If you want to do something interesting on a sunny Saturday afternoon in December, dress up as Santa Claus and walk down Main Street from one end of town to the other.
I did that last Saturday in East Hampton. I had been the Santa in the big parade that morning, so I had a reason to do it. Myself and Mrs. Claus, who I met there, had waved to the crowds from atop a sleigh, the last float in the parade. After that, I had spent time in the Eileen Fisher store on Newtown Lane, sitting in a comfortable chair while little kids were told one by one to see me and either backed away, terrified, and so never did it, or came rushing forward to hug me, then leap into my lap to whisper what they wanted for Christmas. Everybody got a candy cane. Now that was over. And it was time to walk back to my car and go home.
The thing was that my car was parked at the other end of town, in back of the East Hampton Presbyterian Church, where the parade—elves, reindeer, sleigh, Santa’s train, floats, bands, old tractors, etc.—had mustered up before stepping off down Main Street. And I was just too tired from my duties at this point to enter an Eileen Fisher dressing room and take off my Santa suit.
It’s a beautiful, sunny day, temperatures in the 40s. The church is maybe half a mile away. Let’s see what happens if Santa walks through town. You think East Hampton is too sophisticated? Wait till you read this.
First of all, this is a really first-class Santa suit. Boots, gloves, black belt, white fur and red coat, white beard and long white hair. Red cap with a white puffball on the top. I paid $350 for it. Next you should know that way up top of the sleigh I was sitting in and waving to the crowd earlier that day, there was a machine that blew out fake snow. It was sunny out. But as I left Eileen Fisher, I was dripping with some of it. Nevertheless, people looked me over on the sidewalk and, as I expected, they paid me no never mind.
I got to the corner and pressed the WALK button. The light was against me but I thought to walk anyway, because nobody is going to mow down Santa Claus. But I banished that thought. A station wagon full of teenagers stopped at the light. “Hi Santa!” one of them shouted. I smiled through my beard and waved. “It’s HIM,” one of them said, bouncing up and down.
On Main Street, I passed Starbucks and BookHampton without incident. But then I was accosted by a man of about 50, wearing a vest, jeans and a backpack. He had a camera.
“You live around here?” he asked.
“No. I live at the North Pole.”
“I lived here 40 years,” he said. “I’ve had it. It’s the land of ‘No.’ No parking, no left turns. I left three years ago. Can I take your picture?”
“Sure,” I said.
“They just passed a law in this town that there’s no smoking anywhere. Can you believe it? Can’t even smoke on the public streets.” He took out a cigar wrapped in clear plastic and began to open it.
“I want to take your picture smoking this cigar while looking suspiciously this way and that. I want to sell it to the New York Post. Headline: ‘Ho Ho No Smoking.’ Right on the front page.”
“Sure,” I said. “You work for the Post?”
“I’ll light it for you,” he said, doing exactly that and taking a few puffs. He coughed on the smoke. “I hope I don’t get arrested. Now stand behind that little Christmas tree on the sidewalk under the Ralph Lauren sign, take a puff of the cigar and look out as if you hope nobody will arrest you.”
He handed me the cigar and I did that. No ordinance inspector appeared. I did worry my beard would catch fire, but it didn’t.
“Thanks,” he said.
I recognized him. But he had no idea who I was. I’ve lived here longer.
I walked on. A shop girl jumped out of the Blue Mercury cosmetics store and asked if I would come in so they could take a picture of me with the staff. I went. Inside, there were four young women and they had me in the middle with two on each side, arms over shoulders, facing the Post photographer, who had followed me in. We were in front of a case of lipsticks.
Each of the four women wanted a picture on their phone of themselves with Santa. So we did that. The phones were passed around one by one.
I continued on without the photographer. Arriving at the pedestrian crossing, a man of about 60, wearing a leather jacket and fancy Italian shoes, came over.
“You have a wife?” he asked.
“I do,” I said. “Mrs. Santa is home preparing dinner.”
“My wife went into one of these stores an hour ago and hasn’t come out. She accidently left her phone with me when she went in. I can’t find her.”
I pressed the button and the crossing lights began blinking. “She’ll turn up,” I said. “Not to worry. Merry Christmas.” I stepped in to cross the street.
In the middle of the crosswalk, my cell phone rang. I fished it out of my Santa coat pocket. It was Steve Ringel, head of the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce.
“I see you there,” he said. “We are having the town tree lighting ceremony on the front lawn of the Maidstone at 4 p.m. And our Santa called to say she can’t make it. Could you?”
“Sure,” I said. “But I want time-and-a-half.”
I stepped onto the curb and began walking down Davids Lane a hundred yards to where my car was parked behind the big white Presbyterian Church there, and as I walked down the sidewalk, a green pickup truck stopped beside me and a workman rolled down the window, smiled and said something. But I couldn’t make it out.
He repeated it. It was in Spanish, which I do not understand. And he waved. So I waved back.
“Feliz Navidad to you, too,” I said.
They drove off happily.
After that, I got into my car, swept my white beard away so I could see the dashboard, opened the door briefly to brush the latest fake snow that had dripped off me out, started the car and drove up Three Mile Harbor toward home.
Just enough time for some hot chowder, a nap and a little time to head off to my second gig.
See? In life, one gig can easily lead to another, you just have to put yourself out there.
That’s what happens when Santa walks to the other end of Main Street in East Hampton on a sunny Saturday early afternoon in December.