I agreed to meet him in a safe place. We're both comfortable. The brick walls are a testament to the home where George Washington helped lead a fledging nation -- an experiment in liberty. All the while, he kept men and women in bondage to serve him.
"It's appropriate, isn't it?" The Phanatic appeared suddenly. The tourists were gone, and Washington's house on Independence Mall was a much less comfortable place for me. "Slaves. At the birthplace of liberty. It's a real study in contrasts, isn't it?"
I found it hard to disagree.
This meeting was a long time coming. I had received a mysterious email from "GreenBlowWFC@gmail.com" from some schmuck claiming to be the Phanatic. He wanted to tell his story. I was skeptical, of course. I was sure Cohen was trolling me again. I made him confirm his true identity by sending me a signal during a game I attended. When he went with the lame "Kruk eats hot dogs" gag during the '93 Phillies reunion game on Sunday, I knew it was for real. Sorry guys, that was my call, but I had to be sure.
The mist was rolling onto the browned grass, beaten down by bus loads of tourists and the July and August sun. We walked toward Independence Hall, occasionally glancing at the Liberty Bell exhibit to our right. It was more comfortable than looking each other in the eye.
"I guess this started during 2008, really." He flicked out his tongue and took a long pull on his Marlboro Red. "I fell off the home dugout right after Lidge struck out Hinkse, and I blew out a disc in my back. Nobody really noticed because of the mayhem on the field, and I went through the motions, you know, but it was pretty bad." He was quiet for a minute, and stopped shuffling his big, floppy clown feet. His green fur ruffled slightly in the breeze. "Yeah...that was the start...."
In the days leading up to our meeting, we talked on the phone. There are texts and emails. The calls were the hardest. Five years of increasingly erratic behavior, spiraling out of control. Two lives. One where he was the crazy life of the biggest party in the Delaware Valley. The other where he was consumed, at first by the oxycontin, and then by the hunger of insatiable addiction. Ecstasy. Pain. Relief. Regret. All cycling with increasing frequency till it all came apart.
Still, there was pride, despite it all. "I'm still the top-paid mascot in MLB. Even after all of this. Montgomery -- he's been supportive, but they did finally give me an ultimatum. This is my last shot. They tried to get rid of me about 8 years ago, but the Canadiens outbid them to buy Youppi, so I bought myself some more time. I think the only thing that saved me the last couple of years is the Phanatic Hat."
There had been whispers for some time now. The Phanatic wasn't on top of his game. He kicked a child at the Muscular Dystrophy event. Rosie Red's rape allegation ("She had a morals clause, and Walt Jocketty walked in on her giving me a handjob. She had to claim I forced her."). Missing the recent trip to Detroit because of "exhaustion". It started to add up.
What fans didn't know was how bad it was. And telling the truth is all the Phanatic wants to do now. To stop the lies. To get help. To help others learn from his misfortune.
"I used Oxy every day for 3 years. And before the games, I did lines to get back up for the crowd. After the games, I was wired and feeling indestructible. I took home at least three Jersey girls from each game. Give 'em some blow and an "ILL" shirt, and they do anything. Got hepatitis that way, though. And do you know how hard it is to get coke out of my fur?"
The Phanatic, long the most-sued mascot in sports, is now facing new legal troubles - four paternity cases, including one from long-time groupie Farrah Abraham.
Abraham is a particular problem. She has threatened to release a sex tape unless the Phanatic buys it from her. "It's extortion, pure and simple. Skinny bitch buys some fake boobs, throws herself at me, snorts my blow, and now this. I swear I only did fifth base so she wouldn't get knocked up, but I don't remember what we did. It's all a blur. I don't care if the kid's green. I want to see the DNA before I pay her shit. And James Deen? I ruined her for him."
His face had lit up for a moment, but it went dark again. He looked down at the ground and flitted the tongue again, paused, adjusted his belly, and started walking again. We were in front of Independence Hall, so we turned right and circled back around the other side of the visitor's center, walking back to our starting point along the street.
"But that stuff doesn't matter now. I gotta stay clean. I was in denial for so long. I was only thinking about myself and feeding my habits. I didn't care about anyone or anything. Wherever I was, I was thinking about the next girl, the next line, the next fake prescription. I was going through 8 doctors in Philly, Delaware, and Jersey. They were all clueless. They all wanted to be 'the Phanatic's Doctor'. Idiots."
It wasn't always this way. When he was a kid, back in the Galapagos Islands, there was really no future for any of the Phanatics. It was a hard life. Maybe you got to work a cruise ship, or guide for greying, hemp-wearing eco tourists, but there was no real way off the island. Not to become a superstar.
