My Day as a Rental Suit Santa, and a CONTEST!

Everyone faces milestones in their lives.

Your first bike. Your first bloody nose. Your first completely groundless and utterly absurd arrest on suspicion of arson. The opening of your very own secret FBI dossier.

These are things that often mark divisions between the eras of our lives.

I've faced quite a number of them, and each has lacked that heartwarming quality of quiet dignity that fills Hallmark cards. Frankly, I think card-writers are smoking a certain potent herb, and a lot of it.

I faced another milestone last week. And it has marked the beginning of a new curve in the ever-increasing slope of my life's sad decline, for I have donned the red suit and oft-used beard of the Rental Suit Santa.

That's right. Me, ensconced in red and white, booming out 'Ho ho ho' at random intervals like some life-sized but poorly programmed dime-store automaton.

We all know there are very real health risks to being slightly overweight. Increased chance of heart disease. Diabetes. Elevated blood pressure. Blah blah blah. News flash, Doc -- life kills rail-thin health nuts just as dead as it does morose old fat men, but at least the fat guys don't die with a mouthful of granola. Put that in your stethoscope and probe it.

But perhaps the worst side effect of being, shall we say, portly, is the certainty of being singled out to play Santa in some ill-advised act of holiday costumery.

But that's what happens. One moment you're cruising along, not quite fifty, still might have a few moments of youthful vigor left under the hood, and the next you're trying not to choke on fibers of rental beard, last place of use unknown, which are snaking their way down your throat.

Let's back up here for a moment. Rental beard. Think about it. Should those words ever appear together?

No. No, they should not.

But I have worn the rental beard, my friends. I have fixed it to my face, and I have breathed deep the scent of Santas past.

Curious to know how rental Santas smell?

Two words, folks.


Whiskey, and despair.

Wearing a Santa suit is akin to donning a furry, vision-obscuring oven. Sweat poured off me, soaking the beard, making breathing difficult. Sweat poured into my eyes, the saltiness stinging them, leaving me half-blind.

So there I was stumbling about on the verge of heatstroke, unable to see anything more than blurs and flashes of movement.

Which isn't really all that unusual, for me. Heck, it could describe practically any Tuesday. But this instance was far worse, because after all, I was Santa.

People have certain expectations of Santas. We are supposed to be jolly and personable and kind and merry and cram-packed full of Christmas cheer.

I suppose I could be at least a couple of those things, if you hooked an IV of purest grain alcohol to my right arm and one of Absinthe to my left. Otherwise, I'm about as far from Santa by nature as anyone can be. I can pronounce the words "Ho ho ho," and I did, but whether anyone found them particularly cheerful or not is anyone's guess.

Oh. And let's not forget the children. What was their reaction to Santa?

I'd say 'guarded expressions of horror and loathing' sums it up pretty well. Not that I blame them. Look, I'm sure when I was kid-aged (0.3 or 1 or 7 or whatever that might be) and some fat sweaty lunatic in a seedy red elf-suit came stomping up to me bellowing monosyllables, I probably started bawling too.  There's a reason Fred Rogers never hid behind weird clothes and excessive facial hair.

Anyway, I made my rounds and said "Ho ho ho" and traumatized half a dozen toddlers. And in doing so, I permanently divided my life into two distinct periods: BS and AS (Before Santa and After Santa).

Because now I'm just the fat guy behind the suit. I am one of that small, downcast band of middle-aged men who can look upon a sweat-soaked rental beard and merely nod in silent acknowledgment.

Ho ho ho.


And now, the contest!

Last week I showed you the cover for the new Markhat novel, which should be out by March.

This week, I'm going to ask you a question. Be the first person to email me with the correct answer, and you get two things. One, a signed copy of the current latest Markhat novel, THE BROKEN BELL. Two, when BROWN RIVER QUEEN comes out in print, you get a signed copy of that too.

Not too shabby, huh?

Okay, there's the cover (points up), and here's the question:

Kanaxa, the brilliant cover artist, has hidden something in the cover. This something is an object which has played a major role in many of the Markhat adventures.  If you're a fan of the series, it shouldn't be too hard to spot. I put a large image up there, so take a good hard look.

When you see it, email me at .

Couldn't be easier.

Next week I'll post the winner, and a cover image spotlighting the hidden thingy, which KaNaxA also kindly provided.

Good luck, and happy hunting!