reprinted from Twisted Times #18
No force on earth can stop one hundred Santas.
photo by Scott Beale
I kept chanting it like a mantra as I hung from a rail on the Geary line, trapped like a rat on a double bus with fifty other fools in cheap red suits. Somewhere behind us was a second bus full of lost-weekend Santa thugs, every bit as drunk and scared as we were. Cop cars trailed both vehicles like hungry lampreys. It was a tense, low-speed juggernaut; like the movie “Speed” but really slow. Like OJ in the Bronco, but with no burger breaks. Acting on a complaint from the security staff at the Emporium, a downtown department store, the Man was after Santa, and He was out in force. He didn’t care how many video cameras Santa had, or what it would look like on the Eleven O’clock News. He tasted Santa ass. He smelled Civil Disobedience. Santa was not playing by the rules of the game. Santa was fucking up Christmas for the merchants. And for that, Santa was going down.
When the idea first came up, I had refused. Not because it was dangerous and stupid, but because it was a retread. A year before, the Cacophony Society had hosted a cheap-suit Santa event in the week before Christmas, and it had unfolded so magically that I was convinced we could not come close in a second attempt. Thirty Santas had run amok with impunity, swilling booze from Pine-Sol bottles and stopping traffic in downtown San Francisco, shuttling from one ugly spectacle to the next in a chartered bus. It was the stuff of legend, an event so shamelessly over the top that it was clearly irreproducable. Why bother?
But I already owned the suit, so I went. Duh. And for some reason my wife, hammered as she was by the influenza, couldn’t bear to miss it either. Cacophonists were mobilizing up and down the coast to be part of Santa II, and the phones were ringing off the hook at Omaha’s Oriental Trading Company, purveyor of the absolute lowest grade of $25 one-size-fits-none Chinese prison-made polyester-blend Santa suits. 100 just seemed like a magic number. It sounded like critical mass, and if Santa was going to blow we were going to be right there at ground zero.
By the time we made it over the Bay Bridge there were already close to a hundred Santas assembled by the Embarcadero skating rink, drunk and rowdy and looking for something to fuck with. I’m not making this up. A hundred rowdy Santas! Close your eyes and imagine. I passed out songsheets with our twisted carols from the previous year along with the candy canes and 600 “Kris Kringle Institute” business cards I had hastily printed up with the Cacophony phone number. Santa J___, one of the organizers of the event, had asked me to help out; I found him at the rink giving last-minute instructions through a bullhorn. He had a police scanner in one ear, and was hooked up to at least three other Santas with radios. One of them, Santa M___, was patched by cell to the Cacophony phone line, from which he was able to give position reports to last-minute arrivals and stragglers. Seeing that security was in capable hands, I quickly relaxed and started drinking. Every other Santa had a hip flask or a joint. Ho ho ho! The column started to move, surging through the streets like a red tide.
Santa went to many of the same spots as the year before – the Emporium and Macy’s, the Fairmont and the St. Francis – but this time most of the event’s good humor seemed to give way to fist-shaking. Santa did a lot of angry shouting, hurling Ho! around like a threat. Children seemed more frightened than amused. In the hotels, Santa helped himself to other people’s booze and food, and in the department stores he screamed incessantly at the shoppers to BUY! BUY! BUY! and CHARGE IT! Whenever someone stepped onto a balcony to look at the Santas in the street, Santa chanted JUMP, and when Santa J___ was hanged from a lamppost (another retread idea from last year), the crowd got especially vicious, chanting DIE, SANTA, DIE! and whacking at the soles of his dangling boots with oversized candy-cane clubs.
