I hated them. Both.
Jolly Old St. Nicholas should love all children, but these two deserved a special place in hell.
I doubt that you would have disagreed with me.
But I am getting ahead of myself. First, the back story:
For the past 11 years, I have worked as a professional Santa. People always assume that I “fell into the job” because I naturally look the part. Not so. Yes, I do have a long, four-inch meticulously trimmed white beard, but–deep secret–my beard is not truly white. I am probably one of the few people in the world who dyes his hair white in order to look 20 years older. Catch me in the off-season and my hair and beard are predominately black with sparse gray streaks.
I’m not fat, either. (In fact, most Santa’s are average-sized.) The suits that we wear have lots of padding. Skinny Santa’s just seem wrong, right? In reality, I’m (arguably) mildly chubby, and flat out content with it. I let the young kids work out at the gym. I’ve paid my dues and now simply enjoy life, which means plenty of beer and fried food. When you get to be my age (53, if you need to know), you’ve already seen the passing of several friends or acquaintances who kept their bodies in pristine condition. So why bother? Let it all grow, I say.
Now, how did I became a Santa? MONEY.
I once met a man in a bar in Houston who seemed familiar to me in all respects except for a long, brown beard. Myself then clean-shaven, I asked him why he wore such a long beard in the sweltering Texas summer heat. He told me that he worked as a Santa from Thanksgiving to Christmas for a major department store. Because he looked “authentic,” he earned ten times the pay of an average, dress-up Santa. Authentic-looking Santa’s, he said, were a premium, because few men wanted to wear long beards, especially in the warmer parts of the country. The man said he worked as an independent contractor, hiring himself out to the store willing to pay the most each year.
As money matters were a large concern for me at the time, I asked him how much he had made the last year. I nearly gagged at his answer. $24,000.
I was incredulous. We’ve all met fibbing blusterers at bars before. Though he had seemed a trustworthy fellow, I more or less told him that he must be full of shit. Clearly insulted, he swore that he was telling the God-honest truth. He explained that Santa is a huge draw to major department stores. Parents who bring their children into the stores to see Santa usually purchase several items before they leave. In effect, Santa works as an advertisement. The more authentic-looking the Santa, the better the word of mouth, and therefore the more visitors and the more money made. Every parents wants their child’s picture taken with the “Real Santa.”
According to the man, television advertisements for major stores cost hundreds of thousands of dollars during the season. So, he argued, wasn’t $24,000 for an authentic-looking Santa really a fair price?
I must say his reasoning was rather convincing. (Sure, I was drinking. But I have lived to see his fanciful words become reality.) Intrigued, I peppered him with questions. He explained how and when he dyed his hair. Most importantly, he emphasized, a big-time Santa has to have a high-quality suit. He had his own professionally made, using old Coca-Cola ads as a guideline. Santa suits bought at stores were generally made from cheap fabrics. An impressive suit and a long white beard were the keys, he said. Generally, he made appointments during the early summer with department store managers, offering his services. He brought his suit with him so that they could see his appearance. In the early days, he solicited offers. Now that he was established, stores contacted him.
The man was extremely generous with the information and tips offered. He worked in the Houston area. From our earlier conversation, he knew that I lived in Dallas. Apparently, he didn’t perceive me as a threat. In fact, he seemed downright delighted that someone might be interested in following his career path.
That same week I began to grow a beard. I reasoned that by October I might have a solid two-to-three inches. (Beard growth has never been a problem for me–I always joke that I have four times the testosterone of an average man.) I told my wife of my plans. Always supportive, she began to research Santa suits online. I wouldn’t call her a seamstress, but she does know how to work a sewing machine. I put her to the task. We were both surprised at the cost of premium red velvet, but I remembered what my Santa bar friend had said about the importance of the suit.
It took several months to acquire the materials and stitch the costume together, but by the end of September, I could stand before the mirror and look most impressive. We had added quite a bit of padding in the front. It was amusing to see myself as a fat man for the first time. All looked great except for the beard–still black. A bit impatient, I decided büyükçekmece escort that week to visit a hair stylist. The attending woman was a bit surprised that I wanted to go white, but when I told her of my intentions, she smiled warmly. Thirty minutes later I looked into the mirror and saw a much older man with a well-trimmed beard of white. She gave me a “home-remedy” box to keep my beard white at the roots. (I was dismayed to learn that I would have to give it near daily attention.)
