I interviewed the real Santa Claus once, and no one seemed to care.
At least no one in the newsroom said they were impressed, even though I not only landed one of the biggest exclusive interviews of all time but came back with a photo of the real Kris Kringle.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Reporters are a skeptical sort. I knew that getting an interview with Santa was not the type of thing that would impress them, but I’ll bet they would have thought differently if they had experienced what I did.
It happened at a Dunkin Donuts. I was standing in line listening to Christmas music and thinking about crime, destruction and embarrassing people, just like I was trained to do, when I noticed the guy standing next to me. He was heavyset, had a real white beard and longish white hair, wire-rimmed glasses and was wearing suspenders with little cartoon images of Santa on them.
He looked kind and wise, just like the real Santa, the kind they put in those movies my wife watches. Those movies, which are usually on the Hallmark channel, feature a Santa character who is injected into a normal small-town or big-city setting. He talks and looks like Santa but no one believes in him and sometimes, because he’s nice, they even try to have him committed.
Just before the last commercial, something magical happens. And then, after the last commercial, he rides off into the sky with that sled and eight shiny reindeer and the busy, grumpy BlackBerry people all feel like dopes for not recognizing the real Santa Claus was right there among them.
The Santa I saw in Dunkin’ Donuts looked real.
He got his doughnut and left and when I was checking out I said to the cashier, “That isn’t who I think it is is it?”
She smiled, as if she was in a Hallmark movie, and said, “All I know is that we call him Santa and he never corrects us.”
Clutching my holiday doughnut, I ran for the door and spotted him sitting in a car. I walked right up to the car and knocked on his window. He didn’t look frightened. It was almost as if he expected me.
“I know this is kind of weird to ask but I’m a reporter and are you Santa Claus?”
I kid you not, his face broke into a wide, genuine grin and out came a deep, seasoned chuckle. They were ho, hoes. I’m not making this up.
He smiled and pointed to the front of his car and said, “Look at my license plates.”
I looked and they were vanity plates that read simply, “Santa.”
I asked for an interview and he got out of the car. He was quite friendly, but I didn’t ask to sit on his lap; that would have taken a magical moment and made it into an emergency-room moment. And my colleagues back in the newsroom would not have spared me embarrassment by covering up the story for me. The headlines would have read: “Fat man crushes Santa. Christmas may be canceled while Jolly Old Man recovers on painkillers.”
I asked him if there was anything he’d like to say to everyone, and he said, as a matter of fact, there was.
“I wish parents would stop threatening their children that I’m not going to give them any presents if they aren’t good,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of a threat. I love all those boys and girls.”
Now, was that the real Santa Claus? He did tell me he had a regular name and a regular job and that sometimes people hired him to “play Santa Claus.” He was a lousy liar, however, and I knew he was just giving me a cover story. (He probably has to have a good cover story and fake identity because I think he does go to Arizona once a year.) I think it was the twinkle in his eye that gave him away.
You know what I forgot? I forgot to tell him what I wanted for Christmas. That would be like Keira Knightly, the beautiful movie star who was in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” showing up at your table while you were at McDonald's. It would be like you then rudely telling her that you don’t “sit with pirates” and telling her to go away. Letting Santa get away without first asking him a favor was just that dumb. I could have lived out my life in Maui, in a mansion, on the beach. I felt like a dope as he drove away.
Today is a skeptical age and there aren’t that many true believers. Once, when my son was about 6 years old, we bumped into a fake Santa at Wal-mart. Saint Nick was just wandering around the toy department. I got all excited and pointed him out to my son and asked Santa if he would talk with Jackson for a moment. My son was quite polite and answered Santa’s questions, shook his hand and left.
As we were walking out of the store, I was wondering why he wasn’t more impressed to have met the one-and-only Santa Claus. He said matter-of-factly, “Because that’s not the real Santa Claus.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked incredulously.
"Think about it, Dad. What are the odds that three days before Christmas the real Santa is going to be wandering around Wal-mart, by himself, with nothing to do, wearing a fake beard?”
And he rolled his eyes, just like they did in the newsroom after I met the real Santa.
Well, that spoiled it for me. I understand why so many don’t believe but it is still sad. When you invest your faith in such things as Chia Pets, Thigh Master and Herman Cain, it’s easy to be disillusioned. But I have to ask you, how can you dismiss all the Santas in the world as fakes? The real one is clearly out there. I can understand why he might not have time for Wal-mart, but Dunkin Donuts? Who among us hasn’t caused a traffic accident suddenly trying to turn into a Krispy Kreme to answer the call of a lonely donut?
Pay attention, for crying out loud! Get your nose out of your iPhone. If you spot him, maybe we can draft him to run for president and we can form the “Cookies and Milk Party.” For once, we’d have an elected official who can really deliver on his promises of something for everyone.
If not that, you could at least pass on a message from me to him. Just tell him, “Steve needs a home in Maui.” No need to use last names. He knows me. (One year I was on his good list and when someone like me makes the good list, he never forgets.) And tell him to say “hi” to Keira for me. I know what he’ll say.
“Aye matey, ho, ho, ho.”
He’s funny like that.
Steve Eaton lives and works in Logan, Utah. It has taken time, but the people there have become accustomed to him and it has been weeks since there have been any "incidents." He can be reached at Eatonnews@gmail.com.