When a 20-year-old is dressed in a chicken costume, he's usually either attending a costume party or working a shitty job.
But not Carlos Bello. He does it for the hugs.
Two or three times a month, Bello dons a polyester chicken suit he bought at a seasonal Kmart-turned-costume-store for $60 in 2011. The getup can't cover all of his five-foot-ten-inch frame, so he employs a $20 red cape — his third — to conceal his bare back. Between conversations, he fidgets with the cape's fringe and makes a sound that's startlingly like a just-hatched chick.
When he's in the suit, Bello is Chicken Man, Super Chicken, El Pollo Loco, La Granja. He's developed a following at venues such as Grand Central. But when the costume comes off, he knows his fans don't recognize him.
Bello has worn the outfit to nearly every public event he's attended in the past two years, from a Riff Raff show at Eve to Electric Daisy Carnival in Orlando. It's like a personal oven — he once collapsed from heat exhaustion on a Metrobus after the Miami Heat's 2012 victory parade — but he tolerates the temperature for his fans. Though he might be dripping with sweat, people stop to give him hugs, take pictures, or, if they're on the right drugs, stroke his feathers.
"It's worth seeing everyone smile," he says. "It's what I'm here for."
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It offers a respite from his home on the border of Carol City and Miami Gardens, where Dad's prostate cancer has kept Bello by his side since he graduated from North Miami Senior High in 2011. In the daytime, a costumeless Bello drives his father to radiation and hormone therapy appointments. Grades and financial aid troubles knocked him off track for a criminal justice degree at Florida International University. He hopes to enroll at Miami Dade College this spring. Dreams of becoming a DJ have dwindled but not died.
He has no job. For money, he sells and trades high-dollar sneakers — Nike Dunks, Air Jordans — that he amassed in his teens. Some have gone for as much as $340. That kind of money lasts him for a month, maybe two. When you don't drink, Miami life is cheap. "I've always considered this to be my safe haven, my way to get away from everything," he says. "So I prefer to be sober."
When you go by the name Chicken Man, it's hard to find a girl. Still, Bello fantasizes about meeting his future wife, clad in her own chicken suit.
And, ladies, if you're curious: After each outing, he washes it with Tide.