But the Phanatic's talents were hard to ignore. A Philadelphia area sportswriter on a sex tourism trip with a layover saw him and talked about it with Ruly Carpenter. It wasn't too far for a Phillies Latin America scout to go take a look. He was signed for $2,500.00, but the Phanatic doesn't feel like he was taken advantage of: "That was a lot of money. Fed my family herring for a year."
He came to the United States on a H1B visa as a "specialty employee" and immediately underwent culture shock. It was the 1970's. "I moved in with M.O.V.E., if you can believe it. Ramona was a little odd, but she was...welcoming. I'm glad I got the hell out of there, though. Wow."
We paused for a minute as he leaned over and put his hand on a trash can for support. He held his back and winced. "You people forget how old I am. And this is a really physical job. It takes its toll, and I don't have a union. There's no "Mascot Marvin Miller." You folks want ATVs at breakneck speed. Dancing on dugouts. Hot dog cannons." He held his right hand on his lower back and struggled to stand upright. "And I can't take painkillers anymore. I just can't risk it."
"I didn't mind M.O.V.E. too much. I was there before it got all crazy. It was familiar to me. I was poor growing up. Dirt poor. My mom? She saved my life. My "dad" if you want to call him that, left her alone, knocked up, to raise 8 of us. I've been looking for him for years. Big dude, hairy. Initials "B.C."
I had to drop out of school to entertain tourists on the beach. I was a busker. I did it all - ukulele, mechanical boy, you name it. I was Amanda Fucking Palmer when she was a prepubescent bitch showing her tits to Sam Weinstein. At first, I was a Phantic Statue. I had this gag where I'd stand like one of the Moai, no matter what the tourists' little pecker kids did to me. The mouth-breathing parents thought it was Easter Island. That's a thousand fucking miles away! Do I look like one of the Rapa Nui? DO I?"
It took a while for the rage to subside. I was starting to be able to sense the waves coming and going. He had his moments of calm, followed by a storm. You could see the depth of the emotional ocean in his eyes, rising and falling in great crests.
The Phanatic was a immediately a huge hit. No mascot ever enjoyed a run like him, not the San Diego Chicken. Not the Orioles Bird. Not the Pirate Parrot.
"We had a good feud. The Pirate Parrot, I mean. The NL East back then, with the Pirates and the Phillies, and duking it out for the division each year? That was a great environment to come into as a young mascot. Once in a while, the Parrot would let me hang with him and Candelaria. The Pirates could party. The Phillies, too, but they were all about the competition and greenies. The Pirates were fun."
By the 90's, the Phillies were doormats. The Mets were top dogs, and Mr. Met was riding high, along with the rest of the Mets apparently. The Vet was down on its heels, and the Phillies were third-rate.
"Do you remember some of those night games in the Vet at the end of the year? Free tickets in packs of hot dogs, and nobody went. The field smelled like piss, and I was attacked by rats a couple of times while waiting to do my bits. And then Lenny came to town. That was a breath of fresh air. 1993 was the best, at least until Pat showed up a few years later."
"Lenny was with me the first time I did a shot out of the navel of a stripper, did you know that? I snorted J.D. right up into my nose. Burned like hell. I was with Dykstra, Daulton and Kruk the night Dutch and Lenny wrecked, too. I caught a cab home early. Thank god."
One of the reasons the Phanatic finally sought help this year, he says, is when he saw what happened to Lenny Dykstra. The fall, imprisonment, and release of Dykstra on federal charges clearly had an impact. "It scared me, man. I didn't want to end up on the streets, stealing and scamming. I was worried that the Phillies wouldn't keep me if I didn't try to get straight. They've been supportive, but I was warned to get help or get let go. I was imagining myself at Furry conventions, giving nosejobs for drugs. I couldn't go down that road."
This was when the Phanatic called Mr. Met.
"I didn't know who else to turn to. You know that ad on TV? There's so much more. He did Betty Ford. He's my sponsor. I'd be dead, I think, if I didn't have him. Yeah, that's right. Mr. Fucking Met." He looked at me and grinned. "Turns out he had Rosie Red, too."
We were back where we started. It seemed like just minutes. "I have to go. I need to be at N.A. tomorrow at 9:00, and CHOP for some sick kids at 11:00, and I can't let them down. I realize now what's really important."
I promised him I would tell his story...tell the true, complicated story of the Phanatic. Clowns cry, right? It's the oldest schtick in the book. But it's real.
The last I saw him, the Phanatic was walking down the stairs to get his train home, to be safe. I hope he makes it.