It started out like any of the countless, unremarkable workdays we’ve all experienced—you know, secure in your job, your God, and your place in the universe while dressed up as a Christmas elf—but when the dancing dervish of destruction comes a-calling, sometimes all you can do is cover your crotch with both hands and pray for deliverance.
“What do you want for Christmas?” Kevin asked the four-year-old girl sitting on his lap.His Santa costume almost hid the fact that this year’s Santa at the Chapel Hills Mall was, in fact, an African Silverback Gorilla.The white beard hid most of his face, but there’s only so much you can do.I mean, he’s a damned gorilla for crying out loud.But so far the kids didn’t seem to mind.
The Santa area featured a twenty-foot Christmas tree covered in lights and glass ornaments, underneath which were stacks of gift-wrapped boxes.Right next to the tree sat Santa’s sleigh in a drift of fake snow, and inside was a sack brimming over with more gift-wrapped boxes.There were several giant candy-cane light poles dotted here and there.The whole shebang was surrounded by red velvet ropes which cordoned off the area and formed a series of switchbacks to corral the kids and parents standing in line to see Santa.It was a Saturday crowd, so we’d been working all morning without a break.
“I want a skateboard,” the girl replied.
“Have you been a good girl this year?” Kevin said, following the script given to us by HR.
“Yes.I mean, except for when I set Mommy’s drapes on fire.But it was an accident.”
Kevin looked at me, wide eyed. I shrugged, and gave him a what the hell look.I was standing behind the camera taking photos of the little disease vectors as they sat on Santa’s lap; photos for which their loving parents shelled out forty-five bucks a pop.Morons.I was adorned in green tights, yellow slippers with curled toes and bells on the tips, a red vest over a green and yellow striped shirt, and a felt hat that looked like a leftover from a Robin Hood play.Santa’s photographer elf in all his glory.Fuck.
“Well, it was an accident,” Kevin said.“So, I’m sure you’ll find a skateboard under the tree this year.”
“I want nunchucks, too.”
“Nunchucks?” I mumbled, clicking another photo.“What the fuck does a four-year-old want with nunchucks?”
“Oh, and some of those bright red fire sticks!”She piped.
“Fire sticks?” Kevin asked.
“Yeah, like what you see when Mommy and Daddy drive us by a car wreck on the highway!”
“You mean…road flares?”
“Road flares!Road flares!I want road flares!”She bounced up and down.
“Road flares?!”I snapped and strode out from behind the camera, the bells on my toes jingling.“What the hell do you want road flares for?So, you can finish the job of burning your house down?No way, you little fire-bug.We’re done here.”
“But I want road flares!” she said crying as I lifted her off Kevin’s lap.“And nunchucks!”
“No way, you little juvenile delinquent,” I grunted as she tried to wriggle out of my arms.“You’ll be lucky if you don’t get a stocking full of fucking coal.”
I hauled her over to her waiting parents. “I’d recommend immediate psychiatric intervention,” I said, handing her off to her stunned mother.
Three days before, Kevin and I had responded to the SANTA & ELF WANTED ad placed by the Chapel Hills Mall in Colorado Springs.Alejandro, the head of HR, had been a bit dubious about hiring a gorilla to play Santa.
“Santa needs to be jolly,” Alejandro said.“Can you be jolly?”
“HO! HO! HO!” Kevin roared in response.“MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
He then flashed Alejandro a stunning simian grin, revealing a truly impressive set of fangs.Alejandro visibly recoiled.
“I…uh…I’m not sure that this position will be…uh…the right fit for you,” Alejandro said.
“He’s perfect for the job,” I said quickly.As much as I detested the idea of playing Santa and elf for a bunch of over-indulged, snotty-nosed little germ bombs, we really did need the money to survive while we got Civilian Fuck Monkey off the ground.“The beard will hide most of his face.Besides, kids love monkeys.”
“Well…I’ll need to speak with my supervisor,” Alejandro said, getting up and dialing his mobile phone.“This will just be a minute.” He exited the office and closed the door behind him.
“Listen fuck bucket, I’m not a goddammed monkey,” Kevin said.
