Tom Stevens | Illustration by Guy Junker
Our hero’s performance fails to, er, sleigh ’em.
My wife once worked for a children’s agency that stages a Christmas party for its families. One afternoon she mentioned that the party was coming up.
“That’s nice,” I said from behind the newspaper. “Want me to go with you?”
“Yes,” she said. “And one other little thing. . . .”
“We need you to play Santa Claus.”
Sensing the harsh bark of hilarity forming in my throat, she pressed ahead quickly. “We have a Santa suit and beard, so don’t worry about the costume.”
“Oh, I wasn’t thinking about the costume,” I said, rising to my full height. “But look at me. I’m six feet three, craggy, covered with curly dark hair. There’s nothing twinkly about me. I was born to play Lurch, not Santa Claus.”
“We don’t need Lurch,” she said.
“Okay,” I sighed. “But we will need pillows.”
I donned the Santa suit the day of the party, relieved to find the key components present: stocking cap and fluffy silver beard, stretchy red-plush pants and jacket, a black plastic belt several sizes larger than the pants. Stuffing pillows into the pants and jacket, I cinched the belt around my commodious new girth, then tugged and patted the padding into place. I gave myself a once-over in the bathroom mirror. The figure that returned my gaze looked hurriedly thrown together, like an understudy pushed onstage after the lead has stormed off.
At least everything fit, and there were no obvious rips or stains. When all was snug and secure, I waddled jovially around the apartment, laughing through the beard’s tiny mouth hole like a walrus blowing through its moustache.
“Ho ho ho!” I tried. “Ho hack-cough!”
“Just ‘ho’ on the exhale,” my wife advised, eyeing me up and down. “Something’s not right,” she frowned. “I think it’s the eyebrows. They’re too dark for the beard. You look like Grecian Formula Santa.”
“We also need to cover your hands and wrists,” she mused. “All that curly black hair looks sort of. . . .”
“Well, Santa does wear those dainty white gloves.”
“Where do I find white gloves at this hour?”
Kahului isn’t a dainty-white-glove sort of town, but we do have a Ross Dress for Less store. Laying my finger alongside my nose, I hurtled toward Ross like a bowlful of jelly.
Sure enough, Ladies’ Accessories had a pair of stretchy white “exfoliating gloves.” I paid the $3.95, snapped the gloves on, and raced home. Taking the stairs two at a time, I puffed into the kitchenette. “How do I look?”
“Very Santa-like, except for the eyebrows.”
“Do we have any Wite-Out?”
We made it to the party, but the Wite-Out eyebrows may have been a bit over the top. As I lowered myself into the big Santa chair, elfin helpers sang out children’s names and pressed gifts into my white-gloved hands. Families queued up to nudge their fearful children forward. “Ho ho ho!” I boomed.
At a rope barrier, the children were left to take the last terrifying steps alone. They edged up to my outstretched hand, snatched their gifts, burst out crying and sprinted back to the comforting embrace of their families.
“Meerrrrry Christmas!” I called out, but I didn’t feel merry. It’s a terrible thing to make children cry. At last the line dwindled, the wailing died away, and I sagged sadly back into my chair. Then a little girl who had been standing quietly nearby stepped bravely forward. She held out her own gift, still wrapped in sparkly red cellophane.
“Here Santa,” she said. “Merry Christmas.”