The Man in the Santa Claus Suit


      Ms. Eckles, the personnel director, has scarlet fingernails the length of corn holders and lipstick to match. She stares at me through the severe horn-rim glasses of the ultra rich like I'm a suspected child molester.
      "Have you had any experience playing Santa Claus, Mr. Grabowski?"
      "I was an elf in the sixth grade Christmas pageant." I say. Well, it's only a small lie. I was actually a stand-in for Wilbur Donnely who was playing Blitzen, but was subject to unexpected vomiting attacks whenever he had to prance in public.
      "I see, and what led you seek this position? Are you fond of children?"
      Oh, oh, trick question. Fond of children? There she goes on the child molester theme again. "Oh yes, I'm very good with children." What and tell her the truth that my therapist thinks getting a part-time job will alleviate my depression? Besides I've never actually murdered a child.
      "That's excellent. Now you do understand our position relative to law suits?" 
      If Ms. Eckles thinks I'll flinch on that one, she's got another think coming. I nod my head. I'm not planning on any law suits.
      "In that case I think you'll do fine, Mr. Grabowski. You'll find your costume in closet C. Here's the key. You'll start immediately."
      "And there's one more thing, Mr. Grabowski. I hate to bring this up, but there's no drinking on the job. We've had some problems with our past Santa Clauses."
      "Of course, Ms. Eckles, no drinking on the job."
      With my cake-stained whiskers there's no need for the strip of tacky cotton fuzz, the company's provided as a beard. However, the boots are too tight, the red pants four sizes too big, and the pillows for my belly have sprung a leak and threaten to spill foam rubber out the openings in my Santa's cloak.
      A few minutes later, accompanied by the strains of "Jingle Bell Rock," I make my way down the hallway of the mall. I just make it in front of  the Designer Loft when I'm surrounded by a gaggle of junior high school girls.
      "There he is," a sweet young thing with a ring in her eyebrow cries.
      "God, he's a geek. I mean really a geek," Another with circles of blue makeup surrounding her eyes with raccoon chic giggles and  tweaks my beard.
      "Ho, ho, ho, are you girls being good?" I say, not adding--like staying out of the funny cigarettes and keeping your panties on
      "We are so good, Santa. That's why I want you to bring me a Corvette." Their leader, in a black sweater with up-thrust boobies that equal Britney Spears', says.
      "You'll have to do your homework first," I say.
      "Oooh," they groan like I'm being a big, bad Santa.
      I give them some taffy out of my sack and amble down the mall to my chair near the main entrance. The job is to sit in the chair, go "ho, ho, ho," and not catch some strange childhood disease while the company photographer takes a picture of me and some vicious tyke trying to rip off my beard.
      I'm hardly settled onto my perch when a mocha-colored six year old with a head full of frizzy ringlets bounds onto my lap.
      "And what's your name, little boy?"
      "Darnell Trevonnya.
      God, where do they find these names? "And do you have a last name?"
      "Johnson." Darnell has his head twisted under my beard examining my neck.
      "And what would you like me to bring you for Christmas this year, Darnell?"
      Darnell begins to giggle like he's found a bug in my beard.
      "Quit yo giggling, boy, and answer Santa Claus question!" Mrs. Darnell is a fierce-looking woman the size of a Green Bay Packer nose tackle. Darnell must be insane to risk having her mad at him.
      He wriggles around and puts his head over my shoulder.
      "You're not sure what you want for Christmas then, Darnell?"
      "A cookie," he says, stabbing me in the back with a pencil he's concealed in his palm.
      "Ouch!" I squawk as his mother tears him off me with a teeth-rattling jerk and flings him to the tile floor.
      "Boy, I'm mo knock yo eyes out you don't straighten up. You hear me, boy?"
      Darnell has suddenly gone into spasms of wailing as mall security stares our direction with suspicious eyes, and I try to look as innocent as a Santa Claus can with a good sized gouge in the meat of his upper back.
