December 06, 2009
Santas I Have Been

1984. Junior year at high school. Someone (I don't recall who) had brought a Santa suit on the last day of school before winter break.

"Anybody wanna be Santa?"

"Sure, I'll do it." I put on the costume. Now, keep in mind that at the time, I was in pretty good shape: I was a varsity swimmer, skinny as a rail, and all my weight was lean muscle. I slipped into the suit and turned into the skinniest, whitest Santa you've ever seen walking with a city swagger at a mostly non-white, inner city high school. (Yes, people, even Buffalo has an inner city, complete with drug gangs and guns in the schools and all that.) I didn't bother with the beard, if there was one.

I decided to play it up. Over half of the kids had skipped school that day, so there really wasn't much going on in any of the classes. The teachers were taking it easy, the kids were taking it easy, and I was feeling... playful. Frisky.

Keep in mind, at school I was a straight-laced, perfectionist, up-tight white boy. I had a sense of humor, but I tended to be... guarded around the girls. They'd never want anything to do with me anyway, I figured. (Well, except for the fact that several kept hitting on me, and I was too wound up to do anything about it.) But, now, here I was in this Santa suit, with none of the classroom pressure I normally put upon myself, and I was free! Free to be a different guy.

I didn't play Santa. I played a guy playing Santa. I played a guy who didn't mind being forward -- inappropriately forward, in fact -- who was playing Santa. And everyone else played along.

"Hello, little girl, want to sit on Santa's lap?" I asked all the pretty girls, esp. the seniors and other "unattainables." And they did. All smiles, and some giggles, these girls I never would have approached as myself gladly sat down and entertained lecherous banter with my jolly ol' elf.

Looking back... for all that I was a smart kid, why did I never, ever see the lesson in all this? Those "unattainable" girls weren't unattainable. They liked me! I was a likeable enough guy; all I had to do was engage.

At the end of that school year, some of those girls signed my yearbook saying that they would always remember me as their lecherous Santa (or words to that effect). The one time I let my guard down and allowed myself to be playful was the me they would remember.

A lesson I don't think I ever really took to heart.

2006. Married man, father of two young boys. (Nolan was an infant.)

I was president of the community association board of directors. The community center was going to have a tree lighting ceremony, and I figured they'd ask me if I wanted to light it. Imagine my surprise when they said that *Santa* was going to lead the lighting ceremonies. And then, further surprise, they asked if *I* would be Santa.

Since the fire department would be giving Santa a ride to the event, I went a couple of days early to meet with the guys at the fire station, and to try on the suit. The suit was a good suit, but imagine my dismay when I discovered that, well, I didn't need any padding to fill out the suit. It fit me perfectly. Bah, humbug.

Instead of my brown steel-toed boots, the firemen leant me a pair of black fire fighter boots and the ensemble looked quite convincing. Hands down, the coolest part of the gig was getting to ride in the fire truck, sirens a wailin', en route to the event. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend it.

At the time, Alex was four years old. Old enough to enjoy the all the trappings of Christmas. Paulette brought the kids to the event (there were games and activities for the kids; it was a big party, of which the tree-lighting was just one part.) Let me tell you, one of the most surreal experiences of my life was sitting there in Santa's chair, talking to the kids as they came up one at a time to tell Santa that they were being good and what they wanted for Christmas... and watching my own children look at me and completely not recognize me. Eventually, Alex came up to sit on Santa's lap.

"Hellooo, Alex! And are you being a good little boy this year?" I had on my Santa voice. Having spent years in radio, my "on" voice is very different from my normal conversation voice. But still....

"Yes," he said, in that matter-of-fact way he had. No sign of recognition at all. Or was there?

"Are you being a good big brother?" I asked.

"Yes."

"And what would you like for Christmas?"

"A Spiderman!" I didn't even know he knew who Spiderman was. We didn't watch tv at home except for DVDs of the Wiggles and Walking With Dinosaurs and the like. But anyway...

We talked for a bit with the usual patter before I sent him along, but man that was weird. Talking to my own kid and he didn't even realize it.

"The usual patter." Ha! I've been doing Santa for the community holiday events ever since. I'm such an old pro. But, yes, there's a routine.

2009. I've dropped about 35 pounds or so. If anyone were to ask why Santa's looking a little bit thinner this year, I'd simply say that it's been a lean year for all of us. Ho, Ho, Ho. (I needn't have worried. I saw myself in the mirror, and in that get-up... let's just say, even a few belt notches in, this Santa has a long way to go in the weight loss department.)

This year, my children are not in attendance. Otherwise, we go through the usual routine. The difference, this year, is that it's a new events committee, so they set things up differently. I had a Mrs. Claus, for example, and some helpful elves who would lean in and tell me the names of the kids before they came to sit on my lap. Wonderful touches like that.

One boy kept asking if I was the real Santa. At one point, he asked me if I could make kids fly. This was while we were outside, getting ready to light the big community tree outside the community center. Lots of kids and parents were within earshot.

"Can you make kids fly?"

"Well... not since that one incident in Albuquerque."

The parents completely cracked up. It was great. Having played Santa a few times now, I've grown into the role. My Santa is a working guy who loves kids, but has an easy-going sense of humor. I encourage the kids to be good to their siblings and find things they love to do in school, but really, the emphasis is on having fun.

This season hasn't felt very Christmassy so far, and truth be told, I wasn't really looking forward to playing Santa this year. But putting on the suit, hearing the carolers at the party, cracking jokes for the parents and posing for pictures with the neighborhood kids definitely helped.

Today, our family is going to get a tree. It's time to get into the spirit of things.

Ho, ho, ho, everybody. Ho, ho, ho.

Posted by on December 06, 2009 12:44 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits

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