I've gotta say, I feel really sorry for all the so-called "professionals"—the working stiffs and stiffettes of the world. Sure, they're making a lot of money being lawyers and brokers, but are they truly happy? Last Monday morning, as I watched the Lexuses and BMWs cruise down Thisbe Avenue headed toward the interstate, I couldn't help feeling sorry for all those strivers.
After all, what would you rather do: read legal briefs all day, or dress up in an elf costume and wave a colorful sign? Of course, you'd rather do the latter—me too! (Well, not that I was ever in danger of becoming a lawyer, but I still know which job I'd pick.)
So, what was I doing dressed as an elf and carrying a big sign? Well, I was directing motorists to the grand opening of Off-Season Santa, my father Horvel's new business venture. Loyal Jeanketeers know that Dad recently parlayed a lifetime of seasonal St. Nick simulations into a year-long money-maker. That's right: Dad's dream is a reality, and parents can take their children to buy Santa merchandise, frolic in the off-season winter wonderland, and get pictures taken with the big man himself all the way from January through December!
I'll admit we hit a couple of snags prior to opening. Dad's request for a small-business loan was turned down (thanks for nothing, Sundial Savings & Loan!), so he was forced to bankroll the store with credit cards, a cashed-out life-insurance policy, and his monthly Social Security checks. And my brother Kevin flatly refused to help out (he considers Santa idolatrous), so that left yours truly as Dad's sole creative assistant. I've spent the past month single-handedly ordering merchandise, decorating the store, and handing out flyers downtown. But, you know what? Although I've never worked harder, it hardly felt like work at all!
About 15 minutes before our grand opening, I hopped in my car and whizzed over to the store. You might be interested to know that Off-Season Santa is located in the same strip mall as Fashion Bug, my old employer! Nutty coincidence, huh? The strip mall really needs the business, too. The Hot Sam closed, so now there's only us, the H&R Block, and the comic-book store. (We occupy the frame store's old place.)
So, on top of starting an important—yet fun—job, I was having a dramatic homecoming. After all, I left the strip mall an unemployed Fashion Bug clerk, and I was returning an independent businesswoman! It was like a dream come true, and I couldn't help getting a little verklempt. (Tawk quietly amongst yourselves!)
I snapped digital shots of the store's interior. It was a winter wonderland covered in artificial snow, hung with large plastic glitter snowflakes, and dotted with decorated trees and gift-wrapped boxes. (A lot of the decorations came from the bottom of my hall closet. See Rick, all those years of hitting after-Christmas sales really paid off!) And Jeanketeers, I almost started bawling when my dad rolled in from the back office! He looked soooo wonderful perched atop his Rascal scooter and dressed in the Off-Season Santa costume my fashion-designer buddy Fulgencio made. (A sequined red sweatshirt, a green-and-white-striped shirt, green suspenders, and green wool trousers!)
Fulgencio, who agreed to help us out, showed up just a few minutes late, wearing an elf outfit like mine. When we laid eyes on each other, we started shrieking, embracing, and jumping up and down!
"Girl, you look absolutely insane!" Fulgencio screamed. "And Santa in a little wheelchair! This is like the lowest ring of some kind of Christmas hell! It looks like a Christmas special jumped out of a television and vomited its guts out all over a tiny commercial space! Could I love it any more?" (Fulgencio has the weirdest way of giving compliments!)
Given how magic and electric that morning felt, we couldn't help being a little disappointed when no customers showed up. Even the complimentary cookies and juice weren't luring people in (leaving us to stare at those yummy snacks all day!). And not one of our new neighbors dropped by to welcome Dad and me to the mall—unless you want to count the comic-book store employee who gaped at us through the big display window for a couple minutes and then walked off.
Finally, at about 1 p.m., we received our first two visitors: hubby Rick and his snide barfly buddy Craig. They were on one of their "liquid" lunch hours, but instead of getting loaded, they decided to unload. (Thanks a lot!)
"No one's going to show up, because when it ain't Christmas, Santa's just another fat man," Rick said. "Horvel, get a real job so you can pay the rent you owe me. And Jean, you can quit gettin' your jollies on my dime, too. If I could make money playing Grand Theft Auto all day, I would. But face it, folks like us can't make a living havin' fun." (Of course, Rick and Craig's contempt for our vision didn't prevent them from gobbling down seven cookies between the two of them!)
Well, I'm happy to say that Rick The Grouch was totally wrong! At about 3:30 p.m., a mother brought her preschool son in. Well, maybe it's more accurate to say she dragged her son in, because he was crying and flailing his arms. The woman said her son was afraid of Santa, so she wanted him to sit with Dad for a while so the kid would realize that Santa isn't evil. I don't know, maybe it was the Rascal scooter or Dad's cigarette odor, but the boy started shaking and hyperventilating when we put him on Dad's knee. Dad tried to tell him that he loves children, and Fulgencio did a little elf dance. Well, finally, the woman took her crying son off Dad's knee and left, which was a pity, because I was just about to suggest they sit for a photo and make our first sale.
When we closed at 7 p.m., Fulgencio and I felt pretty dejected. Dad, however, seemed as upbeat as ever. "We can't expect this place to be a goldmine immediately," Dad said, pulling up a wool pant leg and scratching his ankle. "It'll take awhile to build a customer base."
On the ride home, Dad was bubbling over with ideas for jumpstarting the store. He suggested that we take out ads in the local papers and that I dress up like the Easter Bunny. "Kids could come to see the Easter Bunny, who's visiting her old pal Santa," he said cheerfully. "See, we just need to put on our thinking caps. Heh heh, maybe you can sew some for us, Fulgencio."
I guess I shouldn't fret just yet. Dad's been an entrepreneur most of his life, so he's accustomed to the ups and downs of business. Admittedly, our store is pretty "out there." (It does feel a teensy bit bizarre, slipping on a plus-size elf suit first thing in the morning.) But I like to think we're just ahead of our time. There's no reason to give up hope this early. I'm sure someone told the proprietors of those shopping-mall booths that sell high-pressure water massages that they were nuts, too!