“I know, you big idiot.But I’m trying to get us this job that you wanted.”
“It’s these kinds of species-ist, monkey stereotypes that are holding gorilla’s back in society,” he huffed, crossing his arms.
“Look, we’ll get woke later.Right now we gotta earn some dough.So shut the fuck up and roll with it.”
Just then Alejandro came back into the room and sat back down behind his desk.
“We’ve had a bit of a problem finding quality Santas,” he said.“The last one kept ducking into the restroom to snort cocaine.We finally had to let him go yesterday, and that’s put us in a bit of a bind.So, we’re willing to give it a try.”
“That’s great!” I said.
“But,” Alejandro held up a finger, “this is on a trial basis. We have our doubts about hiring a…uh…someone with….uh—”
“You’re worried about a gorilla playing Santa?” I asked.
“Certainly not!We at the Chapel Hills Mall pride ourselves on being inclusive, and always strive for social equity, and are sensitive to people’s gender identity.We would never discriminate against someone because they identify as…a…uh—”
“Right, right.Which is why you’re hired.But I’m going to keep a close eye on you.”
Alejandro told us we’d start the next day at 8:00 AM.We all shook hands, and Kevin and I left.
“Species-ist douche canoe,” Kevin grumbled as we walked down the hallway towards the exit.
“I’m sure he’s not a species-ist. They’re just worried about your ugly face scaring off the little rug rats before their parents can go into crushing debt buying them Christmas shit at the mall.”
“Yeah, and your mom’s handled more head than a cabbage farmer.”
“Look, buddy, we got the job.Just keep it together and we’ll make a fat stack of cash, okay?”
“Whatever.It’s cum dumpsters like Alejandro that are keeping gorillas down.And you didn’t help with your monkey comments.”
“Okay, okay.Sorry.No more monkey comments, you big baby.Fuck’s sake.”
And with that we began our Yuletide career.It was my job keep the line of kids moving, get their names, set them on Kevin’s lap, then run back behind the camera and try to get a good shot.Kevin’s job was to be jolly.Gorilla’s aren’t naturally jolly, but he did his best.Fortunately, the beard mostly hid his fangs when we roared HO! HO! HO! after visiting with each kid.
After I handed off the little pyromaniac to her mother, we worked our way through another half dozen kids.One boy wanted a Nerf Laser Ops Pro, another one wanted a mini drone, and one girl wanted a set of Chinese throwing stars.The real ones she emphasized.What the fuck was up with these pre-school girls and their martial arts weaponry?
For about fifteen minutes I’d had my eye on a short, creepy looking dude who had been slowly circling the Santa area outside the ropes.He was about five-foot-three and had a big beer gut.He was wearing denim coveralls and a windbreaker.My spidey-sense was pinging like a submarine sonar array.
Just then Alejandro approached the Santa area, stepped over the velvet ropes and walked over to where Kevin was sitting.
“Jimmy Merle, we need to talk,” he said, calling me over.I came out from behind the camera and stood by them both.“We’ve had some complaints about your language,” he said to me, flipping through a leather-bound notebook.“You’ve been dropping f-bombs around the children.”
“What?!I would never—”
“And,” Alejandro held up a finger as he looked at his notes, “you told one little boy that, quote, ‘Santa is going to come down the chimney while you’re sleeping and shit on your fucking head,’ un-quote.”
“I can explain that.When I tried to pick the kid off Kevin’s lap he hauled off and punched me in the nuts.So, after I got up off the floor I—”
“And,” he held up his finger again, “you apparently made some unkind comments about people’s mothers.”
“Now wait just a minute!I did not—”
“And I quote,” Alejandro again read from his notes, “‘your mother lays more pipe than the entire United Plumbing Association membership put together.’ Un-quote.”
“That was Kevin.”
“What?!” Kevin said.“That was you, asshole!”
“It was you!Now shut up or you’re going to get us in more trouble, fuck trumpet!”
“You shut up, shit weasel!”
“Both of you shut up!” Alejandro yelled, his voice bouncing off the walls.Some of the parents looked over at us, frowning.He shot them a nervous smile and waved.“We’ll be right with you folks!” he called cheerily.
