Twinkie the Kid

Long ago, during my teenaged years, I had a series of very odd temporary jobs. You see, my mother ran a temporary employment agency, and would cherry-pick what she considered to be some of the very best short-term jobs for me. At Christmas time, this was a pretty good deal since I would get to be one of Santa’s elves and take pictures of screaming kids during the day and drunken people at night while they sat on Santa’s lap. Not only was this job a real hoot, but it came with a free Santa hat and all the candy canes you could eat.

During the summer though, the assignments were wide-ranging and not always very satisfying. For instance, I spent one whole week all alone in a warehouse separating the lug nuts from new hub caps, and putting them into separate bins. For another couple of weeks I alphabetized files at a doctor’s office after they had been haphazardly boxed up when they moved. (I did find it interesting that I seemed to be the only one, including the doctor, who believed that “O’Reilly” comes before “Omar” alphabetically.) Another week I held the STOP/SLOW sign near a road construction site, directing traffic. I even spent a week in a grocery store giving out free samples of frozen pizza, and another week wrapping gifts at a lingerie store.

But probably the worst job I had during this time was being “Twinkie the Kid”. The now-defunct Hostess company had a promotion going on that involved the “real” Twinkie the Kid visiting local grocery stores and giving out coupons and little plastic Twinkie rings. The costume weighed about sixty pounds, and the majority of its weight rested on an adjustable headband like you’d find inside a construction helmet. It came complete with an oversized foam cowboy hat, a pair of huge, inflatable cowboy boots, great big foam gloves, and a lasso that was glued together to ensure that it always had a sizable loop and could not be used in a suicide attempt. While wearing the costume, I could only see (and breathe) out of the large, smiling mouth that was made of black mesh. This particular costume had apparently been used in many promotions over the years, and could have benefited from a thorough dry cleaning… or burning. It looked a little something like this, but not as clean and it didn’t fit me this well.

It was heavy. It was hot. It smelled bad. And it scared the crap out of most of the little kids to whom I was supposed to be giving hugs, handshakes, and plastic Twinkie rings.

As I wandered around the grocery store, I was fairly defenseless as my arms only stuck out of the heavy costume part way and I couldn’t see very well. I was accosted by various shoppers. One young lady apparently had a fetish for vaguely phallic-shaped pastries as she gave me an amorous embrace that included both arms and one leg while her friend took a picture with a disposable camera. A particularly vile young man grabbed my bandanna and spun me around repeatedly until I lost my balance and fell after a failed attempt to grab the edge of a freezer case. (It took me several minutes to manage to roll over, get to my knees, and finally regain my footing.) One man, who appeared to be intoxicated, attempted see who was inside the costume by grabbing the mesh mouth and peering inside while bending me over backward. I also had to walk all the way up one aisle with a child gripping each inflatable boot while their mother cheered me on saying, “C’mon, Twinkie! You gotta catch up!”

The one benefit of this job was that it was completely anonymous and I didn’t have to speak at all. This came in handy when a group of the popular kids from my class (including the dreamy Brian Kendall) came in and shook hands with Twinkie and got plastic rings. I could also do ridiculous things that most customers would get in trouble for, like attempting to juggle fruit in the produce department or climbing inside the freezer case to surprise patrons. I also had fun tossing Twinkies into people’s carts while giving them a thumbs up; only a few threw them back. The lack of speaking also meant that I didn’t have to answer questions about how long Twinkies actually remain “fresh”, why I didn’t have free samples, and where to find the malt liquor.

After spending an entire day in a costume like that, not only are you exhausted, but you reflexively wave, smile, and reach for young children even after you take it off. This can cause some misunderstandings while you’re on your way to the car in the grocery store parking lot after work. Trust me. It can.

The recent news about the demise of the Twinkie has brought this memory back to me, and has made me grateful that I didn’t continue my career as a costumed corporate spokesperson. All-in-all, the lug nuts job was a better gig.

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