Mon, Oct. 21

Behind the Beard

Courtesy photo

ROGER Naylor "gave a few dozen kids extra Christmases of believing in Santa, and that can't be a bad thing to have on a resume."

The year was 1976 and I was on the clock. My job consisted of sitting in an ornate high-backed chair in the middle of a shopping mall, wearing a red-and-white outfit trimmed in faux fur.

I was Santa Claus. I was 19 years old and weighed 130 pounds.

I spotted my assailant before we actually met. He was hard to miss, squirming and twisting in line, and just generally going all fluid and wiggly the way little kids do when they’re being eaten alive with glee.

Once his turn came, my elf clutched his hand and led him toward me. But he squirted free. I was saying adios to another kid and turned just in time to see this half-pint go airborne from 10 feet away. No doubt he intended to plop into my lap but he misjudged his trajectory and I took a knee, low and hard, right in the jingle bells.

I almost doubled over but immediately realized how traumatic it could be for the other kids to see Santa lying in a crumpled heap on the floor, pleading for ice. So I sagged forward slightly, trying to breathe. Talking was out of the question. But here’s the beauty part: I didn’t have to say a word.

For the next few minutes the kid clung to my neck in a ferocious hug and chattered about how awesome the hamster I brought him last year was, what kind of cookies he was leaving out for me on Christmas Eve and just how much he loved-loved-loved me!

Those are the kind of perks you don’t get on most jobs. But being Santa isn’t like most jobs.

If any kids are reading this… shouldn’t you be playing X-Box or something? Of course, it’s common knowledge that “helpers” are hired to portray the kindly old elf in stores, while the real Santa handles the important stuff back at the North Pole. Like bailing Yukon Cornelius out of the drunk tank on the Island of Misfit Toys and monitoring the satellite-mounted Global Pout Detector.

Here’s one of my best Santa moves. Early on, I worked out a system with my elves. As I finished up with a child I reached into my gift bag for a candy cane. That was the signal for Line Elf who was waiting with the next lap-warmer to say something like, “Okay, Bobby, Santa is almost ready to see you.”

She spoke in a normal voice but thanks to my owl-like hearing I picked up on it. I would spend another minute saying goodbye, then turn and look at the youngster being led my way. I furrowed my brow, then chuckled. “Well, if it isn’t Bobby! Why you’ve grown so much, Santa barely recognized you!”

Bam! Little eyes morphed into saucers, sometimes manhole covers. A little jaw dropped open. Santa remembered his name! It electrified him and as a bonus, I scored a bounty of extra hugs.

If I accomplish nothing else in this life, I gave a few dozen kids an extra Christmases of believing in Santa, and that can’t be a bad thing to have on a resume.

Here’s the gift that makes the story complete.

I played Santa Claus in 1976 and ’77. In 1984 I met a woman named Michele. We fell in love and were married two years later. It was my first marriage, her second. A few weeks after we were hitched, she was sorting through some old photos of her son, Tony. Much to our surprise, we discovered one photo of Tony sitting on the lap of a very familiar, slightly skinny, Santa.

Don’t try and tell me there’s no magic in Christmas. I know better.

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