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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Times Square Cookie Monster Pushes Kid and Insults Mom

     New York City's Times Square, in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, was one of the seediest sections of the city. The midtown Manhattan tourist attraction was inhabited by panhandlers, pickpockets, drunks passed out in their own urine, prostitutes, pimps, 3-card monte hustlers, and guys hawking stolen and knock-off watches. Times Square was home to strip joints, hole-in-the-wall bars, peep-shows, adult movie theaters, dirty book stores, and cathouses. This was not a destination for kids or tourists in search of wholesome entertainment. This was a place to get mugged, hustled, and ripped-off.

     When mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police commissioner took control of the city in the 1990s, they cleaned house in Manhattan and transformed Times Square into a Disneyesque theme park for families with young children. Toy stores, souvenir shops, clothing outlets, and fast-food restaurants replaced the adult entertainment establishments. The prostitutes, pimps, panhandlers and street hustlers were replaced by an assortment of costumed Sesame Street and comic book characters who probably think of themselves as street performers.

     Instead of being accosted by whores, bums, and stolen goods merchants, Times Square tourists are hassled by a motley band of oddballs walking around the place inside Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Elmo, Big Bird, Super Mario, and Cookie Monster outfits. (This kind of thing goes on in Los Angeles as well. Where I live, if some guy dressed up like Superman walked around town engaging kids, he'd find himself in a police vehicle on his way to jail faster than a speeding bullet.)

     In Times Square, the costumed impersonators compete against each other for the attention of tourists accompanied by kids. They pose and mug it up for the children whose parents are supposed to tip them for the photo-ops. When little Lester returns to West Virginia he can impress his friends with a photograph of himself being hugged by Wonder Woman. (The street performers are not supposed to directly solicit tips. In New York City this is called "aggressive begging.")

     In the scheme of things, slipping a guy in a Big Bird suit a couple of bucks for posing with your kid is harmless enough. It certainly beats having your pocket picked, or losing a couple of hundred bucks to some street corner 3-card monte hustler. But occasionally, in the heat of tip-hustling competition, things get out of hand. Some of the impersonators have slipped out of character. Super Mario got in trouble for groping a woman. Spider-Man pushed a tourist, and Elmo uttered an anti-Sematic slur. Occasionally fights break out between the characters. (It would be odd seeing Big Bird knock Superman to the ground.)

     On Sunday, April 7, 2013, Parmita Katkar, the former Miss India Asia Pacific beauty queen, a Bollywood actress and model, was in Times Square with her husband and two sons. From Stamford, Connecticut, the family had come to Times Square to buy a bicycle at the massive Toys-R-Us store. Around two-thirty that afternoon, she and her family were set upon by the Cookie Monster, AKA Osvaldo Oviroz-Lopez. The big blue furry creature grabbed up Katkar's two-year-old boy and said, "Come on, take a picture." When the mother hesitated, the Cookie Monster put the kid down, pushed him, and said, "Come on, come on! Give me the money!"

     As the terrified boy's father hustled off to find cash for a tip, Oviroz-Lopez launched a verbal attack on the kid's mother. "You are a bitch," he yelled. "Your son is a bastard and your stuff is trash." (I presume the Cookie Monster was commenting on Katkar's body of work in Bollywood.)

     As the shaken tourists escaped the wrath of the furious Cookie Monster, the toddler kept saying, "I don't like Cookie Monster!"

     The next day, the 33-year-old Cookie Monster impersonator was arraigned in a Manhattan criminal court on charges of assault, child endangerment, and aggressive begging. He posted his $1,000 bond and was released.

     In February 2014, the judge agreed to dismiss the charges against Quiroz-lopez after the Cookie Monster performed one day of community service.  

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