The Unknown Furry
At first I wasn't going to go to Mephit Furmeet. I really needed a break.
Then I decided that it might be fun to go in disguise. Originally I thought to just dress casually and wear sunglasses and try to appear nondescript, but that's been done and seemed so terribly boring. I happened to be pondering the problem one day while watching the Funday Pawpet Show. In my hand was a paper bag that had contained my dinner for the evening and I was playing with it while watching the show, idly thinking what a silly puppet I could make from it.
That's when it hit me.
I grabbed a pencil and a pair of scissors and ran into the next room with the bag, which I promptly pulled over my head. It was much too high and needed to be trimmed down so that it fit snugly on the crown of my head and came down just to my neck. With the pencil I traced around my glasses-rims and cut two eyeholes. Next came little leaf-shaped ears cut from the trimmed portion, which were stapled to the top. Then there was a piece of pasteboard rolled into a cone that was taped below the eyeholes. Lastly, three black pipecleaners poked through the narrow end of the cone for whiskers, and The Unknown Furry was born.
With another piece of pasteboard I fashioned a sign bearing that name and hung it around my neck. The overall image that presented itself in the mirror when I stopped to admire my handiwork was ludicrous.
Secrecy was of the utmost importance. I told only Bennie, who believed that people would still recognize me from my gait and posture. I spent a month practicing what my mom called the "South Philly Stroll," a slouching, strutting sort of locomotion made popular by the street toughs in that area. It made my back ache, but after all, Lon Chaney nearly crippled himself to play Quasimodo. The show must go on. As a last-minute concern, I added a pair of clip-on sunglasses beneath, giving The Unknown Furry big black eyes. This way nobody could peer into the eyeholes and deduce my identity. As a very last- minute idea I went to the pet store and bought for $1.49 from the bargain bin a dog toy in the form of a long knotted rope. Slipping it under my belt in the back, I now had a tail.
My original plan to make my appearance during the Pawpet Show at Mephit Furmeet on Friday got ruined by another Storm That Wasn't. It was the second time that a trip south had gone awry because of airlines cancelling flights in preparation for a forecast storm that never really materialized. I had to fly in on Saturday morning, which actually worked out for the better. At 8 AM, it was highly unlikely that any furryfolk would see me at the airport and spread the word. I collected my luggage and boarded a hotel shuttle. In the van were the driver, a United Airlines pilot, and myself.
"I hope you gentlemen will not be alarmed," I said as we pulled away from the curb, "if I put a paper bag over my head."
"Not me," said the driver.
"I won't," said the pilot.
Now, I did explain to them that I was attending a "Costumer's convention" and that this was my costume. The gentlemen were amused and promised not to look askance as we exited the vehicle. They played their parts well, and at 8:25 AM on September 1, 2001, The Unknown Furry climbed out of the van, gathered up his bags, and South Philly Strolled into the hotel.
He immediately started to attract attention. Even among all the fursuits and tails and ears, people were stopping and gawking. Many of them were laughing and proclaiming what a fantastic idea this was. A few tried to speak to him, but all he did was gesture and pantomime, conveying his thoughts with a head tilt or a tug at his whiskery paper muzzle.
There was no trouble checking into the hotel room. The Unknown Furry pranced up to the counter, gave a cheerful wave, and then presented a series of index cards to the clerk:
"I am travelling incognito. Please tell no one who I am."
"Confirmation #905XXX." This one along with a credit card, after a careful look round to make sure no prying eyes were, well, prying.
The first big challenge was con registration. Identification was required! The Unknown Furry solved this problem by strolling up to chairman Kodian, taking him by the elbow and dragging him to a safe distance, and then surreptitiously showing him a driver's license. Kodian's eyes looked like they were going to fall out of their sockets for a moment, and then he smirked and gave a thumbs-up. "Come back in a little bit," he said.
I happened upon Zim, an online friend that I'd been meaning to meet, and dragged him off to my hotel room, where I unmasked for the introduction. He is a fine young chap and we wound up hanging out together now and again. I left him to look at some things I'd brought along to show off while The Unknown Furry masked up and went downstairs to get his badge.
Kodian had entered the data himself in the computer, listing the name simply as "Sam" and the address as "PA." He had made up a badge that read THE GREAT UNKOWN FURRY! Nobody noticed until the next day that the third word was indeed "unkown."
The Unknown Furry spent a leisurely day visiting with the folks who were gathered around and wandering the halls. He stopped in the dealers' room and made an enormous impression. One artist insisted that he pose for a drawing. I don't know how many pictures got snapped. He took it all in stride, though, rubbing his eyes and pretending to be blinded after every flash bulb went off. Bill Holbrook was amused when the Unknown Furry stopped by his table to bow and grovel before his genius.
