If you're Sandra Bullock, say, or Victoria Justice getting slimed at the Kids Choice Awards, you might be wearing an evening gown. But the rest of us mortals get a bodysuit - a plastic bodysuit. The slime technician explains the rules: "When it hits you, do not stand up. Do not move your arms and legs."
He points to the Nickelodeon tank above us, which resembles a giant, orange, goo-filled Tic-Tac. Below it, a metal bench gleams with green ooze. Famous green ooze. The same green ooze that has sprayed Katy Perry's face, doused Heidi Klum's dress, dripped into Will Smith's ears. "It's very slippery, like ice," the tech continues. "Just remember to sit still until we come with the towels." His dead-serious tone and the crowd growing around us, smartphones already poised for video, give this moment a sense of baptismal importance.
We're at the University of Southern California's basketball gym-slash-Hollywood event space, which is the location of this year's Kids Choice Awards, preparing for my induction into the generations-old ritual termed simply "getting slimed."
My chance, a long-harbored tween-age dream, finally arose after I profiled an actress on a popular kiddie sitcom. Her publicist said, "You should really get slimed." An email followed: "The bodysuit will give you and your clothing some protection, but it will not spare you completely."
See also: A photo gallery of getting slimed
And so I climb onto the bench, stomach butterflies swarming, and the countdown begins. The residual slime, splashes from previous victims, is cold against my legs. I immediately question this decision: What if I scream weirdly and someone puts this on YouTube? Will it dye my hair green? How many calories are in a mouthful of slime?
The Kids Choice Awards air live Saturday at 8 p.m. EST. Which means, by Thursday afternoon, 20,000 gallons of the stuff already oozes through a makeshift river on stage at the KCA venue near downtown L.A. and pumps into a glass podium, ready to spurt out on fully suspecting - but never fully prepared - stars.
Slime has long been an integral feature of this awards show, which turns 26 this year. It's been a part of childhood - on Nick game shows, in theme parks, on toy store shelves - for more than three decades, and somehow it never lost its cultural relevance. Generation Y kids (and even some younger Gen Xers) grew up with it. Slime is cool today if you're 12. Slime triggers nostalgia if you're 30.
Sydney Park, the 16-year-old star of Nick sitcom Instant Mom, moves through the KCA rehearsal crowd in a lime green, patent letter tank top that flares into apparent slime droplets. ("It's custom-made," she says, laughing. "I thought it'd be appropriate.") Digital green waterfalls flow behind an animated Panda DJ and a lion sporting a Viking hat.
Todrick Hall, the 28-year-old YouTube star who choreographed the show's opening dance, hops off the neon-glowing set and announces his desire to get slimed.
"I was supposed to do it today, but the rehearsal time changed," he says. "If I don't get slimed soon, I might break into the slime room and slime myself."
Sliming, Hall says, is "everything about being a kid - it's running though the grass, in the rain, not worrying about getting your shoes messy because you didn't pay for them. It's feathers from your pillow and the paste from paper mâché. It's living in the moment and not worrying about anything, which is something I think we lose as we get older."
Slime debuted on Nick in 1981, says Network executive Jay Schmalholz, on the comedy sketch show You Can't Do That On Television. It fell from the sky, thoroughly soaking its prey, every time a character (including a young Alanis Morissette) said, "I don't know!" The gag caught on with viewers and quickly spread to other shows.
"Nick focused its brand on the element of surprise and humor - and I think slime represented exactly that," Schmalholz says. "Whenever I tell someone I work here, they have two questions: 'Have you ever been slimed?' 'Can I get slimed?'"
The network refuses to reveal slime's ingredients, he says, because "it's like our version of mom's secret meatloaf recipe - but I can tell you it's edible." That's part of the mystique. It keeps kids guessing. An online debate continues to this day - some insist slime is milk dyed green. Others say it's a blend of applesauce and vanilla pudding.
"It's messy. It's fun. The feeling doesn't exist anywhere else," says Schmalhoz, who has been slimed four times. "It's a heavy plop of enjoyment. You can't help but smile. It's a celebration - never a punishment. It's an honor. To be slimed is an honor."
Has anyone complained after getting slimed? Has there ever been a slime controversy?
"On one show, Josh Duhamel slipped on stage," Schmalhoz recalled, "but he played it off well and was a good sport about it. The stuff is incredibly slippery."
How does one get slimed gracefully?
"My advice to you," he says, closing his eyes, opening his arms and tilting his chin upward, "embrace it. Just embrace it."
I grasp the bench.
I hold my breath.
A gallon of slime hits my head, and it feels like someone hurled a bucket of chilled avocado smoothie at me. Green drips down my neck, clings to my eyelashes, hangs heavy in my hair. Holy mother of Amanda Bynes, it's cold. It invades my ears and nostrils. I lick my lips: It tastes like salt and yogurt - definitely not vanilla pudding and applesauce. The crowd cheers. I wonder if my 13-year-old sister will finally think I'm cool. Then: Can I expense a blow-out?
"Hold still," the tech says, wiping off my feet with a commemorative Kids Choice Awards towel. "You did good!"
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He helps me out of the bodysuit and leads me to a paper path, which leads to the bathroom. I shiver and laugh. The slime has found its way through the plastic to the back of my khakis. "Like radioactive diarrhea," someone says. I'd asked a bystander to take some pictures, and she hands me back my iPhone. In one frame, I'm grinning through a sheet of slime, head thrown back, embracing the green chaos.
See also: A photo gallery of getting slimed