Raise your hand if you, like me, were under the impression that the main reason malls bring in Santas is to get people to the mall to shop.
*quickly counts hands, sees trouble*.
You there! Stop passing notes. Something you'd like to share with the class, Mr. Offutt?
Anyway, yesterday's SUPERXmas!
was to take Mr F and Mr Bunches to visit Santa Claus, but not just any old Santa Claus-- a Santa Claus who was 70+ miles away from us when we set out on this journey of miracle and wonder, or whatever.
The boys are not big on visiting Santa Claus, but that's almost certainly because the boys have no idea who Santa Claus really is.
Or maybe they do. I don't really know how to gauge the level of understanding that Mr F and Mr Bunches have of Santa Claus, because when I tried to talk to them this week about Santa, here is a sample of what I got:
Me: Do you want to go see Santa Claus this weekend?
Mr Bunches: uh huh.
Mr F: *mumbles, walks away*.
While Mr Bunches' remark seems positive, I should note that he said it without ever once taking his eyes off of the computer screen, where he was watching an ad for a Play-Doh toymaker.
The ad was in Spanish.
So it's entirely possible that I have a five-year-old who knows how to make Spanish Play-Doh ice cream, but not who Santa Claus is.
Also: given that Play-Doh appears edible in the first place, am I the only one who is bothered by the fact that Play-Doh makes toys that help shape the Play-Doh into food-like shapes, which could only encourage kids to eat it? I mean, I'm sure we think Play-Doh isn't toxic, but we think a lot of things that aren't true, like that velociraptors existed.
Also: Why doesn't Play-Doh just give in and make edible, flavored Play-Doh? Could it be that hard? Wouldn't it help sell more Play-Doh? Couldn't they make a restaurant chain out of that concept so that you could go someplace and literally make your own food? Why do I have to do everything for civilization? It's because I'm tasked with coming up with ideas like "Play-Doh, The Restaurant" that I don't have time to do my real job, whatever that might be these days.
Anyway, the visit to Santa was one of the first things I planned to do when I thought up and patented the idea of SUPERXmas! and, through a stroke of genius, I managed to combine the visit to Santa with a visit to my dad, thereby killing two birds with one stone: I got to see my dad, and get that over with, and we got to do something SUPERXmas-y, and get that over with, and to top it all off, it turns out there were burgers involved, which was not originally planned but makes it all worthwhile.
The original concept for this post was that it was going to be a series of videos, in which I would, beginning in the morning, ask the boys whether they wanted to go see Santa, and other questions about Santa, and talk to them about Santa, and then it would all culminate in a Santa-video-scene that would be either heartwarming or hilarious or mortifying or all three, but despite my dutifully doing that with my video camera periodically throughout the morning and the trip, I am posting no videos, for a couple of reasons:
1. Mr F and Mr Bunches do not like to talk on camera. They are, as five-year-olds, a lot like deep undercover sources who will only speak on background and will not be photographed doing anything interesting if they can help it. So many of the video clips were simply recordings of me saying something like "Who's ready to go see Santa?" and the boys staring at me in a battle of wills, trying to remain entirely motionless the entire time.
2. As a result of (1), the only video clip worth noting really is the one that I got of Mr Bunches, sitting in the car singing along with a Katy Perry song, the lyrics to which include a line like "Let's go all the way," and the fact that he knows that song raises a great many questions about just what kind of supervision Sweetie is engaging in during the day when I am theoretically working.
3. I would post the video from (2) except I can't get it to upload, and
4. I also tried to get Sweetie to get a video of us when we actually got to Santa Claus, but Sweetie was ushered away from the scene by a couple of thuggish elves who wouldn't let her make a video recording of the moment when Mr F stared bashfully at Santa.
Which he did! But I'm getting ahead of myself.
So we planned on going to see Santa near my dad's house, because my dad hadn't been able to see the boys or visit us for some time, probably since the summer, and we hadn't seen him over Thanksgiving, which led me to think that I ought to stop by and see my dad sometime or he would likely end up at our house on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and I don't like to have company over on those days.
It may seem a bit harsh that I haven't seen my dad in a long time, but really it's my dad's fault, because my dad really likes to visit people, and that is a flaw in him that I can't abide. His love of visiting is exceeded only by his love of telling what at this point can only be considered The World's Longest, Boringest, Longest Story, a name I give my dad's conversations because it became apparent to me long ago that my dad does not so much talk to people as he engages in a monologue, loudly, and that monologue is actually one gigantic interconnected story the point of which is mysterious and elusive but also the point of which is besides the point because the devil is in the details and with my dad, it's all details.
