and the frog that rescues her
golden ball from the bottom of the pond in exchange for companionship.
Though she scorns the ugly amphibian, it's soon revealed that beneath
his warty, enchanted exterior lies the handsome body of a pedigreed
Prince. This is where I come in. I am to take on the mantle of the
frog. And for this I will receive $100. For today, this is my job.
How has it come to be that I'm dressed as a giant frog, in a museum
bathroom, game to be chased by a flock of five year olds in the
first place? I spent the entirety of the previous summer gainfully
employed as an actor at the Central Park Zoo. They have a troupe,
Wildlife Theatre, which performs short ecologically friendly plays.
The plays encourage audience participation, and are always clever,
zippy, and usually involve puppets. If I've learned one thing, it's
that kids go bananas for puppets.
All performances take place outdoors, so there were some drawbacks
to the job. Occupational hazards included sunburn, heatstroke, and
the occasional thunderstorm. Not to mention the mind-numbing and
repetitive questions asked by patrons all the time. "Where's the
bathroom?" "How do I get to the children's zoo?" "What time does
the Delacorte clock go off?" Over and over and over. "In the Arsenal."
"Out the main entrance." "Every half hour." On the upside, I got
a good tan and didn't spend my summer in some windowless cubicle
entering data into a nebulous spreadsheet.
So, it's a good gig. But come summer's end, Labor Day, the job
ends too. Well, mostly. The fall and winter are supplemented by
outreach performances and off-site shows. I was kept on the list
of people who wanted to pick up some extra work in the fall, and
that's how I was corralled into the frog gig. Susan, recently hired
as the education/outreach coordinator, was the one who roped me
in. A frustrated artist at heart, with neither a love for children
nor an understanding of the job at hand, she had landed the position
by talking a good game, and was now attempting to curry favor by
booking work that would bring in some money for a program that is
always short of funds. When Party Makers brought to her attention
that a big name celebrity's daughter was having this party, she
jumped at the chance to make an inroad, assuring them she'd find
an actor to take on the role of the frog. And she emailed me. I
was free, I was in a state of financial duress, and so I said yes.
Cut to me, in the bathroom, waiting for my cue.
For the party, they've rented out the second floor of the Rose
Center. Expensive for a child's birthday, but a small price to pay
if your last name happens to be the eponymous title of one of the
most watched sitcoms of all time; a sitcom that launched a stand-up
comedian into super-stardom; one that is re-running daily on cable.
Jerry Seinfeld's daughter, Sascha, is turning five today and that's
the reason for this whole endeavor. She's enamored of the story
of "The Frog Prince," and money is no object in bringing the tale
to life for her and her friends this evening.
Full disclosure, that probably influenced my decision to take the
job. I've got a touch of celebrity-itis. Still, I don't know what
I imagine this will do for my career. It's not like Seinfeld's going
to go "Your frog work is dynamite. I'm developing a new project
and I think you'd be perfect for it." But at the very least, it'll
be a good story to tell on Letterman some day. My life has increasingly
been filled with ready-for-Letterman's-couch stories since moving
to the city.
The door opens and one of the "party girls," Mandy, walks in to
check on me. She's perky and blonde, most likely a sorority girl
in college. "We've got about five minutes. You feel ready?" She
queries. "As I'll ever be." We go over the game plan one more time.
One of the other "party girls" will be reading the story of "The
Frog Prince" to Sascha and her friends. When she finishes, I'll
dramatically emerge (from the men's restroom mind you) and hop over
to them to take part in a scene that will go something like this
(now, remember, the frog doesn't speak so all my responses will
Party Girl: Oh my gosh, what's this? Is this a frog?
Children: Squeals of affirmation that yes, this is indeed a frog.
Me: Waving hello.
Party Girl: Did you invite this frog to your party, Sascha?
Sascha: Shyly turning her head from the 6 ft. man/frog.
Party Girl: Where's he going? Let's follow him.
At this point, I'm to gesture, encouraging the assembled children
to chase me. I'm to hop out of the room, down the large marble staircase,
into the main hall, ending at the frog exhibit. At this point, one
of the curators will attempt to explain about all the exotic species
on display. Then, when prompted, Sascha will give me a kiss on the
cheek. Dry ice will appear, I'll duck behind a corner, and another
actor, dressed as the handsome Prince, will appear. Then, party
over, pick up your favors, and see ya later. This is the game plan.
With one new caveat. There's been some scuttle that Sascha might
be scared of the frog. So instead, all the kids will be encouraged
to blow a kiss in my general direction before the amazing transformation.
"Got all that?" Party girl asks. I nod and she ducks out the door.
I can't help but think, "Are you kidding me? She's scared of the
frog? Why have a party with this theme if she's scared of the frog?"
Then I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and I sympathize.
I've started pacing back and forth in the small restroom, slightly
nervous. I always get this way when entering into an unrehearsed
scenario. The possibilities for disaster are limitless. What if
I trip and fall? What if Sascha gets really freaked and cries, and
the party's ruined? Or maybe I'm just antsy because I'm about to
appear in front of a major television star embarrassingly outfitted
like a giant mutant frog. I go to the mirror and recheck my green
make-up. Then I don the foam frog head, replete with big yellow
eyes, and wait.