The charity auction was Saturday afternoon and the Unknown Furry happily attended. He wanted to buy a number of items but did not have much money, and the fact that he could talk presented something of a problem. He solved this by making up a series of index cards with fixed values on them, $5, $10, $15, $20, $25, $30. On hotly-contested items he would frantically shuffle through his cards, holding up the appropriate one, and then holding up multiple cards in an additive fashion when the bids went higher. When finally he reached his limit, he would droop and hang his head, his shoulders heaving in a deep sigh. When he won, he would clap his hands and prance about, making in-your-face gestures to the losers before strutting up to claim his items. The auctioneer, incidentally, was a chap by the name of Tahamaki who acknowledged the past services of Uncle Kage by wearing a somewhat ill-fitting lab coat while at the block.
Dinner had to be taken by room service, since I did not want anyone to recognize me at a restaurant. I was joined by Zim and by Aeric, who had brought along the Megapuppet that he created. It's a wolf about 4 feet tall, and would have been in the Pawpet Show the previous night if Aeric hadn't been caught by the same non-storm that I had caught me. Afterward I went out to mingle with the throngs. At a table downstairs the Unknown Furry encountered Herbie Bearclaw who was sitting and quietly drawing. U.F., as people were starting to call him, began to grovel worshipfully, much to Bearclaw's amusement. You see, I have always considered Bearclaw to be a masterful costumer and was trying my best to emulate him in my body language and gestures. Later that night when he took me aside and said, "Dude, I don't know who you are, but you've got to get a fursuit. You're, like, the greatest fursuit performer I've ever seen," I was so utterly floored I nearly passed out.
Or maybe it was the fact that a paper bag on one's head gets HOT. The other fursuiters had the luxury of taking off their heads inside the fursuit lounge, but I could not lest I give myself away so I wound up wearing it for long periods of time.
I had an absolute blast on Saturday night, despite a small run-in with an overzealous security staffer that really put a damper on the remainder of the evening. People were thrilled by the costume and dubbed it "The World's Cheapest Fursuit," which at just under $2.00 it was.
After an in-room breakfast on Sunday the Unknown Furry wandered into a workshop on "Performing in Costume." He was cheered by the other attendees (much to my astonishment) and invited to participate in some pantomime exercises. This he did with great enthusiasm. Some of the scenarios were such things as "The registration line at Anthrocon" and "Anthrocon's killer-slow elevators," which the Unknown Furry watched with a quiet, inner smirk. When the workshop was over the class went into a huddle and invited The Unknown Furry to have his picture taken with them. He stood before them as they all bowed down in postures of worship for the photo, and was speechless, in every sense of the word.
After bopping around and having more fun, he went to the rehearsal for the masquerade. A number of people had pleaded with him to join the masquerade, which he'd already intended to do, with the help of Kodian and Tahamaki's ill- fitting lab coat. Herbie Bearclaw once again bowed and groveled before the Unknown Furry and said, "We've got you narrowed down to four people." Not one in the list was a resident of Pennsylvania. The Unknown Furry just shrugged his shoulders and looked angelically innocent through his black plastic eyes.
With Kodian's help, the Unknown Furry was placed last on the performance schedule, and had already indicated that he would unmask himself when the act was over. A number of the costumers decided to forego the traditional curtain call so that they could be in the audience to see who was under the paper bag. At the appointed time, the Unknown Furry strolled out onto the stage and handed index cards, one by one, to the announcer to read, and to which the Unknown Furry would react.
"WHO IS IT?" (a scratch atop the bag and an exaggerated shrug)
"Is it...Shawn Keller?" (pantomime laughing and pointing derisively at the audience)
"Is it...Silfur?" (slinking around stage and pretending to be sexy)
"Is it...Uncle Kage?" (throwing on Tahamaki's lab coat and racing at top speed around the stage, pausing for a gasp of air, and then racing around some more)
"Is it...Lisa Jennings?" (pause...glance down at flat chest...shaking head no).
At this point Kodian appeared with a package. He took from it Uncle Kage's actual lab coat and slipped it onto the Unknown Furry's shoulders. He then made an unrehearsed seque into trying to add to the funds received at the charity auction by indicating that Uncle Kage had sent the lab coat down and that bids were being received to touch it. Henry Pickands won, and was given the honor of not only touching the coat, but also of unmasking the Unknown Furry.
He took the mask off with flair, and after a stunned half-second the crowd went wild.