“Where is your Pickle baby? Are you a pregnant pickle? It that your pickle baby over here?” said the 5 year old girl pointing at a space between a dumpster and a chain fence that separated this tiny children’s park from the hustle and bustle of the Lower East Side. She looked so normal, standing there in her pink cotton gown, but I could not help myself from thinking. ‘What sort of life has this kid already led that she’s asking me if I’ve placed my baby behind a dumpster?’
‘No I don’t think that’s my Pickle Baby over there, I don’t actually have a Pickle Baby.’ I said.
‘Well you should have a baby.’ Which is exactly the same thing my mother said last time we were chatting about my future over a drink. “I think your baby’s over there, I think you should go get it.”
“Uhhh… I’m actually at working right now, so I can’t go hunting for my baby.”
“At work, What are you doing. You’re not at work, you’re a pickle.” She had a point. I was in fact dressed as a pickle. Personally I like to think of myself as a new dill pickle but I’m not totally sure that I need to go into the specifics of my pickle character at this time with this parentless kid. As I looked around for some sort of adult that she may belong to the guy interviewing me caught my eye.
“Does this happen a lot?” he asked.
“Yeah, Kids are really forward, especially it seems when your dressed as food they wanna interact with you in these bizarre ways.”
“Has any one asked if you were pregnant before?”
“Nope. That’s a first.”
“Okay so moving on, what’s your favorite part of being a pickle…” This was the start of my first and perhaps only interview with ZAGAT. You know ZAGAT like the food blog/magazine. I’m used to reading about beautiful and fancy restaurants in there pages, or finding out about the trials and tribulations of some word famous chef on their blog, so it was with a certain sense of confused satisfaction that I got dressed this Sunday morning to be interviewed by them. Why they wanted to interview me however, I had not the foggiest idea, until we were well into the interview process and I realized that the entire reason I was talking to them was that they were doing a special segment on pickles and they wanted to interview as many prominent members of the NYC pickle scene as possible. Which included by their count, Brooklyn Brine, The LES Pickle Guys and me, A 6 foot 1, aspiring writer/performer, currently dressed as a pickle mascot.
My entrance into the world of elite pickle performer is relatively new. Just in the last year, but it has been a wild and unexpected journey. It all started when my friend Cara aka Fantasy Grandma got me a job dancing as a Pickle at a dog costume competition judging party on the Lower East Side. Which was exactly as adorable as it sounds. Words can not really contain how easy a day of work can be when you show up at a pickle festival, only to get dress as a pickle and occasionally hold an adorable dog who is also dressed as a Pickle.
That day, was a blur of photos and adorable moments and puppies and as it faded into the fog of memory I thought, Gosh, that was a weird way to make 150 dollars, but oh boy was it worth it. Cut to almost 6 months later and I’m sitting in City Hall Park with a friend when I get a call.
“Hello. Shelton… This is Natalie, Natalie from the Lower East Side development office, I don’t know if you remember me, but you were a pickle for us last year, and well, we were looking at the footage of you from Pickle Day, and you hand dancing was so great, we just loved it, would you be interested in being a Pickle mascot for us again this fall?” These are the sort of works calls I dream about taking.
“Hold on Katya, I’ve got to take this call.” I said as I walked to that adorable fountain and began traipsing my way around it. “What is it you need from a Pickle?”
“Well.” Said Natalie, “We would like to make some pickle day promo videos with you. What do you think?”
“Can I write a song about pickles for you?”
“Can I make an absurd pickle costume to go with it?
“As long as you wear giant mascot hands, we’re game.”
“Great I’m in.” And just like that I became a professional pickle again.
