One of the more surprising things about technology is the effect it can have on a person’s emotions. Who ever would have imagined, before cell phones or laptops, that feelings might be assigned to various functions of those devices? That there would be a distinctly visceral response associated with a particular electronic sound or a recurring LCD image. Driving a car for the first time, it may be expected that a person would feel a thrilling sense of freedom, or adventure, or independence. Using a GPS unit in that car, could an equally powerful sensation have been dreamed in advance?
It’s remarkably simple. A cute little icon of a house. A direct instruction to the gadget. Yet, each time I see that image, and touch that screen, I am overcome with the deepest relief. Comfort. A total and complete letting go of the hassles of the day, the stress of traffic, the need to concentrate on directions and road signs. Any effort whatsoever. I can just relax and know that my little satellite communicator will get me to that wonderful place where everything I need awaits. I’m tempted to name the female voice of my GPS Ruby. As in slippers. There really is no place like home, and the knowledge that I’m heading there is all I need to unwind. Take me home, Ruby.
Playing Santa all this month has brought this to mind. Playing Santa is hard work. For many reasons, not the least of which is that I require a great deal of padding in order to play the role.
People are always shocked if they see me in my street clothes, either before or after a gig. Over the years, as Americans have grown increasingly overweight, the expectation has become that Santa Claus is obese. A quick glance at an olden time card or drawing would reveal that he was not usually depicted as especially round, but rather a bit jolly and plump. In order to approach the current interpretation of the character, I have to wear a bulky down parka over the padded belly and under the fur jacket. A pillow alone would make Santa look pregnant. So, layers of feathers and faux fur means that I am sweating bullets while performing in often crowded, overheated rooms.
It’s also difficult to work while wearing the wig, beard, fur hat and glasses. Quite simply, it makes it hard to see. Handling wrapped presents in slippery white gloves can also be problematic. Plus, Santa has to be a high energy act. Singing carols in a deep full voice, commanding the attention of the room, posing with screaming tots and inebriated grownups on his knee, and always ho ho ho ing.
As the days draw closer to Christmas, into the mix is thrown absolutely insane traffic getting from one gig to another on a busy schedule. Truly, insane. Anyone who lives in a city with no bridges or tunnels has no idea what traffic is. Delays from volume are laughable when compared to the pure madness that occurs when two or three highways of several lanes each merge into a two lane structure built decades before anyone ever dreamed there would be so many people driving so many cars in all directions at once. Picture the emotional state of a person trapped in some nightmarish prison dreamed up by Edgar Allan Poe, and there you have each and every one of the people trapped behind the wheel of their immobile tin boxes lined up as far as the eye can see, glowing red from rage and brake lights equally.
At the end of such a day, peeling off layers of soaking wet padding, climbing exhausted and hoarse into my tin box, I cannot wait to see the cute little icon of home, followed by Ruby’s assurance that if I travel one point seven miles and turn right, I will be on my way there.
This year, Santa has been what sells. I’ve only had one elf on stilts, one Tarot reader, one clown, and one face painting gig. Everything else was Santa. I’m grateful for the work, and know that playing Santa is not just work. There are some pretty wonderful and fairly magical things that can happen while in that costume. Some that are just plain funny, too.
One Saturday night in Manhattan, while getting out of my car, I could not help but notice the drunk guy causing a disturbance on the sidewalk. He was apparently denied access to the bar across the street, most likely due to his advanced state of intoxication, and was awfully mad about it. He was shouting rather nasty things not just at the bar, but also at anyone who happened by. He seemed out of control, perhaps violent. I was curious to see what would happen when I walked past him. One look at me, and he melted into childhood.
“Santa, can you grant me a wish?”
Of course, his wish was to get inside that bar, but at least he calmed down!
Then there was the party at a dance hall in the projects in Brooklyn late one night. Fifty-five little ones in a room designed for half that. Ninety-five degrees, and the DJ was using decibel levels which were off the charts. Rap. Naturally, it would have to be rap. Painfully loud, with lyrics about shooting the cops and slapping the b#tches. Lyrics which, predictably, all the adorable tots knew. There they were, playing musical chairs, just like at any other children’s party, except they were bouncing around in gangsta rap postures, faces scrinched up in posed anger, hands gesturing like the gold chain gold tooth cartoon characters they see in every rap music video on MTV. Watching them circle the chairs menacingly, I wondered which adorable tot would be the first to draw a gun.
“If you wanna f#ck my c#ck then it gets s#cked.”
Actual lyric. I peered out from behind the wig and beard and glasses. Was I the only person in the room who would rather hear the children singing Jingle Bells?
My favorite gig this season was easily the one I did just the other night, for a single little girl. Her parents explained that this was probably the last year she would believe in Santa, and she had always wished to meet him. They hired me to be quietly placing the presents under the tree, while they woke her so she could come down and see Santa in person. It was to be a half hour, which I thought was a long time to perform for only one child. What on earth would I do to fill the time?
Well, she was the most beautiful angel. So open and filled with wonder. We sang carols. I recited A Visit from Saint Nicholas. She asked lots of questions and I answered them all. We played. Then she opened three presents, including a special one her parents asked me to say was from myself. It was a silver snow globe, and came with the message that she should always believe. Before I knew it, forty minutes had flown by and it was past time for Santa to go home.
That’s what makes what I do worth doing. Now that Christmas is already here, I am relieved to have a few days off in which to sleep. It’s the good kind of tired. The kind that comes with gratitude for having worked so hard. Now, it’s time to pack up the costume and let Santa go home for another year. Like me, he has lots of other things to do.