By Natalie Pompilio
One of the best jobs I ever had was wearing a Snoopy costume at a Maryland mall in December 1992.
The costume was uncomfortable and bulky and I could only see by looking down through a mesh area of what was Snoopy's chin. The suit was also incredibly hot, and I could only bear it for about 30 minutes before someone would come escort me from my featured spot near Santa to a back area for a quick break. I wasn't allowed to talk.
But I've never felt so loved.
I could hear the children coming before I could see them, their footsteps gaining speed and their excited screams. (After almost getting tipped a few times, I learned to brace myself before the attack hug.) I gave countless hugs that month even though those little arms never actually touched my actual torso. I would nod or shake my giant head in response to questions. I would shake my tail and put my paws on their hands so they could cling to the costume as we danced. Or shuffled.
One night, this happened: "Snoopy," a girl told me sincerely, "you're my best friend."
In response, I moved my head up and down and made kissing noises. The kid lost her mind. The entire mall must have heard her.
"SNOOPY KISSED ME!"
The kissing noises, along with the dancing, became my trademark. I worked with three different Santas, two nice, one indifferent. One of the nice ones - my personal favorite because I thought he really had that Claus thing down - said, "You're my favorite of the Snoopys."
I've thought of that job often over the years. It felt like there was so much love around me, an aura of good feelings that lasted long after my mall shift and into the years that followed. And after the last few troubling weeks, I long for that atmosphere of goodwill more than ever.
The increasing number of hateful incidents against African Americans, Jews, Muslims, and women - locally and across the nation - should trouble everyone with a soul. My neighbors were among the victims. Someone spray painted "Trump Rules" on Jane's house. Carol and Anthony woke up to find the letter "T" on the hood of their car. These are people guilty of nothing who have been targeted for hate.
This is not about which presidential candidate won. This is not a call for hand-holding and kumbaya'ing all day. We're not going to agree. We don't have to. You're deplorable in one way. I'm deplorable in another. Cool. Never the twain shall meet.
But the anonymous attacks and threats and vandalism? No. If you've got something to say, and you're proud of it, own it.
As a journalist, I'm used to a certain amount of undeserved hate - people are oh, so clever when they can spew vitriol and then hide. I've had people tell me to "drop dead" - once after I wrote a sports story and another time after a book review. A book review. One of my former colleagues, columnist Helen Urbinas, has shared via Twitter hateful voicemails and comments she's received on Twitter. They are jaw-droppingly evil.
Snoopy doesn't talk, but even if he could, he would never say such hateful things.
A few weeks ago, my sister sent me a short video of her almost-3-year-old dancing with an animatronic Snoopy doll. The camera was filming at foot level, so all you can see are the dancing toy and toddler feet clad in oversized slippers stepping quickly in time to a Schroeder-like piano version of "Jolly Old St. Nicholas."
The video came to me on the same day a friend sent a video that showed a group of white nationalists recreating the Nazi salute and shouting, "Hail Trump!"
I don't think I watched that clip all the way through. I did watch those happy dancing feet, though, three times in a row and many times since.
All people deserve to be happy, even the people we don't agree with. I just don't want anyone's happiness coming at the expense of someone else.