The Nitty Gritty

But more than all of those I am an entertainer. I carry around a ukulele with me for the same reason a gangster carries a gun; better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Stage or sidewalk, Your Pal Pete shows are just where they happen.
Currently, I'm working on a musical, RagnaPOP(or she's got the bomb), set to premiere at this year's Capital Fringe Festival. I'm also working on music, comedy, and musical comedy; for kids and/or adults.
The fruit of these projects will be available on this site, so check back regularly!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Holiday

When I was 22, I worked at a Pawn shop. Not blessed with the relative abundance of self awareness that I have now, I didn't realize I was too sensitive for that kind of work. People at their most desperate, readily exchanging their valuables for pennies on the dollar and a paper pawn ticket to forever remember their trip to rock bottom.

When Christmas time rolled around my boss asked me to be Santa and wave at passing cars, and I immediately said yes. Other than a similar twinkle of the eye, I had no physical resemblance to St. Nick, but a mid priced santa suit and some carefully placed pillows were going to take me the rest of the way.

After a couple weeks of brain melting boredom in front of the store, my boss had a favor to ask of me; a woman he knew needed a Santa for her daughter's Brownie troops holiday party. I agreed pretty quickly, but I should have thought about it a little. I had only had direct interaction with one child, a two and a half year old girl that had convinced her father to pull over to visit me. I had had enough of my own visits with Kris Kringle to be able to wing my own decent Santa cliche setlist. I started off with an earnest "Ho Ho Ho" followed by the standard "have you been a good girl?" right into" ..what would you like for Christmas?" capping off with a "well, so long Merry Christmas" with a surprise reprise of "Ho Ho HO!" If her expression was any indication, my performance was top notch. She radiated nothing but glowing adoration the whole time she was in my presence. So I thought I was golden. My boss's friend (I'll call her Debbie, though I have forgotten her real name) gave me a couple of items of advice. "The younger girls will think anyone in a Santa suit is the real deal, but the older ones will be more cynical..". In the occasionally unreliable note taking section of my mind, I should have highlighted that older girl=cynical bit, I say foreshadowingly.

The evening of the party started less than promising. I was running late anyway, but the rural road maze had added a few more minutes to my arrival time. The brownie lodge was at the end of a long, dirt driveway that led to a car choked parking lot. Thankfully, I had enough foresight to dress in the entire outfit, except the above neck accouterments. I bolted out of my car adjusting my beard when I saw Debbie frantically searching for me in front of the main entrance. She greeted me with obvious relief and told me everyone is SO EXCITED that 'm here. And as soon as I was ready I was pushed though the front door into the bright lights of the lodge. The 3 dozen or so young girls shuffling around the room simultaneously stopped and turned their heads towards me upon my entrance and began running, as a group, towards me, all excited looks and fulfilled anticipation.

And I felt like a total and complete fraud. To them I was the greatest man that wasn't their daddy, but I knew I was just a 22-year-old man playing said Saint Nicholas. No amount of fake white beards was going to change that. I felt just like a man holding a lit match while a wave of gasoline quickly approached. I knew once the kids got close enough to feel that I had pillows instead of paunch and that my beard wasn't attached to my face, but to a cheap elastic band, it would all be over. Their hugs would turn to tiny fists of fury, punching too fast and from too many directions to defend myself. I braced for impact, but they stopped. Their Santa reverence stopped them at a safe distance, like an invisible fence. Debbie let me to the stool where I was going to give presents to the kids. What, I'm giving them presents? I don't remember exactly what I thought would happen when I did this. Maybe just another stellar version of my Santa set that killed em in front of the pawnshop. I certainly didn't mentally prepare for this!
Such direct contact gave a taste of what a crappy mall santa I would have been. At least I didn't have children sitting on my trembling lap telling me their deepest X-Mas wish while in the background, one or both of their parents give me an expression that says, "Don't get the kid's hopes up, OK?!"

They got into a long, orderly line to get a sit-down with St. Nick, the toy pimp himself.
It was like the beginning of The Godfather. Debbie played Robert Duval to my Marlon Brando, feeding names into my ears and presents into my grip. I greeted them with a "Have you been a good girl?" and sending them off with a "Ho, Ho, Ho!" at an increasing efficient pace. The faithful mixed with the doubtful in a way that never made me comfortable with either. But let me tell you the young ones were believers! They were bursting with excitement, occasionally greeting me with tiny sweet hugs that were much too quick to give me away. But cynical was a massive understatement in describing the older girls. They might believe in Santa Claus, but they knew I wasn't him. They'd shoot me a look that they would later perfect on boyfriends, auto mechanics or anyone else stupid enough to try to fool them. The look that says, "I. Don't. Think. So." After they took their presents they'd say things like, "Thanks, Santa" coated with a sticky coat of sarcasm. The only thing missing was that they didn't do the air quote gesture when they said "Santa". I was just hoping they would keep my secret at least until I left.

After I waved my last goodbyes, I ran into my car, whipped off my wig and beard and inhaled like I had been trapped underwater. And in a way I was, stuck under my own deceit and I just wanted to breath freely. I didn't have much time to relax though, as a 4 year old came out the front door with her parents to go home. I froze, what was I going to do? I didn't want her to see Santa without a beard and hat, but if I put that stuff back on even a 4 year old knows that trading a team of flying reindeer for a beat up '82 Mustang is a crappy deal. So I ducked under my dash and waited for their headlights to pass. I knew I had to get the hell out of there. All the youngsters would be going home soon, my tardiness had made Santa the headliner and the show was over. I threw my car into reverse and headed out of the driveway pointed in the opposite direction. I noticed a fork off to the right that I hadn..t noticed during my first trip. I backed up a short way down it to point me in the right direction and I was free!

But I wasn't quite done with the Father Christmas. My boss thought it would be a good attention getter to have a Santa in front of the store in February, so there I was, about to learn that the average person has no sense of irony. I stood in front of the store dodging nuggets of the obvious shouted from passing cars. "Christmas is over!" Yes, thank you, I do have a calendar. One guy stretched himself out of back seat window of a car to give me some criticism. "Santa, you son of a bitch, ya didn't get me what I wanted for Christmas!" he screamed. I answered,"Well then you should have been a good boy, asshole!", HO, HO, HO! Ya Bastard!

After that day I gave the outfit back, and haven't worn a Santa suit since. Debbie wrote me a very sweet note a short time after the party thanking me. At the end of it she wrote, "You are the REAL Santa!" Would she have still felt this way if I had told her that I had originally thought I was going to get paid for making the appearance? No, Probably not.

But writing this story did make me think about the power of Santa. By this time, both the loyal and the cynical little girls are now young women, way too smart to believe in Santa. But hopefully they'll enjoy their children's acceptance, while they still have an imagination big enough to believe a wonderful man can visit every house on earth in one night and that he can look something like me.

2 comments:

Lonnie Bruner said...

Awesome story. Love that one.

Anonymous said...

this is great.