Welcome to the first edition of Creative Sundays on Apt613: A monthly themed showcase for short fiction and creative nonfiction pieces by local writers. This month’s theme is, of course, the holidays. We hope you enjoy these stories, real and imagined.
By Matt Hertendy
The local Mall Santa game is never easy. The Santas are plentiful, but the malls are not. This scarcity was compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which landed just prior to “Campaign Season”; the months from March to September, which see hundreds of local Mall Santas pound the pavement from Kanata to Orléans, hoping to land a coveted gig in one of Ottawa’s 16 malls. This year, like any artists, the Mall Santas had to get creative.
A typical Mall Santa campaign is some pretty run-of-the-mill marketing. Santas will get new headshots, stationery, and vulnerable sector checks, package them, dig up the addresses of Managers of Guest Services for malls across the city, and pay them a little visit. It would not be uncommon for a doorbell to ring in the middle of May, and a Guest Services Manager to open their door to a grand display of Christmas on their front lawn, exciting and confusing nearby children. Perhaps a symptom of COVID-19 is losing your sense of Christmas Cheer. If that were the case, it would lead these Mall Santas to believe we’re all infected.
Dirk Rogers has been a Mall Santa for 30 years. For seven of the last 10, he has been making children smile and babies scream at Place d’Orléans. His strategy included being the first Mall Santa to brave the commute to Orléans in full Santa regalia as early as mid-March to get his black-buckled-boots in the door first. He did not make it to Orléans this year, as he was repeatedly kicked off OC Transpo buses for yelling at people wearing masks.
“I can’t tell you how many kids have coughed in my mouth and I’ve made it to 70 years old!” Dirk was reported screaming as he was hauled off by transit security. Little Billy, a five-year-old boy, will forever be scarred by the image of a belligerent anti-mask Santa Claus spitting on a bus driver.
The Manager of Guest Services for the Elmvale Mall left her house one morning with her six-year-old daughter to find Yves Beauchamp, a Mall Santa, on her front lawn encased in a plexiglass throne of his own making. In addition to the throne, Yves wore a tight, form-fitting Lycra take on the traditional Santa uniform. On the floor of his plexiglass Santa chamber sat the devoured carcass of a Farm Boy rotisserie chicken. As the manager instructed her daughter not to make eye contact, Yves smudged his chicken-greased fingers against the pristine plexiglass barrier, desperately shouting that he can stay encased for up to 72 hours before he’ll need to consume another chicken.
Ernie Stromburg is a Mall Santa by day and an amateur pilot by night. He has decided that in order to cut through the noise, he’s going to have to make some noise. Ernie decided he would “become Santa” and cut out the middleman, that is “the mall.” The plan: to attach 12 drones to the front of his Cessna 172 to act as the reindeer to his airplane sleigh. He would then land on the roofs of families who would pay him $12,000 for a personalized visit from Santa. A wealthy tech millionaire offered his Manotick estate as the first test house. Given the size of the fire and thickness of the smoke, the real Christmas miracle is that nobody died.
Not only are the Santas forced to be creative, but Malls are also trying their hand at new and innovative ways to bring Santa’s lap to Ottawa’s children.
The St. Laurent Mall began trials of what they called “Santa’s Disinfectant Dunk Tank.” After sitting on Santa’s lap and confiding their deepest Christmas secrets to the big man in red, other children would have the opportunity to throw beanbags at a target, which when hit, would dunk Santa and the children into a vat of “Santa-tizer.” The project was scrapped after the test Santa consumed too much Purell and threw up on an elf.
For me, Christmas is not about stalking mall employees, drones, or rotisserie chicken. And it’s certainly not about malls or people trying to make a quick buck off of my likeness.
Because I’m the real Santa Claus.
I sit in my North Pole chalet with my beautiful wife for nine months a year. My happily unionized and well-paid elves, who I encourage to come to me with any concerns, ideas, or comments regarding their workshop and its operations, work four-day work weeks (paid for five days) to make each Christmas better than the last. Then come September, I hit the gym to get in tip-top shape to withstand the enormous G-force that comes with piloting a faster-than-light-speed sleigh. Every year I must train harder, as the G-force wears on you with age.
Jeff Bezos tried to buy my workshop from me. He says I’m getting old, and should start thinking about succession planning. Jeff Bezos couldn’t withstand half the G-force I do. He is a weak man. But that is neither here nor there.
Bezos’s visit did bring me to a realization, however. Mall Santas are victims of a system that goes against everything Christmas stands for. My birthday has become a vehicle for reckless consumerism and I am complicit. I run a massive deficit every year to provide the best conditions for my elves, and had to sell my soul to Coca-Cola. If the sharp talons of capitalism can sink themselves into the tender rump of me, Santa Claus, then I shed a tear for us all.
Well, back to Santa’s gym for me. Today I’m working on my glutes.
Matt Hertendy does graphic design, and theatre sometimes, and likes to make people laugh. He is openly lobbying to be the mascot for the Ottawa Titans baseball team, and they are not returning his calls. Follow him on Twitter: @matthertendy and Instagram: @hertndee.