Shoplifting for Santa
An excerpt from my forthcoming book, "It Must Be Me":
I stopped believing in Santa at a young age - I believe it was the Christmas when I was four. I remember I'd been questioning the logistics of the whole delivery system, like lots of kids, and I was feeling some doubt. But then my sister made a comment one night when she walked in the door - she said she'd just seen a sleigh on a nearby rooftop as she was getting out of her car. Then she cupped her hand to her ear and looked around excitedly asking, "Are those sleighbells I hear?!"
My sister then suggested I look out the nearby window, which I almost gave me a head injury. I pulled back the curtain, but the only sight that met me was the blackness of the night sky. She was really trying to sell the story, though, and she said, "Ohh... we must have just missed him!" Our parents were in the room, and they chuckled at her comment. There was something in my sister's voice and expression then that got me thinking "something ain't quite right here." It was all just too convenient, and the conspiratorial tone ("Maybe you'll see him next year!") in the room sickened me. I decided right then and there that Santa was a sham, and I wasn't having any more of that particular myth.
I was forthright with my parents and told them that I didn't believe, but they must have felt some guilt because they tried to push Santa down my throat even harder. That Christmas I merely endured the concept of Santa, feeling somewhat more enlightened than my peers - how gullible they were. But it wasn't until a year later that I really made an issue out of it.
My father was the Electronics Department Manager of a regional department store, and it fell upon him to book their location's Santa every year. I overheard my mother saying to one of her friends that my father had prepped this year's Santa, telling him I was a non-believer. "Oh, so that's how it's gonna be?" I thought. Not really - I was only five. But now alerted to the situation that awaited me, I set about forming a plan.
On our way into the store, my parents were attempting to subtly manipulate my brain into being more receptive, telling me, "We know you don't believe in Santa, but you're going to meet him today, and since he knows everything, wouldn't he be upset to hear that a good little boy like you doesn't have any of the Christmas Spirit in him?" and other similar propaganda. I was strong and did not relent. I nodded, sure in the knowledge of what I was about to do.
As we entered the store, I noticed my father's co-workers and employees paying special attention to me - this is always more obvious to a child than adults allow themselves to believe. "So are you excited to meet Santa, Stevie?!" one giddy woman asked.
Oh yeah - bring him on. The line for Santa was long, so my parents let me walk through the toy section to kill some time. Big mistake. Since my father was a manager there, I was allowed to roam relatively freely. I knew what I had to do - I'd been pre-visualizing it for days. I selected some of the low-hanging blister packs of action figures. "Yes, these will do nicely," I thought. By and large, there were few security cameras, even in big department stores, during this time - so after a quick over-the-shoulder check, I ripped open four or five of the action figures, removed their heads with a quick plucking motion (I'd practiced) and stuffed the decapitated doll parts into my coat pocket. I sure was pretty devious little brat when I felt I'd been wronged.
With a cautious look, my parents brought through the line to see Santa. Within half an hour, I stood before, then sat on, "Santa" himself. Pity this poor man, hired to portray Santa for just a short span of time each year. He had a lot of patience - I'll give him that. But he was trying to take me on a trip that I just didn't want to be on. I didn't despise him - I despised what he stood for.
He did a bit of ho-hoing and got down to business:
"So, Stevie - I hear that you don't believe in me!" The condescension was oozing out of him.
"That's right, Santa," I replied, trying not to sound too snide.
"That's a real shame. Can I ask why you don't believe?" He was really laying it on thick.
"Well, is it true that you know if I've been good or bad?" I asked.
"Oh, yes - yes it is!"
"So - have I been a good boy or a bad boy?"
"I've been keeping my eye on you, Stevie, and I know that even though you don't believe in me, you've been a very good boy this year!"
The setup complete, I removed the action figure heads from my coat pocket and held them to his overly roughed cheeks.
"Then why did I just steal these?!" I asked nice and loud, for all to hear.
The proceedings came to a screeching halt. My father's employees suddenly had to be in another location of the store. Santa, as far as my brain can recall, did not respond verbally. He may have stammered a bit, but his rhetoric had been stifled. A red and green-clad worker ushered me off the platform.
My father was at a loss for words as well. My mother may have managed a shameful, "Oh, Stevie!" but there was no lecture as we made our way out of the store, moving through throngs of other parents actively shunning us. Nor was there any discussion on the drive home. Only years later did they discuss the event, and even then it was in hushed, halting tones. I have to say, I believe a lesson was learned that day, and I made sure it wasn't learned by me.