It's red-and-white Fri­day at Al­ibi

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Richard Freed­man rfreed­man@timesher­al­don­ @rich­freed­man­vth on Twit­ter

“You stink! You smell like beef and cheese, you don’t smell like Santa.”

Fans of the hol­i­day film sta­ple “Elf” might rec­og­nize the line by Will Far­rell’s Buddy. What should Santa Claus smell like? Noth­ing dis­tract­ing, for sure. Not beef and cheese, not cig­a­rette smoke, and surely not whiskey.

Kyle Green knows. He’s played St. Nick for 39 years from Macy’s at Union Square in San Fran­cisco to pri­vate par­ties, to com­mu­nity pa­rades. The long-time Valle­joan slipped into the iconic cos­tume for this first time this sea­son the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing, de­light­ing a hand­ful of chil­dren ac­com­pa­ny­ing par­ents at Al­ibi Book­shop down­town.

Thanks­giv­ing “is def­i­nitely a start” to the Christ­mas sea­son, “though some of my ‘helpers’ started as early as Hal­loween,” grinned Green be­hind the shiny white beard.

Green was a mere 18 “and 160 pounds in­clud­ing pil­low” when a friend who did Santa ap­pear­ances couldn’t make an as­sign­ment and asked Green to fill in. The job ended in a hot air bal­loon.

“That sealed the deal,” said Green. And he’s done Claus ev­ery hol­i­day sea­son since.

It’s not easy, as the suit that be­comes a furry sauna. And kids that aren’t al­ways pleas­ant. And par­ents who are some­times even less pleas­ant.

But Green keeps com­ing back. “You have to love chil­dren to be in this busi­ness,” Green said. “Kids can tell. They know if you’re a phony-baloney.”

Sure, said Green, there was a learn­ing curve when he be­gan. He was, af­ter all, a mere 18.

“The re­search hap­pened over the years. I would talk to

other San­tas,” Green said. “I would see a lot of them. They’re pretty easy to spot.”

Though these am­bas­sadors for the North Pole Santa are mostly friendly, many with au­then­tic beards “seem to have a chip on their shoul­der. They think they’re su­pe­rior,” Green said.

Beard or not, it’s a phys­i­cally chal­leng­ing job, he said.

“Imag­ine work­ing in a ware­house, lift­ing 50-pound boxes while sit­ting down. That’s what it’s like be­ing Santa Claus,” Green said. Yet, “I’ve never dropped a kid in 39 years.”

There is a bit of sleigh rust to kick off for that first pub­lic ap­pear­ance af­ter the lay­off, Green said.

“You kind of re­mem­ber how un­com­fort­able it (the suit) can be,” Green said. “Today’s weather is per­fect and I’m by the door. There have been times when I’ve been in ho­tels with­out air con­di­tion­ing and it’s not com­fort­able af­ter a few hours.”

While Santa con­ducted an in­ter­view Fri­day be­tween kid vis­its, Sarah Cain — “Mrs. Claus” — wan­dered around the book­store.

“He’s a re­ally good Santa and takes it re­ally se­ri­ously,” Cain said. “He wants to make sure he por­trays Santa in the best light and that kids have a great ex­pe­ri­ence.”

One young par­ent, Mary Aller, ap­pre­ci­ated Santa’s early-sea­son ap­pear­ance, though her 18-month-old daugh­ter, Della Mora, wasn’t as ac­com­mo­dat­ing as her first Santa ex­pe­ri­ence a year ago.

“The first time was great be­cause she was only 6 months old. She was fine. But this time, yeah, it wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen. It takes her awhile to get used to peo­ple. I wish I was more pre­pared and had her dressed up,” Aller said, though happy her­self to see Claus.

“It’s an ex­cit­ing time,” when the jolly man ap­pears, Aller said.

Though Green typ­i­cally has a hand­ful of Vallejo ap­pear­ances as Claus, the Al­ibi Book­store as­sign­ment was his only sched­uled one so far in town. A hand­ful of pre­vi­ous stan­dard hol­i­day gigs evap­o­rated be­cause the businesses closed.

“He has to do some trav­el­ing this year. That’s what the sleigh is for,” smiled Cain.

Wher­ever Green ap­pears, he never prom­ises the kid any­thing — one of Santa’s No. 1 rules.

“I’ll say, ‘I’ll do my best.’ You have the par­ent right there. If I prom­ise the child that bi­cy­cle, I’ll get a dirty look,” Green said.

Never in 39 years has a child re­lieved him or her­self on Santa’s lap, Green said, an­swer­ing a ques­tion that wasn’t asked.

“That’s never hap­pened, though there’s scream­ing all the time. I saved the pho­tos of scream­ing kids jump­ing off my lap,” he said.

There is a bit of a para­dox in greet­ing the famed chubby man who squeezes through chim­neys. .

“Kids are taught to not go any­where near strangers, but then you’ve got the day they’ve got to sit on Santa’s lap and they’re not pre­pared for that,” Green said. “Some par­ents take a scream­ing kid and throw them on Santa’s lap and that’s not cool.”

Tots un­der 1 “are un­aware of what’s go­ing on” and kids 1 through 4 “are aware of what’s go­ing on and Santa’s a weird thing for them,” Green said.

When kids hit 6 to 8, they be­come the doubters about this whole Santa thing.

“I say ‘Doubt all you want. That might af­fect what you get for Christ­mas,’” Green said.

Santa does have to keep up with the hot toy of the year; “what’s new and hip so I can have a con­ver­sa­tion

with the kids,” said Green, lament­ing the Teddy Rux­pin and Tickle Me Emo era when Santa him­self would have trou­ble snag­ging one of those pre­cious items.

Again, it’s all about re­spect­ing the real stars, Green said.

“I never talk down to a child. I don’t do it in any form. And I don’t talk loudly to a child,” he said. “I try to give them eye con­tact through­out the visit and try and get the par­ents in­volved.”

Green said he can usu­ally iden­tify a spoiled kid

— “I’ve had 5-year-olds ask for the lat­est iPhone” — but can also un­der­stand a child’s chal­lenge.

“One child … 10 years old … said to me, ‘I hope you can stop the bomb­ings in In­dia,’” re­called Greene. “I didn’t know what to say.”

Whether the ex­pected or un­ex­pected, Green said 40 years as Santa has been re­ward­ing and he hoped he could do another 30.

“I’m very happy Santa,” he said.




Seven-month-old Sut­ton Ward sits on Santa’s lap dur­ing a visit to the Al­ibi Book­shop in down­town Vallejo on the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing in Vallejo on Fri­day.

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