Thursday, December 24, 2009
It's become tradition to post some stories from my years as a shopping mall Santa back in the 90s. Here are stories from those painful days ...
Santa vs. Teenagers
Santa has only one natural enemy: the common North American teenager. Santa symbolizes all of their adolescent frustrations and when they see the big, red coat, they react like raging bulls.
For this reason, Santa must be escorted to and from the set by elves or risk a mallrat confrontation. Walking alone is dangerous; one time when I was left on my own at Fairview, some teens shoved me around and yanked my beard down to my ankles. As punishment, the elf who abandoned me has been cursed to work Santa sets for the rest of eternity and I see her just about every year (update: saw her working the Eaton Centre in 2003), working the camera and saying "Baby! Baby! Baby!", to try and get some dribbling infant's attention.
But most teens aren't that brave. Long-distance verbal assaults were more common. Typically, older teenage males would shout down from the second level of the mall, "YOU'RE NOT REAL!" The anger in their voices never seemed to match the pettiness of their cause. Some kids take on globalization or some other issue, the mallrats took on some poor dude working a shit job in a mall.
When angry young teens decided to take on this Santa head-to-head, it became advantage: Santa. The teens thought they were dealing with some sad old guy in a suit, but it was a trap! This Santa wasn't much older than they were; my first year I was 23, my last year I was 27. And I was plenty pissed-off too, packed in that uncomfortable suit, sweating, sucking in strands of my beard and sitting on a deflated cushion on a piece of plywood. Some days my ass would get really sore and I'd become one angry, young Santa.
One evening, a teeny-bopper rocker chick and her entourage came to visit. She sat on my lap while her tough-looking friends stood and watched, knowing that she was about to "shock" Santa and ready to witness the old man's reaction. Here's what went down:
SANTA: So, what would you like this year?
TEEN CHICK: Santa, I want Kurt Cobain's body.
SANTA: Well, I feel a little guilty about that ...
TEEN CHICK: Do you even know who Kurt Cobain is?
SANTA: Well yeah, I do, and I feel bad because I'm the one who gave him the gun!
TEEN CHICK: [leans away] Huh?
SANTA: That was his present!
TEEN CHICK: [long pause] Oh my god, Santa. You're sick!
I never worried that much about the teens, I knew mall security had Santa's back. At Fairview, the macho dudes with the shaved heads who kept order were pretty hardcore; nothing like the sad sacks who patrol the Duff. Security used to flirt with the elf girls who then would tell me about the guards' lives. One was a wannabe cop who couldn't get into cop school; another was considering the military as a career option and mall security was something to occupy his time until then. They looked scary enough in their fascist-styled duds and they were always jonesin' for an excuse to spring into action.
One weekday afternoon the mall wasn't busy and one of the security guards was at the front table talking up an elf. I was sitting alone, bored out of my skull and hoping that someone would visit me, just to give me something to do. Sometimes, when people visited during those long stretches of emptiness, they'd get more of a visit than they'd hoped for because bored Santa wouldn't let them leave, "So you're good? Family's good? How's work? Pleeeease talk to meeee!"
Instead of visitors, I was startled by a crash and looked to my left and saw two teenage boys punching one another in the head. They fell through the railing and into the fake snow where they would have kept fighting if it weren't for the security guard who lunged and subdued both of them in a few seconds. I was a little shocked at how fast security guy was able to fly across the set. The two teens were dragged off to be processed into Soylent Green.
Sarcasm and Wit
Being a shopping mall Santa Claus isn't as entertaining as you'd think. For the first four weeks, nothing happens and you pass the time with little games played with the elves, such as 'celebrity', where you sit and try to guess which celebrity people on the escalator resemble.
The mall crowd is as dull as you'd expect them to be and you wind up fielding the same questions from the same types of people, over and over. In that kind of environment, you either find ways to challenge yourself or your brain turns to mush.
