Redefining the power suit

Want to survive in California’s staggering economy? You’ve got to wear the right outfit to work: a goofy costume.

Jose Torres thought he might like promoting Liberty Tax Service in an Uncle Sam costume better than migrant work.

Jose Torres thought he might like promoting Liberty Tax Service in an Uncle Sam costume better than migrant work.

Unemployment fun facts

The average unemployment spell now lasts 20.3 weeks, nearly matching the highest average posted in two decades: 20.4 weeks, in January 1984.

Unemployment rates for men in the fourth quarter of 2003 were 5.4 percent among whites, 6.6 percent among Hispanics, and 11.1 percent among blacks.

--Economic Policy Institute

A bucktoothed kid and his little sister approach Uncle Sam on foot. “Excuse me, here’s a flier for a church,” the kid says, handing me a flier for, well, a church.

Do I look so lost and pathetic that little kids feel I need guidance from the Lord?

“Uncle Sam doesn’t go to church,” I explain. “Uncle Sam is a fictional character.”

“You can come on your own time,” insists the bucktoothed kid, trying to be persuasive (if not slightly creepy). “Tomorrow?” he asks. “Promise.”

The two quickly get into a waiting white van, perhaps telling the driver, “We’ve saved that poor man dressed as Uncle Sam!”

And Uncle Sam does need saving.

I’m forced to dress up in a ridiculous costume with a hat and striped suit, and I’m wondering how I got into this position.

The answer can be found in our sluggish economy. Bush hasn’t created a single new job since he’s been in office with a $2.4 trillion election-year budget bulging with military spending. Well, maybe he has created a number of jobs, only most of them are in India.

Our state is living in the rubble of the now-burst dot-com bubble, leaving California on the verge of bankruptcy and borrowing billions as unemployment rates continue to hold at near-record highs.

So, job-seekers, brace yourself; face your future. As you sift through the assorted crappy offerings in the want ads, the pickings are pretty bleak. What are the options?

Jobs involving wearing a uniform and waiting on customers are usually pretty bad. But jobs involving wearing a costume and doing bizarre things are even worse. If you’re not working at Disneyland, soul searching is in order if you’re an adult and your vocation involves mandatory costume wearing.

But with the current economic state, this might be the sorry state of choices for those looking for employment. That’s why I went out and tried to land a few of the worst jobs that involve costume wearing, in order to hold a mirror up to your possible future vocation.

Job 1

Costume: dressing as Uncle Sam for a tax service.


I drive to scenic North Highlands, and there, decorated with red, white and blue balloons and situated right next to Planned Parenthood and a place called Options for Youth, is Liberty Tax Service.

“I’m here to apply for the Uncle Sam position,” I say, gleaming with an award-winning smile to a man of foreign origin.

“Great!” he replies with a thick accent while perched under a framed “Proud to Be American” portrait.

I’m given an Uncle Sam application. For special skills, I put down: mime, patriotic-clothes wearing and sign waving. To secure the job, under education, I write Harvard Law School.

I have a question of my own.

“Now, is it a really large Uncle Sam hat?” I ask, raising my hand toward the ceiling.

“No, it’s not,” the thick-accented boss explains while raising his hands in the air. “We want people who are really high-energy!”

I add, for an inside edge, “I’ve worked other jobs in costumes before.”

“Oh, really!”

“Yes, I worked as a giant, human-sized Subway sandwich. I also worked as a giant Liberty Bell.”

“That sounds interesting.”

I embellish, “Yes, a Liberty Bell with human features.”

The prospective job is explained. “You will dress up like Uncle Sam and go around to businesses and drop off fliers for our tax service, along with a box of doughnuts.”

I nod my head vigorously, not knowing the whole doughnut connection. This will be done while being paired with a Lady Liberty. More is explained.

“Then we’ll have you out in front of the office on the street, waving a sign.”

The boss gets animated. He role-plays the scenario. He puts his arms up like he’s holding an imaginary sign. “HEY! HEY! COME IN HERE! HEY! HEY!”

After his little skit, the boss explains how much I’ll be compensated for degrading myself.

