by Terri Lynn Coop
Christmas means different things to everyone. Fun, family, presents, a grueling ordeal at grandma’s house . . .
To single people, it also means the chance to pick up some extra bucks at the mall. Work the Friday after Thanksgiving? No problem. Work Christmas Eve? No problem. We are the few, the proud – the elves – and it’s our minimum wage job to make sure you have a joyous holiday (insert sarcastic laugh). Hey, those awkward family photos aren’t going to take themselves.
That’s how I, an unmarried childless college student, became “The Talking Christmas Tree” at Sunrise Mall. It was a twelve-foot tall, garishly decorated, low-tech monster with hand-operated controls for the eyes and mouth. Fifteen hours a week I’d jump the candy cane fence, look both ways for idealistic children, open the hatch, and lock myself in the tree carcass, ready to spread joy and holiday spirit, as well as be nowhere near a bathroom for four to five hours.
As any college mascot will tell you, there’s something magical about a big galumphy character costume. Your inhibitions fly to the four winds. I found myself singing off-key Christmas carols at top volume as well as calling out to random passerbys, “Mewwwy Chwwwistmas” (when in character, I had a lisp for some unexplained reason). Break into a random chorus of “Jingle Bells” when someone has their back turned to you and watch the packages fly. Man, I loved that job.
Hey, but it’s all about the kids, right? Unfortunately, most of the little ones were scared to death of me. I was a twelve-foot tall tree with a face bigger than they were. The animatronics were clunky and my sound system wasn’t exactly Dolby. I did my best, but more often than not when the parents coaxed them up my glittery candy cane path, they were rewarded with screeching howls. I wonder how many of the little darlings became lumberjacks to deal with the trauma. Ah, there are no memories like Christmas memories.
A first-grade class made a special trip just to see me (I know!). A fresh-faced moppet approached and I asked, “What’s your name?” (paragraph 3 of the training brochure, “using the child’s name makes a magical connection and enriches the experience.”)
“Mewwy Chwistmas (the signature lisp), what’s your name?”
“Okay . . .”
“The Z is silent and the gh pronounces like sh,” adds the teacher.
“Hi there, big boy! What would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?”
To this day, I address all unknown children as “big boy” and “pretty girl.”
One quiet night, I had some teenagers threaten to tip the tree over. They were rocking it back and forth when I turned the volume up to 10 and sang (yes, sang),“HO HO HO! HEE HEE HEE! SOMEONE CALL SECURITY! HELP THE TALKING CHRISTMAS TREE!”
My band of would-be Scrooges scattered like autumn leaves.
When my tree time was up, I would extricate myself and head to the other mall to don my suspenders and pointy boots for a shift as “photo elf” at Santa’s workshop. It cheers me to know that those photos I took have embarrassed prom dates, fiancés, and now their own children. Ah, the circle of life.
To all the Ermas and our readers, I hope you have a Mewwwy Chwwwistmas!
Terri Lynn Coop is a lawyer by day and writer by night. With her two intrepid Chihuahua companions, she braves life on the prairie and her death-duel with a chronically leaky roof. Check out her photo blog at www.whyifearclowns.net if you dare.