Torture and other tales from a department store Santa

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I usually get into the Christmas spirit around Dec. 29. But I did get ahead of it one year. I was Santa Claus at Sears.

I got the job by pretending, at the interview, that I was Santa in disguise. I sprayed my hair and my beard white. I wore baggy old clothes and make up. I filled out the application as “Nicholas Claus” but insisted the interviewer call me “Mr. C.”

It was great – at times. Three-year-olds would give me hugs so filled with love it made me spin. Little angels with lists of toy desires, which they’d read to me slowly, like I was an idiot. Too cute.

Then there were the pre-teens who came by to taunt.

Teen 1: “You’re not Saaaaanta. You’re a dork”!

Teen 2: “Who’s watchin’ Mrs. Claus and the dwarfs, eh, Santa?”

(all teens laugh)

Teen 3: “Don’t you feel stupid – tryin’ to be a fat guy?”

Did I mention the “teens” were always boys?

Worst were the moms who made a huge deal of it, pushing the child toward this red monster on a hill of sparkling white cotton … and there’d be uncontrollable tears. Many times I’d be bellowing “HO HO HO” … or just turn … I’d make eye contact with an innocent 4-year-old. The child would recoil in mortal terror.

Then there was the beard. Santa beards are synthetic and, over extended periods of time, fuse to the soft tissue of the nose, lips and ears. Therefore Santas everywhere (a group with no union) are forced to be tortured by the uniform. It’s a cruel and unusual job requirement. It’s like putting mosquitoes in astronauts’ suits.

The corporate types at Sears didn’t see it that way. Real hair couldn’t be laundered, and the floor manager insisted that it was part of being Santa. My complaints did not help put the Christmas spirit into the full-time employees.

I think some of my ad-libs bothered them, too. When it got slow, I would rave on, possibly too loudly, about whatever – the elves looking forward to January like the French look forward to August. Ho ho ho. Lazy little things, those elves. Oh, yes! Frogs are lazy, too. You rarely see a frog on Santa’s lap (louder “ho ho” here as people 100 feet away hide behind the “Notions” display). And they always have that same silly Christmas list – “A fly … a mosquito …a spider.” All night they croak – how much energy does that take? Eeeeeerk! Eeeeeerk! They don’t even jump – they use their tongues.

Anyway, the management hadn’t expected Santa to “dominate the floor.” People allegedly were trying to shop.

My assistant, a timid girl, was sure we’d be fired imminently.

But as fate would have it, Santa is under the jurisdiction of no particular department at Sears. The guy who hires cannot fire. The only control was the vice president of “Domestic Non-catalog Seasonal Special Events Programming.” He was in Chicago.

Also, you really can’t fire Santa. It wouldn’t look good in the newspapers. As I mentioned to them.

You can’t not have a Santa.

And there’s no understudy Santa for replacement.

So we did it my way.

Still, I never wore a wig at work again.

It was profitable, though. Not the minimum salary of the job, but the unemployment benefits.

And it was fun, filling out the unemployment form:

Description of employment you are seeking: Santa Claus.

Other jobs you will accept: Easter Bunny, Cupid, Paul Bunyon, any of the Founding Fathers …

Reason for being laid off: All the good children got all the toys.

Have you looked for work since you were laid off? Where?: Yes. I contacted the Sears in Australia to see if they needed a Santa this July.

How would you rate your chances of employment? Dim. There are a lot of fat Aussies.

Are you confident you will find work? No. But I’m trying to stay jolly!

This year I’m going to get ahead of the whole thing. I’ll be the person who has that card in the mail and the decorations up early. Everything wrapped and sent off before the rush. I can do it. How many days until Christmas anyway?

It’s Friday?!

This Friday?

Oops! Merry C.

Dennis Lamour lives in Cary.