'Tis The Season...
Long before my career in public relations included writing things like congressional testimony, state-of-the-industry speeches, and quotes written expressly for people easily mistaken for cardboard cutouts or bodies seeking reanimation, I earned a living doing the marketing for a roller rink in New Jersey. (I was 26-years-old at the time.) 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 they 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," the roller rink owners 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 looked more stocky than fat 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 we're supposed to help you out to Santa's throne... And that you were to shut up about it."
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 throughout the room at my appearance. (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 highlight for me.)
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 against mine, and began pushing me across the carpet to the skating floor.
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 my skates hit the hard wooden floor.
My mass went from glacial progress to runaway horse speed 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 "wham!"
"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?"
The 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 bicycle-football-tape recorder-guitar-racing-cars-and a G.I.Joe." A small percentage of kids came with written lists, complete with their addresses and directions to their respective homes, 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 laughingly buried her face in my beard, repeating "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 pushing 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 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 leaned over and whispered in his ear, "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 scrambled from my lap and backed away, never taking his eyes from Santa's feet.
I figure that kid is about 40-years-old today. 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!
© Copyright Jack Riepe 2004
From my book in progress: "Mid-life Crisis: Let The Ordeal Begin"
All rights reserved.
Hey Santa Jack:
I want a shiney new BMW R1200R, with side cases, top box, heated grips, GPS, crash bars, engine covers, riding lights, tank bang, cruise control, bluetooth systems OR . . . I'll yank your . . ., and kick you in the shins. If you run out of R1200r's, you can sub a Triumph 800.
Riding the Wet Coast
ps: I actually liked this story
Again you have demonstrated a level of writing that few will match
Truly this is the reality of Christmas..
I do hope the big little kid reads this and gets as big a laugh as I did
Merry Christmas Jack
PS I would like all to have a healthy and safe Holiday
The kid is now head of the Mossad, and he is looking for you, too. He wants to buy you a salt water based drink at Sunset Beach. Wishing you joys of the season. May the real Santa slide down your chimney and deposit something special in your stocking.
Your riding buddy,
Great story. I could never get the hang of the boots with wheels either. I like the elf reaction and the suggestion of a spare. I guess he/she got coal in their stocking for that comment...
I can visualize it - and I'm laughing like mad. Good story Jack, and a Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Jack, another great story. I think that kid became the Santa Serial Killer, but I'm sure that had nothing to do with your story ;-)
ps: I never knew that public relations was such a varied and exciting profession !
Great story Jack. And actually I think you inspired the kid to go into show business for himself ...I think he's Krusty the clown ...
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
I have a buddy who's nickname is "The Jew" late 30s maybe....I'll give him a call. Nice story!
Ho..Ho..Ho to you too and we wish you a relaxing and calming festive season!
N and E from Europe.
I don't believe Bob really wants a BMWR1200R
Dear Santa Claus,
Since I have you on the line could you please bring me a new winter riding coat like the one you have, and an endless supply of those chocolate chip cookies you hawk here.
And I do believe, I do believe. And I've been a good boy.
Also, please let me know when you are scheduled to appear again. I want to see elves.
PS. Great story!
Scooter in the Sticks
First of all, the questions begs to be asked: were you good? And if so, how good?
As you are undoubtedly aware, the new "R" bikes for 2012 are water-cooled, and no longer subject to my prejudice.
Your "R" bike is free. However, there is a $24,000 USD shipping and handling charge.
Dear JASIII (Jim S).
Thank you for the kind comment... I expect to discover that the kid is now a lawyer of some sort and that I will shortly go on trial for some sort of violation.
I have no fears of being picked off by the Israeli Secret Service. They are looking for a fat guy in a red suit, with white hair and a beard. Technically speaking, I a only halfway there.
Dear Richard M.:
The scene that day was pure insanity. I had little kids scrambling in each direction as I desperately tried to brake. I am one of the few people who had to lay his skates down.
My best stories are the ones that are absolutely true. This story would have gone viral on YouTube had there bee such a thing back then.
