Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'Tis The Season

I have long-since pledged to my readers that this blog -- Twisted Roads -- would always offer pure motorcycle content 24/7. I lied. While I have one or two Christmas stories involving a motorcycle, this is by far the best of the lot and it was quite impossible to write a motorcycle into it. I tried. But I like to go for the laugh, and I’m sure none of you will mind. This is my Christmas card to you, with additional apologies to the Mac Pac, who’ve seen it on their list before, complete with the picture that I took to annoy my Swedish friend Roy Groething.

Long before my career in public relations included writing things like congressional testimony, state-of-the-industry speeches, and quotes written expressly for politicians easily mistaken for cardboard cutouts or bodies seeking reanimation, I earned a living doing the marketing for a roller rink in New Jersey. Now this wasn't one of your run-of-the-mill skating facilities left over from the 'forties, but a multimillion dollar disco/singles club for the well-heeled and slick wheeled. From Thursday through Sunday, indescribably heavenly bodies gyrated and swerved through this place to a throbbing beat that percolated raw sexuality.

But on weekend mornings the place was given over to the three- to seven-year-old-crowd. And in the interests of screwing a dollar out of every conceivable opportunity, some genius decided that nothing would delight this particular demographic more than to have Santa Claus arrive on skates.

"Great," I said. "I'll get a release out to the papers and get started on the ads. What chump are you going to get for the role of Santa Claus?"

Public relations is the story of unending service to the client. Yet the measure of that service is subject to constant change. There are days when your clients hang onto your words as if the were directions from a prophet. And then there are the days when your value is measured by how fast you can get them coffee or clean the toilets.

"Well, we thought you'd do it as part of the seasonal promotion," they said.

"Do I look that stupid," I asked.

They already had the Santa suit custom tailored for me. Made of crushed velvet and lined with real fur, it was rumored to have cost a grand. (This was in the '70's, when a grand was real money.) The leather belt was four inches wide with a silver buckle. There were real leather pullover boots too. But the best part was the wig and beard. They were all one piece and either made of real hair or silk. Even the little square Ben Franklin glasses were real glass. The costume was gorgeous.

I would be lying if I said I didn't make one hell of an official looking Santa. I was more muscle than pork in those days, and gave the impression that jolly old Saint Nick could easily split a cord of wood.

"Help me pull on these boots and we'll be all set," I said to one of the staffers, who was dressed like an elf.

"Boots? The boss said you were to wear roller skates."

"Are you out of your mind?" I asked. "I can't skate. I'm not wearing skates!"

"The boss said that you were to wear skates, that you were to shut up about it, and that we're supposed to help you out to Santa's throne."

The skates were strapped to my feet before I could claw my way out of the room. With an elf on each arm, I was wheeled out into the masses of children. For the first and only time in my life, a collective sigh rose as I entered the room. (It must be pointed out that the sigh wasn't really for me, but for the person I was impostering. Still, it remains a significant high point among my memories.)

I was mobbed by hundreds of little kids who simply wanted to touch my hand, wave to me, or say "Hello." I was dressed like the ultimate "yes-man," who always delivered. True to plan, Santa's elves each put a shoulder behind my back, and began shoving me across the carpet to the skating floor (a distance of 20 feet).

Santa's throne was an elaborate chair in the center of the skating floor, with fake reindeer standing on each side. As I recall, one of the deer had a flashing red nose. The elves meant well, but I was beginning to accrue a bit of mass in those days (though nothing like my present size). The wheels of my skates were digging into the carpet and encountering substantial resistance. The elves later claimed it was like wheeling a howitzer through a swamp. They were really putting their backs into it when the wheels of my skates hit the hard wooden floor.

Their energy and my mass were converted into forward movement in an instant.

I broke free from my moorings and shot across the floor at about 40 miles per hour. Arms flailing, I took out the deer with the flashing nose and smashed into the throne with a loud "thud!"

"You missed the other deer," said an elf, who was laughing so hard he could barely stand up. "You want to try again and see if you can pick up the spare?"

Ten minutes later -- with the deer and the throne back in place -- I started listening to the dreams and hopes of about 1200 kids. I began each interview with the same litany: "Ho... Ho... Ho... What's your name? Have you been good this year? Do you listen to your parents? Do you do your homework? Do you share with your friends?"

