Too long on a job and you start to feel like you need it. Once that dependence sets in you’re screwed. You start to care. The funny thing is I do worse when I care. When I don’t give a damn I move through the ranks pretty quickly, the higher ups mistaking my ambivalence for confidence. Heck I once made it from fry guy to burger flipper to head burger flipper in a mere two weeks. Then I crumbled up my paper hat, discarded my little plastic nametag, which invariably said the wrong name, and off I’d go. Getting out before that big burger money went to my head. Back then I’d be high for a week off the knowledge that I was jobless, bossless, and free, free at last. Oh well, the first time is always the sweetest.
I sit in my warm apartment this time, thinking how nice warmth and apartments are, and get ready to go hit the job market a scant twelve hours after quitting the last job, the blissful rush of “free, free at last” lasted less and less. Not the least of my concerns is a Christmas list hanging on my refrigerator. I really hope this can be the first year of my actually getting everyone a little something that will simultaneously advertise to them that I have my crap together and that I love them.
I start my hunt at the mall as I always do. The first step in finding a job is rejecting all the places where I don’t want to work and the mall has the largest number of such places in the greatest concentration. The mall also is one of my favorite places at Christmas. The lights the crowds the music, all things I hate the rest of the year, but around Christmas it makes me giddy. I look around at all the corporate stores that are the same in every mall everywhere, the hip store with all the retro stuff and the dirty board games, the bargain clothing store that gets things exactly two day after they go out of fashion with the oh so hip fifteen to seventeen year old crowd and best of all the huge corporate clothing giant that says, "Here! Plain white t-shirt and jeans, it’s cutting edge, honest, look at the price tag." I take a good long look at them all and say, “Nope, don’t want to work there.”
Well with that out of the way I head on out. I can’t help but stop and see Santa before I go. The old guy looks familiar this year. I mean of course he looks familiar, he’s Santa, but beyond that, I think I know this guy. Hot Damn, it’s big gay Shawn! I immediately get in line to sit on his lap, trying not to care about the evil eye I’m getting from parents and children alike. Just as I reach the front though, this little tart of an elf in a green felt mini skirt pulls the chain across.
“Santa will be back in 15 minutes big guy. He’s got to feed his reindeer.” I am disappointed, and need a smoothie to perk me up, but as I turn to head to the Juice booth, there in my way stands Big Gay Santa Shawn.
“Ho, Ho, Ho, You’ve been naughty!!!” He bellows at me.
“Uh, yeah, sorry about that Santa. Hey if I buy you a smoothie will you put me on the nice list anyway?” Me and Santa Shawn head to fetch some delicious and nutritious, and he gives me the low down.
“This job is great. The pay is unbelievable and all I got to do is sit here telling rich kids they’ll get the real Slim Shady for Christmas. I can hook you up dude.”
“Really? I’m Lookin’ for a job.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s a job search sweater if ever I’ve seen one.”
“Shaddup, this sweater rocks. Can you really make me Santa?”
“Well the big malls are all taken but Southside is still open.”
It sounds great to me. I figure I can work through Christmas get everyone gifts. The job even comes with a 20 percent discount at the mall stores who are of course dependent on Santa to steer the precious little consumers in their direction. And I can pay my rent and bills for January allowing me to maybe actually enjoy at least a couple days of “free, free at last” after the holidays.
“Hook me up Shawn, hook me up. I’m great with kids.”
I arrange to come back at five to meet Shawn’s boss, and decide to spend the rest of the day staking’ out all the presents I’ll be buyin’. A little devil on my shoulder suggests I get everyone Amazing Real Live Pet Sea Monkeys, but the little angel on the other side, who usually just agrees with the little devil, picks this occasion to actually do her job, and steers me away from that sacred aisle of the toy store where they keep the science kits, the ant farms, and of course the Amazing Real Live Pet Sea Monkeys.
Five O’clock comes quickly and I meet Shawn and his boss Nick at the food court. We talk over falafels. Apparently this guy has been in the Santa racket most of his life, and wears a real white beard, long white hair, ruby cheeks and bowl full of jelly belly year round.