Merry Christmas to you and your family...
Dear Classic Velocity Blog (Wayne):
My attempts to bring dignity and respect to the public relations profession have been repeatedly thwarted by clients who always think otherwise.
And when I worked in Washington, DC, I had to put on Chap Stix with a paint roller considering all the ass I had to kiss on the beltway.
Merry Christmas to you and your family...
That's a good one!!! You know how you can just tell a real douche in the making? I think that kid had the look of petty official, destined to deny insurance claims.
Thanks for writing in... Merry Christmas.
I have two close friends who routinely call each other by that affectionate term. One is my cardiologist. I call him "Sir." The other is Dick Bregstein. He is so famous, he likes to be referred to in a manner similar to Donald Trump. So I call him "The Dick."
Merry Christmas to you and Mrs. Nikos... I wished you lived closer, like in the next county, so we could raise a glass of Christmas Cheer.
Dear Steve Williams:
I was thinking of the image you'd cut, riding around on a VESPA, with a flame-red winter coat trimmed in ermine. It would almost be worth the trouble of getting you the coat just to get a shot of you for Twisted Roads.
I think you've probably read this story before, but it is the only clean Christmas story that I have to tell. (I was once dumped by a woman that I was madly in love with on Christmas Eve, but it took four years to get over that.)
You'll want to read my pre-Christmas Eve story this year though. You're in it.
Merry Christmas to you and Kim.
It was a first read for me. This story, oddly, makes me miss the kids at the preschool where I used to work, but just the kids, not the work or crazy, frenetic existence that came along with it. The little sanna girl really warmed my heart.
Of course, that was a Jewish preschool, and for better or worse, every one of those kids (with the possible exception of a Hassidic boy, sweet kid that he was) expected expected the big man to make an appearance - even after 8 days of chaunkah. The world changes. Nice read, short, sweet, and inspires smiling. Great for the season.
Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life
I visit your site hoping to leave with a smile....and once again I did...Thanks Jack
Merry Christmas Jack
May God hold you and those dear to you in the palm of his hand during this special season, and throughout the New Year.
I like to think the smile that my readers share as they exit is my trademark.
Santa Clause is everybody's saint... He doesn't mind.
Merry Christmas in Germany.
Dear Santa Jack...
I've been very, very bad this year. I can just imagine what you might have in that big red bag for bad girls like me.
Naughty... but nice,
P.S. Is it true... you only come once a year?
Now that, my friend, is a story worth retelling.
Lady R, I think you are in need of a spanking for those questions. lol
My battery in the laptop is fading fast and I can't say more....
Merry Christmas Jack. Have a great holiday.
Scooter in the Sticks
This comment is for SnowQueen...
If it is really you SnowQueen, what was the name of the black dog? And what was the black dog's name before we named him that?
I can't believe this is you.
You called the black dog, "the black dog". However, I named Big Bear... Reuben (which you spelled Ruben) but immediately changed to Stuben and finally Stubey.
Happy New Year, Jack.
It's you! I can't believe it. The very first woman who ever rode on the back of my motorcycle! My God! And you're reading Twisted Roads!
How could such a thing ever happen?
I am now going to write five stories about riding with you... But I am saving them for the book (which is getting close to done).
You once said, "I can't believe the black dog made it into your cigar book... But I didn't!"
I'll fix that. You did make it into several of my blogs. In fact, you are in this story:
I spoke with your brother this morning. I got his number from my sister. (These remarks will start to look very interesting to my readers.) I gave him my cell number to hand off to you, and said you should call if you weren't washing your hair, or cleaning the toilet, or anything.
He said, "Fat chance, Jack. The odds that my sister is reading your shit is so small it wouldn't show up in a forensic lab." Then he gave a sinister laugh, and hung up.
Your brother has my cell number. Give me a ring as soon as the toilet is clean enough for the black dog to drink from.
I want to tell you about "Gatsby." I bet he and Steuby are friends.
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