Spider-Man Shook Me Down for Cash for Posing With My Daughter

Smurfette was my hero when I was a kid, and my daughter loved her, too. That all changed the day we bumped into her -- in all her blue-skinned, eyelash-batting glory -- near a Toys 'R' Us store in Times Square, New York.

Of course, I have no idea who we really met. It was just some nameless, faceless person hiding behind a smiling blue sphere for a head. And therein lies the problem: Who are these people? According to a recent news story, they're money-grubbers who shake down parents for cash.


Here's what happened to me: I made a beeline for Smurfette. My daughter stretched out her arms toward her, so I allowed this stranger to hold my daughter while I stood back to snap a photo on my smartphone. It was a heartwarming moment ... or at least it could have been until we got photo-bombed by three other characters lurking nearby: Hello Kitty, Spider-Man, and the Flash.

As soon as I snapped my pic, all four characters held out their hands or paws for money. I gave Smurfette two bucks. Hello Kitty, Spider-Man, and the Flash all stepped toward me, as if to rumble. Spider-Man asked, "What about us?"

"Oh you guys don't, um, share tips?" I asked as I grabbed my daughter and started backpedaling. In many restaurants at least, service people share tips precisely to avoid this cutthroat competitiveness, but apparently the kiddie character scene is a Wild West where everyone's out for himself.

"Well, I didn't exactly ask for you to be in the photo," I said. Then I turned and walked off, briskly. I was tempted to run, but thought that would look silly. After all, why was I running from Spider-Man? Wasn't he one of the good guys? Or was I the bad guy he was chasing down?

So I felt somewhat validated when news reports came out that Times Square characters had gotten such a bad rap, the NYPD had released flyers in the area stating that "tipping was optional."

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I don't blame the people sweating in those hot, furry outfits for scrambling to make a living. If anything, I find fault with the companies that hired them. Clearly their pay is the pits; otherwise, these people wouldn't be hustling so hard. Still, shaking down parents and scaring kids goes too far. What kind of a world do we live in, after all, if I'm running from Hello Kitty?

Have you had a less-than-stellar experience with a kiddie character?


Image © Philippe Body/Hemis/Corbis

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