I've done a lot of strange things in my short life, but becoming part of a bar-hopping Santa gang was not one of them until yesterday.
I felt an uncharacteristic shyness about asking a friend to attend. It takes skill, this business known alternately as , as well as the willingness to make an absolute idiot of oneself. Who could handle such an amped-up combination of social deviancy, bad costuming, carol singing and public drunkenness?
And then, as if in a dream, like the archangel Gabriel had come down from the heavens and done it himself, I picked up my phone and dialed my 53-year-old father.
Not surprisingly, my father, a.k.a. Papa Bear Santa, was more than willing to tag along. We planned to meet at 6 p.m. and head right over to the High Noon Saloon, where the Santacon takeover of Rock Star Gomeroke had already started.
The following is a real-time, true life account of my night as Bad Santa. Names have been changed to protect the guilty. And if anyone asks, I was not the one pounding on the windows of the King Street bars at 10:30 on Friday.Here's the timeline, with photos of the fun in the gallery at right:
State Street at 6:01 p.m.: Papa Bear Santa is running late. "Problem with the reindeer," he tells me over the phone. I am not amused. I scramble to find ribbon and buy myself a coffee at Espresso Royale. My initial enthusiasm for the event has dampened into a general, mildew-y unease. We're late, it's cold, I want a Christmas cookie and no one is selling. I hate the holidays. In the midst of my grumbles I spill coffee on my scarf.
- Johnson Street at 6:25 p.m.: The sleigh pulls up, disguised as a yellow Jeep. Papa Bear and I zoom to the east side as I frantically pull on my green galoshes and pull back my hair. "Did you get the Santa hats?" I ask him. "Couldn't fine them," he answers, "but we did get these!" In his hand is a bright red baseball cap and green knit wall hanging that says "JOY!" in baby blocks. I resign myself to my fate -- I am not actually going to Santacon dressed as Santa, but as a crazed home decoration. I tie JOY! around my neck with ribbon and discover the bell jingles directly in front of my crotch.
- High Noon Saloon at 6:30 p.m.: First thing we see is a cloud of smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. Behind it is what looks like a motorcycle gang of Santas. There's a lot of leather. I gulp and clutch JOY! to my bosom. "Let's go in," I tell Papa Bear. He looks at least as terrified as I feel.
- High Noon at 6:32 p.m.: I duck out of the door charge with a winning smile that isn't quite enough to cover Papa Bear, too. He trudges to the ATM as I overview my favorite haunt that looks jollier than I've ever seen it. So much red, so many hats. Is that a gothic Santa over there?
- High Noon at 6:35 p.m.: I make fast friends with Jen, a.k.a. Gothic Santa, who tells me "There's so much saccharine stuff around the holidays -- it's too much! It's commercial and overdone. What about the credit card bills and the families hating each other?" I stop her mid-rant as I take a closer look at her costume. "I've never seen a Santa with nipple rings before!" I exclaim. "Wait, check this out," she says, motioning me closer. "They're cranberries!"
- High Noon from 6:35 -7:35 p.m.: There is a lot of stimulation. I'm like a kid in a toy store, dashing here and there, taking pictures and wiggling to some great renditions of Pat Benatar and Queen taking place onstage. I make friends with Pimp Santa 1, Santa Daddy, Tall Santa, Saint Lucia, Lady Santa, and two Devil Santas that are somehow the demon-angel equivalent of St. Nick. Papa Bear is a steadying calm to my sugar high, watching my purse and making friends with the sound guy. And buying me beer. Turns out it's the opiate for the slightly awkward Santa. I have a Eureka! moment and realize what I want more than anything else this Christmas is to see two Santas make out.
I scamper over to Adam, a.k.a. Whiskey Santa (named after his silvery flask) and ask if he'd like to be a part of my Christmas wish. He's down. I tell him I'm going to start planting seeds with the ladies. Blue-Jeaned Santa walks by and kicks my coat and bag. "I'm so sorry about that," he apologizes. I laugh. "Don't worry -- it's just an old purse," I tell him. "Damn. Thought it was a baby," he says.
A call goes out at the end of karaoke that a bus is leaving at 7:45 to take Santacon to the Overture Center. I imagine a toasty-warm Van Galder with egg nog on each seat and A Christmas Story playing on televisions. I finish the last dregs of my beer and grab Papa Bear's hand as we head out into the night.
- East Wash and Blount at 7:40 p.m.: My bourgeois fantasy has been crushed. There is no Santa bus except for the #6 Metro ride scheduled to stop there. But I don't mind, really. The Santas have assembled a comical, makeshift bus stop that culminates as Light-Up Santa, with a blinking, colored string wrapped around his body, stops traffic on East Wash. Spirits are high. Whiskey Santa is generous. I can't stop giggling. Papa Bear Santa is hopping up and down. Blue-Jeaned Santa has become King of the Snow Pile Mountain.
- East Wash at 7:47 p.m.: I hate the #6 bus, because there is no freaking #6 bus. My hands are getting chapped and my buzz is wearing off as the manifestation of my tax dollars refuses to show. Luckily Tall Santa (the oxymoronic organizer of Santarchy) heads off the mutiny and starts walking toward the Capitol.
- Capitol Square at 7:57 p.m.:Yuppies in restaurants stare as we parade past, singing a one-word version of "Joy To The World" and making funny faces back at their dumbfounded gazes. I'm digging this naughtiness. To hell with the potential coal in my stocking! I look around to tell Papa Bear how good it is to be bad, but he's gone -- chatting it up with Whiskey Santa and Jill Santa, his new best friend. Is Papa Bear Santa cooler than me? The mind says no but the heart says yes.
