Over the years, Times Square has become a Disney-esque theme park. The seediness I remember from my youth has been replaced with tourist attractions (from Madame Tussauds to "The Lion King"), long lines, overpriced food, costly souvenirs and herds of slow-moving visitors.
To top off the local Disney experience, you can also take your photograph with costumed figures. You've heard about at least four of these characters getting arrested last month for "aggressive entrepreneurship." Last year, an anti-Semitic-ranting Elmo was sentenced to a year in jail for a failed extortion plot against the Girl Scouts. In July, a Spider-Man allegedly assaulted a police officer after he was questioned about harassing tourists.
Precisely because this is an unregulated business, anyone can buy a costume and stand around posing with people for money. So, reports of misbehaving characters are, honestly, not surprising. I'm cautious when my daughter wants to go near one of them because I don't know who -- or what -- is inside the costume.
The City Council is considering mandating that these costumed entrepreneurs wear IDs and submit to a background checks.
ID cards and background checks are nice, but hardly enough. How about a code of conduct that sets clear rules of engagement and fines for not following them, as well as requiring costumes be cleaned regularly?
These characters get sweaty and disgusting fast. I know because in college I worked at a popular indoor children's entertainment and pizza restaurant and wore a rat suit. It was disgusting, and I truly empathize with the people working all day in the costumes.
That said, I don't want my daughter -- or any child -- getting bedbugs or some other insects on her because she wants to take a picture with a furry walking costume that hasn't been washed in a year.
We need a code to protect tourists and children -- target demographic groups of costumed characters -- to ensure they walk around without being stopped by a giant fur ball blocking the sidewalk.
I know it's too late: Times Square is a theme park. Since we must put up with our own Disney World, we might as well make the characters as safe, clean and cuddly as possible.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin tweets as @Jewyorican and @ElBloombito.