The Spirit of the Holidays: How a Drunken Homophobic Santa Claus Taught Me to Move Past Christmas Card Messages
Last night I was hanging around outside of Splash, a local bar with rainbow flags hanging by the door, chatting with patrons and passerby as I often do on a Saturday night. As a creative entrepreneur of sorts I do many things to earn a buck, one of which is drive a bike taxi in downtown San Jose, and I LOVE Splash: I do well there (maybe because I am cute at 2 am) and the regulars at Splash are the best behaved, best tipping, best conversationalists in San Jose.
Splash is a San Jose Institution
So: last night I was hanging around outside of Splash as I might on any Saturday night. Two men approached me and chatted a bit asking the usual questions. How much does a ride cost, how far can I bike, are my legs like tree trunks, is hauling obese people around all night worth the money? They liked me and asked for a ride, and liked me enough to request that I go to an ATM out of their way first, which would add dollars to their fare, so they could pay me a good tip. We chatted on the ride as I pedaled, and had a grand ol time, but to be honest the two gentlemen probably wouldn't have been memorable at all if there wasn't a homophobic Santa Claus waiting at the ATM for us, if I didn't almost get in a fight with said childhood icon, and if the man in the red suit and the two men I was driving didn't teach me what the spirit of the holidays means.
SantaCon Gone Wrong
As I describe what happened next, I'll make a quick disclaimer that no one was innocent, but it is pretty obvious who was in the wrong.
I sing this song on my pedi-cab all night long.
One of the men I was driving, the shorter of the two who was at least 6 inches shorter than me and an easy target based on his physical stature, walked up to the ATM we had arrived at to take out some cash, and his partner waited in the cab with me. We laughed and pointed at the men standing next to his partner at the ATM: there was a tall and broad man dressed as Santa Claus standing next to his friend, who was dressed as a flawless studio quality elf. "SantaCon," an international Santa Themed bar crawl, had come to town. The two had obviously been drinking, as had my new friend at the ATM, and my spidey senses kicked in. I noticed some not so friendly body language evolving before my eyes, and the hairs on the back of my neck rose to attention. I was filled with dread when the man I was driving turned around to make a joke to his partner and I. "Jeez," he called over to us, "doesn't this Santa guy know I am a Jew? Too close for comfort!"
Yes, it may not have been the best thing to yell at 2am. Yes, he had been drinking. But in his defense, Santa was standing VERY close while my new friend punched in his PIN number, at a time when physical proximity isn't exactly welcome. And it seemed like the man I was cabbing was trying to lighten the mood, and had picked up on the tension between Mr. Claus and the rest of us. Boy, was that 'tension' the tip of the iceberg.
Bad Santa Gets Angry
"What the FUCK did you say to me?" Santa Claus bellowed. His speech was slurred, and reaked of rum spiced eggnog.
My new friend was done at the ATM now, and started walking back towards us awkwardly. Santa stepped in front of him and moved like he wasn't going to let the situation end without a confrontation. "I said, what did you say to me, you FAGGOT?"
At this point, I started seeing red. There are very few words that 'trigger' an emotional response for me. Faggot is one of them. I stepped out of the driver seat of my pedi-cab, and stood menacingly on the curb, arms crossed and muscles flexed, trying to look as physically intimidating as I could while I watched the scene unfold 10 feet away.
Santa saw me: I am not a small guy, and I can hold myself in an menacing way when I need to. But his elven henchmen saw me to, and changed his own stance to an aggressive one, making it known that my presence wasn't going to cool things down. "Look..." my new friend started, moving towards us slowly with his hands in front of him and a confused look on his face, clearly not looking for a fight. Santa retorted, "I'm looking, and all I see is a couple of queers out here tonight, trying to start something!"
"Look buddy, we are all just trying to have a good time tonight," I shouted over, making sure Santa knew I wasn't going to stand by and watch him continue to abuse my new friend, who had done almost nothing to provoke his wrath.
Santa Claus the Christmas Homophobe
For a moment, Santa and his elf looked confused. Like: why would this stranger get involved? Then, after looking between me and the man in front of him and his partner in the cab, and realizing that he and his holiday side kick were out numbered, Santa walked towards me slowly, his posture transformed to a non-confrontational one.
Another holiday classic, to lighten the mood.
"Hey, I'm sorry man, I see you are the good guy here" he said to me as he approached. I was taken aback, not expecting such an immediate 180. "Yeah you are a great guy for driving FAGGOTS-" he shouted back over his shoulder at my new friend he had just been abusing "-when you know they aren't going to tip you."
He reached out to shake my hand. My arms remained crossed, as I waited silently, my mind racing and the red coming back to my eyes in a big way.
