Mall Santa, Hollywood Style
aka The Grove Santa Claus and Celebrity Behavior
NOTE: This is a total fluff piece and in light of the events in Newtown, Connecticut, I hope this piece is a silly distraction from a heart wrenching few weeks.
This is our first time celebrating Christmas in Los Angeles since moving here almost four years ago; we usually head to my mom’s in Sacramento. No snow, but a little rain, sunshine, crisp nights, a sea of UGG Boots, mini-skirts, scarves, and Range Rovers. Ah, the holiday season is upon us. This being our first “Jesus’ Birthday Observed” with our five-month-old daughter, Ruby, we are psyched to take her to see Santa Claus. She celebrated her Indian side with her grandma during Diwali, the Hindu Celebration of Lights, watching Daddy eat sweets while she received new onesies. Now, she gets to celebrate her Caucasian side’s winter holiday. Even though her mom is not really a Christian, her grandparents definitely are…Christmas Eve Lutheran church service and everything. For me, it’s more a celebration of consumerism, mythical hirsute figures with magical transportation, and gorging on gout-inducing meals…and yet, before my dad canceled Christmas in the ‘90s, I loved it.
We decide to take Ruby to The Grove, because we had heard that it has the best Santa around, and it’s the most Hollywood place to sit on a diabetic, bearded white guy’s lap and issue requests for superfluous products. For the uninitiated, The Grove is a high end shopping and entertainment complex or mall, buttressed up against The Farmer’s Market, inhabiting a large area between W 3rd and Beverly, Fairfax and The Grove Drive. They shoot Mario Lopez’ spots for EXTRA and the Barnes and Noble has book signings for book releases from legitimate authors and memoirs written by celebrities and/or their ghostwriters. The Grove has a 100-foot tall Christmas tree and a trolley with an excellent all-girl brass quartet playing jazzy carols. This is something I envision for Ruby when she’s older, an extension of my own Christmas-related activities as a young musician. The real draw of this place, year-round, is stellar people watching, which explains the plethora of tourist coaches. Some shoppers try really hard to be mistaken for a celebrity by wearing sunglasses and riding boots, while actual celebrities try not to be recognized coming out of the American Girl store (I’m told I will be forced to come here often and that since my baby is bi-racial, none of the other stores’ dolls will look like her. Oh boy. So not ready.)
Our first attempt to visit Santa Claus is a bust. We pop down with Laura’s parents, who are in town from rural Washington State. We retrieve the progeny, dressed in her best new outfit, from her unyielding car seat and transport her to Santa’s Cottage. We are met by a very long procession of harried parents and sugar-addled (or agave-addled, it’s LA, right?) children. The elves, dressed in their Sunday couture and not anything remotely Elvin, instruct us to take a number. We get number 82. The Clause-counter reads 954. Only 46 more until the clock turns over to zero plus 81, which equals 127 kids to go. At approximately three minutes per kid, that’s 381 minutes, which means 6.35 hours. We’re assured that it will only take a couple, but even with 50% attrition, that’s still over three hours of waiting. Then we hear the same Elf tell somebody else that it’ll be three hours. We’ll show the grandparents around, have some vegan lunch at The Veggie Grill, and check back. We return after 90 minutes and find out that the line has moved three spots to 957. WTF. No Santa for Ruby. My father-in-law is incredulous. He hates Los Angeles and this proves that he might be right about some things here, especially the long lines for bullshit. We bail, but pledge to return.
We return on the Thursday morning before X-mas after a trip to Home Depot where we acquired a $29, four-foot tall artificial tree for our small apartment. Although we need ornaments and stockings, we make a beeline for Santa’s Cottage. We are not missing Santa! The line is very long, again. We wait for the Burberry-clad Elf to give us our ticket so we can begin to officially wait in line for Santa. During the hour it takes to get our number, I leave Laura and Ruby in line so I can do some stocking recon, along with some other dads. The only stores with stockings are Anthropology ($50 a piece) and Pottery Barn Kids, which has the most grotesque stockings you’ve ever seen, including a reindeer who appears to have been in a hunting accident and angels that look more like gargoyles than cherubim and seraphim. We get number 15. Score. He tells us to come back in an hour and a few minutes when our number should be up. The numbers are for when you are allowed to enter the “short line” behind the red velvet ropes. We head to Costplus World Market and sort through the eclectic assortment of ornaments who, for better or worse, were too tacky for anyone else to buy. Choice ornaments include an orange popsicle, a basset hound on a sled, a high heel shoe, a flamingo, and an owl, because OWLS are really hot right now.