I don’t think I even made it back to Katya before the first few lines of the song blossomed in my head. Set to a rough interpretation of ‘Short’nin Bread’ aka “Rhubarb Pie’ that my dear friend Ashley had been singing in a show for weeks, it goes:
everybody's talking bout talkin bout pickiling come on down to Pickle day lots of things to learn about mostly bout picklin that’s okay it’s pickle day tasty things for you to eat. some are spicy and others sweet Made in brine, vinegar too everything’s pickled just for you. everybody's DREAMIN bout DREAMIN bout pickiling come on down to Pickle day lots of things to learn about mostly bout picklin that’s okay it’s pickle day Pickle day comes once a year when the leaves on the trees do disappear so mark your calendars get ready to eat and mosey on over to orchard street. everybody's talking bout talkin bout pickiling come on down to Pickle day lots of things to learn about mostly bout picklin that’s okay it’s pickle day Call em gerkins, kosher, polish or dill Bread and butter or kim-chi come eat your fill It’s a New York tradition, we want to share with you. It’s Pickle Day, I hope to see you there tooo. everybody's pickling pickling something come on down to pickle day lots of things to learn about mostly bout picklin that’s okay it’s pickle day…
The song ended up being one of the best things I feel that I have ever written. It is to use a phrase that I have borrowed from my friend EM, ‘DUMB AS HELL’ but in a way that just absolutely makes my heart sing. It also is the summation of everything I know about pickles, because in some odd sort of turn of fate I have in fact never really eaten a pickle before. When I got the job it felt sort of inspired, here the Lower East Side business development team had unknowingly hired a man to be a Pickle, who has never eaten a pickle. Most of my knowledge of what a pickle taste like comes from the stains of flavor they leave on the insides of burger buns when the chef slides them in amongst the lettuce and onion before serving it to you. A sort of sickening flavor of salt and preservatives. A taste I associate with both ketchup and mayo, and also don’t eat for exactly the same reasons.
Being a non-pickle eater meant that as a pickle I would not run the risk of being a pickle cannibal. Which was to me at least a central part of my internal branding. I tried to be one with the pickle, I meditated extensively on what the pickling process means in relationship to humans transcending temporality, I became obsessed with the multi-national heritage of the pickle for no singular culture lays claims to, that exists in different permutations everywhere. From Kim-chi to the Gerkin, the world is filled with a thousand varieties of the pickle and I actually love that about them. I love that food can break through barriers of cultural difference because we are all connected through the way that we experience reality, particularly around food I think. I mean sure there are a thousand cultural variations on the pickle, but at its core, the concepts knows no state lines or cultural codes, it’s much more universal.
The one thing I did not do in any of my pickle research was try to eat any pickles. Which standing their as the Zagat interviewer asked my opinion about what makes a perfect pickle, seemed like oversight. I mean sure the night before in a fit of confusion I had gone out to dinner with friends and ordered an entire side of different pickled options, from small baby cucumbers that were no bigger then my finger to onions and carrots, in a desperate last ditch attempt to understand the appeal. But one day is not enough time to develop a sophisticated pallet. Yet even that night the taste however left me feeling slightly noxious. It’s the high vinegar content that really does me in. I feel like I’m eating cleaning solvents. I’m getting into it, but the transition is slow.
So as I stood their, being interviewed about pickles, I kept finding myself giving these awkward answers that just flummoxed around thoughts regarding pickles as cultural ambassadors and agents of time travel, rambling off about my love of pickles, while not actually speaking much about their taste, I think the interviewer may have decided that the little girl, who wanted to know where my baby was, was probably asking questions I was better equipped to answer.
But an interview is an interview and in the end I think we stumbled our way through the process with a certain amount of finesse. Towards the end we went to meet the Pickle Guys at their store. Which is this wonderful sort of sunken treasure of a shop filled with big old barrels of Pickles and a totally thick smell of brine that is both slightly off putting and seductive. I ended up getting to talk to the older man who ran this shop, one of those straight up NYC characters of a man, who seemed like he had lived in the store his whole life, the sort of guy who probably greets every morning with a smile. His love of the food was infectious, much like the smell, and I found myself falling in love for the first time with the thought of their taste. It was this desire that drove me to ask him to feed me a pickle. See I could not feed myself as the awkward mascot gloves encase in the bottoms of lady tights makes it really hand to have any dexterous motion. Seeing my plight he took one in his wizened hands and began slowly feeding it to me, slowly.
Is Zagat not like one of those companies that makes real journalism, are they not like the pinnacle of food? I mean maybe their is a better, more elite guide on the planet, but Zagat is pretty reputable is it not? Why am I basically slobbering all over this pickle, trying desperately to get it into my mouth, with out using my hands, for an interview? Is this my career path in life, because it is I’m game. I love this. Also how is this man so calm as he gently brings the pickle to my lips to let me eat, while he talked unbroken about the different aging times to sourness levels of each pickle. I think you can only do something like that if you’re a real New Yorker. This is the city where everyone has seen everything, this is the city where bombs are discovered before they go off because people try to steal the bags they are in. It’s New York Fucking city. People here can do anything. Unsurprisingly the pickle was sort of delicious, though it tasted nothing like I expected it to.