"Me and Freddy (fake name) here," he motioned back to his elf friend, "we aren't trying to start something, but sometimes when a flamer tries to act up you have to bust an elbow, know what I mean?" He raised his elbow up to chest level in a cartoonish manner. "I've got this elbow out here waiting to crack skulls, you know?" I was not amused, and didn't respond, except with a scowl and by shifting my posture into an even more aggressive stance, trying to let him know that I didn't think he was funny or charming and I didn't appreciate his language. "Here," he said to me, taking out his wallet, "I'll give you a tip, since you have been the good guy and I know these gays aren't going to pay you."
I uncrossed my arms, pushing his wallet back towards him, and muttered: "I don't want your money."
The Holiday Fistfight that Wasn't
"What??" Drunk Santa couldn't believe his ears.
"I don't want your money." I repeated louder. "My friends and I are having a good time tonight, and I don't appreciate the way you have been treating us."
"What the fu..are you a...?" It was obvious Santa was very very confused. "Why don't you want my money? I'm just trying to take care of you, since we both know these two faggots aren't going to."
"Stop saying that word." My voice dropped again to a growl. The quieter I get, the closer I am to exploding. I stood for a moment staring Santa in the eye and deciding if he was worth it. I knew there were cops nearby, and that I could get hurt, and that it probably wasn't the right thing to do, but every fiber of my being told me to punch Mr. Claus in the face. "I don't want your money because you have been acting like an asshole." I finally said.
Santa's elvish friend stepped forward at this time, and the scene seemed like it was at it's boling point. But I had made up my mind in those moments of silence before, and I wasn't going to fight these two drunken idiots. I motioned to my new friend who was still standing behind Santa, clearly upset and not happy with the way things looked like they were going, and beckoned him into my cab. I moved quickly to the driver seat before Santa could figure out what had happened.
Just before I started pedaling, I yelled one more thing at this drunken homophobic parody of Santa Claus that I had almost punched in the face, and I hoped it stung. "Merry Christmas sir, and have a very happy holiday!"
And with that, my two new friends and I biked into the a.m. and left Homophobic Santa behind forever.
The Spirit of Christmas
We traveled in silence for almost five minutes, as I cleared my head and the two men in my cab held each other, comforting one another in the best way there is. After half a dozen blocks, I cleared my throat and spoke up. "Sorry about that back there, I probably should have just let it go but that guy was the level of asshole that you can't let be, you know?" I trailed off awkwardly. "Anyway, sorry..." I am sure they could hear that I was trying to apologize for something bigger that I had no part in and no place apologizing for; the great inter-sectional history of the white oppressor that made the man back there so confident in abusing a stranger in the street.
"You didn't do anything wrong," one of my new friends responded. And we rode on mostly in silence, each in our own thoughts, trying to make some sense from the surreal oddity we had just witnessed.
Another full minute passed, and then my passenger who had walked to the ATM and taken the brunt of Santa's abuse spoke up for the first time since our holiday Fiasco. "You did exactly what you should have," he assured me.
One more, since I am a sucker for carols
After some very light small talk and another five minutes of riding, we arrived at my new friends' destination, and I quickly transitioned into my "get out of my cab and pay me money" speech. "Hope you had a great time, thanks again for hopping aboard!" I started rambling off cheerfully, before realizing that my pre-bottled goodbye was horrifically insensitive considering what we had all just been through. "Hey, about earlier, I'm sorry..."
Before I could finish, one of my new friends gave me a very heartfelt hug, as if to remind me that I had nothing to apologize for. The other hugged me after with just as warm and authentic of an embrace, which quickly transitioned into a group hug, which quickly transitioned into a group laugh as I muttered "what and idiot that guy was..."
I happily shook both of their hands and waved as I pulled away in my cab, and we exchanged a last, hauntingly ironic "happy holidays!" before I was too far away to hear them anymore, and our half hour of friendship came to an end. And that was that: just your routine encounter with a homophobic man dressed in holiday attire that almost ended in a fist fight but turned into a memorable learning experience instead. Typical Down Town San Jose.
Oh, and one last thing: they tipped very well.
The Spirit of the Holidays: Beyond Christmas Cards
Beside being one of the most memorable pedi-cab rides I have ever given, being the closest I have gotten to getting in a fight in a decade, and ending the best way it possible could, my run in with Homophobic Santa taught me a few things about the spirit of the holidays that you might not find in a Christmas card.
Be good to people. Even if it means stepping off of the curb and coming close to a fist fight.
To hell with Santa Claus. Or at least someone who can wear a Santa outfit and, without noting the irony and ridiculousness of their actions, pretend to be "in the spirit of the holidays" while simultaneously treating other people in such a grinchly manner.
Don't be afraid to stand up for your principles. If I had thrown fists, it wouldn't have been as perfect of a story, but I would still be proud that I hadn't kept my mouth shut.
There will be Peace on Earth when people treat each other right. We don't get there by standing by silently or letting Homophobic Santa Claus's run drunkenly around the globe, abusing whoever rubs them the wrong way.
And with that, my holiday meditations are over. To everyone reading, to my two new friends, and even to Homophobic Santa and his elvish lacky: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!