I grab coffee while Laura breastfeeds Ruby under the Farmer’s Market Christmas Tree. We return an hour later, as instructed. The Burberry Elf notifies us that Santa is on a break. We’re confused why he needs a break when he just started, but he must be in the Santa Union or something. This better be an amazing freaking Santa. They’re up to number 25. We missed our window, but luckily they Santaclaused (similar to grandfathering) us in. The moms and grandmothers comment on Ruby’s giant cheeks and good behavior. It can’t take that long at this point. While taking in the good X-Mas vibes, SoCal style, I notice that we’re standing ten feet behind a 40-something-year-old rocker with a shaved head, a long gray goatee, and tattooed fingers. He’s with his svelte blonde wife and their ginger son with a green vest similar to my dog’s. I know this guy. I had a poster of him on my wall growing up. I’m thrown a bit because he normally has a bright red or black-dyed goatee. I check my phone and verify that yes, it’s Scott Ian (Rosenfeld). Who? He’s the Yankees, Battlestar Galactica, DC Comics, and The Walking Dead-loving guitarist for the thrash metal gods, ANTHRAX….my favorite metal band of all time. I’m freaking out. I keep saying to Laura, “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God, that’s Scott Ian from Anthrax and his wife Pearl Aday, Meatloaf’s [adopted] daughter, which means that’s Revel, who is Meatloaf’s Grandson.” Scott has a Motörhead iPhone case. Yep, it’s him. At this point I could give a rat’s ass about Santa. Selfish Dad. I know in my heart that it is fate that we didn’t get to see Santa last time, because my Christmas present is meeting Scott Ian. Unfortunately, his patience and the patience of others is dwindling. We’ve put in over several hours and the line has not moved. The family directly in front of us leaves; the young boy doesn’t want to see Santa without his big brother. Awww.
We’re now beyond the velvet rope to the on-deck waiting area on the red carpet. I look plaintively at the screen. The numbers have not changed. I’m concerned for the children out in the chilly temps, all of whom are about to take the express train to Meltdown City. Pearl volunteers, “Just so you know, they let a celebrity cut ahead of everyone in line.” Celebrity favoritism extends to Santa’s Cottage? Say it ain’t so. My mind can’t really compute this in light of the folks I’m standing next to in line. Who could be bigger than Scott Ian and company? Pearl says, “Just in case you wanna tweet this out, it’s Tori Spelling.” Lucky for her nobody else saw, because that would have caused a giant scene that The Grove would not have wanted. Other parents wish ill will on Tori and Dean’s reality show, while several parents hope their child defecates on Santa. Pearl says, “I would never do that to the children. It’s selfish.” I reply, “Yeah, and you totally could.” Pearl’s biological dad was the drummer for Janis Joplin’s band. She knows that I know who she is, but she remains warm and unconcerned. Why would a wealthy celebrity use The Grove as her own personal Santa concierge service for her four kids, while also cutting in front of regular folks? It’s unclear whether she insisted or The Grove staff did, so I won’t assume that she’s all bad or that oblivious. It’d be better if they hired their own Santa to come to the house, but if they don’t want to ruin the mystique of Santa, they should just wait in line like everybody else. Another mom politely pings the Burberry Elf. “I’m having a really hard time explaining to my daughter why it’s fair for someone else without a ticket to not have to wait in line and why she had to patiently wait her turn, but then had to wait longer.” This is an extremely fair point. He replied, “I’m sorry, sometimes we have to do that.” Clearly, it’s above his pay grade. Maybe we should ask Santa when we get in there, but who wants to pick a fight with Santa? Not even me. I’m gonna take the high road like everybody else in line and just grin and bear it. There’s no question that while in this holding pattern we’ve met wonderful people who just want to bring a bit of happiness to their kids’ lives by creating a lasting memory. Waiting in line is a small price to pay for that, especially considering the events at Sandy Hook where so many six and seven year olds lost their lives.