I love my dad.
I just felt I should add that before I start getting hate mail.
Here's an example of my dad's Ongoing Story. One night, on the way home from work, I gave him a call. I had 30 minutes of commuting ahead of me, and thought "This would be a good idea: Call him, talk for 30 minutes, get home, and be able to then spend the rest of the night with my family."
So I called my dad, and asked how things were going, and my dad, who recently started delivering pizzas part-time in his retirement because he was so bored sitting around at home, launched into Phase 718 of his Ongoing Story, this part being a chapter I call "The Story Which Turns Out To Be About A Tip, Maybe."
You can tell, by the way, that each of my dad's stories are all part of one large ongoing story, rather than a discrete story in and of itself, because they all refer back to earlier stories, or foreshadow upcoming stories, and you are expected to remember them, no matter how long ago the earlier part of the story was. The effect is like trying to recall, as you read the last Harry Potter book, a minor episode of the first Harry Potter book, if Harry Potter were not about wizarding but instead was about baffling attempts to describe to me what a Social Security office is like, or how pizza deliveries work.
So in the recent episode of Dad's Story, he began, as I pulled out of my parking garage 30 minutes away from my home, telling me about the night before at work, a story that included, as it progressed:
(A) An aside into when I was 13 and remember that time when we went to Florida?
(B) A passing reference to "your son" which I eventually figured out was actually a reference to my grandpa
(C) A brief foray into a discussion of the intricacies of the Coca Cola Pension plan, which led to two side-remarks about his divorce from my mother, and
(D) A complete, thorough, description of a sausage pizza that went like this, verbatim: "They sell this pizza. It's a sausage pizza. You know what a sausage pizza is, right? It's got a crust. They use a thin crust here, which is not like your thick crust. It's thinner. They don't sell thick crust pizzas. They only have thin crust, but it's pretty good. It's not soft like a lot of pizza crust. It's thinner, so it's crispier. Their pizzas are square, and they use a thin crust and they put the cheese right on top of that. This pizza cheese, they put it on the thin crust and then on top of that, well, no, it's under it, they put sauce and then pizza cheese and over that they put sausage, you know, like pizza sausage. They don't put as much on as some places, but they don't overdo it. I know that you never liked mushrooms when you were a kid. Remember, how I once tried to get you to eat a mushroom and paid you ten bucks if you would and you wouldn't eat the mushroom?"
That went on from there. I've just gotten tired.
So my dad was telling this story -- which ostensibly was about him delivering a pizza and the tip he didn't or did get, and he did foreshadow, at one point saying "Well, I'd explain that but that's for another time, I'll tell you sometime what Phil said" and I didn't know who Phil was, either, and before we'd even gotten close to the end of this story, I was already home and had gone inside the house and, with my phone on speaker, had said "Hello" to the boys and Sweetie and had taken off my coat and shoes and served up dinner and was sitting at the table before I could even break in and tell him I had to go.
I don't think he even paused for breath. In thirty minutes. There wasn't a single conversational gap for me to jump into and say "Hey, interesting, I don't know who Phil is or why he's in charge of the budget but I've got to go because it's nearly 6 p.m. and my phone is dying."
My dad is relentlessly social-- he loves company and loves to talk and loves having people around, and I'm about as opposite from that as can be, which means that my dad and I are like two scorpions in a bottle when it comes to social visits: Only one of us is getting out alive, and it may not even be that many. Because my dad likes to visit so much, he stays forever, and because my dad stays so long when he visits (or talks so long when I call) I try to limit the number of times we get together or talk, and because I limit the number of times I call or see him, he feels like he has to cram even more into the visit than ever before, and stay or talk longer.
I've tried to call him more frequently, so that we could talk for, say, 20 minutes and then go, but all that happened was what occurred at the end of the story I just related: I finally said "Hey, I'm home, everyone's waiting on dinner, I've got to go," and he said:
"Sure, go eat dinner, and call me right back after you eat and I'll talk some more."
So I said: "Well, after dinner, you know, we've got to clean up and I want to spend some time with the boys and then they'll have to get their bath..." to which he interrupted and said:
"Well, just call me after they go to bed and then you won't have to get off the phone."
I didn't call him for ten days after that. I thought I might have to move and change my phone number.
