Leah Mueller

Santa’s Helper

No one enjoys working on Christmas, but some jobs are more bearable than others. 

If you’re stuck with a holiday double shift at the roadside massage parlor, you should be philosophical. Believe it or not, there are worse gigs. Tips are way better than fast food wages. And Bob, the owner, is a supportive guy, ready to beam jerks with a 2X4 when they step out of line.

The customers are almost always polite. Vast majority are truckers who just need some quick fun before returning to their rigs. They see the interstate exit sign that says “Climax” and get all hot and bothered. Most of them want to know if I’m a WMU student. I tell them yes, so they ask what I’m studying. Like it isn’t obvious.

It’s all theatre. I’m really from outer space, sent to western Michigan to observe the natives. My honchos at the home office picked the Midwest because of its homespun Americana vibe. In a few days, I’ll be back on my planet, ready to share research with esteemed colleagues. 

The door pushes open and a guy steps in wearing a Santa suit. He looks unhappy. Maybe his favorite reindeer died. I hand him the sex menu, and he peruses it like a guy who knows that someone will screw up his order. I’m not sure if he annoys me or if I just feel sorry for him.

“Can I answer any questions?” This seems like an absurd query for a massage parlor, but Bob gets pissed off if I don’t ask.

Santa’s face rises from the price list. “I just want to talk. I mean, have a real discussion. How much for that?”

I sigh. “20 thousand. You can’t afford it. It’s only one thousand for a two-girl back rub with extras.”

Santa bristles, and his face becomes even more red than usual. “How do you know I can’t afford it?”

Taken aback, I stammer, “Well, it’s a lot. Like a new car or a down payment on a house. Conversation is pricey these days.”

“Money is no object.” Santa sinks into a chair and begins to unlace his boots. The shoelaces flop everywhere like black spaghetti. When Santa finally looks up, his expression is coy. “Whaddaya think, sweetheart? You up for it?”

Like most customers, Santa wants to pretend I’m his girlfriend. I’m always surprised these poor saps can’t tell I’m an extraterrestrial. Men don’t look closely at anything, including women. If females knew how easy it was to impress guys, they’d save a fortune on makeup and Botox.

Santa gives me his credit card, and I swipe it through the machine. 10 grand for the house and 10 for me. Not bad for a slow night. I might as well be civil.

Santa has finally succeeded in his mission of boot removal. His plump toes are like two rows of overripe strawberries. I look away and smile politely. “What would you like to talk about?”

I hope he doesn’t want me to sit in his lap. It would be just like an ersatz Santa to have a lap fixation. But this guy doesn’t seem to be interested in sex at all. He’s into conversation, which strikes me as the ultimate kink.

Santa fixes me with an earnest expression. “I’d like to know what you think about Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature. If you don’t mind.”

“Reason is slave to passion.” I watch as Santa unbuttons his shirt. “Ethics are based on sentiment, rather than rational behavior.”

Santa’s eyes meet mine, and I shiver involuntarily. “Who is your favorite existentialist philosopher?” he whispers.

“That’s hard to gauge. Those 20th century European thinkers were a rather dull lot.” I help Santa disengage one of his chubby arms from a sleeve. “I do have a strong fondness for Camus, however. Reading “The Stranger” had a profound impact on my adolescence.”

“Oh God, me too!” Santa’s face is ecstatic, enraptured. “I never could understand why Meursault killed that man. It seemed so random.” 

“He just wanted to feel something.” I glance at the clock. Twenty more minutes until the end of my shift. I’ll head home, input the evening’s session data to the home computer, and catch a few hours of well-earned rest.

Santa is now completely shirtless. His corpulent body shudders for a moment, then goes still. “This is the best conversation I’ve had in a long time. Thank you.” He rises from his chair and throws his arms around me. 

Santa’s embrace feels warm, like I’m an old friend he’s not sure he’ll ever see again. I don’t understand why he’s so grateful, since our dialogue only lasted a few minutes. I am surprised by the authenticity of his gesture, and my own willingness to submit to it. For 20 grand, Santa has earned a hug. Perhaps I need one, as well.

Without another word, Santa pulls his arms back into his shirt and slides both feet inside his boots. He fumbles with the shoelaces until they come together. 

I can’t imagine why Santa wanted to converse while shirt-less and shoe-less. In my temporary line of work, it’s best not to ask too many personal questions. My role is to observe and take notes.

“I’ll be going now. Thanks again.” Santa strolls towards the door, then pauses to give me a final look. “You’re so SMART.” 

Santa wanders across the parking lot towards a 1998 Honda Accord. It’s a particularly hideous shade of slate-gray, half-covered in rust. Someone has painted a reindeer on it. He yanks the door open, gives me a cheery wave, and drives off in a cloud of exhaust.

The parking lot is now completely empty. A couple of stray snowflakes skitter across its surface. The absolute silence fills me with a strange sense of peace.

Well, I’ll have a hell of a story to share with the home office tomorrow morning. Hard to believe that a guy would be willing to pay so much money for conversation when sex would have been far cheaper. Especially someone with such a shitty car.

Perhaps sex is overrated. I have long suspected that might be the case. Rapport is much rarer, and therefore more valuable. Like the difference between a piece of costume jewelry and a black diamond. The costume piece might sparkle more, but that doesn’t really mean anything.

My mission on Earth is almost complete. I’ll be home in less than a week. And I’m ten grand richer. It hasn’t been such a bad Christmas after all.

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