One challenge I set in my second year was to try and be just slightly out-of-date, so it would seem like I actually was a jolly old guy underneath the suit and beard. So I starting asking the kids if they wanted stuff from the 80s as presents -- usually Mr. T related. If I wasn't in the mood to talk presents, I'd just engage kids in a conversation about Mr. T, "Hey, are you a big Mr. T fan? Do you watch the A-Team? I pity the fool who doesn't like Mr. T!" The kids had no idea who I was talking about but were usually good sports and would say, "Uh, yeah, Mr. T is great ..." One time, a dad chimed in: Tell Santa that you're not afraid of flying!
Bad jokes were another way of keeping interested and awake. Because I was in my twenties when I played Santa, people would sometimes ask, "Aren't you a little YOUNG to be Santa?" And I'd reply, "Hey, at least I'm not a FREUDIAN!" Nobody ever liked that joke. I must have told it a hundred times. Once in a while, I'd respond to the same question with, "Huh? No, I'm Luke Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you!" Nobody liked that one either.
Other people provided me with challenges as well. One year at an Xmas party, some friends challenged me to play Santa as Hank Kingsley from The Larry Sanders Show for a whole weekend. That meant that I had to greet every kid by saying, "HEY, NOW!" in Hank's voice. I gave it my best shot, but after a few hours of "Hey, now!" I packed it in and lost. You gotta know when to fold 'em and when to run.
Men & Women
If you think Santa gets to hear a wide variety of gift requests, you're damn wrong! People who frequent suburban shopping malls just aren't that original. That makes the job easier when it comes to the kids because by the end of the first week, Santa has a good idea of what the hot items are and He can research them and 'wow' the kids with His vast knowledge of the various versions of Polley Pocket or console video games.
Adult rubes are even easier: 99% of the time, women ask for 'a boyfriend' and men ask for 'a car'. I found the uniformity of the answers so strange, I began prodding the visitors for more information. When women asked for boyfriends, I would point out that the men were all asking for cars instead of girlfriends. That didn't seem to phase many of the women. One or two declared that they were going to 'quit living for a man' but the rest seemed to accept their lot.
When I started asking the men if they'd rather have a girlfriend instead of a car, most would start laughing and say emphatically, "No!" as though I'd just asked the most idiotic question in the history of shopping mall holiday events. I can't identify with anyone who loves cars that much, so I threw a wrench in the works and provided a third option: car, girlfriend or computer. Some of the smarter guys realized the error of their ways and decided that computer trumps car.
No wonder most of the couples who visited Santa always asked for the same thing: world peace.
If you're ever trapped in a loveless marriage, Santa can help. One pretty, older woman used to visit Santa every two or three nights and drop obscene amounts of money on full picture sets so she could sit and unload at length about her rich but very distant, neglectful husband (I could tell you stories, but I'd be violating the client-Santa privilege). Some people have affairs, some people get therapy, this woman visited Santa. I guess it's kind of sweet, like she was regressing to childhood or something. She was only around for one season, so things must have been settled after that. I missed her the following year, not many visitors have the time or money to open up like that. And she smelled nice.
Actually, Santa was full of advice. Most of it worthless. One year my main elf was a really attractive girl and one day while we were hanging and playing 'Celebrity' she asked what she should get her boyfriend for Xmas. Everyone was getting Glamour shots done at the time so I suggested she get gussied up and have her portrait done. And she did and gave her man a framed 8x10. Somewhere out there, there's some dude who hates Santa because one year he got a lame picture for a present instead of a console game or a cell phone ... [2004 update]
When you work as Santa, you're always hearing stories about the other Santas over the season; the guy who got fired for being drunk as Santa, the guy who fondled a teenager while she was on his lap ... and the guys who die ... in fact, every season I was often the only Santa still standing at the end of the five weeks (my first year, no other Santa lasted more than two weeks).
The old guy who was the Santa at Woodbine the year before I was there was in poor health, had to pee in a bucket inside the Santa house and died mid-way through the season.
