Working for the man (in the red suit)

...and other jobs of Christmas Past

I only worked there for about three weeks and never had the urge to buy anything, but I still get their catalogues in the mail. They've changed quite a bit it seems. The merchandise has lost a lot of its flair for savagery; it's far more mainstream than extremist. My favorite feature in it though is Ted Nugent's "Call of the Wild" column (no joke). I wonder what Ted's friends and family ordered up for him this year? Happily, I won't be the one boxing his toys up this time around. -- Ned Kelly


"We Don't Want a Black Santa. We Want a Real One."

I had no elf name while working at Santaland at Macy's Herald Square in New York my sophomore year of college. I had the Christmas spirit and was glad to pass it along, although I could have done without the eight-hour shifts of The Nutcracker Suite on repeat.

There are many elf jobs, like standing at the mouth leading towards Santa's house. We make sure that the kids can't see that there are six Santa houses. And the kids are crazy happy. Peeing themselves happy. Hysterically horrified and excited happy.

It's the parents who suck when they slyly whisper to you, "We don't want a black Santa. We want a real one."

And I just send them to the next house to get whichever Santa is on shift.

But my favorite job is when I am the Photo Elf. Because the kids come into Santa's house and they believe. So I believe, too. And on one night that haunts me even today, while waiting for the next kid to come into his house, Santa asks me what I want for Christmas.

"Financial aid so I can finish going to College," I say.

"My dear Elf, that gift is too big to fit under the tree," Santa says.

Then a little girl comes in with her parents, and when she answers Santa's question, she says, "I don't need anything. I would like World Peace."

Her parents desperately point to all the toys available for sale in the toy department hanging conveniently in Santa's House. They just want to know what to get her because she hasn't given them any clues and they are at their wit's end.

"Tell Santa what you want!"

But that little girl sticks to her answer. World Peace.

And her parents start yelling and the little girl starts to cry, and realizing that it's not cool to yell at your kid when she wants world peace for Christmas, and knowing that you can't yell at Santa, because he's Santa, they turn and they start to yell at me.

"You make her tell us what she wants. You Elf. It's your job."

And I'm no elf expert. I'm just trying to spread the cheer and take the picture.

So I softly say, "World Peace is too big to fit under the Christmas tree."

The little girl understands that. But I feel like an asshole as she points to a toy on the wall. Her parents are relieved, but they don't even thank me.

And me, I'm bummed, and so is Santa. So Santa gives me the only gift he actually has the power to give.

"Hey elf, let's take a break. Coffee's on me." --Miss Cecil Castellucci


Being Snowball Was Like Being Encased in a Straitjacket of Fake Fur

When my husband was getting his Master's at NMU, and I was flailing around career-wise like a hooked pike on the bottom of a boat, I earned pin money by moonlighting at a local department store in the housewares section. One Christmas, the store had a promotion with a stuffed "Snowball the Christmas Dog" that they gave away with big purchases, or something like that.

One day I walked in the door for a Sunday shift and the clerk who was playing Snowball called in sick. So I got to be Snowball for a couple of hours. Snowball's head was the size of one of those inflatable exercise balls, but nowhere as light, and his? her? its? body was like being encased in a straitjacket of fake fur. My predecessor hated it, and understandably so--she nearly passed out on her shift.

Fortunately, years of science fiction fandom came in handy. (You wouldn't think that one summer spent feeding your friend Sprite and salt pills through the mask in his Chewbacca suit would be "transferable skills," but go figure.) Every 20 minutes or so, I'd get a co-worker to escort me to the ladies' room, and I'd drink about a quart of water and splash my face in the sink.

The kids were great, though. The brave ones would jump up and hug me and I'd win over the shy ones by pretending to be as scared of them as they were of me. I'd cover my huge button eyes with my paws, and cower. That cracked them up. It also cued one mom to my gender. Talking to me in the bathroom as I was taking off my head, she said, "I knew you were a woman! A woman in a costume will try to coax the kids to her--a man will huff and puff and try to scare them."

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