Elmo and Cookie Monster in NZ; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in Houston; Which Was the Deadliest?


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My life passed before my eyes last week.

I look around and all of a sudden realized that my normally laid-back New Zealand mall was jammed with people.

Specifically, jammed with Moms, and Dads, and Grandmas, and LOTS of wide-eyed kids.

Plus at least 10,000 strollers.

As a highly trained observer, I quickly scanned the scene for clues.

I saw a colorful, animated sign and huge security guards.


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Dear Lord, I was standing at Ground Zero, not more than 20 feet from Elmo and Cookie Monster.

And my life truly passed before my eyes.

I held my breath, pushed back against the shoe-repair kiosk and prepared for all hell to break loose…

But it didn’t.

And THAT in a nutshell is the difference between New Zealand and America.

You see, Kiwis stand in line, calmly, to get their photo taken with superstars — like Elmo, or Cookie Monster, or Rihanna — and then they happily go on their way.

It’s just not like that in America.

Not now, and absolutely not in 1990.


Back then, my P.R. firm had a giant real estate client that wanted to generate excitement about their new master-planned community.

My boss decided to bring in a real-live Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (TMNT) to the grand opening of the new community center.

At that time, getting a Ninja Turtle was only slightly bigger than getting the Beatles back together.

Please understand, we are not talking about some local hack in a Kmart Ninja Turtle suit.

No, no, no.

We worked directly with the licensing agents in New York City to “sign Leonardo”.

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Or at least to sign a New York actor who was licensed to wear the official Leonardo TMNT gear.

As I recall, the ridiculous contract required a first class tickets for the actor AND a first class ticket for Leonardo’s suit.

But our client was absolutely thrilled to pay.

Once it was all confirmed, we promoted the heck out of Leonardo’s appearance.

Think “saturation bombing”.

When the Saturday morning came, you would’ve thought we were giving away $1,000 bills and ponies.


The new community center was packed way before we actually picked up Leonardo at the airport (45 minutes away).

At 10 a.m. — an hour before the “show” was to begin — there were maybe 500 adults on hand, each with two or three wide-eyed children.

The building was packed.

And did I mention it was summer in Houston? About 110 degrees outside?

What could possibly go wrong?

Inside, it just kept getting more crowded and hotter by the minute.

There was NOTHING for the kids to do except cry.

And there was NOTHING the parents could do but fantasize about killing the idiot P.R. people who had organized this nightmare.

We tried to stall, to avoid being ripped limb from limb.

But there are only so many times that you can say:

“Leonardo has landed! And he’s on his way! Maybe he had to stop for pizza. Ha ha ha.”

Finally, just before a full-blown riot broke out, Leonardo arrived.

We quickly briefed the actor back stage as he put on his Leonardo suit.

We cued the SUPER LOUD Ninja Turtle Music, and Leonardo showed himself.

The kids went berserk!

It was like the Red Sea parted when Leonardo strutted to the middle of the room.

He put down his boom box and pushed play.

Then 100% authentic and fully authorized Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle tunes began to blare.

Leonardo was all kinds of awesome, spinning and kicking and doing totally rad Ninja Turtle stuff.

Just like in the movies!

This was the greatest P.R. idea ever!

For about three minutes.


And then Leonardo had done his dash and he wanted to sit down, because he was hot.

And he was union.

As I recall, his contract specifically said he would do NO TALKING.

And he was not about to sign autographs.

So we were dead.

Dead. Dead. Dead

My quick-thinking boss grabbed a mike and explained that we had boxes of cool TMNT stuff.


So if everyone could just be patient, it would just be rad!

But by then, pretty much every kid in the place was crying.

Worse, the parents had realized there wasn’t going to be enough Turtle Swag to go around.

But, by gosh, their kid was going to get Ninja Turtle shoestrings AND an autographed photo.


I have an abiding memory of my boss, who is 6-4, trying to wade through the angry sea of humanity.

He was holding the Turtle Swag box just as HIGH as he could get it, maybe eight-feet in the air.

He was having to turn his body this way and that, and use his elbows, to keep the lunging parents at bay.

I honestly don’t remember the rest of the event.

I don’t think there were any casualties on the day.

But I can’t be sure, because Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Madness was so thick you could have cut it with a ninja sword.

So you can understand why, last week, for that brief moment, I flashed back to that TMNT feeling of impending doom.

Thankfully, Kiwis are just too laid-back to riot.

Unless it involves beer and the rugby or cricket world cup.

In which case, no one is safe.

Not even Elmo or Cookie Monster.


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