He has amazing stories of mafia children in Chicago telling’ him they’d better get that little red choo-choo if fat boy knew what was good for him, and of mothers who want Santa to climb down there chimney when father is at the office.
“It’s some kind of fetish with these ladies, the whole outfit. They want me in the outfit, in character for gods sake.”
This I find simply amazing and must beg for more details.
“Oh man, they want me Ho Ho Hoing and telling them they’ve been extra nice this year.”
I’m crying laughing, as I ask him, “So you’ve actually done this?”
“Yes, I’m afraid I have, sometimes even if they were on my naughty list.”
“Especially if they were on your naughty list!” laughed Shawn.
“Oh like you’ve never taken advantage of Santa Clause being the ultimate bear.”
I’m dying with laughter over the fact that I’m having this conversation with two Santa Clauses in the mall food court. We eventually talk business, but there isn’t too much to talk. Old St. Nick likes me and tells me to show up at the depressed Southside Mall the next day at noon.
I spend the night with vision of sugarplums and housewives with Santa fetishes dancing in my head and show up the next day early and eager. Nick gives me my outfit and leads me to a dressing room. He gives me some pointers in rapid-fire speech.
“The elves are there to check for wet bottoms, if they miss and you get a damp one, give two Ho’s instead of three. That’s their cue to get the kid off of you. Some of these kids are pretty tough, so keep good eye contact going with your security elf.
Tell the kids they can list three items, and don’t let ‘em get past ten. Keep the line moving. Don’t let the depressing ones get you down. Just remember you’re there to cheer ‘em up, so do it, but don’t promise ‘em a Mercedes. We don’t need a bunch of pissed off parents. All right kid, you look great. Here’s some blush, knock ‘em dead.”
I walk out to the chair feeling like a natural. “Ho Ho Ho! Look at all these good boys and girls. Ho! Ho! Ho!” I take my seat and the rush is on. The first one is dumped in my lap.
“Well hello there, what’s your name”
“You s’pose to be Santa. Why don’t you know my name fool?”
“Well I only know the kids on my nice list, you must be on my naughty list.”
This gets me a dirty look from my security elf. “Ho Ho Ho!” I add hastily.
“How come there’s no black Santa. My big brother says we get the crappy presents cuz your an old cracker.” “Ho Ho Ho”
I see an older kid laughing’ his ass off a few yards away, and I sense it’s the older brother havin’ some fun at Santa’s expense.
“Do you want anything for Christmas little boy.”
“Yeah” he looks around a little and then self consciously whispers, “I want a new bike, and the Lego space station, and some Pokemon cards, and the Pokemon movie and” His desire for this great treasure has at least momentarily suspended his big brothers evil influence. The list goes on till my elf encourages me to hurry him along.
“Ho Ho, listen I’ll get you as much of that stuff as I can, but you got to do me a favor.”
“You tell your brother that I did know your name, his name, and all about what he did on Halloween and he’s on my very naughty list and may never get a present again ever.” I stop and think a minute then add “unless he brings me a mocha ….oh and get something for you, what do you want a hot chocolate?”
“Make him let me look at his playboys.”
“You tell him I know about those too, and you stay out of them, alright?”
“Alright Santa, thanks.”
I see the brothers reunite, the older anxious to hear how badly the younger messed with my head, and I get the dirty look I’d been expecting.
The next kid is placed on my lap.
“I want Nintendo, and a B.M.X. and a Rotweiller puppy, and “
Every one of these kids has a list a mile long, and carefully prioritized. They take this business very seriously. A few older ones start out sarcastic, usually playing the tough guy for some invisible audience, but even they slip in a sincere request or two, just in case I guess.
I get through my first day feeling pleasantly exhausted and head to a bar I’ve never heard of before where, according to Shawn, a lot of Santa’s hang out.
