“Hey Cindy, wanna be Dolly?” This was how it all started. I was a waitress at TJ’s Big Boy restaurant and we offered free comic books – The Adventures of Big Boy – where the headliner got in and out of minor scrapes with his faithful friend Dolly. Whether they were more than pals was never made clear.
The comic books were just the beginning. At the hostess stand in the front of the restaurant we had a glass case offering such treasures as key rings, coffee mugs and banks featuring our shamelessly obese mascot. The implication, I suppose, was that Big Boy earned his girth by dining on such temptations as Big Boy burgers, a Big Mac ripoff right down to the middle slice of bread and top-secret sauce. But I digress.
The Big Boy costume featured an oversized head and, back in the mid-70s, we hadn’t yet thought of putting a microphone in there. Any talking done by the person inside echoed terribly, rendering our pre-diabetic friend essentially mute. This was one reason Big Boy needed Dolly, to speak for him to crowds of little kids. It was basically a restaurant advertisement that we forced children to sit through before receiving their free comic books and balloons.
But speaking for Big Boy wasn’t the only reason for Dolly’s shadowing of our hefty hero. I was given a no-nonsense lecture by the store manager before I left for my first gig. “Keep those kids and their grubby little hands away from that costume! It costs $40 to dryclean!” Ah, what higher calling than spreading joy to children while keeping them in line? Foreshadowing to my later teaching career.
So I changed my name tag to one that read “Dolly” and off I went with skinny little Tom, now transformed into my giant comic book partner. I don’t really remember much from those first couple of performances because they were wiped from my memory the moment I saw HIM.
There was a new guy on the cooking line that day and, while I am not given to mystical nonsense, I swear I felt I recognized him. I remember thinking, “It’s him. He’s going to change my life.” So I asked another waitress, “Who’s the new guy?” and was dismayed by her answer: “Oh, that’s Mark’s brother.”
Mark was also a cook but one I tried to avoid. He would deliberately get orders ready as fast as possible and then ring the bell repeatedly in order to alert the attention of a manager whose first question would be, “Whose order is that?!”
But such was my attraction to my blue-eyed object of desire that I was willing to brave even Mark. Imagine my delight when I learned that this new guy was to be the Big Boy at a photo op for the peewee hockey team with Santa and I would be his Dolly!
We had a little schtick we performed for the kids before handing out prizes. I’d ask, “How many Big Boy hamburgers do you eat every day, Big Boy?” and the oversized hands would open and close several times to indicate a vast quantity of cheesy, beefy, bready deliciousness. Next I’d ask, “How do those Big Boy hamburgers taste, Big Boy?” and my checker-overalled star would bounce on his giant shoes and rub his massive belly.
I was many years away from going into public education but I enjoyed talking with the little kids. We’d passed out the treats and the older ones had drifted off. I thought nothing of it until I heard an echoey voice calling, “Help! Help!” Some older boys, maybe a half dozen pre-teens, were pushing Big Boy into the ladies’ room!
I ran over to rescue my unweildy new friend and admonished the naughty boys, “Don’t do that to the Big Boy!” Then he put his big foamy arms around me and here we are, 42 years, two great kids, and many adventures later.
We don’t have the costume anymore (too bad, think of the possibilities!) but those beautiful blue eyes still make me a little weak in the knees. I guess we wrote the rest of the Big Boy and Dolly story. They turned out to be much more than friends.
P.S. Mark turned out to be pretty terrific too. ; )