Santa's Burlesque

In which: Jolly Le hosts an event to raise money for his cyborg baby: music, beer, tits. Littlestar and I attend, after keeping an appointment with Father Christmas.

Colour me racist, but seeing naked breasts made the whole endeavour worth the schlep. Colour me sexist, but the black folk in attendance gave the event some street cred.

(Or at least: a made-for-TV-movie kind of facsimile of street cred, a sort of Degrassi take on what in America might have been cooler and grittier.) (Then again: do they count as naked breasts when the nipples themselves, the rosy summits, were capped in discreet maple leaves like patriotic chalets for sexy skiing?)

But before the end came the beginning, and that was the part in which Littlestar, Popsicle, Bo and I zoomed Nana's yellow Mini south to Bradford West Gwillimbury for a Santa Claus Parade. There is something wrong with the transmission and the engine races. Littlestar is annoyed by this, but I am able to filter it out of my world. This means that when I accelerate she groans and I ask if the new baby is kicking, and she tells me she's suffering at the yoke of the kerfucked Geary McSwitcharoo.

"There's nothing you can do about it," I say. "Why care?"

"It annoys me."

We go by the back way like genuine yokels but never the less it is not long before we run into clotting -- red brake lights, the occasional brief sound of horn, an ineffectual constable with white gloves doing a piss-poor job of conducting traffic. We determine that much of the hooplah is being generated by cows driving cars trying to make six points turns in the middle of a traffic jam.

The Mini scoots down a sidestreet and we park it in the shadow of a red mailbox. The car is only two or three feet long, so this is easy. The shadow comes from an orange streetlamp, because it's already dark. It's to be Santa-by-night, and we can already see the sparkling lights on the floats as they gather by the parking lot of the non-discount grocery store (the one we don't shop at, which is fine with me because they don't carry dirt-cheap Tetrapaks of purple juice).

We walk in. Popsicle holds my hand. The concept of parading is explained to her. She becomes excited when she sees other small people being led by their respective wards. "Is they the other kids goine see Santa, too?"

The sides of the town's main drag are lined with a narrow strip of families in parkas with folding lawn chairs and thermoses of hot chocolate and cans of beer. Littlestar spots a wide swath of territory marked by a string of widely-spaced chairs, and declares that they can surely afford to shave enough space off the side for a single toddler.

Popsicle sits down on the curb and one of the beer-sucking townies graciously wobbles over and obligingly moves an unoccupied chair a few inches to the right. "Thanks very much," I say.

"Not a problem," he belches.

I hunker down with Popsicle while Littlestar goes to fetch franks. A pinch-faced woman to my left becomes uncomfortable with my proximity to her plastic bag of treasure, and minces over beside me in an almost social way until she is close enough to snatch the bag away and retreat. I resist the urge to throw her a peanut.

Littlestar returns and the parade begins: an OPP officer on a motorcycle sallies lazily back and forth, revving the engine, flashing his lights and sounding out pops and sighs of siren. He is followed by an ambulance decked out with streams of tinsel and strings of green lights. "Where amlubance goine?" asks Popsicle.

"It's a part of the parade. They drive slowly so we can all see their decorations."

Popsicle dutifully pans her hooded head along with the passing vehicle, uncertain but open-minded about its entertainment value. She hands Bo to Littlestar, who uses him as insulation over her swollen womb. "What next?" asks Popsicle.

After working some pacing kinks out of the system in which several firefighters almost stumble into the back of the ambulance the parade resumes moving and a band of cadet soldiers draws into view. "They marchine," says Popsicle with authority, transfixed by the age-old visual candy of synchronized human motion.

Next come pipes and drums, the band brave and bare-legged beneath their kilts. Popsicle is particularly taken by the giant bass drum carried by a bearded man in the middle of the cluster, whose proud pomp and flair make up for certain obvious limitations in his rhythmic talent.

