The Dinosaur Mascot
Everybody hated the dinosaur mascot. Jeffrey Moss wasn’t even school-sanctioned, he just showed up one foggy October morning on the soccer field, wearing that stupid green felt costume and crowding the sidelines where our squad liked to cheer.
My best friend, Maria, and I had to go through grueling tryouts to make the high school cheerleading squad but all Jeffrey did was wobble onto the field in a constricting outfit and wave his overstuffed paws. We didn’t like sharing our spot on the sidelines with an untrained dinosaur.
I told him as much that Saturday in November during our high school’s last regular season game. “I don’t even understand how a dinosaur is supposed to inspire school spirit,” I added.
Jeffrey was chugging a bottle of pediatrician-approved water but came up for air to say, “I’m an alligator,” which was probably news to alligators everywhere.
“You look like a dinosaur,” I told him.
Maria added, “I thought you were a dragon.”
“Well, I’m not,” he said. He peered at us beneath the awful fuzzy headpiece that dripped over his eyes. There were spiky pieces of felt that crawled down his back and puddled into a pointy tail behind him. “Alligators are fierce. Dragons aren’t even real.”
That’s when he got hit in the head by a flying soccer ball. It was really his own fault; you have to stay alert when you’re on the sidelines. Taylor Gardner came over to apologize-gloat but really spent the whole time smiling at me. (Maria noticed too.) Taylor always smelled like the butterscotch candies he chewed. He probably had a million cavities and was going to need fake teeth before he was thirty, but he smelled really good.
While the dinosaur was picking himself off the ground, our squad went through a “foul ball” cheer and the bleachers erupted in enthusiasm.
“Taylor’s totally gonna ask you to Winter Dance,” Maria whispered.
Apparently, dinosaurs have bionic ears because the green-felt headpiece swiveled my way. “Taylor’s not gonna ask you. He likes Claire Montgomery. He’s just a flirt.”
“That’s a rude thing for a dragon to say,” Maria told him.
“Again. Alligator. And I heard Taylor in the locker room.” He looked at me, “Tom Sullivan wants to ask you.”
It seemed unlikely that Jeffrey Moss was allowed into the boy’s locker room but I was too preoccupied with the crush-potential of the afore unconsidered Tom Sullivan to say anything snarky. Tom was, in fact, at that moment standing fifty yards down the sidelines and readjusting some kind of horn-appearing band instrument (I am not musically inclined) that made all the biceps on his tanned arms spring into action.
The dinosaur persisted, “Tom’s a good guy, ignore the unfortunate marching band headwear.” (I had.) “You can waste a lot of time on the wrong guy.”
And that’s when a cluster of panicked soccer players diverted my attention. They were hovering on the sidelines not far from our squad and one of them shouted, “Call 911!”
Our squad stood motionless (it was no time to be cheerful) but the dinosaur mascot hobbled into the cluster. The players made room for him; not on purpose, of course, his bulky costume pushed everybody out of the way. That’s when we saw Taylor Gardner sitting on the ground, clutching his throat with both hands. His face was losing color. The dinosaur mascot got behind him in a bear hug, and after a couple practice heaves, a butterscotch disc flew from Taylor’s mouth and dropped onto the soccer field.
The standing ovation from the bleachers lasted a full five minutes. Taylor Gardner cried in gratitude and shook Jeffrey’s green paw. Our squad choreographed a hero’s cheer right on the spot.
After that, everybody loved the alligator mascot. He got an entire page in the yearbook. He even took a picture with me and Tom at Winter Dance. Nobody ever figured out why or how he nominated himself to be a school mascot, or why he could not find a more authentic-looking alligator costume. But sometimes in life you get lucky and the right guy shows up just when you didn’t know you needed him.