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Friday, December 14, 2012

“A Right Jolly Old Elf”…Impersonating a Celebrity…

Santa at work“Just what do you think you’re doing?” I ask myself. I’m driving to Snohomish to fulfill a favor for a friend, a BIG favor, a favor weighted with awesome responsibility. Plenty of time to think on the way and my thoughts turn to the roles we play as we chug along life’s perilous path. First, we come into the world as “son” or “daughter.” Childhood friends and playmates call us by name—or nickname—and we respond in kind. Then we become “my husband” or “my wife” and suffer the phase of private personal endearments. Children come along and our birth names disappear, resurface as “Mom” and “Dad.” These give way to our “Grand” roles and from little mouths you hear “Grammie “or “Boompa” or whatever seems to stick.

I glance over at two cardboard boxes, my traveling kit, and mutter, “I can’t believe I’m doing this!” My friend Jim called two days before and dropped a bombshell question prefaced with:” I have a big favor to ask you.” “Watch out!” “Red flag!” And my thoughts immediately went to excuses I might use to neutralize the threat, but short of a wedding or funeral, none of which were pending on the calendar, my mind went blank.

The sight of a pair of shiny combat boots riding on the floorboards sends a wave of anxiety over me. The last time I remember wearing them was when I wielded a chainsaw on a log deck of alder.When was that? Years ago, certainly. I had almost forgotten about the boots, and when I went to retrieve them, they were webbed over by spiders and sprinkled with their byproducts. A heavy brushing and two coats of blacking made them presentable.

“Our church is having a Santa Breakfast on Saturday,” Jim informed me. “Our Santa had a conflict and can’t perform….would you be our Santa this year?” Silence. “Hello?  Hello? “Are you there?” Yes, I was there--unfortunately. “Can’t you do it!” I plead. “The children all know me,” Jim explained, “My Santa wouldn’t be credible.” I knew I was doomed.

The eve before the Santa affair, my wife employed her best hairdressing skills to tease the wig and beard into rats’ nests of white curls. Santa’s pants were a bit short, as was his coat. The pant cuffs barely covered the boots; a white, long-sleeved undergarment  tucked into the gloves concealed my wrists. Dress rehearsal was an embarrassment. My wife, between bursts of laughter, said I looked like Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead. When I peered into a mirror, what I could see through the whorls of ratted wig reminded me of folksinger Arlo Guthrie at this remove in his career.

One might think six decades of life should have prepared me for just about anything. Stage fright, at my age? But mine was no frivolous debut. I had to walk a fine line between disappointing or terrifying my audience. Remember the shocked look on the face of the kid in the Norman Rockwell painting when he finds the Santa suit in the bottom drawer of his father’s chest of drawers? And a too hearty Ho! Ho! Ho! would be certain to elicit shrieks of horror from the more sensitive little tykes. “How many kids are we talking about here, Jim?”I had asked. “Oh, not too many, twenty or so, maybe.” I should be able to survive that many, I thought.

I’m pacing back and forth in my small dressing room. “You’re a great looking Santa,” Jim reassures me after pinning a broad black belt around my waist and giving me the once over.The Stand-in A nice lady named Michelle is going to play Santa’s helper, lead me through the gym to my place of honor. My entrance cue is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I hear the faint refrains of carols coming from the gym and with each one my nerves are strained a bit more. A smile and arm gesture from Michelle and off I jingle to my grand entrance (fate?).

Stand-in Santa and his helper wend their way through the breakfast tables. After a few friendly waves to set the bells velcroed to his arm a’jingle,  Stand-in Santa roars a hearty “Merry Christmas!” and a few lusty “Ho! Ho! Ho’s!”, even pauses to shake hands with a grown-up or two. Just as Stand-in Santa is beginning to think he might actually pull this charade off , he’s met by a gauntlet of kids. Then things get a bit crazy. One little orange-stocking capped gentleman grabs Stand-in Santa’s beard, gives it a yank, “So who’s Santa this year?” he smirks. Stand-in Santa somehow manages to fend this little heckler off. Suddenly Stand-in is clutched around the waist by a young lady caught up in a Santa frenzy. “Ho! Ho! Whoa, ho…! A “Be careful, Santa won’t be able to eat all those cookies if you squeeze his tummy”releases him from her wrestling hold. Stand-in Santa can’t wait to get to his place of honor which turns out to be a sofa in the foyer of the church. “Straight line, now, everybody, straight line!” Stand-in Santa finally gains a bit of control over the situation. He looks at the line of kids: “Twenty little visitors, yeah, sure!”-- the ragged line stretches nearly down the hall.The line begins here

The next hour seems like a dream, and like most dreams this one at times didn’t  make a whole lot of sense. Here are some of the things Stand-in Santa remembers. (Note: when Santa talks, imagine a voice in the lower register, baritone, if you will, with just enough volume to converse with the kiddos without scattering them.) Stand-in tried to give each little visitor the whole of Santa’s attention regardless of that line that stretched down the hall. His routine: “And just who do I have sitting on Santa’s knee? Oh, that’s a very nice name. Have you always had that name?” Next question was actually a question within a question: “Now do you know what question Santa always has to ask?” The answer never varied: “What do I want for Christmas?” (These kids were no strangers to Santa’s knee.) “Oh, no!” Stand-in Santa replies, “Santa has to ask if you were a good boy or girl…were you naughty or nice?” Stand-in Santa has them on this one. But not for long, though. I am relieved to hear they have all been good (except for one honest young man who felt he might have backslid just a little since our last visit). Jett and Santa