So now, when we go see my dad, we try to impose some limits on the trip, an outside limitation that he will have to abide by, because once when he came to visit us on a Saturday morning he stayed until Sunday afternoon despite my repeated polite efforts to get him to not stay until Sunday afternoon. And my outside limit in this case was that my dad had to go to work delivering more pizzas, and developing more chapters in The Story, at 4:00 p.m.
That seemed perfect: Go take the boys to see Santa, which would get us out of my dad's house full of breakable knick-knacks, and at a mall where there would be plenty to look at and see while making noncommittal responses to The Story, and, at the end, we would be able to go home without any problems because he'd have to go to work.
So we got ready to go to see Santa in the morning, which I did by getting Mr Bunches and Mr F dressed and repeatedly telling them "We're going to see Santa," which caused Mr F to regard me suspiciously and Mr Bunches to respond in a variety of ways ranging from "Uh huh" to singing that Katy Perry song to saying "No way."
I tried to give them an idea of what Santa was about as we got all of the things we'd need for the trip in together. While Sweetie and I gathered up two changes of clothing per boy, a set of snacks to eat on the way that included cheese puffs, Hershey bars, chocolate chip cookies, two bananas, and a box of "S'more" crackers, I would periodically go to the boys and say something like "When we go see Santa, you can tell him what you want for Christmas!"
That particular line got me a blank look back, so I added "Toys. You can tell Santa what toys you like."
To which Mr F responded by saying "Dad. Go." and Mr Bunches responded by saying "Hot Wheels."
"Don't tell me. Tell Santa," I said to Mr Bunches, who was already back watching videos on the computer.
"Dad. Go." Mr F said again.
We also packed lunches for me and Sweetie, and after two brief chases -- Mr Bunches has added shoe chase and now get in the car chase to our repertoire -- we were ready to roll out and head to Santa Claus!
After a quick stop at the bank, to get money for the trip, and a gas station, to get gas for the trip, a series of events which confused me. As we headed down the street, Sweetie said, four or five times, "You'll want to be in the right lane."
Sweetie is always telling me which lane I want to be in, and I am always not telling Sweetie that the best way to make me not be in a lane is to try to tell me what lane I want to be in. I'll be in the lane I want, is my motto. Well, one of them.
Finally, after about the fifth time, I said "No, I want to be in the left lane because we have to get gas."
Sweetie said: "We have to go to the bank, first, because how am I going to pay for the gas?"
But in reality, I was in the right here because every single trip we take involves us first stopping at the gas station. It doesn't matter where we go: we have to stop at the gas station first. The mall? Gas station first. The office? Gas station first? The gas station? Stop at the other gas station first. So I can't be blamed for thinking that we would stop at the gas station first, because that's our thing that we do. That's how we roll.
We got it sorted out and headed on our way, with me calling my dad to tell him that we were on our way. I kind of dreaded that call, too, but I had to make it. I had promised my dad, the day before, when I'd called him, that I would call to let him know when we were leaving. I had called my dad the day before to talk to him because on Tuesday, when I'd planned this trip, I'd had to promise him that I'd call him the day before to "finalize details," because in my family, you do not do something like "get together with a family member" on the basis of just one phone call. You typically need a minimum of three calls.
A minimum of three.
The first call broaches the idea of getting together, saying something like "We should get together, Saturday, around noon, to take the boys to see Santa." You can try, as I did, to get the details worked out by saying: "Saturday. For sure. Around noon. We'll meet you at your house and then go to the mall and see Santa."
But that doesn't work, because you have to call back and confirm. So you say "Okay, I'll call you Friday to make sure" and then you call Friday and say something like ""Saturday. For sure. Around noon. We'll meet you at your house and then go to the mall and see Santa."
But that's not quite enough, as you will then have to call the next morning, at the least when you leave, if not even more times. When my dad got re-married, he called me 7 times in the four days before the wedding, all to confirm that I would be at the wedding.
That would be bad enough, but many times that last call to or from someone on the way ends up actually beginning the conversation, as with the time my dad called me to let me know he was leaving to come up to our house and then talked to me for forty minutes of the hourlong trip, which then left us with less to talk about when he actually got here, something that didn't deter him: When he ran out of things to talk about, he just started over.
Seriously: That time, when he first actually got to our house, after sitting down, he began with a story about how his stepgrandkids, his new wife Pat's grandkids, had gone to some Packer game or other recently. Eight hours later, when he was still there and the conversation lulled a bit so that there was that minute or two of silence that usually leads to someone saying, "Well, we'd better go," this happened:
Dad: Did I tell you that Pat's grandkids got to go to a Packer game?
