When reporter Clark Kent gets the call, he dashes into a phone booth, changes out of his street clothes and into his Superman clothes in one tenth of a split second, and is off into the sky, his fist and right arm out in front of him—the Man of Steel looking down with his x-ray vision for the trouble he knows is there, and then, suddenly he turns left and heads down back to the earth, the globe coming and getting bigger and bigger like it does in Google Earth, until he is right there, at the bad spot, where he takes care of the brewing trouble before it gets out of hand.
As for me, during every humdrum day, I am the mild-mannered Dan Rattiner, chief reporter for Dan’s Papers. But then when I get the call, which comes from Marina Van at the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce at around 9 a.m. on the first Saturday morning in December, I quick run upstairs to our bedroom, take off all my clothes and, in a matter of one full hour, suit myself up to become…Santa Claus! There I am in the mirror.
The trouble I have to deal with is at 11 a.m. We need Santa Claus, Marina tells me. Get down to the East Hampton Presbyterian Church on Main Street and climb up into the sleigh behind the reindeer. It is the annual East Hampton Santa Comes to Town Parade, and you are needed to sit up there, just like you did last year and the year before, and wave at the giggling girls and smiling boys as the steeds clip-clop you through town. Afterwards—we’ll tell you the place, one year it was in the lobby of the UA Theater, another year it was in the Huntting Inn living room—we need you to come in, sit down in the easy chair and ask the little boys and girls who are standing in that long line with their parents to, one at a time, just come forward and sit upon your knee, so you can smile at them and look them in the eye and say ho ho ho and ask them what they want for Christmas.
If you can’t do it, the kids will be heartbroken. Come on Santa, we need you!!!
Well, it’s my calling. I come. And I have to say that for that time, that wonderful time, I am Santa Claus, this whole other person, this East Hampton’s Santa Claus.
Sometimes, when I think about this—for example, when I am at our family Thanksgiving dinner, in New York City or in East Hampton or out with the other side of the family in Pennsylvania—am I really Santa Claus in December? Have I really turned into him?
I put a forkful of cranberry stuffing in my mouth. Yes, I say to myself, Dan is here now. But then there is this other person. A nicer person, who shows up in December. I don’t know about Clark and Superman, but the way I figure it, I am TWO people. I live in this humdrum newspaper body with the pad and pencil in my breast pocket and my camera around my neck for 11 months a year. And then, suddenly, I am this entirely different person, a fatter person, a person who needs help getting down a flight of stairs, or looking out through a white wig that’s slipped down over his eyes while trying to drive a Chevy Tahoe to the church, giving up and having his wife do it.
When I’m my Dan’s Papers person, I am meek and mild, wry and retiring. People come over to me at parties and I look down at my shoes. Aw shucks, I say.
When I make the transformation in our bedroom on that appointed morning, I am turned into HIM. I’m a man who has just heard a good joke. And now I have a good joke to tell. I am straight forward. You ask for a present? I tell you you’ll get it, just be patient. I am loveable. I hug little children. I shake mittened hands with grown-ups. I stand up straight. I say ho, ho, ho. I slap mayors on the back. If pulled over on North Main Street on my way to the church, I tell the officer to just give me a warning. I am on my way to the Presbyterian Church for Truth, Justice and the American Way. I’m a folk hero.
Does Superman know the first names of everybody in town? He knows a few people, certainly the troublemakers. Can Superman remember everything? He cannot. He can get baffled. When Superman’s little fracas is over, does he stand around and accept the congratulations from everybody? He does not. He flies away. He is, in fact, one and the same as Clark Kent. And they don’t want anybody to know. It’s a worrisome business. What if someday they are found out?
Santa is just so at ease. He calls everybody in town by their first name. He writes down what everybody wants. And then he doesn’t need the list. After it’s over, he flies up to the North Pole in his sleigh, and, from memory, without needing the list, he tells the elves what to make and whose name to put on the gift cards. And then he goes to his office and uses his big red telephone to tell all the middle management people to get cracking, helping out the elves. And then when night falls, he and the missus retreat to their cottage, brush the snow off the door, and go inside to get some shuteye in their feather bed.
Back at one of those many Thanksgiving dinners, as I slice myself a second helping of turkey and cranberry sauce, I begin to feel a little sorry for Clark Kent. As Clark, the bumbling awkward reporter, it must be so hard to keep his secret. And when he’s the other guy, even doing all the heavy lifting and all, he may be better at keeping that secret. But maybe not. Who likes to lie? He just wants out.
I, on the other hand, am proud to be that other person. Then, when the holiday is over, who returns is Dan Rattiner.
“Hey Dan, haven’t seen you around.”
“Yeah, well, this year I’m Santa Claus again, so there’s no Dan.”
* * *
Not just everybody can transform into Santa Claus. You have to be fat, jolly, older, at ease with yourself and all you have achieved, able to handle celebrity with aplomb, able to give presents to small children with a single bound…no, that’s not right…