Andy had seen the change coming for the past decade. The kids were more and more weary about sitting on his lap, looking to their parents nervously beforehand as though to confirm that this wasn’t all somehow wrong. Sitting in a grown male stranger’s lap. It wasn’t. Andy despised the Catholic Church for having turned every man with absolutely no affiliation with the priesthood into pedos by default. Did Andy relish being a Santa every year? Get some sick pleasure out of it? No. But it was easy and dependable end of the year income. Something to give him a financial (therefore self-esteem) boost at the start of the New Year before it all inevitably went to shit again and the cycle of him fucking up his finances repeated. And naturally, whenever he finally revealed to his girlfriend of the moment that he was a Santa for hire, she never took it as well as say, Lauren Graham as Sue in Bad Santa. No, the myth of women fetishizing Santa Claus as a Daddy type was just that. They were repulsed by him when they found out. Would conveniently come up with long lost exes or a death in the family that made them need to “take some time” and “reassess the relationship.” The assessment was always the same: Andy was a creep and a loser for donning that red suit every year.
If one asked the average mall Santa when he first “knew” he wanted to get a part-time job portraying “jolly old St. Nick,” it’s not as though he would have been able to give a concrete answer. Those who “become” Santa for the month of December don’t set out to. It’s not like it’s a lifelong goal to aspire to when you’re a child yourself sitting on Santa’s lap and assuming he’s the real deal. But maybe, for Andy alone, it was. Andy who, only after seeing him everywhere all the time, began to question if it was “magic” or just plain adult deceit. Andy began to realize it was the latter around his ninth year on this earth, when one of the Santas exhibited an overt bulge in an area that was not his stomach as Andy sat down to tell him his wishlist. He ignored what he knew to be Santa’s flagrant erection (knowing from having his own that it was something to be ashamed of and certainly not paraded in public). It was when Andy practically ran back toward his parents and “Santa” slapped him on the ass as he scurried away that something in Andy was triggered. Some grand purpose in life delivered to him from on high by the polyester angel topping the giant Christmas tree that overlooked him at that moment. He would be a different kind of Santa. A non-disgusting one.
Of course, this “life goal” was pushed to the back of his consciousness when the practical ambitions thrust upon him began to take precedence: getting into college and finding a job to support himself while going through it. It was the Christmas of his sophomore year, in 2001, that the Santa fate was redirected back toward him. Despite the pall that had been cast over the nation with 9/11, the mascots of capitalism were expected to persist, and Andy was happy to be one of them for the hourly rate of ten dollars at the Westside Pavilion. The clientele there was decidedly tame, fewer teenage ruffians than the Beverly Center or Glendale Galleria. Just your garden variety children of rich assholes. Andy could handle that. It was only in later years that he started to take on less “festive” malls, like the Crenshaw Shopping Center. Because, the way he saw it, the more gigs, the more windfall. He refused to look at the job as just another product of minimum wage. It was more than that, he would tell himself every day as he donned the increasingly stained with sweat Santa suit (he wasn’t worried, they would dock his pay for the dry cleaning, or simply choose to ignore the discolorations as he had). It was an obligation to make reparations for every foul Santa that had ever gotten a boner while a child was sitting on their lap. Andy would never do such a thing–not even “inadvertently.” For the only (non-)stimulus less arousing to him that conjuring the image of Mother Teresa was the sight of children, always seeming to be leaking some sticky substance out of every orifice. In truth, they were the real pervs.
But he pushed that thought and all other negative ones aside when they came to sit on his lap and garble their list of demands to him. As the years went on, however, it seemed that more adults were taking a seat on his lap than kids. Something he would later realize was the “millennial phenomenon.” As the generation that most embodied the characteristics of Peter Pan Syndrome, it wasn’t a surprise that they should want to continue one of the foremost traditions of childhood into their very overt adulthood, taking “ironic” pictures for their social media accounts that would prove to their friends and acquaintances that even if they had office jobs and children of their own on the way, they themselves would never lose sight of their youthful folly. It made Andy sick. Here he was, someone who had been working since it was legal to, all of the sudden faced with this barrage of faux zygotes determined to cling to one of the purest vestiges of jejunity. It was insulting. And it made Andy bitterer and bitterer with each passing Christmas, until one year, circa 2019, he wasn’t even called upon at all as usual from the malls that he could once count on for his yearly supplemental income. It gobsmacked him when, come November 20th, there were no messages or emails alerting him to some preliminary information about the chair this year.