That night we put it all together. Red velvet suit with white fluff. Long-tipped cap. White beard. Round spectacles. Black gloves. Thigh-high books. Thick belt with gold buckle.
With a longer beard, I would have been the Santa from the old-time Coca-Cola ads. I was only 42 at the time, but I had enough wrinkles and facial weathering to look old enough. For once, premature aging benefited me.
It was time to visit with some local department stores.
I had started late in the process. All the major stores that I contacted already had their holiday season Santa’s under contract. One general manager, however, was rather helpful. He gave me the name and number of a Santa placement service. His store used the company in emergency situations (such as when their scheduled Santa became ill). The next day, I interviewed with John Wilbur, the President of Rent an Entertainer! The company offered trained clowns, magicians, Santa’s, etc., for corporate or personal entertainment year round. I took my suit to the interview and, I must say, rather impressed Mr. Wilbur. Usually his company provided their employees with costumes, but he remarked that my “independent costuming” would be a notable upgrade. He offered to hire me for the season, which included two weeks of “Santa School.” Once trained, I would be hired out to various companies, most of which were smallish businesses who used Santa as a lure to bring in customers. The pay? Not great.
We had a great visit, but my disappointment over the financial offering must have been visible.
“Hey, I’m sorry I can’t offer you more,” he said. “You certainly look the part. Do know this, however. There is money to be made in the Santa game. You do a good job and learn a lot your first time through…. Well, things can change rather quickly.”
I understood his implied point: You don’t get the good money until you’re good. I took the offer, which allowed me to continue with my full-time job. (I wasn’t ready to risk it all on a first-time venture.)
So what else do I tell you? I’m obviously not here to write a “How To Become a Big-Time Santa” essay. The next 10 years in 100 words or less? I learned a lot. I practiced a lot. I experienced a lot. I made positive impressions. People asked for me. Some contacted me privately. I went out on my own. I got hired at a major department store. I looked the part. I became the part. People came to see me. Companies wanted me. Now I get the big money. I choose where I work and how much I get.
And that brings me to the present: The end of another holiday season. I should have been happy this year. Terribly happy. I just made $35,000 for only five weeks of work. I was the major draw at Dallas’s largest and most visited department store. I had 7,000 square feet set aside for my kingdom, where I sat on my throne, awaiting throngs of visitors there to see me and only me. I relished and sincerely enjoyed the attention. Pictures of me can now be found on thousands of local refrigerators and in tens of thousands of Christmas cards. I was once again (and still will be) a master at my craft, working almost effortlessly.
Life couldn’t have been better. Correction: Life should not be better.
But it certainly could have been.
Sad truth: I was miserable. Absolutely miserable. Until the tail end.
Winter Wonderland, starring yours truly, was set off on the second floor in the furniture section. I must admit that it was an ideal location. The department had a recessed showroom, broken into five display rooms. Off holiday, the rooms are arranged to showcase sales merchandise in mock dining rooms, living rooms, etc. But for this holiday season, each room was transformed into a festive wonderland scene. There were only two entrances, one each for the first and last room. To access the other rooms, visitors had to follow a winding path through the others. To control traffic during the holiday season, guests could only move in one direction. The setup also allowed us to shut the doors and keep visitors out until we were ready for them.
This year, the opening chamber featured Anima-tronic Elves making toys. Visitors then meandered their way through other festive-themed rooms: Reindeer playing games, kids making snowmen, and Elves packing Santa’s sleigh.
