On Being the Christmas Spirit

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I might as well “out” myself before someone else does it.  Here goes.

I am a thespian.

We all have our hobbies, right?  Mahjong, scrimshaw, bowling, skeet shooting, polo (OK, I only know one guy who does that), taxidermy, salsa dancing, accordion lessons, cooking, bobsledding, labradoodle breeding.  Mine’s acting.  Theater mostly, some film…nothing you’ve seen trust me, but got four IMDB credits to my name.  (One’s a zombie film!)  Being a semi-ok singer I often enjoy doing musical theater (don’t judge!).  Friend, you haven’t lived until you’ve been in full Frankenstein’s Monster makeup and five-inch platform boots doing “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in “Young Frankenstein, The Musical” or in a white Homburg packin’ fake prop gun “heat” as Big Jule in “Guys ‘n Dolls.”  It’s a wonderful world of creative folk who never fail in recharging my battery.  In fact, here’s my plug: try going to a local theater production next time instead of a movie and I bet you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy it.   

One of my favorite weekend ‘gigs,’ as we say in show biz, was a while back as Santa.  Not just any Santa, a Macy’s Santa; the capo di tutti capi of Santas!  Yak-hair beards (the best), Italian leather boots, a plush $3,000 costume with all the trimmings.

Macy’s takes this character seriously, iconic symbol of the store that it is. They auditioned only accomplished actors…of size…and trained us for two weeks to handle most situations and be versed on company policy (we will NOT take the crying child pic….go see a Mall Santa if that’s what you want).  We did not do the “assembly line” photo sessions either.  You met with Santa one-on-one in a private room at the end of an enchanting animatronic display about Dickens’ Christmas Carol.  And while the fear factor was high on occasion (with the parents or grandparents most often the guilty parties…they’d often squeal followed by a shrill “go sit on his lap.” The kid, of course froze up like a popsicle with that behind him and this Avatar of the Season in front of him sitting on a throne no less), but more times than not “the magic” took over the cubicle.  Grown ups suspended their weary adult beliefs, old people turned into little kids again and the kids accepted it fully with a beauty and wonder that ignited every heart in the room.  We Santas took our roles seriously as well. There were six of us…in fact one reason for the private rooms is so multiple Santas could be working at once (I may be in trouble with Macy’s for spilling that one).

As jaded as we could have been being “behind the scenes” of it all, we got our spirit renewed time and time again.  So the double-fat bagged heavy suit, hot lights, the lower back strain of lifting 50-pound butterballs, the peeling off of the eyebrows every night aside, the magical moments made that inconsequential.

One older woman sat gently in my lap, almost cradling herself, and told me she was battling pancreatic cancer and this was probably going to be her last visit but wanted to thank me for all the presents I brought her over the years.  One little, big-eyed girl whispered in my ear “I just want my mom to be happy.”  One boy brought me a baseball he caught at a Phillies game, probably his greatest treasure, and wanted me to have it.  Santa needed a minute to collect himself after those visits.  (I called his dad back in, by the way, and said I couldn’t take the ball but he said his son insisted. The ball is on my office shelf in eyesight as I write this).  

But there was fun too. With an all-adult room you could be a little more playful about the ‘naughty or nice’ list.  And there was more than one woman who saw Santa as the ultimate “Sugar Daddy” and left a phone number “if things don’t work out with Mrs. Claus.” I even got to perform with the legendary “The Manhattan Transfer” at a window opening event in downtown Pittsburgh.  They introduced me with their acapella version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” …a moment I will never forget.   We brought up kids on stage from the Make a Wish foundation and all sang songs (with the Manhattan freakin’ Transfer!)

We can get back to business next week.  For now embrace the magic.  Be the Spirit of Christmas, it’s no act.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Inside Towers.

By Jim Fryer, Managing Editor, Inside Towers

December 22, 2017               

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