Published 12:00 am Friday, December 23, 2011

LIBERTY — I didn’t know how to take it when Marti Lakey, who was helping me put on my Santa suit, said I would not need a pillow around my stomach.
Things went downhill from there.
It took me 55 years, but I finally laid a finger to the side of my nose and dressed up as Santa Claus this week for a group of 2- and 4-year-olds at Liberty United Methodist Church.
There are good Santas and bad Santas in this world, just as there are good girls and boys and the naughty kind.
Me? Bad Santa.
For people who know me, the idea of my being a jolly elf is amusing at face value. I’m more than 6 feet tall, and I’m never jolly — quite the curmudgeon, in fact.
Rosy cheeks? That’s dry, winter skin.
Reindeer? I mow with a beat-up John Deere.
Milk and cookies? I’d rather have beer and pretzels.
As I slipped on each piece of Santa clothing, I gained deeper and deeper respect for the guys who make dressing up as Santa a holiday ritual.
After I was already in my velvety red pants and coat, Marti told me to try on the wig of wispy, white hair. She bit her lip, but I’m sure I looked like George Washington meeting Jerry Garcia on a bad LSD trip.
The beard came next, a brush pile of white hairiness that somewhere in the tangle had an opening for my piehole and an elastic band that I draped over my ears.
Marti pulled and tugged a couple of places until confirming that my own real mustache was not in view. My ears already hurt.
Dark-framed eyeglasses remained on my nose, and I decided they would stay there. I didn’t want to be both Bad Santa and Blind Santa in the same day.
Marti took me to a bathroom mirror so I could see the transformation. Now that’s a Bad Santa, I thought. She returned later with a stapler, and two strategic punctures secured my black vinyl belt.
I pranced up and down the hallway behind the sanctuary while Marti made sure the children and parents were in place for Santa’s arrival.
Just ring the bells in my hand and say “Ho-Ho-Ho” as I walk into the fellowship hall, Marti instructed. After that, it was a matter of greeting the kids, hearing some of the 4-year-olds’ songs and holding the children on my lap for memory-book pictures.
After my exciting entry, the first little girl whose head I patted cried out in horror. Bad Santa.
The next two guys, twins Dylan and Alex, were not big fans. They cried, too.
Working the room, I received a few timid handshakes from other 2-year-olds and a couple of high-fives, but I would say the consensus among the 2’s was, “Who Is This Weird Jerry Garcia-like Stranger in My Face?”
Now the 4-year-olds were better. After their songs, they came up individually to my throne — that’s what I’m calling it — and I handed them a candy cane before we looked into the various cameras of teachers and parents.
Visions of sugar plums danced in my head, but I was told later it was just the spots I was seeing from all the flashes.
I tried to chit-chat a little bit, asking the kids on my lap what they thought of the bad economy and how much confidence they had in a new North Korean regime, now that Kim Jong II was dead.
But they seemed to like it better when I asked whether their Christmas trees were up or when I advised them to leave me milk and cookies on Christmas Eve.
The adults tried to bring Dylan and Alex over to see me at my throne, but just looking at this Yeti in a red-and-white cap sent the twins over the edge again.
Bad Santa made one more tour of the room. Several of the kids, who didn’t mind me lifting them up, wanted to know where my reindeer were.
I told them I had flown down in a helicopter that morning and left my reindeer team at the North Pole to rest and fatten up for the big trip Christmas Eve.
Marti looked at me as if my Bad Santa meter had edged a little toward a Fair Santa reading.
Marti also had a plan for getting me into a photograph with Dylan and Alex. She led me to a spot right behind their table.
While the boys focused their attention on the adults with cameras in front of them, I bent down and popped my head into the frame, like one of those renegade relatives who shows up in every wedding photo.
I think it worked, but one of the boys soon noticed the Elf Sasquatch behind him. I dashed toward the door, waving goodbye, ringing my bells and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
My helicopter was waiting — and Bad Santa had left some scars.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@