Me during the winter of 1969-1970.
This is a reposting of a blog entry that was originally published on OpenSalon.com on December 5, 2013. This is the sixth in a series of Christmas-themed posts.
.Here is another off-topic post for the Christmas season. Two years ago over on Open Salon, they had an open call soliciting folks to share their tales about how they discovered that Santa Claus was indeed a sham. I was too busy during that and the previous xmas season to tell my tale, and so, with my usual out-of-whack timing, here is my story for you now.
“If you think about it, Santa Claus is directly responsible for heroin addiction. Innocent children are brainwashed into believing the first big lie their parents ever tell them, and when the truth finally hits, they never believe them again.”
John Waters, “Why I Love Christmas” from Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters (1987).
It was 1969, and as one of December’s children, I was ending my adventure of life as a six-year-old and looking forward to seven and the seventies.
My dad was working at a car dealership at the time, and each year they held a private Christmas party on a Sunday for the children of employees. Everyone would show up with their families in tow. Sugared-up urchins raced around saucer-eyed at the thought of an audience with Mr. Claus and of the new toy each would be going home with, as a tide-over until the big day.
I was one of those excited urchins. However, truth be told, I was already starting to have a strong skeptical streak regarding the red-felt-suited Christmas figurehead. I had been grilling my parents on the inexplicability of many Santa-related incongruities.
“How can Santa be present at so many malls at the same time?”
“How can Santa possibly get into every home around the world over the course of one night, even when taking into account the different time zones?”
“How can Santa get into our living room when we don’t have a fireplace?”
(Answers: “He has his helpers fill in for him at certain locations.”; “He just does.” “He knows how to get into homes other ways” … This last explanation left me concerned about our household vulnerability and of burglars also being able to get in and steal our gifts.)
After waking on Christmas morning, finding my stocking filled with treats and the plate in the living room bereft of cookies and the glass of milk drained of the white liquid, I was momentarily satiated.
Still … once the yuletide euphoria had worn off, I remained wary. Something didn’t pass the smell test about it all, but I wasn’t about to question too much in the face of shiny, keen-o new toys arriving at Chez Various pour moi.
Until that fateful dealership party day.
Me during a winter at some point in the 1960s.
It was held in some big rented room. Linoleum floors. Long tables covered with red and green plastic covers with festive motifs. Reflecting decorations of silver and gold, strung and glistening from the ceiling. Hyper-faced gaggles of kiddywinks all tucked uncomfortably into dreaded kinder-dress-up wares. Dads in mustard blazers, with neatly trimmed hair and encroaching sideburns. Mums in season-specific blouses and skirts, taupe panty hose, and unsensible shoes. The scents of Aqua Net or French Formula, Hai Karate or Old Spice, co-mingling with smoke from copious burning Players or Benson & Hedges cigarettes saturating the air.
Shortly before Der Redstuff was due to make the scene, my dad disappeared toward the back of the hall, ostensibly to take his turn helping out with dispensing drinks to the gathered. I was highly displeased by this as I had wanted my father to witness my audience with Saint Nick.
“Your dad will be right back,” said mum.
When he wasn’t right back in time for Santa baby’s entrance, I was proper ornery.
“See, he’s right there at the back, helping out with drinks.”
“I don’t see him, mum.”
“He must been in the back room for a moment getting some more supplies.”
Resigned that daddy-o would miss my merry moment of collecting my coveted booty, I impatiently awaited my turn to be called upon to go forth, hop up on the bearded one’s lap, confirm that I had been a good boy during the previous 12-month-span (as if), itemize what I was hoping to find under the tree this year, and then pick up my preview-of-coming-attractions toy for departing contestants. As soon as the dulcet tones of “VariousArtists” (or whatever I was going by at that time) rang out through the echo-y hall, I hopped off my chair and made my way to the podium for a brief chit chat with Mr. C.
“Ho Ho Ho!,” he bellowed, as I slid onto his knee and participated in a brief exchange. Theoretically, the whole thing went exactly as I had expected. On cue at the conclusion of this good-boy-for-stuff consumer goods negotiation, I was handed a toy by his kindly helper — I can’t remember what it was — and then slithered off his knee and back to my seat next to my mother.
“Let’s see what Santa gave you.”
“That wasn’t Santa.”
“Oh, yes it is.”
“That wasn’t Santa, that’s dad.”
“No it’s not. Your father has been at the back helping out the whole time.”
“Mum, I know my own father. Besides, I recognized his shoes.”
“I Believe In Father Christmas” Greg Lake (1975)
“Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention (1967)
Other Christmas-Themed Entries:
Xmas #1: December 1986: My 3 Xmas Weekends From Hell Snuggle in for a heartwarming seasonal tale of being a store manager and having to endure armed robberies, flouncing Christian employees, slap-happy Santa helpers, and looting mall rats. Merry Christmas to one and all!
Xmas #2: Twisted Seasonal Sounds: A John Waters Christmas The Pope of Filth curates what is probably the most “unique” collection of seasonal tunes on the market, filled with redneck children singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, ornery’n’tourette-inflected C&W, Theremin-driven toe tappers, and other joyfully questionable sonic Christmas delights.
Xmas #3: Ludicrous Seasonal TV: Star Wars Holiday Special George Lucas once said of this special “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.” Read here and find out why.
Xmas #4: KA-CHING-A-LING: Xmas Advertising Highlights 1949-2011 A collection of seasonal ads from my magazine archives, taken from a variety of international publications spanning 60 years. Which items were singled out as worthy Christmas lucre from then until now, and how were these retail treasures flogged and positioned? And what do you need and need to know about seasonal entertaining: the booze, the turkey and fixins, the cards, the decorations, and so on, as well as how to capture it all for posterity.
Xmas #5: Christmas Advertising: LIFE Magazine, November 30, 1959 This entry zeros in on the Christmas-related ads featured in a single issue of LIFE from November 30, 1959. What was being proffered up as gifts and seasonal accoutrements during those final weeks of the 1950s, and how were they being depicted and sold? These specimens bark out the rigidity and restrictions of the day as the epoch of the 1960s was about to commence.
Xmas #6: I Believe In Father Christmas, or: Brown Shoes Don’t Make It We all find out the truth about Santa Claus at some point. Here is my story of crestfallen discovery and it involves … my dad’s shoes.
Xmas #7: VariousArtists’ 12 Days of Christmas Viewing A dozen alternative xmas-y eyeball suggestions that you may wish to consider, even if a few of them take liberties with the concept of being Christmas-related (and two look forward to New Year’s Eve).
Xmas #8: VA-Tel presents 20 OUTTASIGHT XMAS SENSATIONS! Here’s some fun’n’hip shakin’ musical accompaniment for the annual Santafest. This splendiferous list mostly avoids the obvious or overly solemn, and should get the gang groovin’ at your seasonal shindig while helping to mask the sound of partygoers vomiting in the bathroom after too many Baileys … or drive everyone swiftly out the door, depending on the circles you run in. (A playlist of this terrific 20 can be found over on my YouTube channel, VATV). Featuring the Ramones, Jingle Cats, Judy Garland, Wild Man Fischer, Sharon Jones, RuPaul and many more.
Text © 2013 VariousArtists