Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, December 5, 2007
In the holiday tradition of O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi, and other stories of love and sacrifice to provide gifts for those we love, permit me to share my own tender account.
Picture this: Bellingham, Washington—November 1977. I’m the mother of a two-year-old son and wife to a kind husband. I have a Dorothy Hamill haircut. I want to make extra money to buy my husband the mother of all Christmas presents—a Super 8mm movie projector which will compliment the movie camera his parents bought him a couple of years before. It will cost just a little over $100.
I apply to work as a mascot, Frosty The Snowman, for a local drugstore chain. They hire me on the spot. I will work three nights each week from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. My employer briefs me on Frosty’s responsibilities: He walks around the store and greets customers, he hands out candy canes, he never speaks, he poses for pictures as needed, he gets to sit down in the employee lounge for ten minutes out of every hour, and oh, one other thing, Frosty and Santa are to arrive by helicopter in the parking lot on the day after Thanksgiving.
I’ve never flown in a helicopter but my adventurous spirit talks me into giving it a shot, and I arrive at the Bellingham Airport where my employer is waiting with the Frosty suit. It is explained to me that the gigantic snowman head, which feels as though it is made of cast iron, is too large to be placed on my head and actually fit inside the helicopter.
So, for the ride, Frosty’s head will appear in the backseat window facing the crowd. I, in the remainder of the chubby foam rubber, fuzzy white attire complete with black boots, will be sitting next to it. When we arrive in the drugstore parking lot, I will be secretly helped with donning the head, out of the view of young spectators.
Santa, a nice old man who appears to be whacked out on relaxants, sits in the front seat with our pilot. When we land, Santa and I will make our appearances to a roaring crowd of onlookers at our south Bellingham destination.
The helicopter lifts off, and for roughly 90 seconds, it’s fun. Then we head into the storm. The rain and wind are fierce and bat us around like cats playing with a ball on a string. I begin to feel nauseous. I look down and see water below. For a moment, a headline crosses my mind—“Marginally attractive young woman in enormous foam rubber snowman suit found dead in Bellingham Bay.”
We land safely in the parking lot and Frosty’s head is placed over mine. I am wobbly because of the ride and awkwardly trying to handle the huge head, and I’m pretty sure that to some observers it appears Frosty has had a little too much holiday eggnog.
My first days as the snowman are pleasant enough. Some children are frightened or even rude, but most are excited. I learn how to negotiate the freakishly large head and anxiously anticipate my hourly ten-minute break.
Soon, however, a young man who also sells Christmas trees for the store, becomes Frosty on the nights I am off. When I wear the suit after he does, it becomes apparent he rarely bathes or washes his clothes. This particularly tempestuous strain of body odor makes it hard to draw a full breath inside the suit.
I am forced to ask management to have the costume cleaned. They do, but it doesn’t help. A nice lady in cosmetics offers to spray Frosty with perfume. This helps a little.
December winds down and I receive my last paycheck. I triumphantly purchase the movie projector for my kind husband and he is appreciative. One of the first things he does is develop the movies he shot of Frosty and Santa landing in the parking lot. I decide to never, ever work as a mascot again.
Perhaps the most poignant lesson I gain from this experience comes from a customer who pulls me aside one day during Frosty’s appointed rounds. He says into one large earmuff on the monstrous snowman head, “Whatever they’re paying you, it’s not enough.”
I give him a silent thumbs-up.