Three Reminders for Working the Last Days Before Christmas at Santa’s Playland in the Mall
by Jess Nicol
Rejected from: McSweeney's Internet Tendency
Reminder #1: Always Remain in Character.
This reminder is mostly for Santa, because of The Suit, and doesn’t often apply to you directly, since you are not dressed as an elf. As it turns out, working at Santa’s Playland requires you to wear all black. You show up everyday for your 13-hour shift wearing black slacks, a black T-shirt, a black Gap cardigan, and brown boots. But then black boots because your footwear mattered enough to get you in trouble and you were asked to visit a shoe store on your 30-minute lunch break.
Your character is a person wearing all black at a place designed to look like Santa’s house. Do not break that character.
Except when a mother says, “Oh Nelson look! An elf! Why don’t you ask her where the reindeer are?” Then you have to respect the client’s wishes (see Reminder #2).
“Actually, I’m not an elf, Nelson. See, my ears are just normal, human ears. Sorry.”
“Mom, lookit her ears! They’re so big and pointy!”
“Wow. Okay, the reindeer are on the roof of the mall, Nelson. But they’re right in the middle so you can’t see them, because that’s where they have their beds.”
“What are their beds made of?”
“Candy floss and straw.”
“What do you think they’re made out of, Nelson?”
“Reindeer turds. And I know because I saw them when I came in.”
“If you saw the beds when you came in, why did you ask me where the reindeer are?”
“I wanted to make sure you were a real elf. But you have the ears so I can tell. Where’s your costume?”
“I’m an elf trying to dress like a human so I can fit in.”
The real trick to Reminder #1 is not to call Santa “Gerry” instead of “Santa” when he’s wearing The Suit and a child is anywhere within hearing range. Which means never at any time on your shift, or even after your shift, because children are everywhere. And children hear everything. The closer to Christmas we get, the more vigilant the children become.
They see you when you’re eating fries behind the cash register; they know when you’re texting your boyfriend. They know if you’re bad or good at this job, so be good for goodness sakes (or else the little shits will tattle).
But, mostly, they flaunt their candy canes at you as if you’re not good enough to get one of Santa’s shitty bulk sweets because you’re not an elf. You’re just some weirdo wearing all black in Santa’s house.
Not calling Gerry by his name, though it is the biggest part of Reminder #1, is harder than you thought. Entirely because calling Gerry “Santa” deeply creeps you out.
“Good morning Santa, how were the roads from your house? Er, How were the skies?”
“Santa, it’s five minutes until you can take a piss. Uh, take a piece of candy upstairs for a hot cocoa break.”
“No, I’m fine Santa, thank you for asking. Just one too many wiggly-pops at the toy-building party last night.”
“Santa, we are going to pause photos for a minute because Security thinks there’s a pederast in Santa’s Playland and they want to check it out.”
“Santa, Mrs. Claus called and she said if you don’t pick the elves up after your shift she’s going to serve you some Christmas papers and move to the South Pole.”
Reminder #2: The Customer is Always Right.
Even though your phone calls home always end in your dad saying “Oh, it’s so nice you’re spreading your cheer again at your little mall job,” and even though you always say “ha, yeah, thanks, Dad, people need it more around the holidays, you know?” what you really know is that the Santa Photo Booth post-December 15 is hard-core lacking in cheer—is nearly completely bereft of any jolliness whatsoever—and is, instead, the breeding ground of the absolute worst in everyone.
Gone are the glory days of Santa photos, when film canisters were sent off for developing and a week later, people got what they got.
Now, they hover over your shoulder as you take the photo, and breathe their angry, minty, Starbucks-holiday-latte-breath on your neck as they stare at the screen, waiting in annoyed anticipation for the image to pop up, poised to say whatever nasty, offensive phrase they can come up with on the spot, regarding your flaws, or the flaws of their own beloved offspring.
“She looks weird, don’t you think? It’s her eyes. They look Chinese.”
“Chinese?” you repeat, slowly.
“Yeah, like, they are all squished and slanted like those K-Pop girls.”
“Her eyes look Chinese like those Korean-Pop girls?”
“Exactly. Can you take another one?”
“Oh, what a great picture!” You say. “He looks so happy!”
“Daniel! Stop doing your retarded smile! Daniel, listen to me, listen to Mommy—what did we talk about? (That’s his retarded smile). No, your real smile! Now you’re not smiling. SMILE. That’s a fake smile. Do a real smile. Oh for god’s sake. Okay, let’s go. We’ll take the one where he looks handicapped.”
"I don't appreciate this kind of behaviour," you say. "We don't allow language that..."
"Tell me about it. He's like this every time I try and make nice memories. On second thought, leave the photo. We'll come back on Christmas Eve and try again. Hear that Daniel? The elf is upset with you, too."
You wave sadly at Daniel as he trudges away, and slump your entire torso and head onto the photo table. Santa calls your name and shows you that he's written "Daniel's Mom" on the pad of paper he hides under his throne that he's labelled "The Naughty List." You give him a thumb's up. Only 11.5 hours left in your shift.
Reminder #3. Always Be Merry.
“Sir? Excuse me, sir? That’s actually not the line for photos with Santa. The line is over there. Yes, I know there’s no one standing there, but, actually, the line is a list. Instead of having to stand here and wait, you put your name down and then go enjoy yourself, grab a bite, shop, and come back. And as you can see, there are about 25 people ahead of you on the list. What name would you like me to put down for you?”
“Why don’t you go fuck yourself?” the man will spit out. The little girl will start to cry. He’ll drag her away towards the holly-gorged archway of fake presents.
“Excuse me, sir?” you’ll call. He’ll turn around.
“Happy holidays,” you’ll say.