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An excerpt from Modern Fables: Essays, which Suzette Mayr (Scotiabank-Giller winner of The Sleeping Car Porter) calls "wickedly good, wickedly funny, wickedly smart, but also just plain wicked."

Book Cover Modern Fables

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Leonard wasn’t my first up-close experience with a mascot. When I was twelve, a mascot had punched me in the face. It happened at the Calgary Stampede, our city’s summertime exhibition and rodeo. I had gone with my sister and a neighbourhood girl whose mother was dating our father. Moneyless, we milled around the midway. It was July and sweltering. We were bored. Then, we saw something. Glimmering in the heat like an apparition, he was marvellous: a giant soft-serve ice-cream cone capering under the white-hot sun. The costume wasn’t plush, but appeared to be made of rubber, with a Dairy Queen kiss branded on the lip of the cone. The mascot was surrounded by a crowd of happy children. He was handing out vouchers for Dairy Queen treats.

In addition to asthma, I’d been diagnosed with a dairy allergy. My swollen stomach, according to my mother, was not fat after all, but a symptom. Forced to drink the milk of a goat, I wasn’t allowed, among other things, those little ice-cream cups with the foil lid and wooden spoon that were often given out in school. I hated my allergy and flouted it whenever I had the chance. Like now. We three—my sister, our neighbour, and I—advanced upon the cone, whooping.

I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but the crowd of children grew angry. Perhaps the cone ran out of vouchers. Likely it was just the thrill of sweaty bodies pulsing and pushing against one another with adolescent fury. Suddenly, the swell felt riotous. Children were pounding on the cone’s rubber swirl, near the eyes. They were kicking his waffle-panted legs. Cruel taunts rang out, and laughter. While I never admitted it, I, too, may have swung and punched, caught in the wild fun of the riot.

Panicked, the mascot began to fight back. And in the melee, one of his enormous white-gloved hands hit me square in the nose. I had never before been punched in the face. I was stunned. Hot tears grew in my eyes, and I fell back. I lost track of the cone, the crowd.

Then, a god-like voice cut through my spinning shock. And it was far worse than the welt of the punch. An old man, a lemonade vendor, was shouting from his lemon-shaped booth.

 “A young man has been hit!” he cried.

He was waving, pointing in my direction.

“This young man is bleeding! A boy needs help!”

My sister and our neighbour—skinny tanned teenagers in pigtails and cutoffs—heard his cries. They wouldn’t look at me, stood silent and motionless with vouchered hands hanging at their sides, as the vendor continued to holler and point. Finally, my sister sprang to action. She pinched some napkins from his dispenser. I cupped my bleeding nose.

It was an honest mistake. My hair was cut above my ears. I wore corduroy pants and striped golf shirts. Without breasts or hips, I sported a single eyebrow. As it was, I barely gave a thought to such trifling matters. Though even then I could see that boys tended to do things, to act, while girls sat about talking and grooming. I wanted to belong in the world and so was boyish because it seemed the world stood wide open for boys. I didn’t know it was a choice I’d have to make, the price of acceptance, which felt to me then like love.

My sister looked falsely subdued as she handed me the wad of paper napkins. Always the competitor, she was likely thrilled at my shame. We sat below the midway clocktower, and I tilted my head back and watched time inch forward as blood trickled down my throat.

That summer, I grew my hair long. I bought sparkled clothing, flower and butterfly prints, plaid skirts, and knee-high socks. From the drugstore, I stole lip gloss, barrettes, and eye shadow. I began a long career of righteous starving. I began to take great pleasure in talking and grooming.     

But my run-in with the cone, I later learned from Freddy, was not at all uncommon. In fact, the primary job of a Mascot Assistant is to keep frenzied children from getting rough—pulling or hugging too stridently. While being briefed of my duties, I was told that children, near mascots, have a tendency to punch. Which I said I knew all about, having once been punched back by a Dairy Queen cone.

“Neither the child nor the cone’s fault,” I added, wanting to demonstrate that I understood the complexities of the task at hand.

So, the first order of business was to act as a handler and bodyguard. I was meant to hover about Leonard and protect his safety, while at the same time use patience and restraint with any overly exuberant child. As we talked over the job description, Freddy couldn’t keep from laughing. The mascot was a monstrous animal with stubby horns and bared teeth. I was too embarrassed to ask what exactly what he was, since it seemed it should be obvious. And, of anyone, I should be the person to know. Except for the horns, he most resembled a bear. His name was no help, for he was named after the team, which was named after destructive weather. In my apathy, I never found out. No matter: I was simply to follow the creature around the arena and thwart the violent urges of children.

Excerpt from Modern Fables, by Mikka Jacobsen (Freehand Books, 2022)


Book Cover Modern Fables

Learn more about Modern Fables:

Modern Fables is a darkly funny, feminist collection of essays about love and place.

In this darkly funny book about love in the digital age, Mikka Jacobsen challenges the notion that a single woman in her thirties writing about love is simply desperate. Instead, in an unflinching collage of coming-of-age narratives, she both elevates singledom and upholds the value of finding profound love. A work of feminist thinking, these interlinked essays blend memoir with cultural and literary criticism, exploring first loves and teenage drug-slingers, sports culture and blowjobs, catfishing and the problematic advice of self-help gurus.

At the same time, Modern Fables considers how we are shaped as much by the places we are from as by the times in which we live. Growing up and living in the deeply conservative Canadian prairies, what does it mean when you're not at home at home? Whether she's writing about a settler mother's forays into shamanism in "The Indian Act" or considering the favourite writer of every Calgary man's online-dating profile in "Kurt Vonnegut Lives on Tinder," Mikka Jacobsen pulls no punches, delivering a fiery manifesto on love and place for our times.

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