“We will pay you $7 per hour.”

Game day

At 8:30 a.m., my shift begins. At 10:30 a.m., I arrive for work. They can wait. Why? THE JOB DOESN’T START UNTIL UNCLE SAM GETS THERE!

“Uncle Sam’s here,” I trumpet upon return to the Liberty Tax Service office, now filled with people doing tax work.

My boss isn’t mad at my tardiness. Instead, he’s giddy that I actually showed up. He hands me a red, white and blue Uncle Sam outfit with striped pants and a large Dr. Seuss-type hat.

I give a hard look into the mirror after making the transformation into Uncle Sam. Yes, I look like a complete idiot.

“You know, what we need is beards,” I state, miming a beard. “A beard would really drive home the Uncle Sam point.”

“Oh, yes, yes!” replies my giddy boss. He likes the facial-hair idea. “I will buy some fake beards tomorrow.”

The boss and his second-in-command train me, both so energized that they giggle; this is their mad vision come to life. Yes, these two men are giddy for tax season. Before we leave, an army of multiethnic Uncle Sams comes marching in from the morning shift. There’s also one Lady Liberty. She looks exactly like Lady Liberty if Lady Liberty were from India and weighed about 235 pounds.

I’m led outside, directly in front of the office, to stand on the side of busy Watt Avenue.

“I want you to hold your sign and wave at cars as they drive past,” the boss explains. “Try to get them to honk at you.”

On her first day in costume as Lady Liberty, Crystal Whittington holds a sign on Watt Avenue for Liberty Tax Service.

“Can I wave like this?” I ask, doing a limp-handed, effeminate wave and blowing a kiss. I’m handed a large sign that says, “IT’S TAX TIME!” In very small print (too small for anyone to see), it says, “Liberty Tax.” To passing motorists, I look like some fool dressed as Uncle Sam, standing on the side of the road, maniacally waving, for the sole purpose of informing them it’s now tax time. What an awful message.

Grabbing the sign, I start by having extreme job pride. My waving starts at level 11. I quickly determine this job will be held one day by a robot. This job is not unlike standing on the side of a road holding a sign while looking like a complete ass. A couple of people honk. A little kid in a car gives me the finger. A women yells, “I don’t pay taxes!” Others drive by and openly laugh as if to say, “I can’t believe a person would degrade himself to that level.”

Soon, my waving gets replaced by simply pointing and coldly staring down motorists. My arm grows tired. I get a splinter (a job hazard). I feel like I’ve been out here for days. I look at the clock on my cell phone. Twelve minutes have gone by. I throw in some moonwalking to spice up the Uncle Sam routine. This would be the perfect job for a crackhead.


At lunchtime, I sit in a small room with all the other multiethnic Uncle Sams. We have matching red-and-white-striped pants. It’s a grim bunch. One Uncle Sam has a look of pure insanity. We sit in stony silence. Where would I begin to make small talk? Oversized Lady Liberty leans over. She whispers with slight animosity, “You took my spot outside by the curb.”

I approach the boss. He’s mildly stressed discussing something with a tax worker.

“I got a pair of stilts,” I proclaim. “I could wear them and be a really tall Uncle Sam!”

He hands me a stack of fliers.

“If anyone walks by, be sure to give them one of these,” he says. The fliers show a picture of the Statue of Liberty. The slogan: “If You Want to Save Money, Raise Your Hand.”

“Maybe the fliers could say, ‘If You Want to Save Money, Say Uncle,’” I suggest. “Then you could show a picture of Uncle Sam.” I snort with laughter. “Get it? ’Say Uncle!’”

There’s an awkward silence. The boss goes back to his conversation with the tax worker. I break in: “You know, they’re really great stilts!”

Oversized Lady Liberty reclaims her prized spot in front of the office. I get in a gray van with the rest of the Uncle Sams. The boss is going to drop us off at various locations along Watt Avenue. We’re given a pep talk.

“I want to see who can wave the most. I want you to tell me how many honks you can get!”