Their responses were the standard boilerplate lies, followed by the presentation of the Christmas lists, with few variations. Most were memorized and delivered as one constant flowing word. "I want a bicyclefootballtaperecorderguitarracingcarsetandaG.I.Joe." A small percentage of kids came with written lists, complete with their addresses and directions to the same so there'd be no mistake on the morning of the 25th. Some froze and forgot what they had to say. One or two cried. And I will never forget the little girl who buried her face in my beard, saying "Sanna, Sanna..." over and over again.

At the peak of this holiday networking, a bigger than average kid climbed into my lap. This one seemed kind of old to be perpetrating the Santa gimmick, but I figured he wanted to hedge his bets as the zero hour drew near."

We went through the routine with me playing the straight man and the kid being the ventriloquist's dummy. He had just finished the gift inventory, when he suddenly said, "But you won't bring any of this stuff to me. You won't come to my house on Christmas."

"My God," I thought. "What horror story does this poor kid have at home?" I imagined a divorce in progress... Sickness... Parents out of work... Perhaps even the death of a parent...

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"Because I'm Jewish. I don't believe in you. You're just a fat man in a red suit. I'm going to pull your beard off in front of everyone."

"Ho... Ho... Ho," I laughed, positively relieved. This was a job for a true public relations specialist, trained to make folks instantly see the bright side. I needed to make the kid feel the joy of the holiday season, to get in the spirit of things, and to feel part of things. Leaning over, I whispered, "You touch this beard and I'm going to drop kick your ass halfway across the floor."

I fired off another "Ho... Ho... Ho...," for the benefit of the general public. "You'll get everything I promised," I said out loud to the kid. He backed away, never taking his eyes from my feet.

I figure that kid is about 36-years-old today. Ke was probably in therapy for years. I wonder if he gets as many laughs from that story as I do. I wish I knew where he was now. I'd buy him a drink.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Chanukah!

Roy Groething has been my friend for over 38 years. He is under the impression that he is Swedish. He is Swedish like I am a son of old Erie. Yet every year he holds a traditional Swedish Yule event, during which the personification of Santa Lucia, a beautiful, young, blond princess (crowned with light) is honored for her virtue. This is my salute to Santa Lucia, and my depiction of what happens when a virtuous princess spends harsh winters drinking beer, fishing through the ice, and eating lutefisk (fish that died of natural causes, then got cooked in Draino, according to an old Swedish recipe). Photo by Leslie Marsh.

© Copyright Jack Riepe 2004
From "Mid-life Crisis: Let The Ordeal Begin"
All rights reserved.


cpa3485 said...

That is quite the picture, LOL.

I have a good friend that has been a Santa for many years. He has been thrown up on, pissed on and many other things over the years, but he still keeps coming back for more.

'Tis the joy of the season!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear CPA3485:

I was in it strictly for the money. Although, I never minded being the offiuce Santa, and having nice-looking women sit in my lap.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twiated Roads

BMW-Dick said...

Dear Jack:
You will never regret posting that picture of Santa Lucia Riepe. I mean it!
I really enjoyed this story (again). It reminded me of Jean Shepard, which is one of the highest compliments I can pay you.

Unknown said...

Jack "r":

My imagination is running away in my mind. I still have that image of a Santa Claus on roller skates bowling down the reindeer.

I love your crown and blonde hair

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dick:

I can think of higher compliments that you should pay me, and won't. And I know that I will be finding that picture of Santa Lucia on government watch lists, bogus resumes submitted to Craigslist, and singles groups on Face Book.

See you at the Mac Pac Dinner tonight.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobskoot:

It was a long time ago... And a lot of run over the dam. However, I have carefully packed my Santa Lucia crown away, and it will be ready for my visit to Key West.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Bob!

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

sgsidekick said...

BWAHAHAHAHA! Love the story! I can see you being propelled by elves only to shoot from their grasp on the hardwood, a blurry red comet of reindeer destruction. Oh to have seen that! But the laughter just reading of it scared the cat, so I am happy.

Thanks for the photo. It has totally disrupted the one I used to have of Santa Lucia, and I can't get that back!

All in all a fun read, even without the motorcycles. Thanks for the gift!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear SgSidekick:

You are certainly welcome... Thank you for your kind reception to what has to have been one of the loonier episodes in my life.

Leslie and I did the picture knowing it would get my friend Roy's goat. In fact, we had to order the Santa Lucia crown a week in advance.