So it was that he took matters into his own hands and drove down to the Westside Pavilion himself in his beat-up, rundown white Honda Accord (somehow adding to the bleak portrait of it all). He was determined to figure out what the hell was going on, for he knew that it surely couldn’t have pertained to anything he had done wrong in his “performance” the previous year.
As he passed through the main hall where the tree was already set up, he could see that they were assembling a chair. A chair unlike any he had ever seen in all his tenure as Santa. It was ornate, bombastic–almost obscene. And as he watched them start to “test it out,” a phrase he overheard one of the “technicians” say, it started to flash like some LED strobe light. Mocking him with its orgasmic rhythm. Why the fuck hadn’t he been informed about this?
When he was finally led to someone named Mark in personnel who could “assist” him, he stared at him blankly. “Look, maybe someone should’ve told you but, we’re about to enter the third decade of the twenty-first century. Santa is obsolete. No one wants to sit on Santa’s lap. They want to be Santa himself. That’s why we put together this chair and slapped a bucket of props next to it. Let the masses fend for themselves. Do their selfie bullshit the way they want. Plus, it significantly cuts down on our own costs.” When Andy didn’t respond, Mark continued, “Also, how are you not aware that Google just bought most of this building? Shit, they’ve bought most of the Westside. This mall is gonna close anyway. And frankly, I don’t know how it hasn’t already. It can’t coast on being in a scene from Clueless forever.”
Andy felt the ground fall out from under him. As though his own no frills chair had been sucked down into the depths. How could this be? How could the mall be closing? How could Santa be deemed “obsolete”? He was the essence of Christmas.
Mark shrugged. “And, you know, Santa is an old white man. You know old white men are not very fashionable. He’s a symbol of the patriarchy. So we give these tween, teen and aging crones some semblance of the belief that we’re doing this for them. Yet they seem to have no idea that we–the men–are still calling all the shots behind the scenes. It’s quite humorous actually.”
Andy couldn’t stand to be around Mark any longer. He was the Grinch who stole his Christmas. By stealing Santa away from him forever. He practically ran out of the room without even excusing himself. He didn’t know what to do, where to go. He was too distraught to drive back to his apartment, so he decided to walk around aimlessly, finding himself, invariably, on Melrose. There were still a few legitimate vintage stores left on the avenue, albeit few and far between. He wandered into one of them upon noticing a Santa suit in the window. He demanded to see it from the shopgirl, usually unflappable, but somewhat concerned as he started to smell the armpits and crotch of the ensemble. “This absolutely reeks. How much are you selling it for?”
She appraised his urgency for a moment before determining what the suit would be worth to him. “Six hundred.”
He glared at her. “Are you fucking serious?”
“You want it or not?”
Minutes later, he emerged from the store in the only getup that made his internal clock work. The sole entity that could make him register it was Christmas. With the suit as a sort of seasonal second skin, he could at last process that it was, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year. Never mind that he had no chair to sit in–that social media and the narcissism that went with it had effectively ousted him from his once ironclad position. Never mind that he was sitting on the sidewalk with a sign made out of cardboard that said: “Sit on Santa’s lap: $5.00.” Yes, he probably looked like just another deranged homeless person in L.A. But he didn’t care. He had to try. He had to make every effort possible to preserve the integrity of Christmas.
It was when a stripper from Crazy Girls walked down the sidewalk in her high heels and short denim cutoffs with her son in tow that he knew he was vindicated. That is, until both he and the stripper’s son noticed Andy had an erection after a couple minutes within the time frame of being “sat on.” It was for his mom, granted, but that somehow didn’t make it any less creepy. Or traumatizing. Therefore, Andy had done the one thing he had set out never to do in his role as Santa. It wasn’t the chair, in the end, that did his “career” in, but a curvaceous blonde pole dancer. Los Angeles strikes again, he muttered to himself as he ambled away from his horrified patrons, ripping the articles of Santa clothing off of him while he made his way down the boulevard, just another sinister soul in the City of Angels.