At this point, Tori Spelling and her brood have caused a 100-kid pileup on the Santa Clause Expressway and I vow never to again chant, “Let Donna Martin graduate.” I now want to chat, “Let Ruby see Santa.” Scott Ian temporarily pulls his son out of the line to wind him down, because he’s not gonna last another ten minutes, and neither is Ruby for that matter. She’s on the verge of a pee, eat, poop, cry, and sleep cycle. I figure, oh crap, they’re gonna bail and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I sneak past Pearl as she takes her turn with Revel and tap Scott on the shoulder and whisper, “Excuse me, are you Scott Ian, from Anthrax?” He turns, Motörhead cell phone in hand and mid-tweet, “Yeah.” The man is out of patience. I better make it quick. “I’m a huge fan of yours. The first CD I ever bought was State of Euphoria.” Scott Ian replies, “Thanks, man.” That’s it. That’s all I get, but I’m not going to out him as a celebrity. The lookie-loos will take his photo and figure out who he is later, and I’m not gonna ruin what is already a testy affair. I figured out later that he tweeted the following:” Hey mommy of 4 @torianddean, you’re OK w/cutting in front of a line of children who’d been waiting to see Santa for over an hour?#asshole”. Tori Spelling & family cut the Santa line at the Grove and stay in there taking endless pics for as long as they want leaving 30 people…with their kids having fits for 30 minutes. Tori Spelling you are a piece of holiday shit. I hope @the_ironsheik does you old school way.” In wussy contrast, I tweet out, “Fuck Tori Spelling. Jumps the line for Santa at The Grove, causing serious kidlet meltdowns. Way way bigger celebs in line not doing that.”
Laura didn’t realize (until reading this) that I actually talked to him. She explained that he was just a concerned dad who had been there for hours and his kid was unhappy because somebody jumped the line. I explained that I have a lot in common with him and that we should be buddies. She hates when I’m talk like this, like Joe Flaherty’s character from Happy Gilmore. I was five seconds from asking him to go to Veggie Grill (not Red Lobster) with us. It only happens a few times a year, but the important thing is that I talked to him. Usually I clam up, wet my pants, and kill myself for not talking to one of my heroes. Other people on this list include: Danny Boyle, Tracey Ullman, and Stevie Wonder (he had huge bodyguards). I’ve officially broken the cycle, “but that’s not important right now.”
The seething outrage builds collectively among the parents. Knowing this is untenable; families behind us leave the line. Finally, after 30 minutes, the line moves. We all emit sighs of relief, but we know that most of our kids’ photos will be of an inconsolable child with Santa. I’m fine with that for the sake of comedy. Scott and family finally get their picture taken. We get in there ten minutes later. Ruby had a full diaper, but hadn’t noticed so we bough some time. She is surprisingly at ease around The Grove Santa, who is Amazing (capital A). Out of the approximately 2,200 mall Santa’s in the country, I swear he might be the real deal. Beard is legit; mustache is a toss up. His ebullient Helper Elf Maiden is sweet and sugary and introduces Ruby to Santa as if it it’s the most normal thing in the world. She has the four sided sleigh bells (I only have the poor man’s two-sided version) and a compact Canon DSLR mounted on the side of a counter, connected to a computer. You’d think this was a photo shoot for Vogue. I explain to Santa that Ruby just got on “the list.” No response. You know, she was just born and I thought, oh well, never mind. Santa instructs us on where to sit, how to hold Ruby, and the best angles for the photos. We’re pleased with his sleigh-side manner. Laura tells Santa that Ruby wants “the gift of sleep” for Christmas. Santa sweetly remarks, “I bet Mom and Dad would like that, too.” We get our picture with Santa and Ruby, my shirt and posture creating an additional beer gut that doesn’t exist. I swear. I hadn’t showered that day either, so I’m a grubby mcgrubberson. Didn’t know I was gonna be in a photo. Ruby looks intensely adorable, which is her thing, and we get some QT with SC. We opt for one 5” X 7” print and the rest of the photos on a flash drive for $35. Not bad, even for LA. At least 5% of purchases will go directly to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. For Ruby’s first X-Mas with Santa, it is totally worth the traffic, parking, multiple lines, and the battling celebrities. He is an A+ Kris Kringle, not a crappy mall Santa. Since we have the digital images, I can Photoshop out my gut and take my face sheen down a couple levels. Laura requests similar treatment.
Loaded down with tacky ornaments, a sweet memory for Ruby, and an encounter with rock royalty (which was enabled by Tori jamming up the line), we head over to Sur La Table so I can pick out my Christmas gift (this is how you shop for picky Virgos). Multiple employees note how Ruby is the best behaved child they’ve seen all week. I accept the compliments, knowing full well that Laura is the reason why our baby is so well behaved. I just get her all jacked up by playing with her, doing silly voices, and talking to her like Tom Waits (which she loves). We head home to decorate our tree while Ruby takes an uncharacteristic nap. All in all, I don’t mind this being one of our holiday traditions, ‘cause that Santa rocks. Hopefully next year I can use my celebrity to cut in line. Just kidding. I’ll wait my turn, just like Meatloaf’s daughter and Scott freaking Ian.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from The Desais.