As guests entered the final room, their eyes were drawn immediately to the huge fireplace. Nestled beside would be me, fatih escort Santa, sitting in a huge, king-like velvet chair before a gigantic Christmas tree. This year, the fireplace had been specially designed for surprise entrances. The gate stood about three-and-a-half feet high. The width: Perhaps five feet. Several fake logs were pushed up against the back. The inside was painted black, which helped disguise the fact that the inside of the chimney was enormous. Unseen inside, a ladder rose on the back side, beginning just above the entrance’s height. A medium-sized person would be able to climb up the interior. About six feet up (or almost ten feet from the ground) a ledge appeared. Using the handrails, a person could pull themselves up and find themselves on a small platform. A down staircase put you behind Christmas tree next to where Santa sat. The idea? From time to time, as Santa visited with youngsters, there would be a rattling in the chimney. With a sudden thud and a puff of black smoke, a dirtied Elf would appear with a bag of goodies for Santa to give to his young visitors.
It truly was an exciting event for the children. The Elf would usually hang down from the ladder, such that only his (or her) legs would be visible. With dramatic flair, the Elf would wiggle his legs, yelling, “Oh, no! I’m stuck! Wait! Uh-oh! Look out below!” before crashing down into the fireplace.
Wow! You should have seen the ways kids face lit up every time.
The whole production, from start to finish, was fantastic. The store put a lot of money into Winter Wonderland, and it showed. If I had children, I would have returned again and again.
There couldn’t have been a better Santa setup. I was well paid, working in a brilliant, creative environment, and–of course–the star of the show. People came to see me. This should have been my finest year.
But two people nearly ruined it all for me. But “people” seems too kind of a word. Two brats seems more like it.
Brad and Shayna. The teenage wunder-jerks.
There were eight others who worked Winter Wonderland. Most were teenagers who didn’t mind wearing the silly Elven costumes and making pennies on the dollar. They were seasonal hires, brought in to help manage lines and fill in as needed. Brad and Shayna were the regulars, meaning full-time employees. There were tweeners: Still technically teenagers but high school graduates. I tend to be a rather easy-going person, who accepts people for who they are, and rarely gets upset. But these two…. Well, I quickly developed an intense dislike for both of them. Why they hadn’t gone off to college for the fall semster, I didn’t know. They certainly weren’t trying to work their way up the store ladder. Lazy. Arrogant. Selfish. They were the type of people who mocked customers behind their backs.
But since they were full-time, they were there all the time. It was rare that I worked when I didn’t have them to contend with.
My job? Sit in the big velvet chair and entertain the children. Chat the kids up. Ask if they had been good boys and girls. Listen to their wish list. Hand them a piece of candy. And send them on their way. I may sound succinct and business-like, but I truly enjoy the work. Every child is different. Some cry. Some hesitate. Some jump right on you. I never tire of the different personalities. It’s fun to win over the despondent ones and exciting to banter with aggressive.
Of course, I did not mention the money-maker (and actually the only part I don’t like): The picture. (How many of you have your picture taken 300 times a day, knowing that each time it becomes a keepsake for someone? Talk about pressure to smile just right!)
And this brings me to Brad and Shayna. Brad took the obligatory “Photo with Santa” while Shayna served as his assistant. But to call Brad a photographer would be too complimentary. The machine setup required him only to press a button. Seriously. The camera did the rest. Brad would then call the parents over, show them the photo, and offer them a series of packages, which they could purchase now or later (but of course with a nice discount for those who chose “now”). Shayna? She assisted as necessary, getting the kids to look in the right direction or jumping up and down to distract a crying baby.
But at predetermined times Shayna would disappear behind the Christmas tree, wait for the current visitors to leave, and then climb the hidden staircase. There she would wait at the top with a bag full of goodies. As I chatted up the new visitors, a sudden rustling would be heard in the chimney. In her high-pitched, nasally voice, Shayna might yell: “I’m stuck! Somebody help me! Oh, wait! Here I come! Look out below!”
A large red velvet bag would then drop into the chimney entrance, followed by two dangling Elven legs, featuring red curly pointed shoes. “Whoooaaaaa!” Shayna would yell, dropping atop the red velvet bag.
Her grand esenyurt escort entrance always thrilled the kids.
I must admit that Shayna had talent. She was wonderful with the children. She had bright yellow hair (dyed, of course), high cheekbones, a pointy little nose, and bright blue eyes. She had an intense vitality about her such that she always seemed to be vibrating with energy. Body? Thin as a rail, which gave her a childlike appearance in the baggy Elven costume. The total impression: An irresistibly cute kid, perfect for the role she played.