Yes, it’s times like these that make me ponder going back to school. Hold on. Our beloved new governor/action hero has just proposed a deep budget cut of $372 million to the University of California. So much for the idea of educationally bettering myself in order to advance in the job market. The proposal, which includes cuts to community colleges, also includes large cuts to financial aid by up to one-third. The proposal also would trim the Cal Grant program, which is funded by the state government, by lowering the maximum annual income allowed for eligibility by 10 percent.

So, let’s face it. I might as well accept my fate, as the van full of Uncle Sams keeps driving farther and farther away from the office. We’re no longer within walking distance. I’m dropped off at the sketchy intersection of Watt Avenue and Elkhorn Boulevard in an industrial part of town right by a 7-Eleven and a check-cashing place.

“I will come back at 4:30 to pick you up,” the boss says.

He speeds off, leaving me miles from the office. I’m on my own in an Uncle Sam costume. The fliers are immediately thrown out. Now what? I can’t just wander around in an Uncle Sam costume for hours without raising eyebrows. I’m trapped. Maybe my attitude needs adjusting. OK, I can handle four hours of standing here in an Uncle Sam outfit.

“Fuck you!” shouts a carful of teenagers whizzing by. It’s the second time today I’ve gotten the finger. My sign says, “It’s Tax Time!” with no discernable connection to any business. I’m an ominous presence, like a Grim Reaper standing at an intersection with a sickle.

Most drivers aren’t mean; they just drive by looking at me like, “I’d hate to be that poor guy!” or “Mommy, who is that insane man dressed like Uncle Sam?” Even if they can make a connection to the tax service, will people think, “Honey, let’s get our taxes done at the place where they make their employees look like utter buffoons”?

I put down my sign to confuse people. I’m just a waving man dressed as Uncle Sam. Fifteen minutes into it, I take a break and sit at a bus stop reading the paper. Someone honks. This time, I flip them off. I actually get more honks without the sign. People think I’m just being patriotic.

“Uuuuuncle!” shout some gangsta types.

“Waazzzzup!” I yell back, glad they approve of me. More gangstas, on foot, look like they want to beat up Uncle Sam (it would be tragic if they found Uncle Sam dead in a trash Dumpster). I’m working the same beat as a crackhead with an empty gas can asking people for change.

To greatly increase car honking, I work for a brief period with my red-and-white-striped Uncle Sam pants pulled down to knee level. Time continues to go by slowly. OK, this isn’t funny anymore. This is becoming like some weird David Blaine endurance stunt to see how long I can tolerate degrading myself in public. My sign droops pathetically on my shoulder. Soon, motorists are treated to the sight of Uncle Sam sitting on the curb. Later, they are treated to the sight of the sign on its own.

I go into Rite Aid drugstore. The checkout girl says sarcastically, “I can help you over here, Sam.” The Rite Aid staff members, though dressed in Rite Aid uniforms, look at me like I’m the Elephant Man. She rings me up and shares, “I always drive by and make fun of you guys.”

I go back to my intersection. A gust of wind blows my sign into traffic, and it gets run over. This adds another pathetic element. I’ve become a broken man, limply holding my damaged sign—my red, white and blue hat askew on my head.

“What do they pay you, a hundred bucks?” asks a homeless man. I tell him it is much, much more. I don’t want to be mocked by a homeless man by saying it’s $7 per hour.

“Do you want to hand the job down?” he asks.


I give him my jacket, hat, sign and $5. I let the homeless man take over the Uncle Sam duties for a half-hour so I can go to Long John Silver’s. He doesn’t seem brokenhearted at relinquishing his shift when I return.

At a few minutes before 4:30, I decide to put on a big show for the boss. He pulls up in his van full of Uncle Sams, and I’m not only waving madly but also jumping, getting air. I’m full of job enthusiasm. You would have to be completely insane to keep up that sort of waving energy for all these hours. My hand is full of splinters.

“You’re doing a great job,” commends my boss. I once again bring up the necessity of beards and stilts. We drive down Watt Avenue to pick up the last remaining Uncle Sam.

“Brian is doing a great job,” my boss announces. Brian’s his favorite. Off in the distance, I see the last remaining Uncle Sam waving at cars, with an even greater frenzy than my phony display.