My third year, I worked the day shift, "Santa George" (names have been changed) worked the evening shift and "Santa Dave" worked all the other shifts. Santa Dave was a tall, funny Scottish engineer who had just turned sixty, was unemployed (it was the mid-90s) and smoked like a chimney. Because of him, the little 'Santa Room' started to look and smell like an ashtray and when we confronted him about his filth one evening, he starting harping on about his 'rights' and never did clean up. Smokers always worry about their rights while being the most inconsiderate bastards.
Santa George was the "Little Santa" and like Dave, that was his first year on the job. All the new Santas got the shaft that year when the company that ran the Santa racket lowered the starting wage from $12 an hour to $10 (I was a vet and my raises meant that I was at $15/hr, which seemed like a load of dough at that time). So, all season long, I felt sorry for the new Santas ... but not that sorry.
One evening, I finished up my shift and went to the room and chatted briefly with Santa George for what would turn out to be the last time that year. The next morning when I reported in, the elves were in a panic, "Santa George had a stroke! On the chair!"
After I left the previous evening, Santa George started his shift and everything went smoothly at first. Then he asked for a glass of water. Then another. And another. Then, with a kid on his lap, he started shouting and swearing and foaming at the mouth. He pushed the kid off, stood up for a moment and seemed to wobble and then collapsed.
A few years later at a former girlfriend's family barbeque, I was using the story to break the ice with her relatives, who I was meeting for the first time and trying to impress, and when I came to the part of the story where Santa falls back into the chair, I acted it out and fell back into a plastic patio chair that shattered like glass when I hit it. I wound up flat on my back on the ground ... see? A good Santa story ages like fine cheese.
The Following Year ...
The following year was my last as Santa. One afternoon, I was sitting on the chair and a strange looking man seemed to be waving to me from the edge of the set. My first thought was, "Crap, why do I get all the freaks?" but I waved the guy in and he hobbled around the path and came up on the set. When he stood in front of me, I could see his face clearly and I blurted out, "Santa! You're back!"
It was Santa George, crumpled and half-paralyzed but still able to get around on his own. We talked for a bit and he explained that when he had the stroke, they didn't expect him to survive the first 24 hours. When he did, they said that if he lived through the week, chances were that he would survive but would be completely paralyzed for the rest of his life. But he pulled through that, too, and there he was standing and walking and talking.
They called me up to do Santa again for a few years after that, but I declined. The wig had started giving me chills and pins & needles in my scalp, even when I wasn't wearing it, and every time that happened, my thoughts turned to Santa George. So I quit while I was ahead and never again donned the beard or the belly.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Here's my key art for a new documentary, Reel Injun:
You can learn more about the film from their new website, Twitter and their YouTube channel:
Hollywood has made over 4000 films about Native people; over 100 years of movies defining how Indians are seen by the world. Reel Injun takes an entertaining and insightful look at the Hollywood Indian, exploring the portrayal of North American Natives through the history of cinema.
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A Dufferin Mall Experienced
After more than ten years of living in the shadow of the Dufferin Mall, we're moving. We're heading east to Leslieville. The other day one of my neighbours accused me of "betraying the West End". I said that the West End betrayed me first by becoming too expensive to live in. For example, the rinky-dink house shown to the left, just a few doors from the Dufferin Mall, just went on the market. Asking price? $589,900.
For $589,900, I could fill a decommisioned nuclear reactor cooling tower with red and green Jello and film a 3D sequel to The Abyss.
Location, location, location ... right? Well, the reason I moved out here was because of price, price, price. The area west of Dufferin was dirt cheap a decade ago and for good reason: it's sparse. It's in between everything and close to nothing. Parks are few and far between and St. Clarens and Margueretta are ridiculously long, harsh streets. Dundas turned into a mini-hipsterville but there still isn't a decent brunch place. I used to invite people over for parties and they'd joke about having to come to 'this part of town' ...
