Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Lay On, McGruff

McGruff the Crime Dog, monomaniacal biter of crime and criminals alike, was sucker-punched in the face on Saturday before an audience of horrified children in our nation's capitol.

As a retired costumed character (three summers as Bugs Bunny at Six Flags, if you must know), the Holy Prepuce is familiar with occupational hazards of that job. Along with heat stroke and hyperventilation, having the crap beaten out of me was a risk knowingly assumed each time I cinched up the "bib" and chin strap.

Assault on costumed characters is a universal phenomenon. Perhaps the perpetrators act out of simple revulsion at excessive cheerfulness, but I suspect the motivations are more complex. Surely there is an element of transferred rage: at parents who encouraged the belief, humiliating in retrospect, that costumed characters are "real"; at life and time themselves, which stole away forever the fantastical world of early childhood. The awful realization--that the internationally famous anthropomorphic animals who visit the local amusement park especially to hug you are actually just sweaty college kids--could drive anyone to disillusioned violence.

For my own part, I accepted the blows as penance for the prostitution I was committing. Here was Bugs Bunny--whose antics embody the triumph-by-wits of the Greatest Generation's ethnic lower middle class--transmogrified into a mute child-hugger. The middle-schoolers pummeling my gut may not have understood the deeper significance of their vigilantism, but in my own self-flagellatory way I hoped they one day would.

Such pre-teen boys (usually in groups) are the dominant perpetrators of these assaults, and the attack on McGruff would not have been newsworthy had the culprits fit that demographic. But in a delightful turn of events, McGruff's clock was in fact cleaned by on-duty WMATA bus driver Shawn Brim, 38. According to a police report, Brim "climbed out of the bus, adjusted both sideview mirrors and then slugged McGruff in the face with his closed fist . . . . McGruff staggered, children screamed and the crime dog's attacker jumped back into the bus and drove off . . . [as a] call of an assault on a police officer went out over the police radio."

Brim was later charged with simple assault on McGruff's human occupant, D.C. Police Officer Tyrone Hardy. The decision to charge simple assault, rather than assault on a police officer, raises an interesting legal question: to commit "APO" in most jurisdictions, the defendant must know that the victim is a police officer. Does socking McGruff the Crime Dog count? The person inhabiting McGruff turned out to be a real-life police officer, but the role could as easily be played by a civilian. Except where the victim is a plainclothes officer, the knowledge element of APO is usually open-and-shut because of the police uniform. Would McGruff's oversize blues count? The government's restraint in charging Brim means we'll never know--at least not until the next McGruff beat-down.

As it happens, the past few days have not seen a distinguished showing for public transit operators. The National Transportation Safety Board announced that throughout a September 12, 2009 California commuter rail trip that ended in 25 fatalities, engineer Richard Sanchez had been text messaging an unidentified teenage boy, sending his final message only 22 seconds before colliding with a freight train. (As is de rigueur in passenger rail investigations, the train's conductor tested positive for marijuana.) Sanchez's texts revealed that the boy had ridden in an engine cab four days earlier, and that Sanchez planned to let the boy drive the train later that day: "I'm REALLY looking forward to getting you in the cab and showing you how to run a locomotive . . . I'm gonna do all the radiotalkin' ... ur gonna run the locomotive & I'm gonna tell u how to do it."

Had Sanchez survived the collision, he might have become the only adult ever busted for electronically suggesting that a minor "run [his] locomotive" while talking about an actual locomotive.


  1. Perhaps the difference is that as a dancing Bugs Bunny, you could use your mad jazz skillz to flee potential assault.

    Today, we are all McGruff the Crime Dog.

  2. Dirty Sanchez, indeed.

    The tragedy is, someday, and that day may never come, countless children of this generation will wake up with night sweats and the cold realization that McGruff was nothing but a poser.

  3. Violence on the costumed beasties:

    When I was in high school I played trombone in the marching band. Trombones are loud and so positioned in the back while in the stands at a football game - maybe 6th row. First trombone was a guy named Scott.

    Our mascot was a purple dinosaur named Desmond. (this predated Barney's appearance by a couple years).
    One day at a game, the mascot of the opposing team came over to our area and snuck up on Desmond (easy to do with the limited visibility in that fuzzy purple head) and pushed Desmond to the ground.
    That day Desmond had been worn by Scott's girlfriend.
    Scott practically flew over the 6 rows of bleachers and band members, bounded over the fence onto the field, and commenced to beat the holy crap out of the mascot who assaulted his girlfriend.

    Not really any point to the story, but stuck with me for many years.


(You can comment here, or on the Holy Prepuce! Facebook page.)