I find the bar all right and as I open the front door I am amazed. Santas Everywhere! Santas are arguing around the pool table, slumping over the bar, singing along loudly with the Eagles on the jukebox. Everyone has stayed in costume if not in character (not all is jolly). Shawn calls me to a corner table where he is flirting with a young elf, and Nick has himself a lady who promises to be nice and naughty.
“Hey Santa how’d it go?” Shawn greets me.
“Man I heard some lists today.”
“Yeah you were in a poor neighborhood, they always have the longest list.”
“Your kids lists aren’t as long?”
“No, the rich kids don’t need to believe in Santa as badly. They get stuff all year, and at Christmas they think long and hard to come up with a couple of things they didn’t get that are maybe a little bigger and a little more frivolous then what they con their parents out of the rest of the year. A lot of the little brats actually tell me, “Tell my Mom I want…”
“It’s that big of difference eh?”
“Oh yeah, that’s why we give you newbies the poor territory. You’re paying your dues my friend.”
We’re cut short by the Santas at the pool table who are now beating the crap out of each other. The Eagles singers have been replaced by a scruffy young Santa whose dirty beard and tattered suit suggest is not a working Santa at the present time.
He’s on top of the pool table using a cue as a guitar, rocking out to some old Black Sabbath.
Nick leans over to me “Don’t feel bad about promising ‘em the good stuff kid. Nobody spends too much on Christmas like poor parents. They’ll be in debt the rest of the year, but their babies are gonna have one helluva Christmas.”
With this him and his housewife head on out, he HO, HO, Hoing all the way through the door.
The Santas have made up at the pool table, and the Eagles are back on.
“Shawn, there’s only so much Eagles I can handle. I’m gonna head home.”
“Alright Mr. Claus well see you tomorrow.”
I leave Shawn and his anonymous elf and make my way home, to my nice warm home.
As the days pass, the lists get longer, many kids visit more than once having reprioritized, and a certain older brother can’t seem to stop coming around and staring. I see parents all around me filling baskets with Nikes that I could never afford, along with Nintendos and Pokemons and other must have commodities. They’re really going to town. I now know how this mall stays open the rest of the year. This insane consumerism troubles me, as I think of my role in it. I wonder if cash is used for anything as credit cards and debit cards flash every which way. Parents wandering in a daze with glossed over eyes and furrowed brows. It starts to affect my performance. I catch myself trying to tell kids of the real meaning of Christmas, something I don’t put much stock in myself, having always associated Christmas with cheesy canned music and gaudily decorated shopping malls for as long as I can remember. The little angels are not too interested in being the recipients of my great knowledge and usually interrupt me to continue their lists.
I head to the Santa bar every night wanting the company of the other brave men who share this bizarre experience, though the other Santas are mostly worried about taking home one of the cute young girls they hire as elves. Usually only the security elves are male, and poor Shawn's odds are severely limited in that few of them are ever gay, or if they are they tend to be young and undecided. Secretly I think Shawn likes to be the funny uncle that shows them the way.
Santas seem to be a particularly unhappy group, if unhappiness can be measured by pints or shots per hour. These guys really put it away. Nick tells me their just workin’ on their bellies.
“The less make up and props you need the higher on the Santa ladder you are. Which is why” and he stands and yell this part, “I am the King of the Santas.”
He has a pretty elf with him and she laughs delighted, as I think to myself, “Must not have been any housewives today.”
No Santas dare contest his royalty but a few are starting real beards beneath their fake ones, and you can see them eyeing him with that “one of these days, you’ll slip fat boy, and when you do Ho Ho Ho!!” look on their face.
Christmas is getting close and the scene at the mall is depressing me more and more. I watch as two parents get into fisticuffs over the last Pokemon bonus box, neither wanting to settle for the Digimon box the poor sales clerk desperately waves at them. The decorations and the music are now just furthering my depression. I’ve given up on teaching the real meaning of Christmas, having decided that the real meaning of Christmas is making Mr. K.B. Toys and Mr. R Us richer while making mom and dad poorer and poorer.
