by ERTEL GRAY
edited by ANDREW HICKS
I was a Department Store Santa during the hectic Christmas season of 1995. Value City was the store. For years, it’d held prime position as the face of the Lycoming Mall in Pennsylvania. Catering to the “low-income/useless crap on the cheap” demographic, Value City operated under the name “Gee Bee’s” before someone (presumably in a cheap suit), stood up in a board meeting, and said, “Look, we want to offer our customers value. Yet we want to imply that this is no mere store. So… Value Hut? Value Sovereign Nation? ValueTownXpress? Mmm…. how about Value City? Besides, what the fuck is a Gee Bee anyways? Do we really want our customers to associate our name with the song ‘Nights on Broadway’?”
The work wasn’t bad, really. I got stuck in the household accessories department, which — oddly — was filled with massive, massive amounts of African-themed knickknacks, vases, tribal masks, and so on. I was verbally reprimanded for being culturally insensitive for cracking a remark (to a black coworker, no less) along the lines of, “You got it lucky, dude. You work in the shoe department. Apparently, I wandered on to the set of Roots.” The black guy thought it was funny. My boss, Mr. Wunderlin (irony?), didn’t.
Wunderlin, around the time the entire store became a Winter Wunderlin (ha ha!), approached me to ask if I’d take on the assignment of Value City Santa Claus. My qualifications? I was slightly chubby at the time, white, and maybe just had a little “too much” dignity at the time. For six hours a night, I was forced to sit in a chair in a sweaty costume, getting groped by children with sweaty, sticky candy-cane hands. These little angels would yank at my fake beard, while I braved the time bomb that some kid would either, a) piss or shit him/herself on my lap, b) vomit profusely, or, c) all of the above simultaneously. It was as close to hell as I could be without actually going to hell.