Christmas is a difficult holiday for me on a number of personal levels. I keep putting off sharing some of the reasons why but I suppose, once I publish this story, I will find myself in short supply of excuses to avoid the inevitable. It may turn out, truth be told, that the further I delve into this chapter of my life – with regard the Santa Society – the more right my neurologist and occupational therapist will have proven themselves to be on this matter.
This all started innocently enough… Daisy and I were headed down to the park for our daily constitutional. Standing at the entrance to the crosswalk, Daisy at heel, Daisy saw a guy coming toward the crosswalk from the other side of the street. She “told” me that someone was coming by shifting her position and then standing up with her tail wagging; she’s not exactly a seeing eye dog but she is really good at helping me “see” things… or at least look in the direction she is looking… before things actually come into my visual field.
As he neared my side of the street, a guy around my age looked at Daisy, and then up at me, and said: “Good morning Santa.” without even thinking about it, I answered back “Good morning Santa number two.” He chuckled and I smiled as we introduced each other and he said hello to Daisy.
After a minute or two of small talk about where each of us lived, he asked me if I had ever been a Santa Claus before. I told him that, with four kids and a gaggle of grandkids, I had done a lot of “Santa time” over the years but that I had never put on the uniform and done it for strangers.
He talked for a while about a group of men that had gotten together and formed a club of sorts , adding that he was the sitting president. He told me that they all work together to find gigs for each other, promote their group, provide support, meet once a month for dinner… and share war stories… in various locations throughout the New England region. Wherever possible, some of them even bring along their Mrs. Claus’.
As it turns out, they even have a so-called “Santa Camp” at the end of the summer each year that runs for 3 days and includes training on a variety of topics aimed at helping aspiring Santa’s with marketing, business planning and – most importantly – how to be good Santa’s. There are even campfire sessions where experienced Santas mentor the newbies and share stories about their tricks and techniques… even offering to help them develop their own “schtics”. The whole thing culminates with a certification – complete with background checks – and allows you to go out on your own as a fully licensed Santa anywhere in the public domain.
I must admit that I had no idea it was so involved… I always assumed all you needed to do was grow a long beard and develop a beer belly and you were good to go. In this day and age, though, I’m happy to know such an effort is being made to keep Kids safe and maintain the dignity of the office of Santa Claus.
As our conversation was winding down, president Santa asked if I was interested in finding out more and whether I could join them for the next monthly dinner gathering that just happened to be coming up in a few days, right here in town.
[Editor’s note: It’s worth noting here that it is not lost on me just how fucking hard it is, sometimes, to be a hermit in an urban area; it seems – sometimes – that the harder I try to be left the hell alone, the more I seem to run into certain people that challenge my certainty about how widespread the decay of the human species actually is. Given what I have said above about my issues with the holidays, it should come as no small surprise that I found myself feeling a sense of excitement starting to well up inside me… reminiscent of that scene in the cartoon version of The Grinch when his “two sizes too small” heart started growing bigger in his chest as his grin slowly widened…]
Having accepted the invitation, I arrived at the Diner a few days later and was a little early. I had never been there before… strange places can be difficult for me to move around in… and the place is quite popular in town. Call it reconnaissance, if you wish, but I needed to know the lay of the land, so to speak, so I could reduce my chances of falling on my face and making a fool out of myself in front of all these people I would be meeting for the first time.
I was escorted by a waitress to a small function room where there were already a couple of Santas sitting at one of the tables. They turned and looked at me as I walk through the door and – in unison – said one word:
I never thought such a thing was possible but – in that moment – I got an overwhelming feeling but a good chunk of my life was about to be forever changed.
[PostScript: Roughly a year after my stroke, as my occupational therapist was breaking up with me & my neurologist was bumping me down to annual visits vs. monthly visits… and they were telling me that I probably had another good 20 to 30 years left to live my life (now that they had done such a bang-up job of patching me up and putting me all back together)… I asked them – separately – what the fuck I was going to do with myself for 20 or 30 years being partially blind, unable to work or drive, and barely able to live alone unsupervised.
My neurologist said, and my occupational therapist subsequently concurred, that I needed to find meaning and purpose `in my life and that the rest would take care of itself. At the time, that didn’t make a lick of sense to me but – two years beyond those conversations I now find myself writing these Chronicles and pondering a future as a professional Santa Claus… and have begun to entertain the idea that I would love to do it – not in malls or at random Christmas parties but- in childrens’ Hospital wards and Senior hospice centers.
I’m fairly certain they don’t teach this stuff in medical school so I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest there are greater powers at play in our lives than we ever come to know or fully understand. Whether it be fate, karma,destiny, divine intervention… or some combination of them all… maybe – just maybe – all any of us can do is just follow the path we find ourselves on regardless whether we were looking for it or just fell down face first in front of it.]
[Image courtesy of Smithsonian]