So why not take a moment and enjoy the 'hood the way it used to be by viewing 2003's Dufferin Mall Experience. It's not your grandma's Dufferin Mall! ... wait, actually it is.
Coming up: Ghosts of the Coffee Guys
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Friday, December 18, 2009
I call Rogers to get a service change. They say they can't access my account without a PIN number. I say that I'm and old customer and never had a PIN, is that a new thing? They say I have a PIN. I say I don't know what it is. They say that I have to go to a store to do what I have to do. So I go to a Rogers store. The guy at the store asks me for my PIN. I say that I told the guy on the phone that I never had a PIN. The guy in the store looks me up on his computer and says that I don't have a PIN. I say that I know that. He says that I also don't have a security question. I say that I know that and that I'm an old customer and this must be newish. He says that he can't give me a PIN ... I have to PHONE ROGERS to do that. But there's a phone in the store that I can use. The Rogers Store. He says that they'll do it now because he put a note on my account saying that I came in and verified my identity. I say thanks and that I'm in a rush and will call from home tomorrow. Then, when I try to leave the store I can't because the doors won't open. The woman working the floor tells me to "push the button". I push the wheelchair access button and the door opens. I have to do it again for the outside door. But then I was free ...
Anyhow, so Marc at Torontoist says this:
This exact same PIN shit happened to me. In my case, the only way they were able to resolve it was to mail me a PIN...not in person, not on the phone, not in email; regular mail.
Holy mother of shit ... I need a freakin' PIN number to phone them? Consider me a customer unserviced!
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Saturday, December 05, 2009
Blackball Blocking Ban + Glee Sucks
Just saw this post on Mondoville, the fun, scrappy Toronto site:
...you’re missing all the excitement of people telling you to unfollow Mondoville on Twitter — or, worse, threatening to unfollow anyone who admits to following Mondoville. And if not for the blocking efforts of a select few, we’d have cleared 800 followers today.
According to the post, perpetual fan favourite Josh Errett is blocking Mondoville on Twitter. Apparently, if you follow Mondoville, people will even threaten to unfollow you on Twitter. I checked my Twitter and I'm fine. Even NOW is still letting me follow them. Phew. Good thing I checked. Or it would be good if I didn't find Twitterr completely irritating.
Twitter ... and Glee.
I watched Glee for the third time this week because I keep hearing people go on about how much they love Glee. So I watched it. For the third time. ... actually, I didn't watch the whole thing because it was so terrible I skipped the last ten minutes. Glee is crap.
When I watched the Glee pilot, the show had some jokes and that sort of compensated for the unbearble music ... but this week's episode didn't have any jokes at all. Instead, the teacher in charge of the Glee club discovers that his wife isn't pregnant and has been faking it with padding because she's afraid that he's going to leave her. Yeah, that was the plot and they played it for tears, not laughs.
If you have ever been in a relationship for more than five minutes, you know that plot is preposterous. And I'm living with a pregnant woman right now, so that plot seems just plain stupid. Give me a break.
Then there was the singing. My god, it's awful. Glee show just how much damage American Idol has done to pop culture ... it makes me feel like I'm Marty McFly in Back to the Future when he arrives in town in the 1950s. And if you think Back to the Future is a dated reference ... it ain't as dated as Glee's notions of "music".
I don't love to hate Glee ... I just hate Glee.
Josh Errett, on the other hand, I love to hate ... that is, until I saw his recent column in NOW:
So despite tragic accounts of oversharing, society seems to reward it. It’s endearing, humanizing, interesting and, most importantly, not going away.
Ummmm ... what the hell was that? The column made strong points using relevant examples and wasn't irritating at all. Which is fine, I guess, we all have bad days.
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Thursday, December 03, 2009
If we learned anything from the H1N1, it's that if something really serious ever happens ... we can count on pro jocks to flip out.
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