The girls fish their wigs and hats out of a large paper bag and begin putting the finishing touches on their costumes. Shannon places a small red hat on her head and realizes it doesn’t fit right. Meanwhile, Marina is upset because her wig doesn’t look like her character’s.
She turns to me in frustration. “Cosplay is rough on perfectionists. This is what we call a complete disaster. My wig is frizzing! The spirit gum I used to apply my scar is peeling off, and my hat won’t fit on my head because my ponytail is too high!”
Shannon shoots Marina a helpless look.
Marina’s voice rises. “When [cosplay] goes right, it’s really fun. When it doesn’t, it can be really depressing.”
Shannon apologizes to Marina, taking full responsibility for the wardrobe malfunctions. “I sent Sabrina a text,” she says. “She should be here any second with scissors to fix your wig.”
Thirty minutes pass with no sign of Sabrina. Both girls are seconds away from tears. They sit on a stone wall in the Butterfly Pavilion while groups of women speed-walk past, pushing strollers. A little girl in a bright blue tutu and leopard-print leotard strolls by with her family. She takes one look at Marina and Shannon and erupts into a fit of giggles. Neither Shannon nor Marina bats an eye.
After a lengthy silence, Marina announces, “I think I might just go wigless.”
“Really?” Shannon says.
“I don’t know how we’re going to fix this before the Long Beach convention,” Marina says.
From the top of the stone steps, someone shouts, “Hey, sluts!”
A pretty blonde in short-shorts, a black T-shirt with an anime print, and five-inch stilettos decorated with silver studs approaches. She’s accompanied by Sabrina, the one with the scissors, supposedly a whiz with wigs.
Sabrina’s costume can best be described as “deranged blackjack dealer.” She’s wearing a pantsuit, a white button-down shirt with a bow tied around her neck, and a red trench coat. Orange contacts make her eyes glow. Her vivid red wig is waist length and ratty, more of a nightmare than Marina’s. She holds a handmade wooden chainsaw. Her teeth are jagged. At first glance, she appears to have a dental issue, but upon closer inspection, I realize that she has blacked out a few teeth.
“I used waterproof eyeliner,” she later tells me. “As long as I don’t eat or drink anything, my teeth will stay like this all day.”
Immediately, Marina apologizes for the state of her costume. “You’ll have to forgive my Undertaker. This is the first time I’ve brought him out. And, I don’t know why, but the spirit gum I used on the scar isn’t sticking to my face.”
“No offense, but at first I thought you were Oskara,” says the pretty blonde whose name is Aimee.
Marina grimaces. Clearly, that’s a put-down.
The three girls converge on Marina to fix her costume concerns.
“I think I’m quitting Build-A-Bear,” Aimee announces.
“You can’t do it,” Marina says. “Build-A-Bear is magical. Hey, do you think you can make a bear that screams bloody murder?” They all crack up. The tense moment has passed.
An overweight woman approaches. With panic in her voice, the woman asks if they have seen a young girl dressed up as Italy from the manga series Hetalia. “She’s only 12, and she got in the car to come here with someone she doesn’t even know. She’s going to the Hetalia meet-up at the Organ Pavilion.”
Marina scrunches up her nose “We are not a Hetalia group,” she says. “Sorry.”
When the woman walks away, Marina turns to me and says, “Hetalia groups are weird. They’re obsessed with [cosplay]. They’re diehards and they freak me out!”
At 11:30, after two hours of sitting around at the Butterfly Pavilion, I follow the four girls to the fountain to join the rest of their cosplay group. As we make the short walk, all eyes are on us.
A man in a Hawaiian shirt snaps a photo.
“Yay, we’re a freak show!” Aimee shouts to the gawkers.
At the fountain, Aimee straddles a guy on a bench. He’s dressed in all black and wearing women’s ballet flats. The two make out in front of a 14-year-old girl (at first, I think she’s a boy, but then she introduces herself as Alana Maddox). Alana wears a canary-yellow top with a red ribbon tied around the neck, skinny jeans, and Vans tennis shoes. She holds a camcorder.
I stand next to a guy named Ryan. He’s over six feet tall and has a beard and mustache. He appears to be dressed as a bunny...or maybe a yeti.
More characters arrive. A friend brings Aimee her costume, a bright red dress that makes her look like a parlormaid. She’s wearing a matching red chin-length wig.
A tall, round man shows up. He looks to be in his 40s, maybe 50s. He stands out in this group of teens and early-20-somethings. He has on blue pants that hit just above his ankles. The pants are pulled up above his waist, paired with a red-and-white-striped shirt and an unbuttoned forest-green trench coat. His hair is slicked back. Three black dots have been drawn on either side of his scalp. With eyeliner, he’s made himself a monobrow.
For the most part, everyone ignores him.
“Who is that guy?” I ask Marina.
She gives a disgusted shrug. “I don’t know. Randoms show up.”
The man introduces himself as David Kenan. He’s 47 and dressed as a popular cartoon character from the late ’90s. He pushes his chest out and throws his arms back in a strange pose.
“Recognize me now?” he asks with a smile.
I shake my head.
He’s disappointed. “I’m Ed,” he says, “from Ed, Edd n Eddy.”
A group of mimes has set up near the entrance to the Reuben H. Fleet. They eyeball us.
“Freaks,” says a cosplayer in a puffy tutu. “Mimes freak me out.”
A woman sitting a few feet away on a picnic blanket watches the anime fans’ activities as if it’s a movie. She looks thoroughly perplexed. A toddler walks past hand-in-hand with her mother. When she sees us, she begins to cry.