Yes, and then came a platoon of old timey soldiers with red coats and crossed belts and leather boots, all done up in the traditional walking-target style so popular in the days of Empire. Cued by a fife the platoon point their muskets into the air and fire in concert, the loud, stuttering crack causing children up and down the drag to startle violently and spill hot chocolate on themselves. "Who they shootine for?" Popsicle wanted to know, stuffing white mittens into her ears. "They shoot bad wobots, Papa?"

She is next mesmerized by a flotilla of tween girls from a local dance academy, leaping and spinning in time to pop versions of carols blasted from a station-wagon covered in holiday-themed banners. She tells me that she wants to go to dance classes, and then after a brigade of white-robed karate kids go by kicking and punching the air she insists that she be enrolled in karate school, too.

A tractor pulling a float of painted garbage cans murtles by, and it takes Littlestar and I a fair noodle to discern that the garbage cans are meant to be over-sized beauty products --- lip-stick, facial creams with exfoliating pebbles, exotic for-salon-use-only shampoos. A banner on the back of the trailer bears the name of a lady's barber.

"Who that?" asks Popsicle, pointing to a jowly man in plaid waving from the back of a gaily decorated pick-up truck with a tailgate filled by a papier-mache model of Parliament.

"That's our MP. Our government guy. What's his name?"

"Peter Van Loan," supplies Littlestar.

"Wave to Mr. Van Loan, darling."

Popsicle shouts, "Merry Kissmiss, Govomint Guy!"

More pipes and drums, this time with brass, this time played by people wearing pants with smart stripes down the sides. "Instuments!" claps Popsicle. They're followed by another squadron of white-robed martial arts padawans, and then a sparsely-decorated flat-bed trailer filled by shivering Girl Guides surrounding some sort of hypothermic faerie princess whose lips are turning blue.

The Shriners have a truck designed to look like a train, and when they blow its mighty horn the sidewalk vibrates and makes my numb bum feel weird. The Lions Club's float features a terrifyingly lumpy brown robot which is apparently supposed to be some sort of deformed lion. It roars intermittently, scaring everyone as it lurches mechanically in its rusted mobile podium.

There are cartwheeling clowns, candy-dispensing elves, singing Scouts and even a float shaped like a galleon populated with Vikings for some reason. The Vikings have a cannon on the back of their vessel which simulates firing by drooling out streams of dry-ice clouds. Popsicle winces as a bank of such cannon-fire roils out toward us. "This kind of smoke doesn't hurt your eyes," I tell her.

"It doesn't?" she asks, squinching her eyes shut anyway and pressing her forearms into her face. She opens one eye experimentally and peeks around her coat. "Okay. What next?"

"It's Santa!"

She uncovers her face quickly. "He's here?"


Littlestar melts as she watches Popsicle smile, her eyes locked on the Santa Claus riding atop the light-spangled final float. After this initial shock and awe she recovers herself and begins waving both mittened hands enthusiastically. "Santa!" she shouts; "Merry Kissmiss, Santa! Hi! Hi, Santa!"

She turns back to me, eyes wide over her runny nose and pink cheeks. "Papa, it's him he's here!"

"I know," I say. "I see him too. Hi, Santa!"

"Hi Santa!"

In his wake the lines of watchers break, the order of observational banks dissolved in favour of bovine milling. We each take one of Popsicle's little hands and push through the ocean of dark jackets toward the mailbox where we left the car. Popsicle is talking all about the parade. She is high from seeing Santa, and giggles as she recounts to us highlights of the experience for her. We ask if Bo the teddy bear enjoyed himself and we're assured by her that he did.

We return to the old schoolhouse.

Popsicle and Bo are packed to bed, watched over by in-laws while we get back in the car and head to the big city. I drive. At first I drive awkwardly but I fall into a groove after a few kilometers, the thinking parts of my brain free to detach and drift away to delve in the New Story. I am able to ignore the errant transmission, except when Littlestar tells me about how it annoys her.