So what did these little revelers want for Christmas? I was proud of them for the most part. Most wanted just one present: a video game (“Santa has elves who are game programmers; he’ll pass the word to them; will you promise Santa you’ll go outside once in a while and get some exercise?”). An “American Girl Doll piano” (Huh? Better check with the elves on that one). A Barbie Dollhouse. A giant stuffed animal (“Santa will have his elves make you a huge stuffed frog.” “’I don’t like frogs!’ A big stuffed dog, then? Ok.’”) One young fellow wanted “a big toy.” If you’re going to ask for a toy, makes sense to Santa to go for “Big.” Another had come  unprepared. He settled on my knee and whispered he didn’t know what he wanted. “Ho! Ho! Ho!…Santa will put your name on the ‘to be surprised list,’ then.” Another young fellow knew all too well what he wanted and rattled off a list so long Santa had to interrupt him with a candy cane, wish him a Merry Christmas and send him on his way. One little girl didn’t wait for Santa to begin his routine. Her little brow was furrowed with worry. Her problem: “I’ll be in Disneyland for Christmas.”Good reason for concern. “Ho! Ho! I’m glad you told Santa. He might have found no one at home and not left your present. Won’t happen now he knows where you’ll be!” She was smiling when I lifted her off my knee and handed her a candy cane.

The parent paparozzi were out in force. Each wanted a picture of the festive occasion and Stand-in Santa was happy to oblige.  However, one very little girl was having none of Santa, Stand-in, or not. When I reached to lift her to my knee, she lost her toddler composure and erupted in tears. Only through persistent parental encouragement, her face awash with tears, did she finally lean on my knee. Like an old pro, Stand-in Santa distracted her with the bowl of candy canes. Tears subsided. Photo snapped.

By the time the last little visitor was lifted from his knee, Stand-in Santa was all sweat in his borrowed suit, his glasses fogged over, energy drained. This Santa proxy can now cross another jolly little experience off his bucket list, but before he does, he hopes Logan, Graedon, Bella, Olivia, Jeremiah, David, Collin (an extra checkmark for Collin who knew he was a bit too grown up for Santa’s knee but like a good boy, humored his mother), Owen, and Jett have the Merriest of Christmases ever. And by the way, Ms. Bridget, Olive the other reindeer said to be sure and wish you a  very, very Merry Christmas, too!Bridget and Santa

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  1. I wonder how many other bucket lists have "Santa" on them. Ha ha ha.

    For not knowing which ones were my children, you did a pretty good job posting about them. The first boy (green jacket) is mine. His name is Jett and he's 6. Jocelyn, 4, is the one on your lap in the first photo and Graeden, 9, has his sleeve in the same photo. Kira, 1, was your last visitor...unless you count me. You only missed Elliott, 7, in the photos above.

    But I'm afraid you've contradicted what we've told the kids about Santa's workshop. Elves live in the North Pole and not Redmond. They don't make video games, Play Stations, Nintendo DS or any other screen game. :o)

    Did Elliott tell you that he wanted clothes for a one year old girl? Or "pot" for his mother? He means a cooking pot but it makes me laugh all the same. He also asks for juice boxes every year...and Santa always brings him some. This sweet boy shares them with his siblings. After they open presents, they sit at the kitchen table and drink two or three apiece. Ahhh, that's the good life.

  2. Ms. Bridget, as you know, I'm no math major, but Jim told me your children would comprise at least fifteen percent of Santa's visitors and correct he was.

    As far as video games being programmed in Redmond, I believe it was Collin I told that Santa's workshop had two elves who were game programmers. I assumed a young lad of his age would know that the North Pole was "where all the magic" happens."Elliot"...I told him his name was the same as the little boy in "E.T." He didn't seem to know what I was talking about. (Was the movie that long ago??) Thanks for the comment. "Stand-in Santa"

  3. In spite of all of your insecurities and doubts in the dressing room, you did a fantastic job. I owe you big time.

  4. Ah phew! That's a relief you told Colin about the programmers and not one of my boys. Ha ha ha.

    Elliott's never seen ET. And neither have I...should I admit that? I was 6 or 7 when it came out and for some reason we never saw it, even though my parents' office was next door to a movie theater and we saw lots of movies. At a certain point, I decided that it'd been so long that I wasn't going to see it since everyone else had. I decided not to see the 2002 version, too.

    So alas, poor Elliott will have to see the movie on his own. I suppose I should tell him about it just in case he needs that bit of cultural knowledge in the future.

  5. Ms. Bridget, we took our daughter to see E.T. when she was three or four. At one point in the movie it appeared E.T. was done for, (spoiler alert!),lying in a drainage ditch, drained of all color; "gingerbread" in health. Daughter blurted out in the quiet of the theatre: "Is E.T. going to die! I don't want E.T. to die!" We remember the man sitting in the row in front of us chuckling at her dismay(I managed to keep my emotions in check...but it wasn't easy). That Christmas we bought an E.T. doll which later rotted out, but the memory remained...)TMJ