Shortly, a knock on the door and Mandy peeks her head in. "It's
show time!" she exclaims. I follow her over to the semi-circle of
kids and we engage in the aforementioned scenario. Then with my
gesture of encouragement, we're off on our merry chase through the
museum. Now, the party girls are supposed to act as wranglers, keeping
the children from physically harming me as I lead them to the exhibit.
This, however, is good in theory but not so successful in the execution.
Boys being boys, their sole purpose in the hunt is to catch and
torment the frog, me. They try to grab hold and wrestle me down
and I descend the staircase. I'm sweating profusely. Though it's
a chilly autumn night outside, it's warm inside the museum, and
sweltering inside the full body frog suit and airless foam head
sitting snugly on my shoulders. Not to mention the added heat generated
from the effort of attempting to approximate hopping in this get-up.
Sweat is rolling into my eyes making it hard to see. The green Ben
Nye makeup is running down my face, and I have no peripheral vision
due to the head. All I can think is, "Please, God, let me get into
this exhibit soon." The five-year-old boys, as five-year-old boys
are wont to do, are trying to undermine me at every turn. "You're
not really a frog. You're just a guy. You're just a guy in there."
I remain mute, in character as it were, but I wanted to shout back
"Of course I'm a guy in a suit. You think the Seinfelds hired a
six foot, anthropomorphic frog who can follow scripted blocking?"
But I refrain. And keep hopping, which has mutated into a bit of
a jog, hop hop, pant for breath, hop, run.
I near the finish line, the frog exhibit, and I wish someone were
inside with a giant cooler of Gatorade to dump on my head, like
after a football game. I don't know from football, but I know I'm
hot, exhausted, and feel like I deserve an accolade.
The kids catch up, all thirty of them, and the poor tour guide,
Chris, a nebishy guy in his early forties with glasses and a groomed
brown mustache, tries to capture their attention. But ramped up
on candy, cake, and sugary drinks, the thrill of the hunt pumping
adrenaline through their tiny bodies, attention is the last thing
they want to give. The girls seem more demure and actually interested
in the exotic amphibians encased in their tiny recreated habitats,
but the boys lust for blood. It's quickly becoming a Lord of
the Flies situation here. Truly, it ain't easy being green.
While in the exhibit, I continue the game of hide-n-seek, appearing
and disappearing behind display cases as I make my way to the end
of the room. Mandy pulls me aside and we go over the "out" again.
Given the cue, Sascha, accompanied by friends, will blow a kiss
to me and then I duck behind a corner, while the Prince emerges
to take the spoils of victory.
Soon, it's time for the grand finale. I am placed at one end of
the room, and Sascha and her friends are assembled on the other.
On a three count, one-two-three, kisses are blown and I hop around
and out of site as quickly as possible. Out of the corner of my
frog head I see a piddling whiff of dry ice wheeze from the machine,
and then the "handsome" Prince emerges to greet his throng of admirers.
And what of my counterpart, this fair Prince? He's a hammy actor
in his late thirties; decked out in bad Renaissance Fair garba
velvet doublet and black breeches, knee boots and a jaunty plumed
cap. Of course, the girls go ga-ga. He makes his entreaties, kisses
up to the birthday girl like a skilled courtier, and the "show"
comes to an end. Mind you, I'm still around the corner, a larger
than life frog/man. So, as the kids begin to file out, the party
girls decide I need to be hidden. I end up scrunched into a little
nook, where they proceed to drape a black piece of fabric over me.
Now, I'm still sweating, and with the fabric trapping in my body
heat, I feel as if I might die. My eyes are stinging. I hear the
kids saying their goodbyes, carousing with the Prince, and trying
to peek around to find me. Some eager kids call me out, noticing
I'm under the cloth. But still I stand silent, determined to sustain
the illusion. "You don't see me," I think to myself. "I've transformed
into the handsome Prince you see before you."
I stand there until the room has all but cleared. It's then I realize
everyone has forgotten about me. I meekly gesture, and one of the
party girls sees my wan attempt at recognition. "Omigod, are you
still under there? You can totally come out now." She unshrouds
me and I blink, my eyes trying to get accustomed to the light. Mandy
grabs my hand and thanks me. "You were such a trooper. Everything
went perfectly. Say, you should meet your counterpart." She drags
me over to the Prince, and we make our introductions. I go to shake
his hand, but he doesn't offer his in return. "What the fuck," I
think to myself. "Are you too good to shake my hand? What're you
afraid of, warts?" I do, however, catch a glimpse of a gold wedding
band on his ring finger. Here, I think, is the twenty-first century
twist on this fable. I want to pull Sascha and her friends aside
and confide in them this piece of wisdom: never get involved with
a married Princeno matter how handsome he is or how much money
he has in his coffers.
One of the girls has brought my clothes down in the Hefty bag,
and I exit the hall, spent and slightly embarrassed. I pass Seinfeld
but get no kudos for my efforts. He and his wife are glad-handing
parents and being the gracious hosts. So much for my big break.
I find my way downstairs to a restroom and begin to make my own
transformation, from frog/man to haggard actor. The make-up, so
hard to apply, is even harder to take off. With only water and paper
towels, I scrub my face raw trying to remove any trace of green.
Still, as I stare at myself in the mirror, I have a sickly pallor.
I bid a polite goodbye to the security guards as I exit, and head
towards the nearest subway, imagining how I'll start this story
after settling onto Letterman's couch.
"Well Dave, I found myself alone in a second floor bathroom at
the American Museum of Natural History