Thursday, December 3, 2015

Nurse the Hate: Santa's Last Ride

When I was a little kid I used to be taken by my mother to the King of Prussia Mall to see Santa.  This was never my idea.  I was much too shy to speak to Santa directly as he was a big scary stranger.  I understand how my mother would have assumed that I would have seen Santa as a cuddly bear of a grandpa that would bring me toys in his magic sleigh, but I just saw him as a big man with a prickly beard that smelled like mothballs.  I was not afraid of the idea of Santa.  I was afraid of the actuality of Santa.

If you think about it for even a second, the idea is ludicrous.  Take a small boy to an unfamiliar setting where he will meet the #1 rock star in the Kid World.  This would be like taking a 12 year old girl to see a member of One Direction and expecting her to keep her shit together.  As a six year old, I just did not have the faculties to play it cool and get in a real one-on-one with Santa to riff on my holiday gift ideas.  How could I have been expected to have been placed in the lap of Mr. Claus and have to tell him on cue about my material needs?   That’s crazy talk.  The parents are all freaking out with flashbulbs going off.  Kids in front of you in line are crying.  Why are they crying?  Should I be worried?  What is expected of me?  What’s the protocol here?  Why won’t anyone tell me the protocol?  It’s too much pressure.

I remember feeling like a baby when I was lifted onto Santa by some sullen teenager that smelled like cigarettes.  This was the early 1970s.  Everyone smelled like cigarettes.  Even Santa.  “How are you little boy?”  I couldn’t muster the courage or have the language to say “freaked out… I’m really fucking freaked out”.  I remember seeing the elastic band that kept Santa’s beard attached to his face.  Wait a minute.  Who the hell is this?  Santa wouldn’t have a fake beard.  There was some chit chat back and forth where Santa asked open ended questions and I croaked out one word answers.  Very quickly I was whisked off of Santa’s lap and given a plastic toy car.  I would have a similar experience in the 1990s when meeting Jennifer Love Hewitt at a media event, but sadly I was not given a toy car or sit on her tiny lap.

I asked my mother about this fake beard.  She scrambled.  “Well, that is one of Santa’s helpers.  He needs to have his helpers find out what all the kids want.”  This was a real mindbender.  I was unconvinced.  Even then I became totally focused on the logistics of such an undertaking.  How would the information be gathered?  How could his helper remember what everyone wanted for Christmas?  I mean Santa, sure, but this guy?  I don’t know about that.  Then the obvious hit me.  Hey, why would he dress like Santa?  If he’s a helper, wouldn’t he be like an elf?  My mother, caught in this obvious fabrication of hers kept spinning.  “Well, that’s just how they do it.”  This variation of the old mother ploy of “because I said so” had already failed to hold much water.  There were some serious holes in this Santa Claus story.

I convened with my friends Michael and Christopher.  Why my friends had names like West Village interior designers I don’t know.  Maybe when I moved away and they entered middle school they switched over to “Mike” and “Chris”.  I hope so.  Anyway, the three of us bandied about the fake beard Santa Helper concept.  Christopher’s older brother Mike claimed there was no Santa Claus.  While even then I regarded Mike as a damn fool, he was older and had gathered some wisdom with his advanced age of 10 or so.  Our relationship had become strained when he stole a Playboy Magazine from me that I had pilfered from my own father only weeks before.  This was probably the single most valuable item in my entire neighborhood, and he denied he had it despite Christopher’s urgent insistence he had seen it with his own eyes.  That filthy son of a bitch.  While a thief, he did know a thing or two.  Maybe this Santa thing was a hoax.

We all played the odds that year and followed through on all Santa related activities.  Two days before Christmas I did a routine house search for gifts, as that is what one did when one was six and close to Christmas.  The pressure is so high you can cut it with a knife.  What would be under the tree?  Would you get that key gift you had been lobbying for all winter?  That’s when it happened.   In a closet hidden by some clothes I found the motherload.  There were the wrapped gifts.  The jig was up.  There was no Santa.  It was all bullshit.  I played it cool though.  I kept it quiet until after we had opened our gifts under the tree Christmas morning.  

I remember feeling very adult when I told my parents I knew there was no Santa Claus.  At first they offered resistance back.  I retorted with the now well rehearsed “Santa counter argument” citing the fake beard, the gifts in the closet, and the buzz on the streets amongst the older kids.  I was a real man about town, a worldly guy in the know.  “Don’t tell your brother!”  My mother looked sad.  She knew that a valuable part of childhood had died and probably felt responsible because of the cheap hippie Santa she took me to that year.  I wish I would have been aware enough to have told her it wasn’t her fault.  I went right then from feeling really good about myself to really bad, and I didn’t even know why.  
Christmas was never as good again.


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