Their reactions are complete opposites, like the sides of the moon.
On the bright side of the moon, pure joy. The smaller people, also known as the children, or the innocent, can’t contain their delight. They run up to him, squealing. They embrace him before he even has a chance to put his arms up to return the favor. They stroke his white fur and whisper, “Bye, puppy!” as they are rushed off.
The taller people, also known as the adults, or the parents, are the dark side. They are trying to obscure their emotions, but those who have lived long enough in the Midwest know that expression. The tight lips, the hunched shoulders, the wrinkled brow line. This isn’t the east coast: No one is going to yell at him and go, “Hey, who are you, touching my kid?” Instead, they make that carefully constructed passive aggressive face and stride off, bumping their strollers along at the maximum speed possible without breaking into a run.
This won’t last, I think.
And then, it doesn’t. Two women, both with handheld transceivers and official looking St. Louis Zoo button-up shirts, flank this giant white wolf man. They are less passive, more aggressive.
“Hey, who are you with, guy,” the bigger and buffer one asks.
“We’re writing a book,” I interject, knowing this is a partial fib, knowing that the wolf will not answer while in costume. “We received permission from the parking lot attendant.”
“Well, you can’t be here.”
Of course we can’t, I think. I would be nervous, too, if a man in a wolf costume frolicking around the St. Louis Zoo parking lot hugged my kid, too many weeks away from Halloween to be socially appropriate.
Natale and I apologize about 10 times, no exaggeration, and make a beeline back to our vehicle. We drive a little up the road, to an area of the iconic and historic Forest Park that is slightly more secluded and more welcoming to furry creatures. As soon as we park and the head is on, the wolf man is back in character again.
He bounds over to a building and sniffs it on all fours. He leaps into the air, and then hides his face and shakes and bobs with delight. Natale is furiously snapping her camera, but she provides no direction to our target. He is so immersed in the character, it is more like trying to photograph a wild animal than a man. Before we can protest, he dashes down a hill, past a pavilion, and around a bend of a trail. As we jog to catch up, an amused runner asks, “What are you guys doing?”
“Writing a book,” I reply, out of breath, as the wolf bounds up another hill, leans up against a fence, and begins waving at cars zipping by on Interstate 64.
“Oh,” he replies, amused, as he lopes off.
As I watch this canine, in complete harmony and joy with the sights and smells around him, I think back to less than an hour ago, when I was interviewing the man that was inside the costume. If the wolf is his light side, his “regular” self is the dark, all quiet and reserved, sipping his caffeine and not meeting me in the eye often as we talk. He explains what it means to be a furry, and why he chooses what many believe to be its own lifestyle.
Darryl Glover says he enjoys wearing the costume because he can “make people smile as well as just be myself,” he says. “I can be something I’m not. I think everyone should stand out and be who they want to be.”
When Glover first bought the suit, he had no intention of using it at anime conventions. He just wanted a fur costume so he could become a furry. The costume’s low cost as well as the character it featured both convinced him to buy it. The white wolf with the red marks is from Okami, a video game on the Wii that features a wolf goddess as the protagonist. It wasn’t until later that he thought about taking the costume to cons.
He was born Feb. 7, 1994, in Russia, and was adopted when he was 6 months old. He lived in England with his adopted family for about seven years, he says. When he was still young, his adopted parents separated, and he lived alone with his mother for a while. Things then “got out of hand,” he says, when his mother became abusive. As a result, his father received custody of him, and he moved to Wyoming in the United States with his father.
After staying there for two years, his father moved to O’Fallon, Mo., when he was about nine. He attended school in the Fort Zumwalt North School District.
Although Glover didn’t retain many memories of his physical and mental abuse, he knows it played a part of his inability to make many friends.
“I’m grown out of it now, but early in high school, it made me shy,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to socialize with many people. I did, but it was hard for me to.” He had a close-knit group of about three friends that he would hang out with, but he formed few other relationships, including romantic ones.
He first discovered the furry culture on the Internet. He found some furry artwork, and he was fascinated by it, he says. He didn’t know the word for it at first, but he eventually began to identify himself as a furry. This means he gets to put on a costume of what “I wish I could have been in reality,” he explains.
If it was up to Glover, he would be in costume every day. He has to find the time in between going to classes at St. Charles Community College for graphic design as well as working shifts at Dairy Queen. And the reactions are not always positive. For example, he has been banned from the local Wal-Mart.
Much like the encounter at the zoo, Glover and his friends asked permission if they could take a few photos inside the store. He made it about three quarters of the way through the store before he ran into some “high school rednecks” in the hunting and outdoor department, he describes.
“They saw me and started betting money on who could remove my head,” he recalls. He was able to sneak out with his group of friends by snaking through the aisles, but he is never allowed back inside for posing a threat to the public.
One place he is always accepted in his costume is at anime conventions, where most people are in weird costumes and fall outside of society’s definition of “normal” for one reason or another. Con attendees will ask him for hugs, pet his fur, pose for pictures with him, and, of course, glomp him. So far, he has only attended three anime cons.
While he is in costume, he never speaks. His playful puppy mannerisms come naturally, he says; he never practiced them. It takes him about 10 minutes to get into costume. First, he puts on the body, and then the feet and paws. The head, which goes on last, has a plastic ridge that holds it in place. When Glover wears the head for an entire day or more, such as at a con, the ridge starts to chafe and scratches up his nose. The entire costume can feel hot and a little heavy, but these are minor inconveniences.
What isn’t a minor inconvenience, however, is the smell that develops after being a wolf all day. After attending a convention, Glover will put the fur suit in a big plastic bag until he has time to wash it. The cleaning process is simple. He tosses the entire costume into a big, plastic storage tub, fills the tub with hot water, and pours plenty of Herbal Essences coconut-smelling shampoo on it. After swishing it around, he squeezes as much of the fur out as he can and then puts the costume outside to dry. It usually takes an entire day to dry completely.
Currently, Glover resides with his grandmother and her husband. He stayed with his father for about three years, but he didn’t get along with his stepmother. Luckily, his grandmother lived next door, so he moved in with her. He doesn’t think his grandmother could ever understand his furry lifestyle, so he doesn’t bother trying to explain it to her.
“I told her I bought the costume for $50 so she wouldn’t nag at me,” he says, “She doesn’t ask many questions about it, other than what it is. I tell her it’s a costume.”
One place he has found some recognition and acceptance is through his college. He recently took a Photoshop class and entered one of his projects in a show. Of course, he entered something of himself in costume. In the piece, the familiar white wolf is walking trough a dark forest, but his fluffy arms look like feathery wings, flapping frantically. He won the showcase and $100 to boot.
Reactions to the piece have been positive, with many people expressing they have never seen anything like it before. Glover doesn’t care what meaning people take from it. “Whatever they get out of it is what they get out of it,” he said.
Glover is looking to the future in more ways than just going to classes. Some day, Glover hopes to find someone he can share his life with. He wants to find a wife who would be a furry, just like he is, so they can “share a common interest, to be able to do the same thing as me,” he says. He dreams of he and his wife spending time and going out together in costume. He also hopes to find the time and money to attend a furry convention, a gathering just for other people like him.