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The Art and Agony of Being Elmo

My kids call them “Sad” – as in “Sad” Mickey, “Sad” Minnie, and “Sad” Elmo.  You find them all over near the tourist attractions in New York City, but they seem to cluster in Times Square.  They are the people who dress – badly – as your favorite characters.  Some have heads that aren’t quite the right shape or costumes that look like they could use a good cleaning, but tourists flock to them to have their photos taken.  And to make a donation that might be supporting a family here, a family in Mexico, a family in Ecuador.

Sad Mickey

The New York Times did an article this past weekend about these characters – most of them immigrants, many undocumented.  They pay big money for those costumes.  Mostly made in Peru, Minnie Mouse might set you back over $400, unless you can find it used for half the price.  But they buy the best costumes they can afford.  They don’t have to speak as their characters, so the language barrier is no problem, and many of them don’t speak English.  They do, however, try to impart some familiar trait to their characters.  They want kids to be comfortable approaching them.  And they work for whatever tips the tourists give them to stand for a picture or two.

Sad Pooh

I never knew anything about the sad characters.  And honestly, we’ve made fun of them and we’ve chuckled when we’ve seen news articles of Elmo losing his shit and trying to take out a tourist.  But there’s so much pressure on these characters.  The competition for real estate on the street continues to get tougher, and the aggression has to come out if you want to be recognized over the four other Elmos vying for the attention of the tourists.

Sad Elmo Arrest

It seems like regulation is the way to go to protect not only the rights of the street performers in those costumes but the tourists as well.  But with regulation may come things like permits, licensing fees, even paying taxes.  Not that they shouldn’t be paying taxes, but again, some of these people support not only a family here, but families back home as well.  The burdens are great and the money so scarce.

Now I feel like they truly are the “sad” characters.

Sad Elmo