A recent piece in the New York Times profiles a Santa Claus retreat on a Royal Princess Cruise to Alaska . The piece, “When Santa Goes On Vacation”, is part of the Times’ series, “Surfacing”, a column that attends to the intersection of art and life, pretty heady stuff one would suppose, but then, recent articles have examined the last two Dance Dance Revolution machines in New York and the positive effect of slime as an antidote to stress caused by overactive involvement with social media.
In any case, a reporter Aaron Reiss, and a photographer, Chris Maggio, tagged along as the Santas convened for both business and pleasure. Workshops (?) included instruction on where to place hands while placing humans on Santa’s lap, a slightly disturbing area of concern in that some of these Santas have been been hands-on for more than thirty years. These are what is known in the trade as “real bearded” Santas, men who essentially play the part throughout the year. They take their profession seriously, referring to themselves as Santa Bob or Santa Bill as one might introduce Dr. Harris or Professor Plum.
Not a bad boondoggle for Reiss and Maggio, but intersection of art and life?
My concern, of course, is that get-away cruising can only begin to contend with the terrible burden these Santas must carry in the aftermath of a long holiday season in which they experience the full range of human longing. Santa is not a mailbox into which one shouts a list of must-have goodies; Santa is the embodiment of all that is good and kind and generous in a world that is rarely good or kind or generous. I don’t know what the statistics show with regard to the emotional intensity of Santa encounters, but I’m going out on a limb (Douglas Fir) in identifying commonly occuring issues for the real bearded, professional Santa
- Terrified children screaming relentlessly – 50%. This estimate is based on my observation of the Santa enterprises at our local shopping mall. I may be off by a few percentage points as it can happen that a family presents a pair of siblings in full howl, each egging the other on to greater feats of pitch and volume. This, see, this is one of the windows into a non-Polar world that our Santa has to see in full color and up-close. Not only is he responsible for calming (not possible) a child in meltdown, he also has a parent/grandparent/divorced dad/well meaning aunt/harried babysitter at the other end of this spectacle and a never-ending line of impatient customers fidgeting uneasily before him. And, let’s be clear. elves are of no use in this situation. Even the most charming and well trained elf is but a supporting player in this drama, a walk-on, a cameo. No, this is Santa business, inevitable and jarring.
- Body fluids – 80%. In this case, I am going with the laws of probability and my own experience as a parent. A kid’s gotta go when a kid’s gotta, and noses run, folks, run like the Nile in November and December.
- Heart-breaking vignettes – 40%. Santa knows all, sees all. Families barely scraping by, not scraping by, children of imploded and dangerous families, children with fresh bruises. He sees active alcohol and drug impairment, psychosis, delusion, entitlement, despair. Oh, my God. A busy therapist sees, what, ten clients a day at most? That’s a half an hour for Santa. They just keep on coming.
- Rictus, Phlegm, Nasty Stomach Backwash – 50%. Try smiling for eight hours a day. It hurts and starts to resemble a death mask after about twenty minutes. Nasal impairment? Santa inhales disease at a rate approximately 700% greater than Emergency Room physicians; how long can the hardiest immune system hold out against the onslaught? Then, it happens, one too many day-old-oysters, a bad trip to Taco Bell, and whoops! Imagine sitting for hours with volcanic eruption only a heartbeat away.
Enough. Without consideration of whatever might be happening in Santa’s own personal life, the odds are that by December 26th, our man in red is ready for more than a ten-day cruise on a Princess liner.
I have a friend, a hypnotist, who plies his mesmerizing trade on ocean liners. He does two shows a day, feeds at the brimming trough liners present, and sees much of the world. Hypnotists, singers, ventriloquists, impressionists. Why not a therapist? Two-a-day sessions, one Santa at a time, and maybe some of these holiday heroes return restored and ready to place their hands in entirely appropriate fashion as summer melts to fall.
Oh, and I want a pinball machine, and a new sound system, and a DDR Revolution machine, and …