It was surreal. Who woulda thunk, a small-time guy like me out there tumblin' and flippin'. I was big time, man, I had the foam abs, the bill, the O on my chest. I was on top of the world, and wasn't nothin' gonna bring me down.
Jerry Templeton knew from a very young age that his life would be one of eccentricity. His parents were circus performers, his father a trapeze artist and his mother the "bearded woman", and he spent his entire childhood amongst circus folk. He learned his multiplication tables from the strongman, played kickball with the troupe of clowns, and his first kiss was Maggie, the sword swallowing girl. He learned to walk on wires, play with fire, and shake hands with an elephant. But most of all, he learned, and loved, to tumble. Flipping and flopping, over and over again. There was no other feeling like it.
It's the roar of the crowd that gets ya. You can do all the round offs you want when there ain't nobody around, and it feels okay. But when you're performing to a packed house, and everybody's rooting for you, well that's just the tits.
Jerry was 15 years old. His father had recently retired from trapeze, and his mother's facial hair had long withered and grayed. The circus life had passed the Templeton family, and Jerry knew it was time to set out on his own. He kissed his parents goodbye, said a heartfelt farewell to the ringmaster's chimpanzee Trixie, and set off to find his way in the world. After months of odd jobs, hitchhiking, and an awkward and humiliating misunderstanding at a Laramie, Wyoming truck stop, he finally found his way to Los Angeles. Unfortunately for Templeton, he wasn't the only one who had.
Fuckin' Cirque du Soleil. Those bastards ruined it for everybody. They started getting big in the early 90s, so by the time I got to LA in 1999, anybody who had a trampoline in their backyard as a kid thought they could come out to Hollywood and make it as an acrobat. And don't even get me started on all those Chinese, Russian, and Romanian gymnasts who didn't have a career after they turned 18 and stopped making Olympic teams. I'm like, I'm here America, and I'm a star. Now where the fuck is all the work?
After spending two years doing bit stuntman work, tumbling in parades, and dunking basketballs at halftime of LA Clippers games, Jerry Templeton was miserable, and hemorrhaging money. But that's when a bit of serendipity came calling.
I had just finished work as an extra on the gymnastics-themed adult film "Floor Exercise" when I got the call. He said his name was Blue Midnight, and he had a job for me in Oregon. A big job.
The University of Oregon was in a period of great change within their athletic department. With the design guidance of Nike, their sports teams had begun to separate themselves from the world at-large, and were living on the cutting edge of marketing, uniform design, and overall program philosophy. At the same time, there was uncertainty surrounding its mascot, The Duck. At the time, the mascot was still under strict guidelines and operating procedures from Disney, who owned the likeness of Donald Duck, on which the Oregon duck mascot was based. The Duck could not be marketed outside the state of Oregon, a conundrum for an athletic department trying to raise their awareness to a national scale. So Oregon needed a mascot with national brand appeal and reach, and wanted to move in a futuristic direction. A plan was...hatched...
It was a chance to perform in front of 60,000 fans. How can you say no to that?
Jerry Templeton flew to Beaverton, OR, and met with the man who called himself Blue Midnight. The man spoke of a major opportunity, one that could catapult the young man to superstardom. It was an ultra-secret, controversial new marketing campaign: a duck mascot for the 21st century.
He described it as part ninja, part, secret agent, part mutant dinosaur, and part nightclub skeeze. First, he had me demonstrate my walk. I said fine, anybody can walk. So I did it. And immediately he shook his head. "No no no!" he said, "That's all wrong. You've gotta embody this character, and it starts with the walk. You walk like any other average joe. I need you to walk like a time-traveling futurebird who as at least one illegitimate child, whom he does NOT care for." So I thought a minute, spread my legs a little wider, leaned back, and put my arms out at my sides like I was trying to hug a very fat person. He looked at me and smiles. "That'll do for now."
After weeks of training, acrobatics practice, and a fitting for a custom-designed bodysuit, the debut was scheduled for October 26th, 2002, during a game against USC.
There were a dozen things I'll always remember about that first game. But the thing I'll remember most is that egg. It smelled, and I mean raunchy. Weeks of rehearsing in that thing, and did they ever think to light a candle in there, or toss in a couple air fresheners? No. Don't get me wrong, the cheer I heard when I came out gave me chills, but the loudest cheer came from me because I was out of that stank-ass egg.
Oregon fans didn't know what to make of this new athletic supporter. He was meant to be puzzling and mysterious, but with fans so attached to The Duck, to see something in such stark contrast was alarming. His aggressive saunter and bulging crotch frightened young children. His backflips and pelvic thrusts confused the elderly. And the student section, a notoriously primitive and surly bunch, were entirely nonplussed and unable to come to a consensus. Had they known about the man behind the mask, they may have felt differently.
I was paid to play a character. We knew the risks going in, that this might not work. But I was felt in my heart of hearts that this was the role I was born to play, this scumbag reptile with a melted face. Once they see what I can do, I thought, there's no way they can resist.
The character, officially called Mandrake, had virtually disappeared within a year. The university's plan for Mandrake was to use him occasionally, and to supplement The Duck. As his appearances became more and more infrequent, it's clear what this policy really was: an escape hatch.
By the time we got the official word that Roboduck was dead, I was numb to everything. I'd heard a year's worth of ridicule and scorn, and had shrunken back into a ball of anger and self-loathing. It was right around then that I tried meth for the first time.
Emotionally scarred and alone, Jerry Templeton found himself unemployed. With no acrobat jobs in Oregon, and no money, and no will, to give Hollywood another go, Templeton spiraled out of control. He began using drugs, stealing, and prostituting himself.
I lost everything. House, car, pets, furniture. But I wouldn't sell the suit. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I think somewhere inside myself, I still had some hope. But that hope was fading, fast.
Templeton hit bottom in 2010, when he was arrested after a home burglary gone wrong. In addition to the items taken from the house, police found two MacBook laptops and a guitar, reported missing in an earlier incident. He was sentenced to nine months in prison.
I can honestly say that prison saved my life. I cleaned up my act, I kicked my addictions, I started seeing the world more clearly. I realized that my happiness wasn't about what other people thought. It was about me, and whether what I was doing with my life made me happy.
On the day of my release, the guard returned my personal effects. Wallet, keys, blue jeans, T-shirt, green and yellow Lycra bodysuit, hard plastic Duck mask. I picked up the mask, stared long into those vacant black eyes. And I knew at that moment what I had to do: I needed to bring Roboduck back to the world, whether they wanted it or not. I may be some years older, and some pounds heavier. But I know who I am inside. And that's a featherless, scaly comic book reject with abdominals that go all the way around his body.
And wouldn't you know it? He's out there right now, living his dream. Godspeed, mutant beast. You will never be forgotten, and never taken seriously.