Maybe Eric Stevens ate one too many bowls of Frosted Flakes.
About three years ago, Eric decided that he was a tiger.
It was more of a realization than a decision, really. He discovered that sometimes he identifies more with tigers than he does human beings.
Sometimes he wants to be left alone. He wants to pad around in solitude. And sometimes he wants to pounce.
OK, when he says he's a tiger, when he introduces himself as Snap E. Tiger, the 25-year-old Omaha native knows that he doesn't actually have tiger DNA.
Dressing up as Snap does for Eric what putting on the Batsuit does for Bruce Wayne.
That's right, Eric dresses up as a tiger.
And he goes to conventions with other people who dress up like tigers and wolves.
They call themselves furries. They're people who have a strong interest in anthropomorphic animals or animal people - Tony the Tiger, for example, Mickey Mouse, Teen Wolf, Catwoman, the Thundercats.
They might like to draw animal people or write stories about catmen and dogmen. They might feel that a certain animal is their spirit guide. Some make animal puppets. Some, like Eric, wear full costumes.
The subculture was the focus of an article in the March issue of Vanity Fair magazine. A reporter went to the Midwest FurFest in Chicago.
Eric was at the FurFest, too, and listened in on many of the interviews. He was upset by the story, and his critical letter to the editor was published in this month's issue.
"It only said the dark, back-corner parts of being furry," Eric said. He felt like the reporter sought out the most shocking, fetishistic examples of the furry world.
Eric worries that the sexual part of the subculture is far too accessible to children on the Internet - but says that most anthropomorphic fans just want to escape from life a little. It's not a sex thing.
Eric started showing his stripes in 1999.
He was pretty down at the time. His life didn't seem to be working out, and he couldn't figure out how to be happy.
After seeing some anthropomorphic art, Eric sought out other fans on the Internet. He always has loved cats, especially tigers. The cat house was always his favorite part of the zoo.
"It was always cats," he said. "It was always big cats."
Eric started drawing tigers himself, and sharing his drawings. He researched tiger behavior.
What he liked best was talking and chatting with other furries. A lot of them were misfits - people who, like him, were having trouble connecting with life.
Finding the tiger in himself seemed to help him find the him in himself. He started a new job last June that he loves. He found love, too (outside the furry world). Everything just started working out.
Eric ordered his tiger suit months before the FurFest in Chicago. It was supposed to be black with gold stripes, but the gold dye didn't take. So now he calls himself an extremely rare black tiger.
"It just seemed like a really fun thing to do," he said. "It's kind of like Halloween."
It took him back to the days when he worked at Peony Park and walked around the park in the Peony the Skunk costume.
Now, he's building himself a tiger suit with special removable stripes (so he can switch colors when he feels like it). He hopes to have it done by next year's FurFest.
Between conventions, Eric tries to get together with the four or five other furries he knows in Nebraska.
"Sometimes, it's just great to pretend ..." he says, shaking his head and laughing. It's hard to explain how he can believe in something that he knows isn't true.
"I am a tiger."
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