I now understand why all the mall Santas I sat on the laps of as a child were likely drunk. After hours gagging on fake beard hairs and trying my best not to emotionally scar children by blowing the big secret, I craved a malty porter from the Lodi Beer Company like Mr. Potter yearned for poor peoples' tears in "It's a Wonderful Life."
Sitting under a gunmetal gray sky in Downtown on the corners of School and Oak streets Saturday, I pretended to be the great Santa Claus. For two hours I struggled to keep my baggy costume from revealing I was merely an impostor of a worldwide superstar. But as I saw how kids wore authentic looks of joy when they saw me from a block away, I put my misery on hold and in my narcissism started cherishing being such a big deal for them. Having a raven-haired female give Santa a peck on the cheek also made it tolerable.
Steve Bria, of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, who has played the jolly fellow in Downtown during previous years, donated the pristine suit for the assignment. Everything was perfect, except for the person wearing it. With my gaunt frame, bitter disposition and unfruitful facial hair growth, I admittedly would be much better portraying an elf. But Jaime Watts, of the Downtown Lodi Business Partnership, and Bria had pulled some strings to enable this assignment, so I owed them a strong work ethic and good attitude. However, that didn't change the fact that every time I leaned to my left to grab a candy cane for an adoring child, my right hand clutched my skull to keep my cap from toppling off.
After multiple experiences of having the hat flop off and reveal my milky wig with tufts of auburn hair sticking out in front of questioning children, I finally learned to grab a handful of goodies to have at the ready for them.
As staff photographer Bob Bates circled me and took pictures for the story, I reclined in a cozy blue chair from New & Again Consignment Furniture Gallery and slowly ran out my required 120 minutes.
Once I started to roll with the situation, I actually started to enjoy it. People flashed genuine smiles from their cars when I waved to them. Dennis Bloom, of Spinning Tunes, played Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond and Billie Holiday. It was a refreshing mix of original songs mixed in with classic Christmas carols that helped the time rush by.
When 4-year-old Sydney Meyer gave me one of the most loving hugs of my life, there was a brief period when I stopped viewing Santa Claus as an obese recluse one plate of gritty sugar cookies away from losing a leg to diabetes. I also delivered a chuckle worthy of Father Christmas when Addie the Australian shepherd jumped on my lap and nearly pulled my beard down with her back legs. Also, having a delightful waitress from Lodi Beer Co, Cetara Mettler, plant a kiss on my cheek certainly raised my Christmas spirit.
Even though my beard kept slipping down and my wig would droop forward and block my eyes, I'm not sure the younger children were any the wiser. That made the experience a bearable one. The biggest concern was being the Santa they wind up sobbing to a shrink about for $150 bucks an hour for 20 years from now. But despite some harmless barbs about looking too young to play Santa, the parents of the children played along.
After surviving the experience without traumatizing anyone, I ducked into the alley behind Abrahamson Printing and started shedding the outfit faster than a groupie at a KISS concert. I took my first breath unfiltered by scratchy beard hairs for more than two hours and kicked off the patent leather boot covers. I had made it.
After sweating under the heavy costume, I obtained a newfound respect for those who portray Santa Claus. For a few brief minutes, I made some amazing kids feel like they could have anything they wanted. No child sat on my lap with a soggy diaper. It was more enjoyable than I prepared myself for.
With that being said, may I please never do that again?
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.