Beep. Beep. Beep. 5:15 AM. I sigh.

I brew my morning coffee and catch up on the news — just drone strikes and coups. Not really my speed, if you know what I mean. I get in the car: a couple lefts, a couple rights, a couple k-turns, u-turns — I mean, who the hell even knows what they’re doing nowadays, am I right?

NPR’s playing a special on Donald Trump. God, what an absolute hack job that guy is. He just gets me so worked up. But I can’t stay frustrated; I’ve got another long day playing Santa Claus at the Freehold County Mall ahead of me. 

I pull into my reserved parking spot just 100 yards out from the main entrance. Pretty sweet perk if you ask me. 15% off the kiosks, too. But I don’t do it for the benefits, or even the pay; the pay isn’t particularly good, especially now during the dead of summer. I do it because I love what I do, and not everyone can honestly say that to themselves. 

“What’s up, Reggie?” I holler at the cologne kiosk.

“Not much, Trent! How bout you?” Angela, from the trinket kiosk, says.

“Oh—Oh, I was talking to R—I’m doing well. Oh, I mean, not much! How bout y—I mean, Happy August!” 

Jesus. I’m not on my game today, I think. Better step it up before I talk to these kids about Christmas and presents and, if I’m lucky, their hopes and dreams. 

By the time 7 AM rolls around, the mall is empty. Typical. I consider taking out my iPhone and opening up the Sudoku.com app. No, Trent, I think. You are a professional. Would Santa be playing Sudoku Trent? No. No, he wouldn’t. I start thinking about what Santa would do if he was here when I see two parents and a gargantuan child walk up in my direction.

I really can’t overemphasize how massive this kid is. 6 foot 5, maybe 6 foot 6, muscles up the wazoo. You’re probably thinking of a pretty bulky twelve-year-old right now, but I want you to imagine someone three times his weight and four times as muscular, and this kid would still beat the living shit outta whoever you’re thinking of. I’m serious. He looked like he went to the gym three times a day to eat every patron there.

He approaches, and all I can think is that this kid is literally gonna break my knee. I’ve got a bad knee as it is, tore my ACL playing high school ball down in Manasquan. Scouts said I had I real shot of playing D-1 before that happened, too. He sits down on my knee and I swear to God I hear a crack or two. I wince, but I keep a poker face; that’s just life as a professional.

“What’s up, Dikembe?” I say with a chuckle and a wink. This kid makes an expression that all but says “Look old man, I do not have the first clue who Dikembe Mutombo, world famous basketballer, is.” Damn. “Ho, ho, ho!” I chortle. “I’m sorry, Dikembe is one of my best friends up in the North Pole!” Phew. I mean, say what you will about me, but I play a damn good Santa. 

“Uhmmm,” he says, and I shit you not this kid has got the absolute deepest voice I’ve ever heard. Like, it would truly would shake a school bus for orca whales. “I’d really love a well-fitting sweater,” he says.

“Jesus, good luck,” I say before I can stop myself. God, Trent, are you kidding me! How could you be so god damn stupid! The boss is not gonna have this. This is unprofessionalism at its absolute fucking finest. God, what am I gonna do? I have bills to pay. Water, electricity, you name it. Oh, oh God…

“Ok, thanks so much!” he says with a grin and scampers off to his parents.