"I don't know whether to baby-sit with you Christmas eve or go to Midnight Mass with mama and papa." The twelve-year-old girl was taking her little sister to see Santa Claus in his fall home, Jordan Marsh's fifth floor. "I guess I'll stay home with you, and when everybody goes to church, we can Christmas hunt for our presents. We won't have to wait until morning."
As they came off the escalator, the people naturally seemed to head for the large train display table. Grouped around the trains were over a hundred craning men and women. A few children had managed to elbow their way in too. A clerk was complaining to the demonstrator, "Every time some guy asks his kid whether he'd like trains for Christmas, the kid starts screaming that the old man will always be playing with them. What can you do? If you suggest that they take turns, or that the old man buys one for himself, they think you're a wise guy."
From the trains, the flow went to Santa Claus' throne. When I tried to get into line, a floor walker gave me a dirty look, so I waited until closing time to way-lay the venerable one.
This particular Santa goes under the alias of Joe Bradley about ten months of the year. In the mufti season, however, he still dispenses cheer as a wandering bartender. "It's like being a Santa too long in the same place," he said. "People get so they hate the sight of you. You know what they say about familiarity breeding contempt? Well, after a while they get contempt for me and I get contempt for them, so I keep moving."
Santa was up from his throne, and pacing about with quick little knee bends when he stopped. His lap had been occupied eight hours that day, and he seemed a bit stiff.
"Actually what I do this for is a rest. I like little kids, and it's great to see them so nice and innocent. Then I see them a few years later and they're all dressed up in minks and stuff. They know all the answers and they aren't nice any more. I like them better this way."
A late patron came up dragging a mother behind her. "Hello, hello, hello," said Santa in a fair approximation of a Walt Disney Santa's hearty boom. "What can we do for you?" The little girl started and dissolved giggling into her mother's skirts. "She's a little shy," explained mother, leading her away.
"You see," continued Bradley, "now that kid really believes in me. Once they lose faith in Santa they're through. About a quarter of the mothers take their kids to see one Santa, and then bring them here to me. Then they expect the kid to believe, but what can I do? That's when they start pulling whiskers to find out the truth. But I don't have too many like that."
The final warning buzzer sounded, indicating a half hour to go until lock-up time. Bradley began walking toward the locker room, unfastening the broad black belt across his padded stomach.
"The only real trouble I have is with some of the requests. I had a kid in here this afternoon who wanted some snakes. His mother was shaking her head so I told him that snakes didn't live up in the North Pole. I hate to tell kids no, but what could I do? The mothers would kill me."