Santa on the tram

By Russell McGilton

(900 words)

Yelled at, sworn at, thumped at and chased by religious zealots. Santa goes toe to toe with Melbourne’s general public on the trams.

‘Do you get paid to act like an idiot?’ a middle-aged woman asked me while I re-adjusted my foam fat.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘What’s your excuse?’

She thumped me with her hand bag then jumped off at the next tram stop.

While my last remark may have been duly met I did come to the conclusion that some of the general public had the manners befitting a horde of Orks at a Hobbit tea party.

In my short time as Santa Clause on the Melbourne city circle tram, I had been bailed up by screaming drunks, ‘WHERE’S ME FRIGGIN BIKE, SANTA?!’, had my beard yanked down when I had mentioned to one sad individual that it was Christmas, that he should cheer up, that things could be worse, ‘like working in a bank’ (which, to my horrid surprise, he was), abused by Middle Park snobites for not singing Jingle Bells with enough allegro, had lewd remarks made by a gaggle of nurses whether Santa could fill their stockings and lastly, repeatedly asked as my glasses steamed up, ‘Gee, you must be hot in that suit, eh, Santa?’

While most of these incidents were like Holy water off a nun’s back, there was one thing that had me ready to Rudolph someone’s nose – asking for chocolate.

Despite making it clear to everyone that the chocolate in my Santa Sack was for children only this did not dissuade adults from asking for it. Some were positively rabid.

‘You don’t understand me. I want my chocolate,’ snarled an American tourist. ‘I was told! I was told!’

I stuck by my reindeers and she jumped off the tram ranting about coming all the way from Kentucky and ‘you ain’t heard the last of me yet!’

Even when I did offer chocolate, as I did to a four year old boy, I still seemed to get it wrong. ‘No! We’re Jewish!’ his father snapped. Apparently, I was supposed to know. He left, child screaming for the chocolate, and leaving me to think which part of ‘SANTA’S CHRISTMAS TRAM’ signage, blazoned down the side he didn’t quite get.

But I did wonder perhaps I’d been culturally obtuse and when a group of women in hajibs climbed on with their family I struggled whether it was right to include them in singing Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. But in the end it didn’t matter even if they didn’t understand it. Hell knows I didn’t. I could barely remember the words to most carols but I’d be the first to admit that the power of song was a great unifier. Even the bank worker, who had been hanging on to the overhead handle like carcass at an abattoir, managed a stencilled smile.

Off the tram things got really tricky. Everyday when I finished my shift eyeballing zealots at Flinders Street Station would single me out (it was something about the red suit and beard) latch on to my wrist and with steely smiles impart the breath of God: ‘Christmas is more than just Santa. It’s about Jesus Christ, our saviour.’

As a civilian you’re free to choose any kind of invigorating abuse at these people but as Father Christmas you’re literally muzzled by the beard of good behaviour. Well…let’s just say I don’t think The God Squad will be inviting any more of my kind to their Bible readings.

It’s really hard not to let a stream of profanities to coming flying out like Chinese stars. That would be like getting on a Christmas Tram and biting the fat guy for giving me a present.

But no nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience on my last day: What does Santa do when he gets motion sickness?

There I was during a verse of ‘Tis the season to be jolly’ when I felt the sudden urge to purge. I ran to the back of the tram, barking like a seal to the driver’s compartment, children and parents grabbing at me while I tried not to ho-ho-ho into their laps.

Still able to seen in the compartment I found myself with the problem of how I was going to hurl. Would I simply rip the beard aside and break the magic for the kids or stay in character and let the muck pump and strain through it?

But before I knew it I was retching into the chocolate esky bag, beard above the top lip and doubled over. I could hear the cries of children ‘What’s wrong with Santa? What’s wrong with Santa?’ suddenly fade as horrified parents yanked them away from ‘that thing at the back of the tram’.

I felt the tram stop. The driver’s face appeared and said or rather ordered me off at Swanston Street. I did, bag over the shoulder, soupy contents splooshing now like a ruptured spleen, only to be pulled into a firing line of Nikons from Japanese tourists. ‘Just won foto! Just won foto!’

I held one polite frozen moment then broke rank to the nearest bin, flipped up the beard and at last gave it a good ol’ ho-ho-hoooooooooo!

When I finished, the Japanese had gone. In their place was a small woman with a determined smile. She shoved a card in my hand. ‘Even Santa needs to get to heaven.’

I realised then, that yes, yes at last, the inevitable had happened: I was sick of being Santa.