I’ve taken to keeping a flask of spiked eggnog on me witch I share with the security elf. This mall being more prone to problems, my security elf is a big monster of a man who looks ridiculous in his little green outfit. He is the consummate professional however having worked this racket to subsidize his own Christmas spending for the last four years.
“Why don’t you do Santa?” I ask him during a rare lull in business.
“Yeah, every kid wants a seven foot tall three hundred pound black Santa.”
“I see your point.”
We sit and watch the chaos all about us.
“Look at these fools makin’ themselves broke.” He says disgustedly passing the flask.
“Yeah. I don’t have any kids so I guess I just don’t get it.” I’m half way through the flask and we haven’t even reached our lunch break yet.
“I got kids and I try to make Christmas real nice, especially cuz I got such great kids, but there are limits. I spend on Christmas what I make workin’ this job and no more.”
“ What’s your other job?”
“I do security at an all night check cashing place.”
“That sounds pretty scary.”
“No mostly its just infuriating watching idiots throwing away ten percent of their
already tiny checks cuz they’re bank accounts are so overdrawn.”
“Doesn’t that poop you out, this all day and that all night?”
“No, I have a lot of energy. I don’t have a lazy bone in my body. When it isn’t Christmas time I go to school during the day anyway.”
“What are you studyin’?”
“I’m workin’ on my teaching credential, elementary school probably, maybe jr. high.”
“Well you’d have the best behaved class in the world.”
“Probably true. I just get so pissed off at the teachers my kids have now, and the teachers I had when I was a kid. They want it easy. They take their smartest kids and prescribe ‘em Prozac and Ritalin to shut ‘em up, and then reward the little morons that tow the line of crap their lazy teachers dole out.”
“Yeah, my teachers were pretty awful. They tried to put me on Ritalin.”
“That’s cuz your smart.”
“Thanks Elfie!” I say, honestly flattered, although my teachers did have some pretty good excuses, me being one of the least angelic little angels you’d ever want to meet.
Christmas Eve is just a few days a way and by pretending all these shoppers are as cool and together as my friend Elfie I’m able to enjoy myself a little more.
My little buddy, the older brother continues to keep a suspicious eye on me. I’m fully back into character now, although I do try to put a little bit of sense into the sugar high heads of these little angels, telling ‘em I can’t do everything on their list but I will do my best. I make up scenarios.
“My reindeer are getting old. They don’t allow me to carry as much as I use to.” Or “Mrs. Claus is hounding me for a new pair of Adidas and I need a new computer for myself, and the elves are demanding longer lunch breaks so it may be a slower Christmas this year.” Elfie finds this endlessly riotous, and we’re both stayin’ pretty darn cheery, though his child hoisting seems to have slowed, and the children seem to be barely reachin’ my lap.
I’ve gotten used to the Eagles and now regard them as just another kind of Christmas music to be enjoyed once a year now matter how awful it may sound during any other season. The other Santas are not so generous about my Black Sabbath preferences, but so far I’ve managed to rock out to the Oz without having to participate in the nightly Santa brawls. Nick wasn’t kiddin’ about the housewife thing. Fat and bearded may not do much the rest of the year but he is one Joyous Noel of a Don Juan this month.
And here at last, Christmas Eve.
A large black woman in a too small elf outfit greets me as I arrive at the mall. She explains to me that she is Mrs. Elfie and will be working his shift as he has a rotten back ache. I am disappointed and concerned, I’d really been lookin’ forward to hangin’ out with Elfie on this last day, but she is a sweet and appropriately jolly woman, and we have a grand time.
I see the older brother peekin’ at me again and I can’t resist fixin’ him with a stare that sends him running. Almost every kid on my lap has been there once before and I’m getting last minute revisions. I work a twelve-hour shift and am thrilled when towards the end of my line I see big brother in my line, and with a mocha in his hands no less. I give him a nice hardy “HO” as he reaches the front.
“I aint sittin’ in his damn lap” he tells Mrs. Elfie. “Here’s your mocha. Listen I know you aint Santa, but just in case he’s real, and you know him, put in a good word for my brother would you? He’s a good kid.”
