Maul Santas (Part 1)
It has always struck me as odd that everybody keeps asking kids the same question this time of year: “Do you believe in Santa?”
Why? Nobody asks them “Do you believe in Barack Obama?” or “Do you believe in J.K. Rowling?” or “Do you believe in the +8 oxidation state of ruthenium tetroxide?”
The fact that you’re asking them specifically about Santa and no one else raises doubt about his existence. That’s fine if that’s the goal, but most folks want to preserve that fantasy for them for the first few years.
A fascinating phenomenon is what happens after the kids figure out that Santa is a hoax. The very obvious next step is to apply that exact same test to God, but most of them don’t. He’s a magic man with impossible powers. There’s absolutely no evidence for his existence (at least Santa was providing proof of his existence every Christmas morning, until they discover that the evidence is being planted by fraudsters intending to deceive them).
Most kids don’t take that necessary and obvious next step to revelation. I can think of three reasons:
- Kids like magic. If one magical mystery man is taken from them, they probably aren’t eager to have the rest of their comforting delusions stolen as well.
- The logic part of the brain has not yet fully developed (and in many, it remains stunted for the rest of their life).
- The adults around them believe in God.
So what is the age that the kids figure out that the adults in their life are liars? And how does the Santa myth survive even that long?
I was 5. Until recently, I assumed that’s when everyone else figured it out (or at least by age 6). Apparently some kids don’t put the pieces together until they’re 7 or 8!
We lived an idyllic life in a perfect house with an immaculate yard in a tranquil neighborhood in a glistening city thriving in an America at the height of its prosperity and prestige.
Actually, that’s a crock. It was the height of the Cold War. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society had been hijacked by red-baiting delusional paranoids who had bled off most of the federal budget into feeding the ravenous maw of the Military-Industrial Complex, forcibly conscripting its young men and sending them off to die in an unwinnable and pointless war. Races were rioting, MLK and RFK were being assassinated, smog and environmental degradation were at an all-time high, the world was on the brink of nuclear armageddon, and we lived in the primary blast radius of the nearby naval base.
And to make matters worse, there were only three channels on TV.
That “perfect house” was far from it. It had such a flimsy foundation that I remember one of the walls was splitting because the ground was settling. My dad had to go under the house and prop up the wall with a car jack. As far as I know, it was still under there when we moved out. I guess the new buyer didn’t check under the house. Home inspections, people! You need to hire a building inspector to check out the house before you buy it! If you don’t, you may discover that the previous owner has included a free car jack in the deal.
It really wasn’t a bad neighborhood, though. I remember playing with my wagon on the driveway one day (no, that isn’t a rude euphemism). The most beautiful, drop-dead gorgeous woman came out of the house across the street and walked toward her car.
My jaw hit the ground, my eyes bugged out, and I started shouting “Pretty lady! Come here! Pretty lady! I love you!”
My mother yelled at me in a stage whisper: “Quiet! Stop that! You’re embarrassing me! Get in the house!”
The woman got in her car and drove away. I was 4 or 5, you understand. This was my first lesson in the unattainability of beautiful women.
A lesson I would learn over and over again.
True story. Where was I? Oh, yes, Santa Claus.
So it was December, and I was 5 and living in a not-so-bad neighborhood in an otherwise-unidyllic America. I don’t really remember the name of the family that lived next door, but let’s pretend I do, and their name was Connor.
A Saturday or two before Christmas, the Connors threw a party for all the kids in the neighborhood. I remember attending with my brother, who was two years older (and therefore experienced in the ways of the world).
There must have been cake and games and hookers, but the part I remember was the visit from Santa! Boy, the Connors had connections (or compromising photographs)! Here was Santa Claus, and he came all the way from the North Pole to visit our little party! (He’s also available for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and strip-o-grams.)
He gave us each a small wrapped gift, asked us each what we wanted for Christmas, and then left.
Later that day, after the party was over, I’m sure I had already bent the Slinky beyond usefulness. I was probably just staring at it and fantasizing about how much better my life would be once puberty kicked in.
My brother said to me: “You know that wasn’t really Santa Claus.”
I said “Yes it was!”
“No it wasn’t! It was Mr. Connor in a Santa suit!”
“That’s not true! That was Santa Claus! And you’re a butthole!”
What I experienced next was probably one of my daily beatings.
Anyway, that incident must have disturbed me greatly, because I was still thinking about it the next day. I remember thinking “Wait a minute. His voice did sound a lot like Mr. Connor’s.”
A bit later: “Hey! I think that was Mr. Connor!”
A day or two later I remember thinking “Well if that was Mr. Connor, how do I know that all of the other times I saw Santa that it was really him?”
A bit later: “Wait a minute. How do I know that any of the other times I saw Santa it was really him? I bet they were all just guys in Santa suits! I bet they’re all fakes! I bet there’s no Santa at all!”
So I asked my mother, and she confirmed it.
Then we went to church.