Originally posted to "Where's My Carnival, Mr. Sullivan?" on December 23, 2009. For those those that have not read this, enjoy. For those that have, I've edited three or four words that should make it seem brand new.
They just don't make Santas like they used to.
Our local mall had an after-hours event where you could bring your pet and have its picture taken with Santa. We did this a few years back with our now deceased yellow lab and the kids. Now that we have a new puppy, it seemed like a fantastic idea to bring the kids up to the mall with the dog, see Santa and pay a ridiculous amount for a keepsake photo package.
Maybe time erased any bad experiences we had during the last go-round at Santa's pet night, but I don't recall the freak show we witnessed as we approached the line for pictures this year. There were several animals in what looked to be enclosed baby strollers, a cat with mittens and two separate couples who dressed to match their pets -- just a sampling of the strange goings-on. What really left an impression on me was the incredible number of insanely ugly people who were at this event. Not just ugly, but ugly and fat. Now I'm no Chippendale dancer and I certainly don't want to come down too hard on anyone who may or may not have a thyroid issue, but it was like someone teleported the entire holiday lunch crowd from Hometown Buffet right into the center of the mall. Usually the morbidly ugly and obese keep to themselves. When in a buffet line their focus is on the food and how to organize the contents on their plate with maximum effeciency. But as I found out on this particular evening, take away the food and give them a pet and they all of a sudden become the guy I always seem to sit next to on a four-hour plane ride -- they won't shut up.
So we were not only repulsed, but our four-month-old black labradoodle was clealy not ready for this kind of excitement. Lots of barking and shedding and tangled leashes. Our three children, each looking forward to seeing Santa but for different reasons, kept it together for the most part -- a proud, but all too rare moment for their parents. They wait was about an hour, but it felt like a weekend.
Finally, we made it to the front of the line. The rotund, middle-aged, gravelly-voiced "elf" asked us for the name of our puppy. That was it. The chain-smoking Santas helper didn't request any information about any of the three small humans we had with us -- you know, the ones who actually came to see Santa.
"Wait a second," I said. "Is Santa going to make the dog do tricks when we get up there?"
"Well, I know this is great that he's working overtime to snap a couple of Poloroids with these inbreds, but doesn't he want to know the names of our children?" I could see where this was going and something was telling me that our kids should not have even bothered coming with us. Tonight was all about the dog.
Before she could answer, my wife started in on the oversized elf. "Our kids will get to talk to Santa, right?"
Then came the wrong answer. "Well, I guess they could."
Now I've had dogs my whole life. Not one time do I remember when any of them were excited to see Santa. I'm relatively certain that an old sock with a couple of knots tied into it would stir up more emotions in my dog than this fake Kris Kringle. If Santa dissed my kids on this one we might have some problems.
I was this close to pulling the plug and walking out on the whole charade. But, for the sake of the children, I needed to be a better man that Santa.
We stepped up to the Santa throne. The dog sniffed him and sat down ready for the camera. Santa never even called her by her name. Shockingly, she didn't seem to mind.
Our kids got up nice and close, ready to spill their guts about what they wanted for Christmas and whether they've been good or bad. They waited for Santa to greet them. And...nothing.
The old coot just stared at them. I figured it was because he didn't know their names. I shot a glance back at the rude elf. But even if you don't know the kids names, there should be plenty of small talk a mall Santa can use to kill the minute or two they have with these kids. Not even a "ho, ho, ho."
My wife initiated things while I steamed in the background. "Why don't you tell Santa what you want for Christmas?"
My four-year-old went first. There wasn't a chance in the world that Santa understood what she was saying to him, but he nodded anyway.
Then he spoke.
"What about you?" He motioned to my son who was prepared, spitting out a couple of things I didn't even know he wanted. He's been questioning the existence of Santa. Later, he would tell me that he wanted to prove Santa existed by asking for things he knew his parents wouldn't get him -- like the Airsoft gun he mentioned to Santa. I have to admit, I like the way the kid thinks.
But, back to the dude in the red suit. He actually said, "what about you?" What a tool. First of all, this guy's beard wasn't even full, and it wasn't white, it was grey. He was thin and his eyes were all bloodshot. This Santa was a sorry excuse.
Now I've never been a Santa, nor have I trained as one, yet I have a pretty good idea of what to say to a little boy ready to lay out his holiday wish list. "What about you?" is not in the arsenal. I might go with, "Well, hello there little boy, what would you like for Christmas? or "Now, why don't you tell Santa what you want this year?"
I sat back and witnessed this half-assed Santa doing his thing. You'd think that in this economy, with so many people out of job and looking for work, the number of mall Santa applicants would be through the roof (or chimney -- Christmas humor, sorry). The mall should have their pick of the litter with Santas so real looking they make the parents believe. But who knows, maybe there's a Santa union and this guy is tenured or something and the only way he will ever lose his job is if he keels over.
The more I look around and really study these guys dressing up as Santa, the more I think the ones with the fake beards are the ones who really want it -- they try harder. The fake-bearded take pride in putting on the red velvet suit and black boots. They work the crowd with bellowing "ho, ho, hos." The ones who have real beards are the ones I'm starting to question. They've gone lazy on us. But then, what should we expect? They're getting the jobs over the other guys all because they don't like to shave. There must not be any personality test given when they bring them in for interview either. I think the only test they have to pass is a simple tug on the old facial hair. If it doesn't come off, they're in. And that's not right.
When we finished with Santa, I picked up the thirty dollars worth of photos we'd purchased as a memory of the occasion. The pictured turned out nice enough, but I noticed something -- the damned dog forgot to smile. Good girl.