Ask anyone who works, or has ever worked retail at a shopping mall during the holidays, what’s the most depressingly degrading job one could apply for, or have thrust upon them during the Christmas season, and here's how it will go down. Oh, I should add, the following yule time tale actually happened…sadly.
If you ask this "what’s the worst Christmas job" question at your local mall, this will be some of the replies:
- The lion share of the mall-ites will give you confused stares. If you yourself are confused by this, just remember you're standing in the center of some food court, yelling questions at random passersby.
- A handful of people will avoid you like you're "it"…that somehow a flash mob of people playing a rousing game of mall tag just spontaneously erupted.
- One man will go to such lengths to avoid you he’ll stick his own head in one of the mall trash cans, like an ostrich. Yeah, you! Did you think I wouldn't see the other 93% of you? I'm still haunted by this man's logic.
- Someone will invariably "shush" you, and then ask for directions to the Orange Julius stand.
- But one, ONE solitary person out of everyone you've accosted—is bound to answer, Department Store Santa.
We have a winner! Give the man a cigar. Being a department store Santa is truly a job to test men’s souls. This is how I became one, during a hectic Christmas season in the winter of 95'. But a little history first.
For years, Value City held prime-position as the face of the Lycoming Mall in glorious central Pennsylvania. Catering to the "low-income/useless crap on the cheap" demographic. It had operated under the name "Gee Bee's" before someone, presumably in a cheap-suit, stood up in a boardroom meeting one day and said, "Look, we want to offer our customers value. Yet, we want to imply this is no mere store...Value hut? Value Sovereign Nation?! ValueTownXpress? Uhh.... How about Value City?"
Besides, what the fuck is a Gee Bee anyways? Do we really want the first thing to enter our customer’s minds to be "Nights on Broadway?"
During the holiday season in 95', I joined this city of value and entered the wild world of holiday retail. The work wasn't bad, better than working for the Discord, but somehow I got stuck in the household accessories dept—which, at the time, was just a massive, massive amount of African-themed knick-knacks, vases, tribal masks, etc. It’s as if someone took one aisle from Pier 1 Imports and said, "We can do more of that for less."
It didn’t take long before I got verbally reprimanded for being culturally insensitive.
I made the remark (to a black co-worker, no less), "You got it lucky dude, you work in the shoe dept"
Apparently had I wandered onto the set of Roots. I failed, despite my best efforts to convince Mr. Wunderlin (there's irony for ya!) that I wasn't being culturally insensitive. Hell, Shawn, the black guy, thought it was hilarious.
So, with the holiday season fast-approaching, one day Mr. Wunderlin—walking ‘round in a winter Wunderlin—approached me. Seeing as I was slightly chubby at the time and white, he wanted me to be the official Santa Claus for Value City this year. I weighed the pros & cons....while everyone else was slaving away, stocking shelves, I was forced to sit in a chair for roughly six hours each night in a sweaty costume, getting groped by children with sweaty, sticky, candy cane hands and yanking at my fake beard—always braving the time-bomb that some kid's gonna either a) piss or shit themselves on my lap, or b) vomit profusely, or c) all of the above simultaneously (a dream come true for certain members of the coaching staff at PSU). What? Too soon? This was literally as close to hell as I could be, without actually going to hell, or PSU.
I get issued the costume, which consisted of a hat, a fake beard that smelled like linseed oil, a pair of Santa pants, and a Santa coat, along with leggings that, when put on, made my shoes look like real boots. Correction: which WOULD have made my shoes look like boots, if I had owned any black shoes to camouflage them. I only had white shoes. So, after a quick visit to the Shoe Dept, I got a pair of black sneakers comp’d to me by Value City. So, I try on the outfit in the men's room and practice my script (yes...there was a fucking script) and, to be honest, I didn't look half bad...I was chubby, but not in a "bowl full of jelly" kind of way. I just looked like Santa was kept captive by Buffalo Bill from "Silence of the Lambs" for a few months. Put on the lotion or you don’t gets the presents.
I brought this to Mr. Wunderlin's attention, "I look like Santa with a tapeworm."
He responded thusly, "Yeah..I mean, you're fat, but you're not ‘Santa fat.’"
Fuck you, Mr. Wunderlin. I didn't even bother to change your name when I wrote this...prick! His solution was to grab a decorative pillow from the home-furnishings dept (comped, of course) and then positioned a back-brace to secure the pillow around my waist. Problem solved. Say hello to "Lumpy Claus."
I was also instructed to go out in to the center court to watch the actual Mall Santa, who all of us Department store Santa's aspire to be…you know, to get the Kringle mannerisms down. Wonderlin! So now, in addition to this pile of shit I find myself in, I also get to stand outside Santa's Village for almost two hours watching him sit children on his lap, asking them what they'd like for Christmas. In my 1995 fashion sense, I must have looked something like a cross between Eddie Vedder and a Nintendo Magazine ad...I'm surprised I didn't get accosted by angry parents.
My script was as follows: "Ho ho ho....Merry Christmas...have you been good this year? And what would you like most for Christmas this year?" This was then followed by a photo op with Santa and a candy cane. By the second day, I threw that script away. I was in full-blown improv mode, the St. Nick ZONE. My natural ability to develop a rapport with the young 'uns made me an instant hit. I was "Jokey Santa" And you're goddamn right I used this to my advantage. Why? Two words…Single Mothers.
A sample conversation:
ME: "I think that Mom should join in on this photo with us. What do you think?"
KID: "YEAH! C'MON MOM!"
MOM: "Oh well....I...Guess...Okay, what the heck!"
ME: "That's the spirit! Plop on down and you'll get a candy cane of sorts too Mommy!"
ME: "Ho ho ho...it sure is, Mom, it sure is."
The rest of the days leading up to Christmas Eve were a myriad of every disgusting bodily fluid one can imagine. I got pissed on, I got farted on, I got drooled on (and that was just the mothers! Yowza!). Mercifully I was spared a Cleveland Steamer, and the foresight to know that in the early days of the internet people actually devoted whole websites to this phenomenon.
One time my Santa beard got pulled off my face so hard that the elastic snapped. So someone was dispatched to the crafts section for a bit of twine (comp’d). My beard had also taken on a slightly pinkish-hue due to the amount of sticky grubby candy-cane hands constantly pawing at it. One of my boot leggings had actually split up the side and had to be repaired with common black electrical tape. Jolly old St. Jury Rigged.
So that's my tale. Value City went bankrupt a few years later and is now a Burlington Coat Factory. But some department stores are probably wandering the malls right now, frantically seeking the latest "craze" toy. Since then there are a whole slew of children who grew up to be adults with children of their own. And they will take them to see some severely underpaid Santa at some shitty department store—a man trading in his last remaining scraps of dignity for the utmost honor of getting pissed & farted on by a giggling 7-year old.
Fuck you, Mr. Wunderlin. Just Fuck you…you, and the cheap sleigh-bell-adorned reindeer you rode in on.