Merry Christmas to You and Bugser,
Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Conchscooter said...

Barf. They will love you at the Bourbon in lipstick and all.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Conch:

Fess up... You laughed. You didn't want to... You wanted to piss and moan about something, but I made you laugh. And you laughed harder than you intended because you know it really happened to me. And you know I have no shame and could give a shit about what a bunch of Square Heads from Sweden think.

On the subject of your post today...

Your new dog looks like a pisser. You can tell the dog is perfectly at home with you guys and fully understsands that things have changed for the better.

Our rescue mutt from Georgia didn't play or anything when Leslie brought her home. She hated me (the dog, not Leslie) and shit in every room in the house 140 times per room. That was three years ago. (I used to think the road to hell was lined with dog shit and ended in my office.) Now the only time the dog shits in the house is when Obama announces a press conference on how the watered-down health care bill is so good for me that it's impossible for me to understand it.

Scout (the rescue dog) got out of the yard six months ago and took off like a shot. Two of us tore after her in separate cars. She got to the corner, took a look around, and ran straight back to the yard. She knows she stepped in shit on this go round, and is in no way ready to change anything.

In the 36 months since Leslie saved her from death row, she had become the perfect watch dog. Unlike the German Shepherd, who understands 678 words but can't figure out that the automatic ice maker isn't trying to steal the car, Scout will systematically kill anything that doesn't look like it should be here. At 100 pounds, she is a force to be reckoned with.

I like rescue dogs. And with many of those that I have seen, I can't understand why they ended up in the pound to start with.

Good luck with Cheyenne... Which is a really cool name.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Cantwell said...

"...expressly for people easily mistaken for cardboard cutouts ..."

I think Dick has a closet full of these, along with high heels and boas.

Merry Christmas Jack,
Yours Truly,

fasthair said...

Mr. Jack: Was was really enjoying this run down memory lane right up until the end. That picture just isn't right! I don't know if it is the "white is not my color" look of it is the "I just shit my pants and am happy about it" look on your face that just makes me want to shut off my computer or what. But I could gone through life without seeing that!!!

Merry Christmas to you and Stiffe.


Cantwell said...

Dear Fasthair,

You should see him dance!


irondad said...

You're cracked. I'm speechless. As well as sightless. Shouldn't have looked at the picture.

I laughed right until I threw up.

Nikos said...


That blond wig really suits you but I'm extremely concerned about the fire risk!

Festive greetings from England (Europe), Nikos

Electra Glide In Blue said...

I once knew a Swede by the name of Rugga Groething, he claimed to be a Viking, anyways he had a headdress just about like the one you're sporting in that Santa Lucia pic.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Cantwell Mike):

Merry Christmas to you and your family.

The word on the street is two days of snow and sleet this weekend, which will almost certainly mean sand on the pavement. This could put me out of the rider running until April. They are also talking about a "white" Christmas, with snow later on during the week.

I might just as well be in the Adirondacks then.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mr. FastHair:

We all have a secret side. I had the biggest laugh from your assessment that the smile on my face meant I had just shit my pants. Actually, that's another look entirely... One that I save for greeting inlaws.

Merry Christmas to you and yours...
Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad (Dan):

Years of reading Key West Diary has gradually taken its toll on me, and I am now beginning to look like the spirit of Duval Street past. Finding a helmet t accommodate this crown was a real challenge.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Fondest regards.
Jsck • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Nikos:

I got the crown from European Union Imports, a company that is sworn to making products that conform to the high standards of European unity and consensus. Should I be worried?

Happy Christmas!

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear EGIB:

I got a case of these crowns wholesale. I am getting them DOT approved as helmets for Harley riders. I have one in blue for you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year...

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Unknown said...

Jack "r":

I just looked at your photo again . . . and it gives me the willys

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Nikos said...


I thought that wig gave off an aura of supreme Euro quality. It was therefore made in Slovenia by illegal migrant Albanians. Worry?

Happy holidays

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Nikos:

If the job situation gets any better in Slovenia, I'll be there next week.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Lance said...

Jack, a wonderful story as always. A Merry Christmas to you! As that kid now knows, don't mess with Santa!

redlegsrides said...

Great story Jack, I'm just sorry I missed this story when you initially posted it.....last week was a bad week for me as you know.

Thanks for this funny story....Merry Christmas to you and yours....