SPRINGFIELD - He may walk upright like a man; he may wear clothes and even don spectacles, but the Easter bunny is still a bunny, and bunnies don't talk.
At least when the bunny's name is Chris Verdon and he's appearing at the Upper Valley Mall as part of the NOERR, Program Corp.'s Easter setup.
Verdon explained that the muteness has as much to do with the cumbersome bunny head he must wear -- which muffles his words -- as it does the Easter Bunny's inherent bunny-ness. But it can make for some awkward silences.
On his second day on the job, March 29, Verdon saw about 70 children, and many of them asked questions like, "Can I have some candy?" or "Will you bring me some candy?"
Verdon, who had no candy, could respond only with body language. He has mastered the art of the slow head nod, the thoughtful chin rub and the all-purpose thumbs-up. He conceded it might be frustrating for a child who has asked for candy to receive a thumbs-up instead.
"What can I say? There is an unspoken agreement that at a future date (the child will get candy)," Verdon said.
For almost six hours Sunday, he sat in the suit in the middle of the mall on a settee before a large backdrop depicting a fairy-tale woodland scene; to his left were pastel-colored Easter eggs, to his right a small pink horse.
Verdon waved at the mall patrons strolling past. Most waved back: teenagers, parents, children. But not everyone was happy to see him. One girl, evidently startled by the human-sized bunny with glasses waving at her, ran away in fright.
The reaction was not unusual, according to the set's photographer, Dave Keaton.
"We had a 16-year-old girl hide behind her boyfriend," he said. "We're averaging about five kids a day crying."
But most of the children who sat on Verdon's lap truly lit up, beaming with ear-to-ear smiles that got even wider when Keaton, for the picture, said, "Big smiles! Big smiles!"
One boy, just as his family was about to walk away after getting his picture taken, quickly ran back to Verdon and hugged him repeatedly.
After three hours as the Easter bunny, Verdon was finally able to remove the bunny head when he, Keaton, and set manager Tahlia Casebier grabbed a lunch break in one of the mall's back rooms.
His face and hair were shiny with sweat. He looked younger than his 27 years.
"This is fake fur, right?" he asked Casebier. "Cus I got allergies."
Verdon has a bachelor's degree in fine arts and has been looking for work as a photographer for two years without much luck. He said that this has been the weirdest job he's ever had. Originally he applied for Keaton's position, photographer. He ended up the bunny.
"The bunny gets paid better anyway," he said.