100 was indeed a magic number. It turned out to be the point at which a crowd turns into a mob. We were out of control, and mob rule quickly eclipsed common sense. In a word, Santa got ugly. Other than a brief spin through Planet Hollywood, where the tourists cheered, Santa was not received well. At the Mark Hopkins, there was a scuffle with Security for control of the elevators. People kept asking “What are you protesting?” The Santas replied with swear words and extended fingers, because of course they weren’t protesting anything, just running wild. Not making a statement, just screaming. Doors began to be bolted in the Santas’ path. Children began to cower behind their mother’s skirts. And security guards began to call in the cops.
photo by D.S. Black
At first, the blues just trailed the reds, watching and waiting. Then word went through the crowd that one of the Santas had been carrying a starter’s pistol – it was to have been used in a mock Santacide – and the gun had somehow fallen onto the sidewalk and been retrieved by a cop. The Santas were on foot this year due to their numbers; this time there was no chartered bus to whisk us out of harm’s way and on to new adventures. Stopping at a Muni stand, the Santas were quickly surrounded by a half-dozen patrol cars and a paddy wagon. A tense standoff ensued. Some of the more skittish Santas, particularly those new to Cacophony and the ones with outstanding arrest warrants, shucked out of their suits and tried to fade into the night. The hardier fools, self included, scoffed at the police and laughed out loud at their little paddy wagon. Even with defections, Santa was still strong. There is no force on earth, I reminded myself, that can stop 100 Santas. When 100 Santas link arms and go limp, what are the cops going to do? Bring out the gas and truncheons? Okay, make that 80 santas. Maybe 70. Across the street, I saw two cops putting on their riot gear. And on the scanner, Santa J___ heard the bluesuits call for four more paddy wagons.
J___, a veteran of many near-misses and a few direct hits with the blues, chose this moment to bravely cross the street and initiate a parlay with the on-scene commander, a dour old division chief with a grey buzz cut and very little patience. “I was pretty sure they’d just arrest me,” he confided to me later. “But somebody had to do something.” J___’s years of experience paid off, and the order for paddy wagons was cancelled. Explaining that we were NOT protesting anything (this seemed to be their biggest concern), he portrayed us as simply a big party that had gotten a little out of control. We were on our way to a new venue, he explained, a private party on the other side of town to which we had all been invited. Of course there was no such party – unless you counted the Chronicle’s Christmas bash at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, which we planned to crash – but for some reason the blues seemed to accept his story and let us get on the bus.
The next twenty-five minutes seemed to take forever. Would they bust us all? Would they let us go? Santa was running scared, pale and sweating under the hard fluorescent bus lights. Santa A___, an artist, tried to raise everyone’s spirits with an off-color Jackson Pollock joke. Nobody laughed. He started to explain who Jackson Pollock was. Again, nobody laughed. Santa J___, usually confident to the point of cockiness, was as nervous as I’ve ever seen him. “This is bad,” he said to me at one point. “You might want to think about getting out.”
A good idea – but where? A few Santas managed to lose their suits and get off the bus with the normals, but my wife, in her Mrs. Claus outfit, would have been next to nude if she’d tried to lose the costume. And I, for some perverse reason, was determined to see the event through. Earlier that night, when the run had degenerated into dumb slogans and drunken bullying, I had thought about leaving, but now things were finally getting interesting. Of course I had no desire to be searched – Santa was holding – but ultimately even that wouldn’t have mattered. I had to see the whole wretched thing through.
Finally the red lights spun up and the bus pulled over, and the Santas filed out the front doors through an impromptu line-up. Two Emporium security guards fingered the Santas they thought were responsible for some damage in the store; these two unlucky souls were cuffed and hauled away, and the rest of us were set free.
Free, or at least reasonably priced. Whipped, we shuffled up the hill to the Palace of the Legion of Honor, a sorry lot of broken Santas too tired to raise hell. When the staff asked us to leave after a few minutes at the hors’douevres table, we hung our heads and went quietly, not wanting to cause any more trouble.
The Santa Two, as our prisoners were quickly dubbed, were charged with attempted strong-arm robbery of Christmas decorations, and bail was set at an exorbitant $15,000 apiece. According to newspaper reports, a female Santa was also arrested and charged with exposing her flaccid breasts to small children at the Emporium’s rooftop kiddie carnival, but none of the Santas I talked to knew anything
In fact, Santa didn’t see nothing. Not a goddamn thing. Merry fucking Christmas.
Written by Klaus Maginrannus