It was the Friday after Thursday. Thanksgiving Thursday. A day of turkey and cranberries, pumpkin pie and false hope. But mostly, it was the first day of Christmas. The time of trauma was here.

Like the good little boy I was, I asked my mother the question she always dreaded hearing.
“Mom, can I go see Santa Claus?”

The odds were stacked against me. My father had taken the only car we had to work. My hat with the pom-pom was still wet from the night before. And, oh yes, I was Jewish.

My father, in the name of humanity, was against this.

“You shouldn’t take the place in line of all those Catholic kids,” he would say. “What if Santa has to go back to the North Pole and some poor Catholic kid doesn’t get to see him?”

My father’s logic got me thinking.

“Does Santa have radar?” I asked him. “How does he know which chimneys to go to? On
our block, he visits Billy Flanagan and Danny Duffy. But how does he know that our chimney is Jewish?”

My father paused, gave me a stare and tried to explain what went on up there.

“You know how Santa knows if you’ve been naughty or nice? Well, he uses those superpowers to know which chimney is which.”

“Superpowers? You mean Santa is like Superman, and Jimmy Olson and Lois Lane are his elves?”

“Something like that,” he said.

Wow. So now I really wanted to see Santa. I asked my mother in the politest way I knew. “Mom, can I go, can I go, can I go?” Like a bank robber cornered by the cops, she gave in.

Until now, if you lived in Northeast Philly and you wanted to see Santa, you had to take the El into town. But this year was different. It was the grand opening of Lit Brothers on Cottman Avenue, the store that put the Northeast on the map.

Lits was the biggest store I’d ever seen. Ten times bigger than Sonny’s Hardware.

A 59B bus trip later, we had arrived at Mecca. We were surrounded by men in suits and overcoats and fedoras. And not a single woman in pants. We went straight to the toy department and got in line, a line so long I could barely make out Santa at the end. Big belly, red nose. It could have been half the men on my block.

The line moved like a funeral dirge, slowly but surely. And then, just when I got to within three kids of the man himself, there was an announcement.

“Ladies and gentleman, Santa will be taking a break now.”

A break? Santa doesn’t take breaks. What could he possibly be doing? Fear in my heart, tears in my eyes, I asked my mother for just one wish.

“Mom, can I go to the bathroom?” She pointed the way and said, “I’ll keep your place in line. But hurry.”

As if I had a choice.

The bathroom was immaculate. And big. Five urinals and three stalls. I took my place at the center urinal and started to take care of business. And then it happened. I looked up at the mirror and who to my wondrous eyes should appear but old Saint Nick, coming out of the center stall. He walked over to the sinks and never noticed me.

He carefully took off his granny glasses, and then, in a moment of pure horror, he reach behind both ears and pulled off his beard. A fake beard? What just happened here? Other than the end of my innocence.

I zipped up quickly and ran out. “Mom, Mom,” I wailed a cry that could be heard at the North Pole. “Mom! Santa’s not real!”

Her face turned red. She grabbed my arm and dragged me toward the exit, through the endless perfume department, where an old woman with a spray bottle, aiming at my mother, sprayed Shalimar in my eyes. This Christmas, it was the least of my problems.

December 2019
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