Barney’s Christmas Spectacular

by

11/18/2008

Rockefeller Center, 10019

Neighborhood: Midtown

My legs ached, but we had nothing else to do so we kept circling the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree over and over again. All I had on was this long brown jacket that looked like a cross between a trench coat and a windbreaker. It provided no warmth at all, but I was convinced it was the coolest thing ever, so I wore it open over a plain T-shirt, even in December. That way the jacket billowed behind me, like in a gangster movie. It made me freezing and miserable. But I knew we needed to buy time, so I put up with it.

“Check it out,” my friend Neal said, interrupting my budding frustration. I looked over and noticed he was pointing a cluster of giant red “ornaments” cordoned off behind wooden police lines. “We should get a picture in front of that!”

“Do we need another picture?” I was too cold to hide my irritation.

“Dude,” Neal, whispered. Then, after making sure Dana wasn’t looking, he nodded in her direction.

“Let’s take a picture!” I said.

Dana was the one girl we convinced to come out with us that night. Or rather Neal convinced—mainly by promising her a chance to see the tree lighting. But our little group of college freshmen had gotten caught downtown trying (and failing) to buy beer, meaning we missed the actual lighting ceremony by about half an hour. When she realized our miscalculation, Dana almost bailed on the spot. Without her, we’d just be five eighteen-year-old guys roaming Manhattan—which even we knew would look pathetic. So Neal had taken it upon himself to keep Dana entertained. Which meant a lot of posing for photos.

“You have got to be kidding! Enough pictures!” Unfortunately, Dana was just as sick of Neal’s photography as I was.

“Okay,” Neal said. “No pictures.” He laughed, but I could see his eyes dart around for an alternative. That’s when he spotted him: There in the middle of the sidewalk danced none other than Barney, the then-ubiquitous purple dinosaur of PBS fame. Or at least, some intern in a Barney costume. He kept bouncing up and down in seizure-like fits.

“Oh my God!” Neal called. “It’s Barney—and he’s pogoing!”

A quick word about Neal—of all my freshman-year friends he was the best at salvaging a disastrous Manhattan outing by making a pest of himself—most notably when he “introduced” himself to Ethan Hawke during a class trip to the Met. So I understood Barney’s famously sunny disposition was about to be tested.

Hi Barney!” Neal said, bounding over with exaggerated glee.

Barney knew enough to turn and start bouncing in the other direction.

“Wait—” Neal scurried after him.

As a budding writer, I’d already perfected the art of trailing my more impulsive friends at a safe distance without missing any of their antics, so I quickly staked out a view of both dinosaur and pursuer. Neal lagged a step behind his prey, just close enough to grab the costume’s wobbling tail. In an effort to entertain Dana, who’d just about caught up to us by now, he reached out and gave the appendage a gentle tug. And maybe a shake or two.

“Hey! Don’t do that!” Out of nowhere, this pudgy guy came running over.

“Dude,” Neal said, turning to me, “Barney’s got a bodyguard!”

If true, PBS needed a better security budget. Barney’s helper looked like a jewelry store clerk, with his thinning hair, old-man glasses, and hideous beige slacks.

“Please don’t do that, sir,” the bodyguard requested over Barney’s shoulder. He made sure to keep his purple friend safely between himself and Neal.

“I’m not doing anything, I just want to see Barney” Neal replied. “Hey Barney! I love you Barney! I love you!” If he knew the rest of the Barney I-love-you-you-love-me song, I’m sure he would’ve broken it out, but that’s all he could manage. “Look everyone! It’s Barney! I love you Barney!”

“Barney doesn’t seem to love you back,” I said.

People ignored us, streaming past on both sides. Neal kept at it, but after a couple seconds even he started getting bored with the whole encounter. My eyes drifted, settling on this kid walking towards us, who looked to be about our age. I noticed him because he wore his Yankees hat sideways, which at the time was still novel enough to seem cool. I watched him come closer, his head bobbing up and down to an imaginary boom box. Then, without stopping, speaking, or even breaking stride, the kid in the ball cap suddenly decked Barney right on the side of he head with a left hook. The purple guy collapsed like a punctured float at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, his entire fluffy body hitting the pavement at the same time.

As soon as the assailant was gone, Barney’s security detail sprang back into action. “Oh my God! What did you do?” the bodyguard asked, looking at Neal.

My friend stood openmouthed, limp tail still hanging from his fingers and a crumpled children’s icon twitching at his feet. The bodyguard eventually forgave us with an exasperated wave and turned his attention to the victim. Everyone else kept pushing by the same as before, more annoyed than concerned with the dinosaur’s plight. Aside from this one six year old who looked like someone had just told him his parents were dead, Neal was the only one who grasped the magnitude of the event. He looked right at me, his face filled with the awe of a man contemplating his newborn son for the first time.

“Dude,” Neal said. “Someone snuck Barney.” He finally dropped the tail. “This is such a great night.”

 

Guy Patrick Cunningham is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn, New York.

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