You know you’re an elf in trouble when a child walks up to you after climbing down from Santa’s lap and asks, “How come Santa smells funny?”
Back in the early 90’s, I supervised the information desk at a local shopping mall. During the holidays, one of my duties was running the Santa kiosk.
This particular year, I was in charge of keeping track of when Santa was naughty or nice. And, as it turned out, this mall’s Santas cornered the market on stockings full of coal.
Our Santa had been stellar in the role for many years. He was the mall’s manager before retiring and lived just a couple of miles away. But this morning, he was almost an hour late.
A little later, he was nodding off with a child on his lap. Turned out, Santa was making his spirits bright with way too much liquid cheer, leading us to become “The Mall Without a Santa Claus” for a day.
Some quick thinking and a few calls by management led us to our second Santa. Like the first one, he was a reliable veteran in the role.
He happily agreed to come in the next morning. He showed up on time, in his own suit, and was very popular with the kids. Things were back to normal, and everyone was happy – until the day a mom walked over to the desk and asked to speak to someone in charge.
Santa was seeking someone to make him jolly and saw nothing wrong with inviting moms to “come take a ride on Santa’s sleigh,” peppering the invitations with a much-too-jovial chuckle and hand gestures directing the potential Mrs. Claus to his lap. When asked, the elves reported that Santa was asking moms for hugs and phone numbers. Befor that, the elves never felt it necessary to divulge Santa’s assorted holiday harassment because it was discreet, and the children couldn’t hear.
Salacious Santa was not surprised when the mall manager let him know his services were no longer needed. In fact, he took it in stride.
But the elves, the mall manager, and I were in panic mode. It was almost the end of the season, and we had run out of Santas.
That’s when we turned to a man we’ll call “John.” One of our best workers, he was always on time, very reliable, and willing to help when needed. But John was about 19, well over 6 feet tall, and built like an Olympic volleyball captain. When he donned costume, Santa’s pants became knickers. The bushy beard never quite lined up because he already had a very thick beard and moustache, leaving him overheated and uncomfortable.
To his credit, he didn’t complain that much – at the start. But Reluctant Santa eventually decided to make his facial hair work in the role. Santa’s beard, he told the kids who asked, only turns white on Christmas Eve.
Today whenever I see a holiday display, watching kids share their wish lists and the elves dutifully documenting the holiday traditions on film, I always reminisce over my adventures with Soused, Salacious, and Reluctant Santa. It never fails to make me stop for a moment, watch and smile.
Then I happily go about my merry way, thankful I’ll never have to do that job again.
Tracey Morris is the author of, “You Said You Wanted to See Me Naked: An Autobiographical Poem Cycle.” Her work has recently been published by Rust Belt Chic Press, and she was a finalist in the 2013 Springfed Arts Writing Contest.