Me: I guess you'd better get going.
This time, though, things were different. I called my dad, as promised, and said "We're on our way," and got this:
"Okay. Yeah, fine. See you in a bit."
He sounded bothered, and down, and that bugged me all the way to his house, which, when we arrived, was about 2/3 decorated for Christmas but was strangely dark and abandoned looking. His wife, Pat, wasn't there -- she was off working -- and Dad was standing in the middle of the room looking a bit awkward.
While Sweetie took the boys to the bathroom, I said "How are things going?"
Dad said: "I'm thinking of quitting my job."
I instantly thought: what, because you want to visit for longer? Which would not be considered a drastic reaction on my dad's part. Remember: stayed until Sunday afternoon. Quitting a job to allow us to stay later than 3 would be nothing compared to that.
When I asked why, he launched into The Story, this time an episode about his boss not letting him use GPS on the pizza truck, with forays into the people at his work that speak Spanish but they're okay people for that anyway, the two missing aluminum trays that are round, the inventory system used for silverware, and, at one interjection, Herman Cain's decision to end his campaign.
That episode of the story lasted from his apartment through our separate trips to the mall, him in his car, us in ours, to the meeting in the mall, through the sidetrip to the little stand that sells radio controlled helicopters to the line for Santa and through actually visiting Santa to our walking around the mall and briefly visiting a toy store, and lunch.
The boys, meanwhile, were liking this trip. They liked Dad's apartment and its decorations and tried to take some of them with them: Mr Bunches, who likes ceramic houses, wanted to take one of Dad's Christmas Village houses (he was denied the request) while Mr F, who likes spatulas, wanted to take one of Dad's, and got the right to.
From there, we went to the Mall, with my dad's original plan being "We'll meet at the center of the mall."
Since I haven't been to this particular mall in about 10 years, at least, and had no idea what the center might mean, I proposed a different plan: "Let's just follow you to the mall and go in together."
Dad was okay with that, and so we followed him to the mall, where we wended our way through the parking lot looking for a parking space. One opened up just in front of us, and my dad motioned me to take it, and as I pulled in, he drove off into the parking lot, and we lost sight of him.
We got out of the car and walked to the sidewalk outside an entrance to the Mall and I said to Sweetie:
"Do you suppose he'll walk back and meet us here?"
Sweetie said: "He said to meet him at the center of the mall."
I said: "But I changed that plan. So will he meet us there, or should we wait here where he saw us get out of the car?"
As we tried to decide how best to handle this -- and also commented on the fact that my dad actually has a cell phone, but he does not give us the number to it because it's only for emergencies and he doesn't know how to work it -- my dad pulled up in front of us.
"Go to the center of the mall," he said. "I'll meet you there."
"I don't know where that is," I said.
"Go meet me by Santa," he said, and that worked out fine.
The Santa Compound, when we got there, was actually a little disappointing. This mall is kind of a higher-end mall, in a relatively prosperous area around Milwaukee, and I'd figured that Santa Central would look pretty nice, but instead, it was more or less a tiny shed with a fence around it, and a red, sort-of-fancy chair where Santa would sit.
When we arrived, Santa was not there; Santaville was empty and there was no sign saying when he'd be back. There was a Santa coat hanging on a hook near the chair, but that was the only sign that Santa was even available that day.
So we waited a bit, killing time by listening to Dad's Story, and watching the radio-controlled helicopters nearby, and then I noticed that the line was starting to build up a bit for Santa.
I had no reason to think that the people in line were any more in the know about Santa's whereabouts than we were, but I had no reason not to think that, either, and so I said we should get in line because I didn't want to take a chance that there was some sort of secretly-available information about Santa that we didn't know about.
So instead of standing off to one side of the Santa Shed, we stood off to the other side of it, in the sort of almost-line that forms when people don't really have anything to guide them into a line but they feel they should form one anyway.
Within about ten minutes, we learned that all of us in this line were wrong, anyway -- as a whole different line opened up, around the back of Santa's Prefab House, and we had to try to go shift back there and get in line, so instead of being, maybe, fifth, we were now more or less seventeenth or worse in line.
Which wouldn't have been so bad, except that there literally was nothing to do except stand in line and watch people who were not in line walk by. There were no Christmas displays, no elves walking around, not even any decorations to speak of that you could look at. Just a line and a mall.
Mr Bunches passed the time by pulling on my sweatshirt string, first one side, then the other, until that grew boring. Mr F passed the time by having me pick him up, then put him down, then pick him up for a bit.