      Before I can hand Darnell a piece of taffy to calm him down, Mrs. Darnell had dragged him off in the direction of the exit, presumably to execute him in the privacy of her car.
      My next two tormentors are a Caucasian two-year old who screams bloody murder as her father tries to seat her on my lap and a Hispanic one year old whom I frighten so badly he pees down my crotch.
      After a quick retreat to the restroom where a maintenance man stares at me like I'm a freak as I try to towel away the wet spot on my Santa trousers, I return to my workshop.
      A little nervous by now, I begin to twitch as I notice Junior stomping my way from the direction of the cinema. Approximately seven years old, as wide and squat as a Humvee, he rumbles along with the spread-legs of a rodeo cowboy. Weighing close to 200 pounds and wearing a white cowboy hat and boots, he's dragging his shell-shocked mother, a woman the size of Texas, along by one hand.
      "Mom, he ain't no real Santa Claus," he says, putting his hands on his hips and staring at me like I'm a bank he's about to knock off.
      "Shush, Junior, he is too a real Santa Claus." His mother gives his arm a jerk.
      "Ain't neither!" Junior cries, striding up to me and giving me a swift kick in the ankle with his pointed-toe boots.
      Restraining the impulse to cuff him on one of his huge, jug ears, I say, "And what would you like Santa Claus to bring you this year, Junior?"
      "A horse, a home movie theater, twenty Captain Blackie pirate action figures, a sword, a beebee gun, and fifty packs of Pokemon cards."
      "That's a tall order, son."
      Junior's lower lips suddenly protrudes like an iguana. "You ain't no real Santa Claus. You're a cheap skate!" he cries as a crowd suddenly begins to develop around my Santa kingdom.
      "Junior, lean over here, and I'll tell you a secret," I whisper into his fat, red ear.
      "What kind of secret?" Junior leans closer, eyeing me like I'm some sort of childhood-monster-eating predator.
      "Little closer, Junior. That's it. Now listen," I whisper, "I'm going to put a rattle snake in your bed tonight, and its going to suck out your eyeballs." His pupils enlarge to the size of  silver dollars.
      "Mom," Junior bellows, "he says he's going to put a snake in my bed!"
      Suddenly his mother is in my face as Junior rips at my beard. "What kind of pervert are you?" she cries. "You ought to be hung up by your coochies for talking to a little boy that way."
      "Say what?" I say, leaping out of my cotton-covered Santa chair as the junior high girls begin to chant. "Deck her, Santa! Deck her!"
      That's when I realize Junior has a hold of my oversize Santa trousers and is ripping them down to expose my size 42 boxer shorts.
      "Yo, check out Santa's shorts," Britney Spears cries as Junior's mother tries to get me in a headlock while I struggle with Junior to keep my pants on and "Little Town of Bethlehem" plays in the background.
      The next thing I know Junior's mother and I are wrestling in the artificial snow surrounding my chair as Junior topples the nearby Christmas tree onto us. There is a kind of insanity that grips a fake Santa as he wrestles with his constituents and realizes he is about to be choked to death, but I managed not to bite off the woman's ear.
      Of course, none of that cut any ice with Ms. Eckles. Her hand is out, those scarlet fingernails pointing towards my belly.
      "The key, Mr. Grabowski, and you'll be turning in your Santa Claus suit, you understand."
      I sit there like a schoolboy in the principal's office. My neck is burning from the headlock applied by Junior's mother.
      "It wasn't really my fault," I mumble.
      "I'm afraid that's irrelevant. You are, you understand, liable for any punitive actions that your clients might bring against you. We will not be assuming any responsibility for your legal expenses."
      "Gotcha, Ms. Eckles," I say, rising in defeat and handing in my Santa Claus hat on my way to get a mid-morning double. Then turning with an Italian salute, I cry, "Merry Christmas, Ms. Eckles, and to all a good night."

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