I’ve done a lot of things I normally wouldn’t have but for the fact that it was Christmas, or I was under the influence of a substance.
Both conditions impair human judgment. Combine the two and you have the makings of a disaster that you mercifully won’t remember until you finally locate your car, pants and/or the credit card statements start pouring in.
Things I normally wouldn’t do unless I were wearing a shock collar somehow become more reasonable when it’s “Please? It’s Christmas.”
A good example of this is the time someone talked me into being a mall Santa for an evening. I couldn’t very well scrooge my way out of it.
For several hours, I sat in an overheated costume and fake beard while “elves” helped a never-ending line of small, highly animated maniacs into a fake sleigh and up onto Santa’s lap. I got peed on twice and barfed on once.
Excited, the kids also hopped up and down on Santa’s … um, accoutrements. By evening’s end — and for several days thereafter — I talked like a squeaky toy.
I’ve tended bar, wrapped presents, delivered toys, rung a Salvation Army bell, and stacked Christmas trees as a way of getting into the spirit of the season. They all made me more surly.
Wait. Not all of them. The bell gig was OK. It was interesting to gauge people’s reactions. Lots of them passed by, had second thoughts, turned around and came back to drop in money.
The best was delivering presents — specifically toys — to kids who stood a good chance of not having anything to brag about Christmas morning. I felt better about that. But not once did I return to my car and cry. I didn’t. I swear.
Above them all, the best and worst experience was begging. It’s more politely referred to as panhandling, mooching or even just “being told to [blank] off!”
At the time of this Christmas experiment — back in the late 1990s — I was on the board of an organization that provided food for the homeless and disadvantaged.
Another board member and I decided to dress up like we were homeless, and go begging for money in downtown Salt Lake City. Any money we collected would go into our organization’s account.
Looking ragged and dirty, we shuffled around for several hours and asked Christmas shoppers if they could spare any change. Most people ignored us. We made $44 and change.
I still have memories of that night. One girl about 8 years old ran up and gave us each a quarter and said “Merry Christmas.” Her father saw it, shoved us against a wall and threatened to kill us if we got anywhere near his daughter again.
An elderly couple gave us a Book of Mormon. Another older couple gave us a bag of fast food hamburgers — which we promptly ate. Begging, even when you’re pretending, is hard work.
But the one I remember most was a woman who stopped and asked us how long we had been on the streets? We lied and said “a long time.” All we wanted for Christmas was some spare change to help us get warm.
She asked us if we knew so-and-so. She hadn’t seen her drug-addicted son in more than two years. She showed us a picture of him. We shook our heads. Hadn’t seen him.
Then came tears, a phone number, and $20. Would we please call her if we ever saw her son? We agreed.
“Thank you. He’s all I want for Christmas.” She started to walk away, then stopped, and turned around.
“Call your mothers, please. It’s Christmas.”