Too bad she was a bitch.
Before the public eye, Shayna presented herself with a winning aplomb. Kids adored her (probably because she looked and acted like a child herself). Parents thought her cute. Older boys dreamed of a kiss.
But when the audience turned its back, Shayna showed her true colors. And, unfortunately, I got to see it from both sides.
As individuals, Shayna and Brad were terribly cruel. As a tandem, they were downright malicious. They were dating and–based on their behavior–a match well made.
It’s a fact that we all take a bad picture every now and then. Well, Brad, the “photographer,” could easily copy any picture he desired. So, if he saw a particularly awful picture, instead of deleting it after the customer left, he stashed a digital print in a secret file. The toddler with the finger up her nose. The Down’s Syndrome child with his drooling mouth agape. The cross-eyed infant. The fat housewife who thought it would be fun to sit on Santa’s lap.
Brad would call Shayna over: “Hey, look at this!” They would then smirk and laugh, tacking on insensitive jokes. I knew about the file because they even had the audacity to show the pictures to me. “Hey, Santa! Remember that girl with the huge birthmark on her face? Look at this. Disgusting, huh? Pity the mom who has to pretend her daughter’s beautiful.”
Have I described Brad? I’d rather not. Let’s just say he fits the frat boy asshole stereotype. And, unfortunately for the rest of us, he has enough looks and charisma that good people are way too friendly with him. He comes across as the well-meaning, good-natured sort, but the moment you leave he’ll offer comments like these:
“Did you see the ass on that woman? Man, she should never leave the house. That ass is so big I bet she could bounce across the room on it.”
“Poor little girl. With god-awful ugly parents like those, she’s destined to be a dog herself. I should give her a gun so she can shoot herself now.”
“Did you see that mother digging me? I bet if I would have pulled my cock out she would have dropped to her knees and blew me right here.”
“I thought all babies were cute? That one was freaky. You see its deformed head? What’s up with that? Mom must have been drinking during the pregnancy.”
“Did you see how fat that woman was? I pity the man who has to go home and have sex with her. I bet he has to move a lot of flesh out of the way just to find the hole!”
He was a disrespectful jerk. There was no real humor in his comments. They were flat out demeaning. But Shayna just ate it up, laughing uncontrollably at most of Brad’s remarks. And she would often join in the fun.
“Brad, did you see that woman wearing a black shirt with navy blue slacks? Talk about a fashion nightmare. She better be colorblind.”
“That little girl in the princess costume might actually look cuter as a frog.”
“You see that dad checking me out? Yuck! I bet he looks like an ape naked.”
What made these comments worse was that I saw them interacting with these people. Here are the kind of things the people heard: “Oh, what a beautiful baby!” “Hey, sweetie. You are such a perfect little princess!” “Oh, I hope I’m fortunate enough to have a cute little baby like this one someday!” “I love your outfit! Where did you get it?”
You see, they treated people with such warmth and kindness in person but then–the moment the customers stepped away–out come the knives for a brutal cutting. Brad was especially crafty at this. He often made small talk while placing picture orders. So many housewives thought they had an enjoyable conversation with a nice young man only to be skewered by him the moment after they left the room.
You simply can’t trust people like that. I could only imagine what they said about me when I wasn’t present. But then, the things that they did say were bad enough:
“Geez, Santa. Didn’t you look in a mirror this morning?”
“Eat one too many cupcakes last night, Santa?”
“You going to try to smile a little more today, Santa?”
“Must be a drag being old, huh, Santa?”
“Ready to get peed on today, Santa?”
“Why do you always make the babies cry, Santa?”
It was simply a constant steam of cutting, biting, sarcastic remarks. Mostly Brad, but sometimes Shayna as well. They almost never looked at me when they spoke this way. Rather, they looked at each other, smirking, while one delivered the zinger. But it gets even worse: I had to endure their constant sexual innuendos. They seemed to relish hinting to me that they were young, good-looking, and sexually active.
“It’s not easy to going up and down that chimney,” Shayna complained one day. “It’s a tight fit in there!”