Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Santa's helper

Merry Christmas Folks!!!

 When I was a kid, the nearest enclosed Mall to us was The Pontiac Mall. Opening in 1963, just a year after yours truly arrived on this good green earth, it was a fantastic place! Decorated, as it was in late 50's post-modern/futuristic design. Lots of tile and metal sculptures!
Fountains ran the length of the main concourse, which to us were seen as wishing wells, we'd throw in coins and cast our wishes to the fates.

The main fountain was right in the middle of the mall, in front of the S.S. Kresge store. The special thing about this fountain was, every year at Christmas became the home of Santa's Igloo!
The fountain was covered, Metal trees removed and a huge flocked half dome was erected over
Main Fountain viewed from S.S. Kresge
it, resembling a giant igloo. Decorated with animated elves, hammering away or sawing wood for toys. Candy canes, and a seal balancing a brightly wrapped present on its nose! Stairs on one side led up to Santa's throne, where we would tell him our fondest wishes. 
It was THE place to see Santa as I was growing up, and I made more than my share of trips up to see that jolly old elf.

Fast forward to 1981, I had graduated High School earlier that year.
I had spent what free time I'd had from school and my part-time job at the sporting goods store in drama, debate and speech and acting competitions. Things that don't translate well out of school, other than I could argue your socks a convincing Russian accent! Lol

That November, I was strolling through the mall doing some Christmas shopping when a fellow about my age stopped me.
"Hey, you went to Kettering didn't you?"
"Yeah," I said looking him over. About my height, maybe 40 lbs. or so heavier, red hair and freckles.
"You were in drama, right?" He asked.
"I was," I told him. Looking closer, I had no idea who he was. "I'm sorry, what was your name?"
"Oh, you don't know me. I went to Mott (our rival school), but I've seen you in're pretty good. You looking for a little extra Christmas money?" He asked.
"I've got a job over at Gell's, behind the mall...why?"
"I'm one of the Santa's they hire for the mall, and we just had a guy quit, you'd be perfect, and I know they'll work around your schedule. Whatdaya say?"
"I don't know..." I hemmed.
"Come on, I'll introduce you to the boss!" He said, starting off towards an "employees only" door.

 In short order, I was in front of the "Head Elf" herself! Money was discussed, I tried on the suit and accouterment, and she said
"Ok, let's hear your best Santa..."
So I lowered my voice, projected from my diaphragm, gave some
"Ho Ho Ho's" and my best "Merry Christmas!" 
The boss lady nodded her approval and said, "You're hired, when can you start?"

Thus started my career as a mall Santa!
What a blast I had! I still have a box with Christmas lists; pictures kids had drawn for Santa, and little men, candies, handmade ornaments and the like. One big drawback to being know how Santa seems to take a lot of breaks? Well, it's not so we can sneak back for a nip of Christmas cheer, oh no!!! Nor is it because the job is so taxing. It's because some overzealous parent forced little Tommy to sit on Santa's lap when he really, REALLY didn't want to...

What he wanted to do is use the bathroom...and he did, right on Santa's lap! Each Santa has one coat, but four pairs of pants to change into that are laundered nightly. 

So when you see Santa taking a break, chances are good that he just got peed on!!!

My favorite story happened about halfway through my tenure there.
In between kids you were encouraged to wave to the passing shoppers...give a hearty "Merry Christmas", maybe even call out a "Hello Billy..." on the odd chance that a "Billy" was walking by with his parents.
 So, Friday night. The Mall is full of people bustling home with their treasures, when what to my wondering eyes should appear?
Why two girls from school, they're practically here!
"Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas Lisa Meyers! Oh, and there's Gretchen! Have you two been good this year?!?" I called out.
They stopped dead in their tracks, wondering I'm sure, just how in the Hell this mall Santa knew their names? A quick moment of whispered discussion and they got in line to see me; it was just Killing them! When at last it was their turn, they each took a knee.
"High Santa!!!" They beamed brightly, then under their breath "Who are you???" I gave them some hints, but I was too well disguised. When I finally whispered it in their ears, they gave a delighted squeal and posed for a picture with each kissing one of Santa's cheeks! Well, word went out and before long I had one or two girls from school each night...I could get into this!!!

But alas, all good things come to an it got closer and closer to Christmas the line of kids dwindled down to but a few and the powers that be, called it quits. I got fond hugs from all the elves I worked with (good looking College girls all), and we each got a commemorative picture of us as Santa. I'd include it if I knew exactly where that box was at.

But every Christmas I'm reminded of those magical days and the unreserved love of children I'd never met, who looked at me with eyes full of wonder and belief in the magic of Christmas. Why it's enough to keep this old Grinch going each year.
 Be Well Folks!
And a Very Merry Christmas from The Beastly Bear!


  1. The Santa I knew drank a lot and was too merry to pose with the kids. Have a Merry Christmas, Joe!

    1. I actually heard later that the guy I replaced was asked to leave because of showing up drunk. One of the elves told me he grabbed her butt once but she didn't say anything about it.

  2. That must have been so much fun! Find that photo!!!

    1. It was way more fun than I initially thought it would be! I ended up really enjoying interacting with the kids.

  3. That's a riot! Well....except for being peed on. I guess you really have to like kids to do a job like that.

    1. Thanks JoJo, I was never a big fan of kids...until I started dating my wife and spent a lot of time with her niece. Crazy then I should agree to play Santa, huh? I looked at it as my first paid acting job, I was playing a character.

    2. I suppose if you put it that way about the acting...although I don't think I could act like or pretend that I liked kids. lol

    3. You'd be surprised JoJo, when they crawl up in your lap and look into your eyes with such love and admiration, even the hardest of hearts melts!

  4. Tough job, but it did have it's benefits.

    1. I never considered the perks when I took the job...but I DID enjoy them!

  5. Magic does exist! It's just not what you expect ;)

    1. Thanks for reading LaissezFaire, funny that while I provided the magic for the kids...they did the same for me.

  6. Eeeww. I always wondered about how many pairs of pants Santa must have to have. You were slick with the ladies even way back then Joe. ;)

    1. Ya go with the gifts God gives you Karen! ;-)

  7. I like that you described how the mall changed from one season to the next, like the igloo, and added specific anecdotes. One suggestion: cut the exclamation points. They lose power the more you use them. Your writing can hold up enough without them. Thanks so much for posting.

    1. Meg, thank you for reading. Point well taken about the exclamation points...bad habit and I'very been called on it before. I appreciate the constructive criticism. Thank you again for reading, and commenting. :-)

  8. what a great story! You do have the heart to be Santa. Good job, my friend.

    1. Thanks Jo! Welcome back, been a while since I've seen you, Looks like the house is coming along well. Merry Christmas!