Wow, this kid is the greatest. “Hey Kid, if I do see Santa I’ll tell him you and your brother are the greatest couple a kids I ever met. O.K.”
“Thanks man. Hey did you really say I had to give him my playboys?”
I can’t hold in my laughter, and he leaves after promising an ass whoopin’ for a certain little angel. Me and my substitute elf close up shop and I’m just giddy. Then I ask about Elfie.
“How’s Mr. Elfie doin’ anyway?”
“That man of mine got just what he deserves. The clinic told him he can’t be liftin’ kids all day if he wants to be able to lift his own.”
“Bad back eh?”
“You don’t know the half of it. He says he’ll get it fixed when he’s done with school and we have more money, and then he blows all this holiday money on presents for the kids.”
“Is it really that much money?”
She fixes me with a look. “You Santas sure are dense. Your security elves get double the pay you get, especially in run down malls like this. Hell when I saw his first check I thought he was guarding the president. A mall Santa got hisself beat up one year by an angry parent who couldn’t afford all the crap her kid was asking for.
Seeing this fat white fool promising her kid more and more, knowing he wasn’t gonna see the kid again but would get all the credit just got to be too much and she went crazy on him. The children in line were traumatized for life and the mall got dragged into court. They must have paid out big cuz it was a few years before they brought in Santa again, and that’s when the security elf was born.”
“You mentioned the clinic, can’t they take care of Elfie?”
“Son, you ever been to a free clinic?”
I had. I spent all day being saved by a born again punk rocker in the lobby while they waited for proof that I was poor enough to receive attention, as if anyone who could afford real medical care would opt for this mess. I finally saw a doctor who didn’t speak the same language as me so he just prescribed penicillin and sent me on my way. The penicillin did not help my twisted ankle.
“Yeah, I see your point.” I said, feeling silly for my suggestion.
“Well I better get home and take care of his lame ass. You have a merry Christmas. Elfie wanted you to know, he thinks you’re the best Santa he’s ever worked with.”
“Well you tell him I prefer big black Santas, and give him this.”
I’d gotten him a wooden apple with a worm in it that said “Worlds Greatest Teacher” on the side.
On my way to the bar I think about Elfie, and all those other fool parents trying to make sure their babies get as much loot from old St. Nick as all those little rich boys. I remember my parents, and how tight money was when I was a kid. I got my KISS army skateboard, my Atari and many, many science kits regardless. I wish I could do something for my big elf buddy, and I’m beginning to hate this holy day.
I get to the bar depressed as hell and ready to rock. I drop four dollars in the jukebox and programmed it to play “Sabbath bloody Sabbath” all night, Eagles and Christmas music be damned. After the third repeat has started and I’ve had two shots of cheap whiskey per play, some bastard in a red suit resets the jukebox by pullin’ the plug. Hotel California blares from the speakers and I have had enough.
“You Santas all suck. Christmas sucks. You all help to feed this greedy corporate sponsored crap of a holiday, guilting parents into spending money they don’t have. And do they even get a thank you for it? Hell no! All the thanks go to us fat drunken idiots. Well I hope you all get jack for Christmas, cuz you deserve it you pathetic opportunistic drunk morons.”
None of this particularly shocks or upsets them and they all go back to their drinkin’, carolin’ and pool playin’. That is until I deliver the conclusion of my diatribe, which brings the house down.
“The Eagles Suck.”
Fists come flying. I am surrounded by white and red. I’m being hit and kicked by gloved hands and booted feet. Shawn and Nick jump in to defend me. Two wannabe King of the Santas jump Nick and work him over, pulling on his beautiful beard, his housewife du-jour beating them with her purse. Shawn gets punched in the gut, and his elf jumps in to defend him. His elf is quite handy with the fists and I’m thinking us renegade Santas might take the advantage until I notice blue mixing with the red and white.
