They needed someone to play Santa for the annual cookies-and-crafts bash for kiddies at Offshore Ale. No one’s husband wanted the job: the gals in the O.B. Business Association had been tightening the thumb-screws to no avail. Even Holly Alaimo’s husband, jazz pianist John, who already sports a white beard, said, “Unh-unh.”
Why wouldn’t these guys want to lug a pillow under the world’s ugliest red suit, plop a scratchy hay-stack of white hair over their heads, and stomp around crying, “Ho, ho, ho”?
So I volunteered.
A woman could do Santa Claus, right? Women have played Hamlet. It’s a feather in the cap of a long and illustrious career in the theatre. It ensures you a “Dame” before your name, like Dame Judith Andersen.
Not that I was personally about to be cast as Hamlet; my last acting job happened back in ’67 when I won a walk-on as a saloon hussy in “The Wild Wild West” TV series.
But the Offshore gang wanted me for Santa, and before you could say, “Rudolph with your nose so bright, fly me the heck out of here!” they found a Santa rig for me for $25 at Job Lot.
Oh Lordy: I would have to do this!
Half an hour before show time, I washed off my eye make-up, slapped on my glasses, and began to suit up. I strapped a pillow around my chest. I thought of padding up my behind but, frankly, once the baggy red flannel pants went on, followed by that horror-show of a red felt jacket and black belt, I looked fat enough to suffocate a water buffalo just by leaning on it.
A pair of faux black boots went over my sneakers. Then came the part that caused men, when faced with Sata detail, to decamp to Bingo Night at the P-A Club: the wreath of white facial hair made of — I’m guessing here — broken computer parts melted down into fibers sprayed with liquid rebar.
So be it. I popped on beard, wig, and cap and scuttled down to the brewery. Would it work? Was it all about the white beard and the red suit? Was the person beneath obliterated?
Adults thronged the bar. Tables in the back held kids with crayons, crafts, and candies, green frosting and whipped cream for decorating sugar cookies into a mess that only Jackson Pollack could love.
The easy part was greeting the kids in a suitably guttural voice; the only way to be heard through a bushel of beard. A boy of five handed me a magnetized Santa button. “He made it for you,” said his grandma. “But give it back so we can put it on the fridge.”
This was my rite of passage. The present specially made for me — temporarily, at least — let me know I had passed the Jolly Fat Dude test.
Well, sort of. Another boy asked me, “Where’s the bigger Santa?”
I always forget I’m short until I see myself dwarfed by normal-sized people in photographs. Now I had to admit that, regardless of how bulked up by pillows I happened to be, I might look a tad unprepossessing for Mr. Claus.
A little b.s. was called for. I said, “I grow bigger every day the closer we get to Christmas. By December 24th, I’ll be as tall as that balcony.”
The boy looked doubtful.
“It’s North Pole magic,” I assured him in a brusque voice.
To my own ears I sounded like James Earl Jones. I imagine to everyone else my voice was on the register of Donald Duck.
Still, it seemed to be working. I sat at a front table where kids slid in beside me and revealed their wishes. A 6-year-old girl named Sawyer wanted a small pink guitar. “Cool gift!” I told her. Logan, a boy of 4, shouted out, “A monster present!” but, thankfully, he changed that to a “Train set.”
Even I knew we had plenty of those back at the North Pole.
A 3-year-old girl named Charley asked for “Cinderella chap stick.” “You bet!” I told her, holding in check a desire to call her a “cheap date.” Nova, a girl of 6 asked for “A pink teddy bear.” It could also be red or white.
These kids were easy! Nova’s 3-year-old brother, Christopher, asked for a “Space Ship Dinosaur.” Nova leaned in to clarify, “You know, a transformer.”
I’d been expecting a kiddy effluvia of consumerism, but all these tots were fine with simple, non-pricey stuff. Good for them! Good for their parents!
Of course, a fun-loving grown-up woman slid onto my lap and requested, “A vacation in Aruba at the Hyatt Hotel.”
So maybe it takes some growing up before a predilection for big ticket items kicks in.
An 11-year-old boy asked for a hatchet. “No,” I said. “Okay, a knife,” he countered cheerfully. “No.” “An axe.” “No.” “A switch-blade.” “No.” He didn’t seem to mind that I’d nixed his choices, although I was chagrined when a few minutes later his sister sidled up and asked for her own hatchet.
I put out a plea to the universe for these siblings to settle their rivalries the old-fashioned way, over a fierce game of Monopoly.
All in all, I scored as Santa. I had to tell people I knew who I was, such as Jim Pringle who, for the sake of a photo op, let me steal a quick peck on the lips.
I was hoarse when I left the brewery, and I whipped off that beard like the Lone Ranger with his mask after a long day of fighting train robbers.
I do recommend that all men with white beards, when tapped for Santa, do their duty for God and country and this crazy little ritual at Christmastime. It’s the fake beard that creeps you out. If you’re already goofy enough to have a real one, you’re it! You’re Mr. Ho Ho Ho! No Bingo Night for you, buster!