- Overture Center at 8:04 p.m.: Calls to "shush" go back to the Santa infantry, and we file silently inside. Some nice older ladies working in the lobby ask me what's going on. "We're making merry!" I chirp. They're sweetly amused. What's more, they're selling Santa hats for five bucks! Papa Bear is generous and slaps one on my head. At last, I feel like I belong. Gleefully, I sprint across the lobby and up the stairs.
- Overture Center Rotunda at 8:07 p.m.: Arranged in a semi-circle, we start singing subversive versions of traditional carols, my favorite being "Walking 'Round In Women's Underwear." I am very pleased with myself and the company I'm presently keeping. Has anyone ever been as funny and clever as we are now?
- Overture Center Rotunda at 8:09 p.m.: As I snap photos next to Tall Santa, an angry-looking female security guard approaches. I dance around behind him, trying to overhear. "There's a concert going in," she hisses. "If you don't leave immediately, we're going to call 911."
911? 911?! The threat of law enforcement sends some Santas running for the door, while others stand their ground. I personally am thrilled with the threat of arrest. I have never been arrested before, but it seems like a good time to start. To stick it further to the man, I wander down the hallway and use the restroom. James Dean, watch out. This good girl has gone bad-ass: dressing up, singing, and using bathrooms without a ticket.
- Silver Dollar from 8:15 - 9:15 p.m.: We've left Frautschi's baby in the nick of time, and I wave gaily at a cop car driving by. It's time to bring some Christmas magic to my favorite dive bar. I interrupt a game of air hockey to ask a couple young men, "So do you like us? Are you surprised? Huh, huh?" There's nothing like a rebel with a constant need for validation.
Sleazy Christmas blues come out over the jukebox. I buy Papa Bear a drink and make friends with Bart, a Silver Dollar regular who is dressed all in black. "How 'ya doing?" I ask. "I'm a little overwhelmed," he answers. I suppose I would be too if my normally empty pub was suddenly filled with 40 strangers in red bathrobes. There's an older regular next to Bart whose grizzled beard is almost face-down in his beer. Poor guy. I would try to console him, but there's classic rock playing that demands a Santa Dance-a-Thon. I find Whiskey Santa to let him know I haven't forgotten my mission, but he's busy trying to cop a feel with a girl he's dancing with. I couldn't be prouder if I had set them up myself.
- The 'Dise from 9:30 - 10:30 p.m.: There is no point in being a gang of Santas unless you make as many people gawk at you as possible. We brave another venture outside -- I'm not even feeling the cold at this point -- with the promise of hipsters and grilled cheese sandwiches ahead. Whiskey Santa offers me a glass of Berghoff and laments that there was no canoodling with Tweedy Santa at the last bar. Time to accelerate my efforts. But I'm distracted by my sandwich and my new friends Pimp Santa 2 and Nightgown Santa, who proceed to hit on me despite the fact that my father is sitting at my side. I'm feeling inspired to write a poem. What rhymes with "Drunk Santa?" Let's see. "Funk Atlanta?"
I need a change of scenery. The early start and greasy sandwich are both contributing to a drowsy spell. Luckily Tall Santa feels it, too, and he rallies the troops to make the hike to the Essen Haus. But there's a Santa diaspora occurring, with Santas becoming too comfy or too inebriated to make the trek. Tall Santa tells me that last year there was a three-block-long Santa brigade heading from Mickey's to the Momo. I'm jealous. But I think what we lack in quantity, we definitely make up in quality.
- King Street: Some jerk in a corduroy blazer dares to touch Tall Santa's Beard. "You better watch yourself," Tall Santa warns. I'm proud that he stood up to this Grinch, and I almost want the guy to come back so I can get in my very first fight. "Let me at him!" I crow to Tall Santa. "I got your back!" Papa Bear argues that my finest mode of combat is pushing him in front of me, which may or may not be true. We'll never know until we try, right?
- Essen Haus from 10:45 - 11:30 p.m.: Free popcorn?! Excellent! Live band?! Even better! I do The Twist in my galoshes with Jill Santa, who tells me repeatedly how much she likes my dad and me. I'm touched. And what's more, Whiskey Santa tells me he's scored Topple Hat Santa's number. I know what needs to be done. I take his coat and shove him out onto the dance floor. "You know what you have to do," I say.
Papa Bear and I stand back a distance as he follows my instructions: Ask to cut in on her current partner, take her hands and twirl her around. Through my camera lens I see their noses touch, then their foreheads, and then...
There it is! Santa make-out! There is a God. Thank you, Baby Jesus. I clap my hands and hug Papa Bear. Some frat boys are looking at me and smiling in a glassy-eyed way as I wiggle-kneel-dance on the railing. I look at Papa Bear and yawn. "Are you ready?" he asks. I think I am. What better note to end on than a love story coming to fruition?
- Blount Street at 11:40 p.m.: Our sleigh is just a block away from the Essen Haus. We have come full circle -- dare I say, to the North Pole and back. I take off my wall hanging and give it back to Papa Bear and settle contentedly in my seat. What a night. Karaoke, a near-arrest, dancing, and a love story? I'm as happy as Christmas morning, and I can tell Papa Bear is, too. He drives me to my doorstep and gives me a hug. It might be my favorite Christmas with him ever, and it's not even the second week in Advent.
So there it is. No holds barred, no rules or regulations. Just a lot of silliness and good-natured debauchery. Maybe not for the faint of heart, but then again, neither is the rest of this zany time of year.