I have a big blue parka like Han Solo on Hoth. It is old and decrepit, and whenever I move it snorts out little clouds of white down. When we reach Toronto I make many turns and thus move my arms around a lot, and soon the small cabin of the yellow Mini is dense with the debris from my personal blizzard. We drive through the club district along Richmond and see the cool kids out at play, and then up Spadina through West Chinatown to the Latvian House.

Ten dollars at the door -- this goes to help Jolly Le and his wife address the tens of thousands of dollars of debt they instantly accrued when they had their dying newborn infant airlifted home from Jamaica by the Canadian government. It turns out that emergency medical airlifts are not covered by OHIP.

(This I already knew from when my ex-Aunt Pointy had to be airlifted from Mexico after she was turned into a bloody pretzel by a multi-taxi pile-up. Later she would divorce Uncle Scout after coming home from work to find him sniffing cocaine off of a prostitute's ass in the living room. We reasoned he had only stayed with Pointy as long as he had on account of the difficulty of finding a tactful time to leave someone recuperating from being turned into a bloody pretzel -- especially when you were in the same accident and nothing bad happened to you at all. Pity aside, Pointy had always been a bitch. There was also some consensus that Uncle Scout's panache for handling such situations in the most mature way possible had gone unfazed by the fact of his adulthood. The prostitute was not available for comment, but I heard she was black.)

Photocopies of photographs of the poor cyborg baby with tubes stuck into him are taped to the doors, and to the sides of cardboard boxes with money-shaped holes cut in the tops of them. I can't remember the kid's name, but I can tell you that he has a really cool afro.

I really hate being at the event, despite my wish to show support for Jolly Le's plight. There are too many people here. Many too many people here. I get the willies right away. Lots of people come up and want to know how I am, and what is new with me. I don't recognize any of them, but I smile and nod. They might have been actors hired for the part. I honestly can't remember having set eyes on any of them before, let alone remember any of their names. Some Asian girl hugs me.

"Who's that Asian girl?" I say into Littlestar's ear.

"She's an Avon girl. Scarlet buys perfume from her."

"I've met her before, the Asian Avon?"

"Four of five times."

Many people have tried to dress up a bit, which gives me more trouble identifying them. I like it when people wear the same clothes all the time, so I don't have to count on identifying more ambiguous cues like their faces, voices or names. People in Toronto are always trying to act as if they dress as nicely as the people in Montreal. They change costumes like seasons. Their haircuts change, too, which means as far as I'm concerned they're new people. "Hello, my name is Cheeseburger Brown," I say as I doff my hat.

"It's been such a long time!" they say.

"Okay," I assent.

Everyone is skinny and dressed in black. Many of the men have soul-patches. Many of the women have done this streaky blonding thing to their hair which is apparently en vogue, or used to be en vogue somewhere we follow.

The DJ nestled in a pit of coloured lights beneath a traditional Latvian wooden chandelier has elected to fill the air with teeth-shaking Hip Hop of some kind which is frightening and noisy. It is not possible to have a conversation with anyone without shouting in their ear, so Littlestar takes turns shouting into the ears of people she knows while I hover nearby and drink beer. I cannot understand anything that is being said. I look at the big painting of a forest on the wall behind them and think about the New Story. When they prompt to include me I smile and chuckle as if I'm following along. What else can I do?

Many people touch Littlestar's belly.

I have a lollipop in my pocket given to me by an adolescent elf at the parade, so I put it in my mouth. From its taste I learn that it is orange. The lights in the boxy banquet hall are pulsing blue, green and pink.

Suddenly a black guy comes in and starts break-dancing.

The spiffed-out white couples take a step-back to form a loose ring around the cavorting urban gymnast while they amble their hips in time to the beat. A skinny white guy in a track suit with gold seams steps into the ring and, through gesture, invites to black fellow to try something daring. The black fellow throws himself on the floor and wiggles around in slithery, hypnotic ways. Then he jumps up again and sort of bobs around in place like an amphetamine-soaked boxer. Everyone claps and cheers. He gestures theatrically to the white guy, who jumps up with a flourish and then starts to jiggle like a broken robot.