He turned back to us, took a deep, calming breath and said, “We at the Chapel Hills Mall pride ourselves on providing a safe space where diversity is celebrated, and where people feel accepted regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender identity.We do not tolerate this kind of sexist, misogynistic hate speech. I’m officially putting you on notice that if I get any more reports like this, you’ll be out on your ass.Are we clear on that?”
“But…but, that’s not fair!” I protested.“We were—”
“I said, are we clear?!” Alejandro hissed.
“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.
“Good.Now, get back to work.”With that, Alejandro left.
“What a shit pouch,” Kevin said.
“He sure is.”
“I was talking about you.”
“Whatever, asshole.Listen, before Alejandro got here I was going to ask if you noticed that fat guy in the coveralls.”
“Yeah,” Kevin replied.“He’s been hanging around watching the kids.He gives me the creeps.”
“Me, too.Keep an eye on him.”
Kevin nodded as he stared at Mr. Coveralls.
We worked our way through a few more kids, and I had just handed off another one to her mother when Mr. Coveralls stepped over the velvet rope and made a beeline for Kevin.
“Sir!” I called out.“Sir!You can’t be in this area!”
“I’ve been a good boy, Santa!” Coveralls yelled in a sing-song voice.“And I know what I want for Christmaaaaaaaaaaas!”
Clearly this guy was a lunatic.People in line began shifting nervously and I could hear whispering and murmurs.I went over to Kevin who was now standing up.
“This area is for kids,” I told Coveralls as he approached us.“You need to leave.”
“Hi Santa!” he shouted in Kevin’s face.“I’ve come to tell you what I want for Christmas! Can I sit on your lap now?”
“Listen, fuck face,” I said.“You need to get the hell out of here before ‘Santa’ rips your goddammed arms off and beats you to death with them.”
“Hi, you’re a naughty elf!” Coveralls shouted at me, spraying drops of saliva in my face.“And Santa would never do that ‘cause he’s not a great big fucker like you! And I’m shocked he would even let you be his elf!And—”
He was cut off mid-sentence when Kevin planted his palm on Coveralls’ chest and gave him a mighty shove.Coveralls flew backwards through the air, crashed through the ropes, hit the ground and slid on his back for thirty feet on the smooth marble floor, pulling a tangle of velvet ropes and clanging brass stands along the ground after him. He finally came to a stop in a heap of ropes when his head bashed into the wall.There were gasps from the people in line, and one woman screamed.
“That’s the only warning you’re going to get, asshole,” Kevin said. Coveralls was moaning loudly.
Just then two mall security guards came running into the Santa area and approached us.
“What happened?” one of them asked, surveying the mess.
I quickly explained.The guards walked over to Coveralls who was now standing up and swaying groggily.
“Okay, big guy, time to go,” a guard said as they each grabbed one of his arms.
“Oh, my head,” he mumbled as they led him away. “Santa hurt my head.”
“Fresh air is just the thing for a headache,” the guard replied.“Let’s get you outside.”
As they neared started to round the corner Coveralls apparently snapped out of his fog.“Hey!Santa is a big monkey!”He shouted, struggling to turn around.
“No you don’t,” a guard said as they reigned him back in.“Outside is this way.”
“But the monkey assaulted me!I’ve been a good boy, but monkey Santa hurt my head cause he’s a big fucker!Monkey Santa is nothing but a great big ol’ stinky fuck face!”
“That asshole called me a monkey,” Kevin growled, starting towards him.
“Woah, big guy,” I said, grabbing his arm.“Let the security guys handle it.Besides, he’s obviously bugshit crazy.Who cares what he says?”
“Dick chortler,” Kevin said, glaring after Coveralls who was still shouting incoherently as the guards led him around the corner and towards the exit.
“Come on, buddy,” I said, clapping him on the back. “Let’s stand these ropes back up and get back to work.”
As Kevin and I were putting the ropes back in place a frowning, twenty-something lady clutching a little kid to her bosom approached.Her lips were pressed together in a thin line and her heels clicked angrily on the tile as she strode towards us.