“I must have gotten over three dozen waves and probably a hundred honks,” Brian states with utter job pride. He gets into the van. We lock eyes. Thank you, President Bush. And a hearty thank you, as well, Governor Schwarzenegger!

Job 2

Costume: dressing as Pokémon for a failing clown-party company.


I have a pulsating hangover and could vomit. To ease the pain, I get thoroughly stoned. I’m now ready for this costume job.

My costume is a big, yellow Pokémon suit with a large, yellow head; long, pointy ears; red cheeks; a stupid fixed smile; a pillow for my stomach; and big, floppy, yellow shoes. One problem: I don’t know how the costume fits. If I wear the huge tail in back, the costume seems to strangle me. So, I wear it in front, with tail protruding from my groin, flopping slightly to the left. Maybe it’s not a tail but the “funny Pokémon thing” that flops around. Another problem: I can’t see or breathe well with the head on, which accentuates my hangover. Feeling like a complete dimwit, I walk among staring civilians to the apartment building.

“Everyone’s running late,” says a stocky guy out front, drinking a beer. “The kids aren’t here yet.”

As I make my way inside, a little girl in pigtails bursts into tears at the sight of me and grabs her mom’s leg.

“It’s funny Pokémon!” I say. Look, it’s the funny Pokémon dance!” I add, trying to bring mirth into her short life. As I raise my knees high and wave my arms in the air, her crying escalates to huge sobs. I’m the scariest yellow bastard she’s ever seen! I make my way into the party room; it’s filled almost entirely with glaring adults.

“It’s funny Pokémon,” I say, dancing around the room, giving out handfuls of candy and shouting over and over again, not knowing what to do next. “I’m funny Pokémon!”

A young mom comes over. “I think your costume is on backward!” she whispers, looking at the huge appendage jutting upward from my groin area.

“No, this is how it’s supposed to be,” I legitimize.

You’d be amazed by what a person can get away with as PeaNUT, the mascot for the Modesto A’s.

Courtesy Of Modesto A's

“What’s this?” she asks, groping my frontal tail.

“Oh, that. That’s the ‘funny Pokémon thing,’” I explain.

“There’s the bathroom. Maybe you should go fix your costume.” She’s telling, not asking. Small children look utterly bewildered as huge, yellow Pokémon goes to the toilet. Making the major costume adjustment (tail in back), I stay in the bathroom for way too long. Outside the door, I hear confused and excited children.

“He’s in there! He’s in there!”

After letting the anticipation build, I emerge from the crapper.

“I’m funny Pokémon!” I shout. “Hey kids, funny Pokémon is going to make funny balloon animals.”

Salty sweat drips into my eyes as I fumble for balloons.

“Here’s a snake!” I give the untwisted balloon to the delighted birthday boy. Then I erect “the sword”—the easiest construction in the balloon-animal family. Making roughly five of these with a handle at one end, I realize the sword greatly resembles a well-detailed penis. Pokémon is making balloon penises, complete with “Mr. Johnson and the boys!” I think the glaring adults picked up on this earlier. I quickly switch to the classic dog.

“What kind of balloon animal do you want?”

“I want a lion!” shouts a little kid invading my personal space.

“I want a giraffe!” shrieks another in a Pokémon T-shirt.

Though I’m trying my best, all the animals, with missing ears or balloon legs, look like victims of a horrific accident. Grabbing a parachute from my bag of tricks, I segue into a game in which the kids grab its sides. It’s almost impossible to breathe in the oven-hot costume. I’m grasping for breath. “Let’s pretend we’re camping!” I say.

This already has perverse undertones. The parachute’s pulled over our heads, and we stay under for way too long. I can hear tense murmuring among the adults. We stay under a few seconds longer. Emerging, all the adults glare. Somehow, I feel like a creepy pedophile.

“Are you going to do face painting?” says a slightly annoyed mom. “I was told there was going to be face painting!” I turn the tables; yes, it’s time to hit on the mom!

“Soooo, what are you doing after the party?” I smoothly say through my big yellow head. The mom’s more concerned with face painting than with flirting with a big yellow cartoon character.

