The equipment is one pillow (craftily placed), one board (stuck on plenty tight), one uniform (sweatproof), and guts (to face 200 kids a day). The pay is a base scale of $1.00 an hour. The hours are short. The job, for eight Harvard men, is that of impersonating Santa Claus.
These are full-time Santas--as distinguished from the pat-them-on-their-curly-heads-and-run variety. They work roughly five hours a day, six days a week, at stores in the Boston area, at one of the most nerve-racking jobs around.
All got their jobs through the Student Employment Bureau, but six work as part of a larger team for a local Santa mogul. The other two are independents.
The six belong to the stable of Bill Josko, a veteran Santa Claus with 12 years of experience, who has virtually cornered the market for Santas among the larger department stores of Boston and other Eastern cities. Josko got the idea of organizing a string of well-trained, sober Santas, after brooding for years over the fact that they were mostly recruited by harried store managers from the ranks of down-and-out bums.
So this year he rounded up 187 men, mostly from colleges, screened them, and selected for training 16 promising specimens ranging in age from 18 to 67. To these men he gave an intensive, 12-hour, two-day course in all the problems of being a Santa Claus, including make-up and psychological approach. Then, giving each a handsome diploma, Josko sent them into the world--local department stores that had signed up for his genuine, reliable, gilt-edged St. Nicks.
Working at Filene's on the 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. beat, Alfred W. Conley '49 (above right) is thinking of using his experiences in his thesis. He says that kids are all the same, "The girls ask first dolls, then doll houses, and finally accessories for dolls; boys just want toy trucks."
His toughest problem is sloughing off exorbitant requests without damaging the reputation of Santa Claus. "You can't ever let yourself promise anything; you blame it on shortage of materials, of transportation delays. In a pinch you rely on a hearty guffaw to give you time to think."
Working with Conley at Filene's are a BU student who takes the morning shift in the gift department, using the same uniform and pillow as Conley, and a 300 pound man in the window who uses no pillow.
The independents have been working since December 3 at W. T. Grant stores in Arlington and Cambridge. They received no training--just a suit and a beard. Dwight B. Heath '52, who handles Arlington, has a little trouble making the weight; he is 5 ft. 10 in. tall and weighs 130 pounds, but the ever-useful pillow takes care of that.
Heath's arrangement is to take each slobbering tot onto his knee, ask it what it wants for a present, listen enraptured to its answer, mutter something about "seeing to it", ask the attendant mother if the little dear has been a good child during the year, and finally give it a funny book. Unfortunately the funny books ran out long ago, so all Heath can offer is a cheery laugh and a pat on the back.
He has had his problems, too. One day a little dog was held up to tell him what it wanted in its stocking. The dog, evidently not understanding the Santa Claus principle, took a firm hold with his teeth on Heath's beard and started growling ferociously.
"It's a great life," says Heath, "but it's a little hectic."