“Want to be Santa again?”
It was my mother. It was 1982 and she worked at Montgomery Ward, now Montgomery Plaza.
Again? I had to search my memory. Oh yeah, my stage debut in the second grade at South Fort Worth Elementary. I was Santa, the lead character in a play that, as I recall, was not written by Shakespeare.
My key line was: “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” – that much I can recall.
My mother was calling to ask me if I wanted to earn a little extra scratch as Santa on weekends. I had just started my journalism career. I loved it, but the pay was, well, let’s just say if there was a free buffet in Grand Prairie or Arlington, we hit it.
My mother explained that they didn’t have a Santa who sat in a big chair and listened as children told the jolly old elf their Christmas catalog wishes. The store’s Santa walked around and spread cheer, handing out candy to kids. The store manager had been doing the Santa bit, but customers apparently found it a bit distracting when Santa would chew a poor register drone a new one for not following procedure.
Sure. How hard could it be? I already knew my lines and who knows, I might be able to afford a meal or two at Chili’s with the profits.
Saturday came and I headed down for my training session. That consisted of the manager showing me the suit, the candy and telling me to walk around, say “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and make customers want to keep shopping, i.e., keep their kids from throwing a fit and making the parents leave. He was about to leave when he turned and said as an afterthought: “Oh, the suit’s hot as hell in August, so take a break every once in a while. It wouldn’t look good to have to call 9-1-1 when Santa has a heat stroke.” With that he was off to rip into another underpaid retail floor rat.
I put the suit on. Cheap? You bet, but at $5 an hour, who’s to complain? I donned the wig, the beard, the hat and I was ready. Or was I? I couldn’t see a damn thing. I was as likely to knee some poor Santa-loving kid in the snout.
Fortunately, I had a helpful elf, a retail clerk hired for the holidays. She was no Zooey Deschanel from Elf. She had the lackadaisical, ‘when will this day be over’ attitude of the retail worker.
I practiced my “Ho! Ho! Hos!”
“That’ll have to do,” she said with a roll of her eyes. Out we went, she as my ill-tempered Rudolph to guide Stevie Wonder Santa.
She was my spotter. “There’s a bunch of rowdy kids over here,” Rudolph would say, grabbing my gloved hand.
It was probably my third or fourth kid when I finally realized what was happening. These kids believed me as Santa. I mean BELIEVED. They had that converted Catholic belief. Despite the half-assed Santa suit, the fact that I was a 26-year-old dude and my voice sounded like I was from San Angelo, not the North Pole, they bought it.
Parents loved it, too. Not the magic part. They were free from child-care duty while their little ones stared at the hypnotic red elf.
The clothes – particularly a red suit – do make the man.
I can’t lie. It’s a rush when people adore you. Even if it’s not you they actually adore.
So it’s a bit of an ego-crusher when you take a break, drop the Santa suit and walk back past the same people who just made goo-goo eyes at you and … nothing. Nada. No response. Get out of my way, dude, there’s a sale on.
Was the suit hot? Well, it was made of some material not known to man and proved why Santa lives in the North Pole.
Did I make an impact with my Santa, my sweatbox of a suit and my Acting 101 “Ho! Ho! Ho!?
It wasn’t like a scene from Elf, but one harried clerk did yell out, “Get Santa over here, it’s getting crazy.”
I headed over and suddenly there was calm as kids rushed to see me, or at least the magic suit.
The clerk that had called for me gave me a thumbs up. “You the man, Santa. You the man.”
What could I say but the lines I had learned so long ago: “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas.”