At first, we felt our way alone in the dark shadow of the coronavirus, with no light to guide us.
But then, like a carrot-colored sunrise on the digital Twitter horizon, he reappeared with a message for us all — Philadelphia’s furry overlord, the self-proclaimed “orange light of hope in this COVID-19 covered world" — Gritty.
“How are you? I hope everyone is staying safe ... but enough about you, let’s talk about me,” he wrote in a March 17 statement after nearly a week of radio silence.
Now, Philadelphia’s beloved, unstable son — and the internet’s favorite mascot — has stepped up his social media game by embarking on an Instagram Live series called “Gritty’s 1/4 Hour of Power.”
Shortly after the second episode aired Tuesday, the NHL Players’ Association announced that for the second year in a row, Gritty has been named NHL players’ favorite mascot.
Coincidence or conspiracy?
Gritty’s jump into Instagram Live follows those of other talented celebrities, like DJ D-Nice and Questlove, who have taken to livestreaming to stay connected with fans and bring some momentary escape from the unrelenting coronavirus news.
But unlike other celebrities — who spin records, read poetry, or dance — Gritty’s show, like Gritty himself, is entirely unpredictable. So far, he’s performed banal tasks with great absurdity. It’s the kind of dadaism even dadaists couldn’t have imagined.
On Monday, Gritty played both sides of a game of Giant Jenga as Flyers in-arena host Andrea Helfrich, who appeared via split screen, dictated to Gritty which blocks to remove while she read comments from those watching.
On Tuesday, Gritty made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as Helfrich read some of the requests and shout-outs sent to him by the more than 1,200 followers who tuned in, from Philly to Finland. Among the messages she didn’t read aloud were:
“Gritty I want to be your bride.”
“Gritty is my spirit animal.”
“Gritty is my dad.”
“Gritty shall cure corona.”
“Gritty is the best thing we have left of hockey and I’m a Caps fan.”
Gritty used grape jelly and crunchy peanut butter on toasted sesame bread, which he removed from the toaster with a pair of tongs. He added a “secret ingredient” — sliced green grapes — cut off the crust, and then sliced the sandwich diagonally with a very unnecessary cleaver knife while songs like Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and Rusted Root’s “Send Me on My Way” played in the background.
“STOP GIVING GRITTY KNIVES,” one commenter wrote.
“My secret ingredient is Sydney Crosby,” wrote a Penguins fan, who is lucky all Flyers fans are currently in self-isolation.
“This is a vision quest,” he wrote. “I don’t really know what’s going to happen until lights, camera, action. I’ll keep going while it feels right. The show must go on until it doesn’t.”
Gritty’s social media stardom — he’s got more than 301,000 followers on Twitter and 275,000 on Instagram — is thanks in large part to the Flyers’ six-member marketing team, who have helped cultivate his eccentric personality through sassy tweets, Spotify playlists, and pop-culture videos. Last week the team dropped a music video inspired by the hit Netflix series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, featuring Gritty and a very confused house cat.
When the NHL season was canceled on March 12 to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Gritty offered no immediate reaction. It wasn’t until after his concerned fans inquired about his self-quarantine status that he put out a statement on St. Patrick’s Day.
“I’m lonely, so I’m sure you are too. Maybe we can be lonely together. Maybe being together in loneliness will make us... not lonely?” the message read in part. “I recognize there’s a lot going on, and I rightfully assume my duty to be the orange light of hope in this COVID-19 covered world. After all, laughter is the best medicine. Next to medicine.”
Two hours later, Gritty released a video of himself dancing in a leprechaun suit while building a tower of toilet paper in front of a rainbow of plastic plates. He dubbed the performance art piece “Leprequarantine.”
As the reality we knew slips further from our grasp each day, moments of absurdity like those Gritty provides become even more essential to help us retain our sanity and our humanity.