Monday, December 30, 2013
One PO’d Santa… But it Passed
It had nothing to do with the children—about twenty in all, most under the age of eight, excited grinning faces that attached themselves to me like metal filings to a magnet. No not those beauties! But the setting, the absence of adults, the exile of us all to a shabby back room while several hundred middle-class adults ate and drank while shooting the shit with each other and the local politicians in the Grand Front Ballroom. I did this gig for the first time last year after Rose suggested me to the Neighborhood Association, as she did again. As I took in the scene—two mothers and one father with cameras and one paid Nanny—it dawned on me that me and the Nanny were The Help. Pissed me off!
But I put it aside to take care of business. Elsa, age 6, claims my left knee and never leaves while boys and girls take turns on the right or simply plaster their little bodies against me between the occupied knees. I routinely ask them their names, then I make it a point to tell each one that I KNOW that he or she is a GOOD BOY, GOOD GIRL (I don’t want their little heads taxed by having to ponder such a weighty matter posed the traditional way: “And have you been… et cetera?). Then I ask the Elf at my side to dip in my green (laundry) bag for a present. The Elf is Rose who stocks the bag for all my appearances. The girls got Indian bangles, Mardi Gras beads, candy canes and chocolate ‘coins’ enclosed in silver gauze drawstring bags; the boys, sticky gel bugs and small squishy white mice along with candy canes and chocolate coins in no-nonsense cellophane bags. The bugs and mice were a big hit as they flew around the room, back and forth between the boys and girls.
I always remember their faces afterward, and sometimes bits of conversation. I routinely ask the children what they want for Christmas. Even if I can’t make out what’s being said in hesitant small voices, I tell them to tell their mommies who’ll tell me and I’ll bring it on Christmas Eve while they’re asleep in their beds. Elsa flummoxed me with an order for an “IP5.” Not sure I heard right, I turned inquiringly to my Elf. “That’s the I-Phone 5,” she said. (What more was there to say?)
And I remember Charlotte, age 9, who stopped by with her dad on the way to her violin recital at her school. She confided that she’s been playing since age 4 but really wants to be a painter, and presented me with an original kaleidoscope wheel done in crayon on art paper, that she signed at my request. And Ulya, age 4, who takes charge of my right knee and stays. Her whispers about a doll is all I catch. And the Outlier, Rav, age 7, who warns me he’s Jewish, but I sucker him in to receive his Hanukkah Gift. And Baby Zinnia, content to remain, staring up at my face, burbling all the while.
After three-quarters of an hour, I make my grand exit from the room, waving goodbyes to the children while shouting aloft for Rudolph to ready the team. I duck out of sight into a storage room to change out of uniform. As we leave, unthanked and unnoticed, I see a young matron leading a child by the hand, another in her arms, hurrying towards the Back Room to dump them both, I think uncharitably.
I recall that the St. Catherine’s Home for Children was in dire straits this season, having to draft a female Santa Claus. (I am staunchly behind equal rights for women, but I can’t quite get my head around that.) Then, I think: What if I don’t show up next year and Elsa, Ulya, Charlotte, Zuza, Amelia, Bodin, Rav, Baby Zinnia and the others do, expecting…? The pique is gone, my head is clear. They’re all the thanks I require.
© 2013 Robert Knightly