The bartender has called the cops and they are efficiently tossing Santas left and right. I am unanimously pinpointed as the troublemaker and I think the cops may have even been informed of my blasphemous comment on the Eagles, for my handcuffs are very tight. (Cops love the Eagles almost as much as Santas do.)
The local news is waiting outside as I am escorted to the squad car.
“Go ahead, put it on the news. Let all the little angels see what a dirt bag Santa is. I sold their presents to buy lap dances and gin. Show ‘em.”
This makes me even less popular with the police who stop in an alley to give me a little nonverbal talking to. My beard is turning pink from my bleeding nose and bottom lip by the time I get to jail. Would you believe it the bastards are booking me with assaulting them? I guess my face gave their fist a pretty good working over.
I sit in a full cell. Believe it or not Santa gets a fair amount of respect from cellmates or else I’m respected for being a ruthless assaulter of cops. At any rate I am given the supreme privilege of a seat on the cold metal bench instead of the cold cement floor. An officer with a clipboard shows up and begins calling names. I watch terrified as the named go into the hall and are made to suffer horrible indignations involving latex gloves and a flashlight. There is much coughing. The officer calling the names must see how terrified I am and he’s enjoying it. I’m the last one in the cell and he smiles at me.
“One name left on the list buddy!”
“Oh god almighty, forgive me for my atheism, please let me not meet the gloved hand. I’ll try to be better at celebrating your boys’ birthday, I swear”
The last name is called. “Jose Jimenez”
Jose Jimenez? I’m not Jose Jimenez!
“Ha, I’m not Jose Jimenez!”
“Look at me. Do I look like I could possibly be Jose Jimenez?”
“What the…I’ll be back”
And he leaves. I’m banging out a funky beat on the metal bench and singin’ I’m so darn happy to still have a wee bit o’ dignity.
A voice from under the bench scares the hell out of me. “Chut de hell up.”
“Jose? Jose Jimenez?”
Jose, wondering how I know his name peeks out from under the bench and his blood shot eyes get huge as he spots this bloody Santa.
He crawls (drunkenly) out from under the bench.
“Yeah man, hey you’re lucky you passed out man. They were gonna search you good.”
He looks around the empty cell and is obviously freaked out, probably wondering how he ended up alone with Santa Claus in a jail cell.
He sits and stares for a long while. He then inches closer.
“Can I tell you what I want for Christmas?”
“Um, Sure, why not”
“Santa, can I sit in your lap?”
Now Jose isn’t just drank too much at the office party drunk. Jose is live under the freeway, vodka breakfast, what's my name drunk with matching filth.
I’m about to say “No Way, Jose!” when I remember my promise to God. I have an awful lot of catholic guilt for an atheist.
“Alright I’ll do it but after this we’re even.” I say to the big man upstairs.
“Huh?” says Jose.
“Go ahead what.”
“Go ahead and sit in my lap!”
“O.K.” he says, now doing me a favor.
He walks sideway, and plops drunkenly on my lap. He smells like every nasty ally in town rolled up in one and I nearly choke.
“O.K. Santa. I want…I don’t know what I want.”
Oh man, there’d better be a god. “How about a bottle of Jack Daniels?”
“No, I want to quit drinkin’ man. It’s screwed up my whole life.” At this Jose starts crying. Drunken tears tend to skip the eyes and come straight out of the nose.
“All right, listen Jose. When you get out of here go to the church at 24th and L Street and tell them you want to get sober. They’ll help you out. Whenever you want a drink you remember old Santa Claus comin’ to visit you in the drunk tank.”
“O.K. Santa. I’m gonna do it. I’m really gonna do it!” He’s getting too darn comfortable on my lap. “Is there anything else you’d like Jose?”
“Yeah. Santa, can I have a cigarette?”
I have a whole pack in my pocket. I gave him the pack. “Anything else?”
“Got a light?”
I give him a light.
“Santa this is the greatest Christmas of my entire life” He says, blubbering.
I look back at this crying stinky drunk man sitting on my lap in a cold jail cell on Christmas Eve and tell him honestly,
“Mine too, Jose, Mine too.”