A Tale of Clausmic proportion
Sorry, kids. Hate to be the anthracite lump in the ol’ argyle, but…
You-know-who ain’t coming to town. Nope. Nada. Not this Covid-crazy Christmas.
“I’m hibernating,” huffed Santa Claus during an exclusive interview with Clarksville. “The world has gone to hell. And I want to live awhile longer.”
It’s for the best, I suppose. After all, who fits the pandemic profile for a respirator more than a jolly old fat guy?
Cookies and milk. Year after year. Cookies and milk.
Kringle’s cholesterol level must be more toxic than a Real Housewives reunion.
But before going any further, let’s address the 80-pound elf in the room.
Namely, why would a heavyweight like Santa waste time jawing with a flyspeck like me?
Allow me to explain. For years now, I’ve had this odd cell number stored in my iPhone. Don’t know when I got it. Can’t remember who gave it to me.
But there it is nonetheless, sandwiched in my contacts between Sanchez and Saxton.
One name: “Santa.”
So on a recent afternoon, with the decorative days of December looming, I called it.
“Hello,” boomed a voice laced with merriment. “This is Santa. Leave a message or you’ll be on the Naughty List. Ho! Ho! Ho!”
I explained who I was and that I wanted to know whether Santa’s plans had been Scrooged thanks to all the mask donning and non-gathering.
A few minutes later my phone sounded the country gold ringtone that drives my lovely wife, Sherry, bonkers.
“I’ve. Got. A. Tiger by the tail, it’s plain to see…”
Suddenly, it was happening. I was yakking with The Man himself.
The line separating passion from obsession is sometimes thinner than a shoplifter’s alibi.
In the case of James Gamache, however, you dear readers can judge for yourselves.
Suffice it to say that sometime around the century’s turn, the Spokane man filled out the proper paperwork and paid $125 to have his given name changed legally to…
Now 71 and living near the Oregon Coast, Claus gave his reasons for why he decided to jump the reindeer.
First, as the accompanying photo verifies, you’d be hard pressed to find a more apt doppelganger for the popular concept of Claus ala Coca-Cola ads, countless Christmas movies, and Norman Rockwell art.
I can so relate. If it weren’t for lacking the uncanny resemblance part, I would’ve long ago changed my name to Ryan Gosling.
Secondly, Claus was already a member of the Santa-for-hire trade.
“I’ve worked with 60 other guys who also changed their name to Santa,” Claus explained, adding that he was the only one he knew of in Oregon.
Claus said his immersion into Father Christmas grew out of his work as a photographer. One of his regular photo gigs, he said, was a holiday shoot with a high-profile store Santa in Portland.
Despite being just 46, which is young for a typical working Santa, his hair and beard were already turning white. Portland Claus was so taken by the photographer’s, um, North-Polar potential that he urged his friend to give it a go.
Why not? Returning to Spokane, Claus said he attended a Santa audition for NorthTown mall and was hired on the spot. He soon realized he had found his calling.
“The first kid that gets on your lap, that just hooked me,” he recalled. “It’s magic.”
No cheesy costumes allowed. Claus dropped $100 on a pair of black leather riding boots he found in a thrift store. He hired a seamstress to sew a Santa suit worthy of his luxurious long and snowy locks.
A year later found the future Claus holding court at the Spokane Valley Mall. He was discovered there in a way that reminds me of one of those Hollywood legends. You know, the one where the producer spies the busty sweater gal sipping milkshakes at the counter of a diner.
According to Claus, there were talent scouts back then who roamed the shopping arenas looking for quality Santas. Who knew?
One of them asked Claus if he’d like to make better dough and do some traveling. No need to ask twice.
“My fourth year and I’m in New York,” he said.
I asked Claus if any memories from the Big Apple stood out.
I wasn’t disappointed. He told me about two women who endured a two hour-plus line to sit in Santa’s lap. Once situated, they “whispered all kinds of things about how they wanted to take me home and do naughty things to Santa.”
(Insert lewd “ho” joke here.)
For those of you keeping score at home, Claus said that none of their Christmas wishes was fulfilled.
Other recollections are more Babes in Toyland, thankfully.
The little boy who asked for a weed eater so he could whack the landscape with his daddy. The shy little girl who didn’t speak but gave him a butterfly kiss.
“I was there several years when they pulled me out and sent me to a fancy mall in LA. I started doing cities all over the United States.”
Claus said he logged 13 years on the road until the economy soured. The booking companies “started screwing the Santas,” he said. “I decided I’d rather go home and work for free.”
Looking as he does makes Claus a magnet for attention whether it’s December or July. And if someone gets wind of his name?
Santamonium breaks out.
“It doesn’t matter where we go or what we do,” said Judy Russell, the significant lady in Claus’s life. “If you’re traveling with Santa, you become the center of attention.”
I loved hearing Russell’s perspective. She offered an affectionate look at being with an icon.
Say they go to a restaurant. Within minutes, Russell said, the whispers and not-so-subtle looks will start. “Usually it’s women,” she added.
At a certain point, Russell will borrow her partner’s driver’s license. She then will march over with ID in hand, and declare:
“He doesn’t just look like Santa Claus; HE IS SANTA CLAUS!!”
Next thing you know, free drinks might arrive. Or maybe chatty strangers will come over and pull up a chair.
“It turns into a party,” she said. “As long as you’re not in a rush, it’s fun.”
Life, alas, isn’t always a sleighride over the river to grandma’s house. As with any relationship, there are times when Santa will get on Russell’s nerves.
“But I’d never kill him,” she added with perfect comic timing. “Couldn’t handle the headline.”
Speaking of which:
“Santa Arrested for Drinking and Driving in Idaho.”
That’s one of the many headlines that appeared regarding the January night in 2016 when Claus journeyed to Post Falls to see a friend play music in a bar.
The North Pole would have been a safer bet than North Idaho.
There was nothing overly remarkable about what happened. Claus consumed some beers before climbing into his PT Cruiser and heading back to Spokane.
The cop who stopped him claimed he was driving on the wrong side of the street. Claus said he was just unfamiliar with navigating Post Falls.
You can guess what happened next.
Sir, can I see your driver’s license?
Holy (bleeping) Jingle Bells!
Claus was booked, his photo taken. He appeared in court. Being a first offense, the charge was shriveled to misdemeanor reckless driving. Claus pleaded guilty and paid a $700 fine.
After much media hubbub, however, he figured it was “time to just quit and retire.”
Not that such a thing is possible.
In non-Covid times, Claus still enjoys appearing at worthy venues like the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Although any day can be Christmas wherever he goes.
Little kids will “pick him right out,” said Russell. “You could have 20 men all with white hair and white beards. But the kids always know—this one is Santa Claus.”
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