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Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas

This week I decided to call a college friend of mine that I have not seen or spoken to since 1958. His name is Ed Kulkosky. He and I always got along well and were fellow journalism majors at a New Jersey commuter college. A couple of years ago I found his email address on-line and we began to exchange occasional emails. He has had an interesting life. He has been a NY Times newspaper editor, a financial journal writer and editor, a standup comic, a singer and entertainer and is currently writing songs for a musical as well as working weekend gigs as a professional Santa Claus.

I called him because I had recently sent a number of emails to which he had not responded. Since we are both at that age when bad things can happen very quickly, I decided to check to see if he was okay. It turned out he is fine and that he has been having trouble with his email address and so we talked for a while. He mentioned that he had been very busy this past holiday season doing Santa gigs and as our chat unfolded, some interesting stuff came out about the job of playing Santa. Ed said that most of his work comes through “party planner companies” that book entertainers for events like birthdays and Christmas parties. He said that at one Christmas party a father, as he placed his daughter on Santa’s lap, said: “Don’t is shy sweetie—tell Santa what you want for Hanukkah.” He also said that he can tell which toys have been pushed by TV advertisers because every little girl and every little boy pretty much wants the same stuff. When I asked him what the parents expected from a Santa at these parties he said: “Oh—the predictable things. They want Santa to be mellow, patient and to be a good listener who really focuses on what the kids are telling him. The problem is that there are usually so many kids that it ends up being a more cursory thing with each kid—you know--get on Santa’s lap, take the photo, tell Santa which toys you want and it’s over.

I asked him where one would buy a Santa suit and he said that there are a fair number of companies that manufacture and sell them. An off-the-rack Santa suit runs three to four hundred dollars and one that is custom made could easily cost a thousand to twelve hundred. I expressed surprise that there would be such demand for Santa Claus outfits and he said: “In that vein, let me tell you about an event I’ll be attending this coming July. I’m going to Branson, Missouri. A group of businessmen in Los Angeles have put together a Santa convention in there. Branson is a little town that has become famous in recent years. A number of professional entertainers—Dolly Parton for one--have opened theaters and nightclubs there and are drawing crowds. This convention is called The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas. As you can tell by the title, the only requirement for taking part is that each Santa must have a real beard. Beard length is not spelled out, it is essential only that the beard be authentic.”

Ed said he was looking forward to the convention and then our conversation turned to other things--old mutual college friends, the passing of the years, our health (of course) and our wives and families. It was good catching up with an old friend. And afterward, I sat there in the glow of this really fun conversation, wondering how many other old friends have led such creative and fascinating lives and, sadly, how infrequently I have found out about them. Ahhh--it is an interesting world we live in.

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