Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Elfis Has Left the Building: An Xmas Tale from the Ville

When Andy Williams announced that it was “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, the Palace Showboat Players wholeheartedly concurred.

The holidays meant a two-week hiatus for our year round theater and as a result our annual Christmas soiree could be held on a rare Saturday night off. Once we produced our own “Special Holiday Episode”, an adaptation of A Christmas Carol directed by Steve Orr and starring Bob Gossett as Scrooge. (My favorite casting was our resident bass player A. J. Joyce as the hippest Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come ever.) During this holiday break, we also took the opportunity to rent a mountain cabin for New Year’s Year, getting blissfully snowbound one year.
The Cratchits at home, minus Tiny Tim

Best of all for the rapscallions, scalawags and ne’er-do-wells that occupied our fair theater, Christmas meant seasonal employment in the guise of a Santa Claus photo booth managed by our very own Cory Troxclair. While many at the Ville were upstanding citizens with decent paying jobs, there were those of us whose only source of income was whatever we made every Friday and Saturday night at Pollardville. This opportunity to make some easy Christmas cash-or any cash for that matter-was a welcome shot in the arm and a total kick in the ass.

Yes, we were indeed Santa’s little helpers Monday through Friday from the week before Thanksgiving right up until Christmas Eve. During the Monday through Friday daytime shift, Greg Pollard cashiered and I operated the camera, an extremely easy-peasy Polaroid system. I found I had an aptitude for taking these mini-portraits, using a stuffed monkey to distract the kids from the imminent horror of Santa’s lap and even managed to render many a smile. The Winter Wonderland set had been staged dead center in the mall and I felt like I had been the main attraction. Santa supported me, not the other way around. I’d hoot and holler, giggle and snort, do whatever I could to get a good picture. My best trick was to toss the monkey straight up to the mall’s ceiling and when it fell, I’d snap the shot just as I caught it. My success rate was not bad if I do say so myself.

That first year, we were dressed rather dapper in our white dress shirts, red vests and black tuxedo pants. We could have passed for waiters at swank holiday buffet. We even gave ourselves aliases. Greg, deep into his Elvis phase, became (naturally) Elfis. I, on the other hand, named myself Elfalfa.

With Cory as Santa, the three of us were the A Team, if that title could actually apply to anyone who worked in a mall, especially on a temporary basis.

However, Cory couldn’t don the Santa suit every day since his managerial duties got in the way, so he also hired Bill, another friend of his who wasn’t part of the Ville, for the role of jolly St. Nick. Honestly, Bill seemed a little smarmy to me. Certainly not a bad looking guy even camouflaged in his Santa disguise, he incessantly flirted with every woman in the mall. His striking blue eyes were straight out of House Atreides and twinkled from behind that white beard. Any female that passed by our booth received all-too-obvious winks and blatantly blown kisses. Santa was quite the playa.

During a late afternoon lull when no one seemed to be visiting Santa, Elfalfa left jolly St. Bill propped in his chair to chat with Elfis. He was deep in the throes of Song Hits magazine, Elvis edition, memorizing the lyrics of one of the King’s hits for the special show we were putting together for the upcoming Ville Christmas party.

“Uh oh,” Elfis said as he looked toward Santa. “Looks like Santa’s finally hooked one.”

Elfalfa turned to see an apparently lovely young lady speaking with Santa from outside the Winter Wonderland. She had actually been the first woman we noticed that actually stopped when Santa Bill blew her a kiss. It appeared to be a very animated conversation.

“And she’s headed this way,” Elfalfa noticed as this filly sauntered forth to the cashier’s station. She seemed very familiar to me.

“May I borrow your pen?” she asked with Elfis complying as she scribbled down a phone number on a napkin from her purse. “Could you give this to Santa please?”

“I sure will,” Elfis agreed and we watched her glide away. On the napkin, she had written the name Monique and her number.

“Monique. I knew it,” Elfalfa said.

“You know her?” Elfis asked.

“We both do,” Elfalfa answered and proceeded to remind his fellow elf who, where and well, what.

In the spring of that year, the Ville became the venue for that year’s local Closet Ball. Drag queens from all over the San Joaquin Valley and beyond converged on the theater that Sunday night giving it the appearance of a stopover in Cher’s farewell tour. The evening turned out be, to borrow a word, fabulous, certainly one of the most memorable in that theater’s history. A couple of years later, the same group returned to host one of the first AIDS benefits in the area that I was honored to emcee.

But it was at that first Ball that we first encountered Monique. A fellow Palace Showboat Player told us he had gone to Delta College with Monique before she was Monique She was Marty. But in all honesty and stacked up against at least half of the attendees to the Closet Ball, Marty made a fairly convincing Monique. He wasn’t exactly Pricilla, Queen of the Desert, but he wasn’t Rob Schneider as The Hot Chick either. Let’s just say there might be a gray area that would exist outside the confines of the Closet Ball.

And that’s where we were that holiday season. The question was: Should we tell Santa Bill?

The answer to that would have been “Of course” if Santa Bill wasn’t so obnoxious about the whole thing. He wouldn’t shut up about it from the moment he met Monique and lorded it over our heads like he was the original American Gigolo wearing a mistletoe belt buckle.

“Oh, man She is just smokin’ hot. We’re going a drink after work. Monique. Moan-nique. She’s gonna moan alright. Oh yeah. You guys you could do as well as Santa. Well, Santa’s gonna find who’s naughty or nice. If Monique’s naughty, that’ll be nice!” On the set. Off the set. During lunch. After lunch. Between kids sitting on his lap, for crying out loud. “Hurry up and take that picture. Let’s get this line moving. The lady’s waiting for me. Ho ho ho, Mo-nique!” He wouldn’t shut up about it.

So did Elvis and Elfalfa tell Santa Bill the secret of The Crying Game?


The next day, Santa Bill returned to the Winter Wonderland a changed man. He didn’t flirt. He didn’t blow kisses. He didn’t say a word about his date with Monique. Something had dulled Santa’s claws. From there on in Santa Bill just went through the motions and, by season’s end, we never saw or heard from him again. But hopefully, an angel known as Monique finally got her wings.

Don’t think we didn’t come out of this unscathed. When Elfis and Elfalfa returned the following year, Weberstown Mall management dictated that we wear white smocks, sock hats, red sweat pants, green tights and felt booties over our own shoes. Needless to say, I didn’t need the monkey to make kids smile anymore. All they had to do was look at me. Elfis and Elfalfa were no longer the cool elves. We had been put back in our places as Santa’s little helpers, only now we had to dress the part.

Sometimes a lump of coal in a Christmas stocking is just a metaphor for karma, balancing out the universe once again, one elf at a time. 

Merry Christmas to y'all and to y'all, good night already!
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