You can imagine the joy that filled my heart when I learned that you can get PAID to ring the bell.
What's more, I learned, it was decent pay; nothing you could support a family with, but it certainly tops the minimum wage I work for in the summer. Needless to say, I was on board. The next day, my friend Sam and I showed up at the Employment Solutions office in charge of hiring bellringers.
At this point I should clarify the job to which I refer: I'm talking about the people dressed as Santa* standing outside of Walmart, shouting "Merry Christmas" to random passersby and, of course, ringing a bell, all in the hopes that the random passersby drop money in a little pot next to the Santa. As far as I'm aware, no Santa has ever stolen the pot of money.
So there we were, me and Sam, men on a mission, applying for the position of bellringer. There are two kinds of bellringers: the volunteers and the paid workers. Signing up to be a paid worker takes slightly more paperwork, the helpful registration lady informed us. You'd think, of course, that we'd sign our names somewhere, maybe show them our driver's licenses and, if they were really thorough, be given a five-minute orientation ("Bell goes this way. . . Bell goes that way. . . You're doing good so far!")
The registration packet was approximately as long as the Old Testament and contained sections for previous job experience, detailed character references, and waivers out the wazoo. In addition, we had to provide three forms of ID, including our social security cards. Finally, we had to watch a 30-minute orientation video. (Really.)
Midway through the paperwork, Sam and I looked at each other, nodded, and threw our papers in the trash.
"We'd like to volunteer instead," we told the helpful registration lady.
"Ok, sign your names on this paper. What shift do you want?" was her response.
Two days later, we stood outside Walmart wearing Santa hats.** It's quite a fun job, actually. The object is to get people to make eye contact with you, leaving them with no other choice but to dredge up a few coins out of their pockets to drop in the pot. People would go to amazing lengths to look anywhere but at the guy in the Santa hat waving and calling cheerily to them. They'd do a kind of hurried shuffle past me, staring transfixed at a stained ceiling tile. "Merry Christmas!" I'd shout to them with true Christmas spirit, joyfully spreading the gift of guilt. One of those people later drove past me in a shiny new Mercedes. I hope somebody scratches it with their keys.
In society's defense, not everybody tried to dodge us Santa had-clad volunteers. In particular, my thanks goes out to the guy who donated the $100 bill. In case he should ever happen to read this blog, I'd like to thank him on behalf of myself and Santa hat-wearing people in general: Thank you for your generosity. We tip our Santa hats to you.
And to the rest of you: [A late] Merry Christmas.
Ha! You made eye contact.
*In the sense of wearing a Santa hat and being human. All similarities tend to end there. You don't want your kids to get their impression of Santa from the bellringer Santas outside Walmart; they could grow up in the belief that Santa is a large black woman.
**In addition to other clothes. Don't want to give kids the wrong impression of Santa.