I’m finding it hard to put into words, the flavors and tastes when this drag queen that I love walks past. We have probably met 6 times in the last 12 months, which is, I’ll admit not that many times, and part of me begins to yell their name, even though its mid interview and my mouth is filled with a food, but the words casually get caught in my throat as I watch them see me, clock me, in NO WAY recognize me, and then flip their hair to keep walking. I mean I guess it’s not THAT surprising that they did not recognize me while dressed as giant culinary fruit, it’s just I really wanted them too. I wanted them to be impressed by my dedication to silly costumes. When we met I was the Whomping Willow from Harry Potter, and then the next time I saw them I was a christmas tree ornament, so I was enjoying keeping up the non-human drag nature of most of our meetings, even if they never remembered them. Which I realized this experience was as well, another time we had crossed paths and I failed to be memorable. Perhaps some people are not meant to be your friends. Or so went my thoughts as they walked on past.
“What does it taste like.”
“Ohhhhh.” I had totally spaced out. This perhaps being not just because of the drag queen walking past but also thanks to the fact that I had worked the night before as a raver chic for a Latin/Tribal party at the House of Yes and had stayed out far to late when I ran into this adorable boy I had met earlier in the week when I had been a Sexually Liberated recently divorced for the 3rd time Gym Coach at Bushwhick HIGH for the House Of Yes’s ‘Back to School Party.’ When we met I was speaking in this deep gruff voice and had this WHISTLE OF POWER around my neck, which was a normal whistle only I was drunk off the power of having one. It was such a delight to blow into it vigorously and demand attention. I see how actually coaches and referees get power crazed by them. I got perhaps too into the character and found myself feeling totally liberated and sexual and being aggressively flirty with the patrons. That night when I was done working I had tried to find him one more to say hello and perhaps invite him home, but tragically I could not.
So two days later when we saw each other once more at the House Of Yes and he kept calling me ‘Coach’ it melted my fucking heart. It’s such a turn on to be an authority figure, but mostly I wanted to pick him up and fuck him against the wall. Sadly I felt I was ‘working’ and that having sex with a patron may be bad form, though everyone else seems to do it. Even though I really wanted to do.
In retrospect the reason that I did not do it, was mostly because I felt embarrassed displaying my desire for him, because I had been recovering from a knee surgery for the past 6 weeks and I felt fat… That was the reality of it, I felt overweight, and thus I did not desire myself and I could not understand how some one else would. I probably should not have been in booty shorts and the tightest sweatshirt I could find. It was doing nothing for my self confidence. It was like dancing around in sausage casing, and sure everyone spanked my ass and told me I looked like a I had a great big booty, but then that just made me fear it was because my ass muscle had turned to fat. Which is what it was. All of this of course was made more bizarre by the drunk guy at 4 am who had yelled at me. “Hey You, Mr. Thin Thighs, Yeah I’m talking to you. Go Home.” As I stood taking a smoke break from work, making me remember once again, that most body issues are in your own mind. I should have found that strength on the dance floor to invite him home, but instead we danced together, and next to one other and had all of these pregnant moments of connection before I self consciously would run away. Which I did right up to closing time.
Thankful I was at least not feeling self conscious dressed as a Pickle because the outfit covered my entire BODY and I did not have to be worried about my stomach. But at this point I was trying hard to think of how to describe what the Pickle tasted like as thoughts of Drag Queens and cute boys kept clouding my mind. As did ‘The Taste’. What the fuck does a pickle taste like. It’s like the ocean, but a vegetable, mixed in with this after taste of garlic that comes on like a sloppy kiss and this other flavor which has to be dill, by process of elimination but really could be anything, because who really eats that much dill anyway, like what is dill… is it an herb… or a weed… Dillweed. It sounds like some low use magical item you might get 99 of in Final Fantasy. Anyway I said none of this.
“It’s um delicious.” I said something equally uninspired after that. And before I knew it the interview with Zagat was over. So that was what it was about I thought as I walked away, still not terribly sure what we had talked about in the first place, I mean it was about pickles…
And I was just some guy in a pickle.
And that’s all they really needed from me.
And I think I did that.
And I hope I get to do something like this again.