A plump-lipped girl with slutastically low-slung pants comments to her nodding boyfriend, "That wigger boy sure can dance!"

Meanwhile, the black fellow is spinning on his head, his giant parka spread around him like wings. Everyone is applauding.

I go to the bar to say hello to Scarlet who is frowning around a cigarette as she doles out liquor at a rapid pace. We are chatting as some brassie lassie desperate to have her order taken shoulders me aside and claims a stretch of bar with her elbow wedged beneath my chin. She is trying to make faces to gain Scarlet's attention. I look over at her, catch her eyes, and then look slowly down at her elbow in my face.

"Hi there," I say conversationally.

She rolls her eyes, sighs dramatically, and looks the other way. I realize that the silly trollop thinks I'm trying to chat her up and she's presenting a cold shoulder as a kind of emphatic sort of "no." So I shove her aside and resume my conversation with Scarlet.

The pushy lady seems chagrined and confused. Snooty tart!

After I am served she gives me a withering look as I vacate the bar. I see it out of my peripheral vision. I no longer care. I find my wife in the crowd and shout in her ear that, as far as I'm concerned, we've done our bit for the cause and the clock is running for our exeunt. She frowns as a fog of cigarette cloud washes over us, making our eyes water. "Okay," she agrees, "but I feel bad. We should stay longer."


"I don't know."

"I'll get our coats."

"Wait -- I think the burlesque is starting."

Like it being worth the frozen ass to see my toddling daughter delighted at Santa's sedate climax, I recognize that it may be worth sticking around the event until the end. A buxom blonde takes the microphone from the DJ and makes a bunch of slippery and guttural noises. I ask, "Is she speaking English?"

"She's speaking Franglais," says Littlestar.

"I didn't catch a word."

The speakers come up with a rollicking piece of swing as two brunettes in maid costumes and high heels swagger out into the middle of the room and begin dancing around a pair of mops. "Do you want to go?" asks Littlestar, her coat over her arm.

"Let's just see this number," I say, putting on my hat and then taking it off again.

The dancing girls play at being tired and fall into one another lazily, eventually divesting themselves of their tops to present anachronistically sharp brassieres. In a twist that makes the audience gasp and laugh they snap off said brassieres and swing around their bared bosoms, nipples decorated by little red maple leaves. Very patriotic.

"I know which you one like," teases Littlestar.

"Hush now."

The next number is a bedroom routine, in which a girl in a sheer gown theatrically stretches and yawns and fans herself for respite from the imaginary evening heat.

(The impromptu set is assembled by a fourth girl, a serving girl, who is chastised and berated by the buxom blonde host (or so it sounds to me, her amplified voice not intelligible enough for drive-thru from my point of view). It's a humiliation routine that I can only assume will weave in and out of the narrative until she does a stage number of her own later in the routine. I don't really care, though, because she has no curves to speak of.)

"Hi Santa!"

Littlestar drives home. I watch the city's dense lightscape mesh drop away into the more sporadic Lite-Brite baubles of the countryside. Toronto becomes an orange smear in the rearview mirror, sinking slowly beneath the black horizon. It is a million o'clock.

Ho, Ho, Ho. It's shopping season in Canada, and I feel fine.

1 comment:

Sith Snoopy said...

I'm not a big fan of crowds or loud bars/places, either. I can't lip read, and I like to be able to hear people speak.

And you're not the only one with the faulty people memory. ;)

Hope you are having a good Thanksgiving, if it's also celebrated in Canada. :)

Stay warm. :)

Heh.... I knew exactly what you meant when you described your coat as Han Solo's coat in Empire when he was on Hoth!!! :) Perfect description. :)