Now, at last, it can be told.
The announcement last week of the pending cancellation of the long-running Arthur children’s television series frees me, I believe, from any non-disclosure obligations and allows me to reveal, at long last, that I was Arthur. For a day.
The story began some years back, at a time when I did my scribbling for the Walkerton Herald-Times. As a side gig, our office had a small book rack containing mostly children’s literature, including a healthy selection of tomes detailing the adventures of Arthur the anthropomorphic aardvark and his friends.
Our sales manager at the time advised me that because of our connections with the publisher, we could have access to an Arthur costume for events and suggested we take advantage of the suit for that year’s Christmas parade.
“Sure, why not?” I responded, only later to learn that “why not?” was because that I would be the one expected to don the costume. While not crazy about the idea, it is, as you might imagine, difficult to win an argument with a skilled salesperson and, as editor and manager of the operation at the time, I was eventually convinced to take one for the team.
On parade day I quickly developed a new respect for theme park mascots. Those suits are hot, uncomfortable and, perhaps especially the long-nosed Arthur version, very difficult to see out of.
It was all I could do to walk to the float Arthur was to ride on with the assistance of some amused co-workers without tripping over my oversize aardvark appendages.
I was thankful at least that we had a float, so the children lining the route wouldn’t be distressed by the sight of Arthur staggering clumsily down the main drag apparently looped to the gills (Do aardvark’s have gills? Does it matter? I recall wondering).
Having survived the parade, I had planned to speedily shed the suit and make my getaway and so was horrified to learn that Arthur was expected to make an appearance in the very auditorium where Santa Claus was holding court.
“Fine,” I thought. “I’ll stumble through, wave like the fool I clearly am, and book it out the back.”
It seems organizers had set up a chair at the opposite end of the hall from Santa where the youngsters could stop by for an audience with the aardvark if they so choose.
And choose so they did. I was frankly mortified when the line to meet Arthur quickly grew longer than the Santa queue. I mean he was giving out bags of candy and listening to Christmas wishes! What was wrong with these kids?
What was I to say exactly, to these children as they stepped solemnly before me? I settled on asking the urchins their name and urging them to read books before scooting them off to see Santa as quickly as possible.
The ordeal finally ended and I at last headed home. However, a reminder of the afternoon’s activities awaited even there, in the form of some local broadcast news coverage of the parade.
“There’s a religious air about Arthur,” I recall one of the organizers telling a reporter as he stood in front of the inexplicably long line of youngsters making their pilgrimage to appear before the anteater while Santa sat waiting.
As I was contemplating the oddest Christmas story in my arsenal for the purposes of this column, I came across the news that TVO is planning a new children’s television series that will require the recasting of the venerable (but not particularly verbal) Polkaroo.
To be clear, I am not interested.