This hour could’ve gone by longer only if a sharp steel pole had been wedged through my foot. “Pokémon has to go now, kids!” There’s little shout of resistance. I leave the party feeling beaten down. My funny Pokémon head slumps dejectedly forward.

“That was horrific,” I say out loud, for my own benefit.

Job 3

Costume: a large elephant outfit.


I’ve decided to give in to the machine. If I’m going to have to work in a job that involves wearing a costume for low pay, it might as well be the best damned costumed job there is, and that’s as a minor-league mascot for the beloved Modesto A’s.

With a firm grasp on the long, floppy trunk, I insert my head inside the elephant head. It smells really bad; there’s a very distinct funk to minor-league mascot heads. It smells of sweat, of fear, of the chubby guy who wore it before me and of too many high-fives.

“Any words of wisdom?” I ask my mentor, the suit’s previous inhabitant.

“Don’t fall,” he says.

The costume weighs about 141 pounds (not really). With head in place, I do my newly patented “PeaNUT walk” in the Modesto A’s locker room. The players openly heckle me.

I’m off. Assuming my newly patented PeaNUT walk, I head toward the stands. Modesto A’s fans are about to be treated by inspired team mascoting.

As soon as I hit the bleachers, a girl immediately runs up and gives me a shove—a big shove—almost knocking me down. She hates PeaNUT. (Or she senses I’m a new PeaNUT?)

Again, I’m sweating so much I can barely see or breathe, for that matter. But suddenly, I’m the most popular person in the whole damned half-empty stadium.

“PeaNUT rules!”

“PeaNUT! PeaNUT!”

Cool things you can do as PeaNUT:

” Go up behind old men and start massaging their backs and have them smile.

” Randomly hug strange girls and have them hug back!

” Shake your big elephant butt in someone’s face and have him laugh.

The fans scream as I crank up the spirit, madly waving my arms and moonwalking down the aisle. It’s your standard, lovable mascot fare.

Then, I snap.

Or, should I say, PeaNUT snaps. As if possessed by the costume, I start running all over the place like a high-speed, high-fiving machine of tomorrow. I stop to shake my large elephant butt at entire sections as they, in return, cheer. I don’t want to brag, but I think the crowd likes my insane version of PeaNUT much better than the regular guy. I get down on one elephant knee and rotate my arms.

“PeaNUT, can you sign my cap?” asks a kid. He hands me a pen, and I sign the cap, “Best wishes, Gene Hackman.”

In the back of my mind, I imagine some major-league mascot scout is sitting in the stands and is going to sign me up for the big leagues.

I run over to the middle-aged groupies who clearly love PeaNUT, grab one of their beers and pour it out. Then I do a “funny” dance. Yeah, how much do you love PeaNUT now, huh?

I lean in close to one of the guys. “Call the police! Help me!” I plead from inside my giant head. “They’re making me do this against my will! Help me.”

Suddenly, I’m herded out onto the field for the “chicken dance.” Everyone in the stadium stands up for the chicken dance. I’m supposed to lead them.

The chicken-dance music starts. I put my arms at my side and jump up and down like a chicken, throwing in “the robot” and a few mime-trapped-in-a-box moves. I start running around like I’m caught in a swarm of bees.

And then, PeaNUT goes down. Hard. I’d like to say the fall was on purpose, but I can’t. I lie there on the ground motionless for what seems like an hour. I can see through one of my eyeholes that those who have been dancing with PeaNUT have stopped and now look concerned. I lay there perfectly still, as if I’ve just been plowed over by a semi. I hear someone say, “Get up, PeaNUT!” But, for some reason—I can’t really explain why—I remain frozen.

“What’s the matter with PeaNUT?” someone cries from the stands.

PeaNUT’s handler rushes over. So do others. They now seem concerned as I lie perfectly still. There’s talk of paramedics. Just when children’s dreams of humanlike elephant mascots are about to end, I spring to my feet and jump high into the air. The crowd goes completely apeshit. PeaNUT is back! And he’s not dead! It’s a sea of high-fives as I’m “escorted” from the stadium.