Cottontales

A week of hare-raising adventures with the rabbit people and the bunny lady

Four men in bunny ears and cottontails stand on Mission Street smoking cigarettes and passing a small bottle of Jack Daniel's from paw to paw. I stare a bit longer than is polite in the animal kingdom, and the smallest of the gang, a brown rabbit with an eye patch and a torn ear, wrinkles his nose and snarls, "What, you never seen rabbits before?"

"Don't mind him," says Pipkin, a tawny gentlebunny in a fuzzy sweater and leg warmers. "He's been watching too much Watership Down. It always gets him riled. We're on our way to Warren Spanganga for the annual bunny fete. All hares are welcome." Pipkin smiles as the rabbits turn tail and saunter around the corner.

Much more than an enjoyable excuse to take advantage of post-Easter sales, the Bunny Jam is widely regarded as the peerless lapin event of the year. Rabbits come from all over Northern California to participate. Still, I am caught off guard: Dozens of human-rabbits -- sci-fi rabbits with silver ears and laser guns, ballerina rabbits in tutus and toe shoes, devil rabbits with pitchforks and horns, and Easter rabbits in pink gingham dresses and lacy socks -- stand on the darkened sidewalk, smoking cigarettes, wiggling noses, trading carrots, and chatting most cheerfully. A patrol car creeps by, giving the hares a stern once-over (I'm not sure why a drove of giant bunnies seems so ominous, but I understand the initial apprehension of the police force). The rabbits, of course, are oblivious; there is safety in numbers, and the gathering on the sidewalk is just a small fraction of the colony inside.

At the entrance to the warren, a tall man known as the Bunny Baggerchecks my paperwork and wiggles a carrot on the end of a long stick, a gentle alternative to the whip and lasso attached to his belt. I follow the carrot through the doorway, between fuzzy curtains comprised of plush bunny toys. In the gallery, a wire moon and two giant nude stockings stuffed with Easter toys hang from the ceiling. I hop over a foam game board of Easter hopscotch, past the movie theater where human-size rabbits nuzzle in the dark watching old educational movies from the American Egg Board, up to a dais displaying a mechanized bunny with a toy dinosaur head. Other pedestals hold additional playful aberrations: dinosaurs with bunny ears, bunnies with troll bodies, robot bunnies, bunny-stuffed wagons, and transparent Halloween masks. Bunny-themed film shorts like The Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings are projected on one wall, framed by stuffed animals. Along the other walls, dozens of toy bunny butts have been stapled to the plaster. The candy-colored rumps hang in midair like confectionary question marks.

"It is very difficult to cut the head or ears off of a stuffed bunny," says Super Space Bunny, a three-eared darling wearing a gorgeous pink fun-fur tuxedo. "At first. Once you get started, though, it's easy. We had to decapitate all the bunnies to make bunny-bots." Such is the life of a member of the Silent Bunny Partners Sound Circus, which is responsible for the annual Bunny Jam.

"It izz now time for zee Peep to Peep comparison!" shouts Dr. Frankenpeep, a leading researcher at the Conservatory of Bunnydomin Munich. The smell of burning marshmallow Peeps fills the air. "Notice zee difference between zee pink and zee blue Peep," continues Dr. Frankenpeep, removing a tray of bubbling marshmallow chicks from the microwave. "It izz remarkable, no?"

I follow a rabbit wearing a poncho and sombrero through an open portico, past the bathroom chamber, where Jackie Jack, a wrestling bunny with one ear, is posting the bunny-doe and bunny-buck bathroom signs, and into the main dance hall. It's a sea of bobbing bunny ears; there are hundreds of rabbits of all shapes, colors, and sizes and one man in a breathtaking jumpsuit of green Easter grass and flashing bunny lights, topped by a glowing Easter egg hat. As Dr. Friendly spins his own demented version of the "Bunny Hop," the human rabbits prance and frolic through the burrow, their ears, and eggs, flopping. There are piles of lettuce scattered across the floor, and a twirling light show featuring bunny stencils and rainbow effects saturates the walls. In one corner, a white-trash rabbit with a "bun" in the oven entertains guests outside her egg-shaped trailer home; in another, a large papier-mâché sculpture of a bunny family watches over the proceedings. A little before midnight, I notice a couple of renegade monkeys picking through the hair of a 5-year-old leveret named Sam Cole; like any well-trained rabbit boy, Cole beats the intruders with a stuffed Easter toy until his mother can whisk him to safety.

"Monkeys," sniffs a yellow-feathered chick. "They ruin everything. Who let the monkeys in?" The question ripples through the gentle rabbit community.

But monkeys aren't the only problem. I notice a growing mischief of rats, cleverly disguised as brown rabbits, mingling in the burrow; Eye Patch is among them. Sensing trouble, I head for the napping lair, where seven lady rabbits sit preening and gossiping in a 40-foot polka-dotted bunny nest.

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