Karina the cashier noticed I wasn't my usual self as I paid for a large tray of cookies last Saturday at my neighborhood Vons. I was absentminded, sweat had started gathering on my brow and I nervously replied when she asked me if I wanted to donate my change to Easter Seals.
“Family picnic?” she asked as I typed in my Vons Club Card number.
“Um, yes,” I replied, grabbing the chocolate-chip assortment and getting outta Dodge.
Little did she know, I was heading to a furry gathering in East County (naturally), and I was feeling wary. As I erratically drove out of the parking lot, a man wearing a full donkey suit and carrying a sign that advertised a dog-grooming special at the neighboring vet's office was gently waving to passers-by, letting me know I had nothing to fear.
Though fur-suit enthusiasts have a public Meetup page, it wasn't easy to get access to the outing. “The furry staff has had a really hard time with the media,” the group organizer, who goes by the moniker Fenrir, told me via email. “They generally blow it way out of proportion and show only the dark side of it.”
I sent him a couple of links to my column, and a few ground rules later (such as not revealing real names and not taking pictures of attendees sans suit), I was good to go.
I'd done my research and understood that, along with the fursuiters, furrydom is also populated by otherkin, who believe they posses non-human spirits; furverts, who use the anthropomorphic costumes in a sexual context; and the more extreme trans-species, who physically alter their appearance to resemble their desired animal counterpart. In preparation, I also watched Christina Aguilera's “Dirrty” video on a loop.
The mercury was at a scorching 85 degrees when I pulled up to Mission Trails Regional Park. Dressed in shorts and a T, I was ready, like Xtina herself, to ring the alarm (and start throwin' elbows). Lord knows how these people in full garb were going to hold up in the heat.
I approached the group cautiously.
“Cookies!” exclaimed a girl in a purple top and a black fur hood. “I'm a chipmunk. I'ma eat 'em all up and have my cheeks blow out to here,” she added, cupping her cheeks with her hands in an exaggerated fashion.
“What breed are you?” the friendly critter asked.
“Mexican,” I answered, but the joke got lost in inter-species translation.
Still impressed by the store-bought biscuit mélange, she looked at me and said, “These cookies are the business. When I'm finished, I'm gonna hump your leg.”
“Hey now,” a furry mother of an infant cub said, covering her little one's ears. The event invitation had asked, “Please keep the language and rowdy behavior to a minimum,” and momma bear was there to enforce the request.
The steamy yiffing scenario I'd played out in my head of a dude in a Donald Duck suit barebacking the San Diego Chicken was nowhere to be found. Instead, I found myself surrounded by scrawny fellas in Transitions lenses wielding foam swords at each other and giggling. Others opted for an impromptu jump-rope tourney using a nunchucks-meets-Human Centipede device I came to learn is called a triple staff.
It was all wholesome, dare I say, family-friendly fun. Kids' faces lit up, retirees sitting in folding chairs gawked and park-goers in rented Surrey bikes slowed down to gaze in wonder. For an added touch of surrealism, a member of the group started streaming techno from his laptop, setting the stage for a Rockstar-energy-drink-fueled day rave.
Perhaps the raciest moment came when Coony, a large male raccoon, playfully slapped my behind after having his picture taken with me. We later shared a Dr. Pepper under his pop-up canopy. While others opted to sport only a tail and partial headdress, Coony was not one to half-ass it. He was in full suit. “When I started doing this four years ago, I decided I'd go all in,” he said, reaching for a straw.
Later, Fenrir, co-organizer of the day's LMFAO (Lake Murray Furry Anthro Outing), and I sat on a picnic table and talked at length about the furry lifestyle.
“Being a furry entails whatever you want it to,” he told me, adding that the biggest misconception about the practice is “all the sexual stuff,” as witnessed during a now infamous CSI episode, which he described as “funny as shit.”
“It's an all-inclusive group,” the 20-something military specialist said. “It's kind of like a Star Trek thing, but with animals. Everybody has a great time; it gets your mind off work and life for a few hours, just like any other normal hobby.”
Though, unlike racing remote-control cars, for example, there's a stigma attached to being openly furry, the head of the 105-member-strong group noted. “I don't go to incredible lengths to hide it, but, at the same time, I don't go out there and advertise everything I do to everybody.”
As the outing wound down and attendees made their way over to the local Denny's for what one of them described as “the first of many after-parties,” I said goodbye to my ol' pal Coony, who'd managed to beat the odds and end the day heatstroke-free.
“Will you accept me in your pack?” I asked. He hugged me enthusiastically and, in a drawn-out whisper, replied in my ear: “Oh, you have no idea.”
The term “warm fuzzies” came to mind.