I tried to get Mr F to say "Santa" at one point, and despite all of the distractions, he did pretty good, mumbling out a version of Santa that was passable.
I asked Mr Bunches whether he was going to tell Santa what toys he liked, and he said "Hot Wheels," so he seemed pretty up on the program.
My dad continued The Story, which Sweetie dutifully listened to, and we moved along the line, getting to the point on the side of Santa's shed where you could pick up a little red phone. I didn't know what you would hear, but I picked up the phone and held it to Mr F's ear, only to see him promptly fall to the ground and lie on his back, trying to slide, inchworm like, away from the phone.
I put the phone to my ear, and heard a faraway lady's voice saying something about Santa's Village. It sounded like the GPS lady coming through an old Victrola. I hung the phone back up. Mr Bunches picked it up and listened for a bit, then wandered away.
We then had to pass under the back of Santa's shed, where there was a TV screen showing It's A Wonderful Life, a movie that was a questionable choice, given that it's in black and white and has less appeal to little kids waiting to see Santa than a blank wall would have.
I've never seen It's A Wonderful Life, but I know the gist of the story because I own the It's A Wonderful Life Cookbook, and I'm 100% sure there's no Santa in it.
From there, we were around to the third side, where there was a picture of the North Pole with two large red buttons on it. My dad interrupted The Story to tell Mr Bunches to press the buttons. Mr Bunches did. Nothing happened.
Then we were up! We were next. The elf greeted us with "Would you like to buy pictures of your visit?"
Sweetie said "We're not sure the boys will even sit for Santa, so, no, thanks."
I handed my camera to Sweetie and said "Try to get a video of me taking them up there," and she agreed, and The Elf grew stern: "It's okay, this time, but just so you know, policy in the future is that you can't take your own pictures."
Santa has a policy?
I mean, I know they sell pictures and probably make a little money off of them, but they (a) don't sell videos of the visits that you could post on your blog, and that's what I was trying to do and (b) you're going to insist that every parent by an Officially Approved Santa (TM) Photo? Or they can't remember their visit to Santa? Even the poorest parents, which, okay, we're not but we could've been, I wasn't dressed all that nice, even the poorest parents have to pay to remember their Santa, Inc. visit?
I didn't argue, though, 'cause of the Magic of Christmas or something, and because The Elf had given us permission to video it, anyway, so I took the boys up and said "Here's Santa," at which point the boys turned and saw:
An old man in a button up shirt and red pants sitting on a chair.
Yeah, he had the white beard and glasses, but he wasn't wearing the hat and he wasn't wearing the coat and frankly, the effect was a bit of a letdown. He was just some guy, you know?
But the boys didn't know any better, or maybe they did. Mr Bunches, when I said "Who's that?" looked and said "Santa," but he didn't sound convinced. Mr F wouldn't get too near, but stood off to the side, tapping his spatula and looking nervous. Mr Bunches bravely sat next to Shirtsleeves Santa and looked at him.
"Tell... Santa... what toys you want for Christmas," I said to the boys.
"Hot Wheels," Mr Bunches said to me.
"Mmmm." Mr F said, and tried to leave.
"He wants books," I said to... Santa... of Mr F, who looked at me with an expression that seemed to say "Don't tell this guy that."
Santa nodded and didn't say anything. We all sat there, awkwardly, for a moment, until I said "Well, say thanks to Santa."
"Hot Wheels," Mr Bunches said.
"No, say thanks," I told him.
"Bye, Santa," Mr Bunches said, and Mr F waved.
"Would you like coloring books?" Santa finally said; it was the first thing I'd heard him say.
"Sure they would," I said.
Mr F and Mr Bunches looked doubtful, but they took them.
"Tell Santa 'bye," I said.
"Hot Wheels," Mr Bunches said, and Mr F started to walk away, so we left.
There wasn't much to report after that; we walked around the mall, Dad continued his story, we eventually left (Dad decided not to quit his job just yet) and we got some burgers on the way home.
Sweetie, meanwhile, had tried to tape the whole thing but had been urged away from the scene by an Elf Security Guard who held his hand up in front of the camera to keep her from taping! So we don't have any usable video of our encounter with ... Santa... but at least he knows that Mr Bunches wants Hot Wheels.
But on our way out, on the elevator, I snapped this supersecret photo of the Santa Complex:
I probably violated some portion of the Patriot Act doing that, but it was worth it.