Maul Santas (Part 2)
Santa has consolidated, like any good monopolist. This allows him to cut costs and drive his competitors out of business.
These days, there is one Santa Claus in the entire mall, and he sits somewhere in the middle, not affiliated with any store in particular. It was not always thus.
Back in the late ‘60s (and presumably earlier), every department store in the mall had its own Santa Claus.
I remember my mother dragging me along while she did the Christmas shopping. I don’t know how she bought stuff for me when I was right there. It must have been Christmas magic! (*retch*)
Anyway, the newer malls in those days had the modern technological advancement of having four anchor tenants! (The older malls only had one or two.) Well, this was the prosperity and freedom we fought so hard for in WWII, so all the housewives drove their wood-paneled Country Squire station wagons over to the new malls in the suburbs, leaving the old urban shopping areas to wither and die, destroying the inner city as they collapsed, leading to urban blight, crime, and fear of communist agents provocateurs, which scared the voters, leading initially to the elections of Richard Nixon to the House (and later, Senate) and Ronald Reagan as Governor, eventually, of course, leading to their elections to the Presidency, which sent the country down a very bleak political path that ultimately ended up destroying the nation.
Way to go, June Cleaver!
So anyway, I’d go with my mother on one of her Saturday Christmas shopping excursions to the mall. She had a lot of gifts to buy, or so it seemed, because she always found it necessary to visit every department store in the mall.
We’d usually start at Sears, then work our way around to Penney’s, Capwell’s, and finish up at Montgomery Ward. I’m not sure what other stores were in the mall, because I don’t remember ever going into any of them.
(Oh, I do remember! They had Woolworth’s! I loved Woolworth’s, because it was such a crappy store that even a 7-year-old could tell it was crap. I think all they sold were coloring books and off-brand socks. And the animals! They had a pet section. You could buy a yellow canary, a cheap cage, and a sprig of millet. Bingo! Instant pet! We didn’t go that route. We always bought the turtles! You could get yourself a baby red-eared slider in plastic bowl of water, and the bowl had an island in the center! And it wasn’t some cheap-ass barren island. No! It had a plastic palm tree on it! Those turtles had it made! A life of pure luxury, swimming in circles or basking on the plastic island beneath the swaying fake palm tree. Until they died two weeks later, of course. You see, back in the ‘60s nobody knew how to take care of turtles. They didn’t know that you need an under-tank heater to keep them warm. But what really did them in was that nobody knew you needed to keep them under an ultraviolet lamp. The turtles needed the UV to make vitamin D. Their shells always got soft, and then they died. How sad. Time to run down to Woolworth’s and buy another!)
Now back to Santa Claus. Santa was always our first stop when we entered a department store. He was always over by the toy section. The line was usually short, because there were three other department stores just 50 yards away.
Sometimes Santa wouldn’t be there. The chair would be empty, and there would be one of those flimsy “Will Return At” clock signs. It wasn’t until some years later that they finally dreamed up the “Santa is feeding his reindeer” ploy. Prior to that, nobody put much thought into maintaining the act when Santa wasn’t there. They just gave the impression that Santa is covered by the labor laws too, so he gets his 10-minute break every couple of hours to go take a dump, have a smoke, and sneak a swig from his hidden flask.
In the early days, I don’t remember the photograph always being part of the deal. I have seen a photograph of myself on Santa’s lap when I was very young, so I know that was available in some places. But I really cannot remember the camera being there in every location. Santa was just this promotional service the store provided to get you to come in and shop there.
The camera did become more prevalent in later years, but it wasn’t obtrusive. They’d snap your picture while you’re talking to Santa. If you wanted to buy some prints, that was fine, but there was no expectation or obligation. (But if you did want them, they couldn’t just print them out right then and there. It was all done on this stuff called “film”. You’d have to wait a week for the photos to be “developed” and mailed to you! No, I am not making this up! That’s how we lived back then. I guess the only reason we were happy is because we didn’t know we were technologically poor.)
All of my visits to Santa that I can remember occurred after the age of 5, which means that I knew this whole thing was a charade. I don’t know why I bothered telling him what I wanted for Christmas. I knew he wasn’t going to buy it for me. I should have looked in my dad’s Playboys for some gift ideas.
“Yes, I’d like some nipple clamps, a butt plug, and a French tickler. Oh yeah, I need some K-Y jelly so my sister won’t scream and wake our parents again.”
Alas, I was not that creative.
So I just told him to bring me whatever worthless crap they were advertising on TV that year.
What I was really after was the candy cane Santa always gave you at the end of the visit. Since there were four department stores in the mall, I’d come home with four candy canes. Not nearly as profitable as Halloween, but a mini-jackpot nonetheless.
What pissed me off though, was that some stores were stingier than others. One might give out a medium-sized candy cane. Then you go over to another department store, stand in line, tell Santa that you want nipple clamps, and then only come away with one of those cheap-ass micro candy canes.
“Mommy, mommy! Why was Santa’s cane so much bigger when he saw me this time?”
“He probably just woke up, dear.”
There was one incident that occurred that I still remember clearly, because it bothered me a bit. It was probably innocent. Those were innocent days. We were all naive.
We were at Montgomery Ward. Was I 6? 7? My brother was in line right behind me. He is two years older, so he wasn’t so old that he would have been obligated by social pressure to stop visiting Santa.
After waiting my turn, I got to sit on Santa’s lap. I told him what I wanted. Then he said to me: “Do you love Santa?”
I said yes. What was I supposed to say? “I hate you, now gimme my candy cane”?
So Santa hugged me. This caught me a bit by surprise. None of the other homeless guys they hired to play Santa ever hugged me. I’ve never been the huggy-gropey-feely type, so getting hugged by a strange man was outside my comfort zone.
My turn ended, I shamefully took the candy cane and skulked back to my mother, never to speak of this humiliating experience again.
No, actually, I just walked back, thinking it was slightly odd.
But now it was my brother’s turn. Oh, this will be worth watching. I can’t wait to see Santa hug my brother. That will embarrass him!
So I watched. My brother told Santa what he wanted then hopped off Santa’s lap, and he was done. Hey! Why didn’t you hug him? You embarrassed me, so why didn’t you embarrass him? Something is odd about that Santa.
He did have a big cane, though.
But it still strikes me as odd to this day. Those were simpler days. It was probably innocent. In fact, Occam’s Razor compels me to accept the simplest explanation:
I was hopelessly adorable.