Updated: December 18, 2012 7:12AM
I was in college. I had no money. Christmas is always tough when you’ve got no money and you have to get gifts. So I was at my Uncle Paul’s house. (My Uncle Paul, by the way, was the original “Cheeseburger Cheeseburger” guy. He was partners with my dad at a place called Olympia Lunch in Logan Square. My brother John was imitating both of them in the “Saturday Night Live” sketch.) Uncle Paul says to me, “You should put an ad in the paper to be Santa Claus: ‘Santa Claus will come to your house on Christmas Eve. $15.’ You’re an actor, you can get the costume from school.”
I thought, “Wow, OK.” I was playing Santa Claus at the Christmas concert at the College of DuPage, they were putting makeup on me, building a beard and the costume department was making the costume from scratch. So I put the ad in the paper; within three days, my Christmas Eve was booked. And everyone sent payment in advance, so I had enough money for Christmas.
One problem: I had a suspended driver’s license. So Christmas Eve rolls around and I’m driving down President Street in Wheaton. I was a bit of a juvenile delinquent in town and the cops knew my car. They always pulled me over. I mean, I used to deliver pizzas and get pulled over two, three times a week. I was like, “Guys, it’s pizza. I’m going to get fired. Leave me alone.” Anyway, twenty minutes into the ride that Christmas Eve, I get pulled over in full Santa regalia. They pull me out of the car, put me up against the car, search me, search SANTA CLAUS, for crying out loud, like I’m Brody or Abu Nazir on Homeland. Cars are driving by and stopping, little kids are screaming at their moms, “Santa Claus is getting arrested!” They’re crying, thinking that if I’m in jail, they’re not going to get gifts. The cops take me down to the police station. I’m sitting in the drunk tank with two real drunks and me in a Santa outfit. These guys start up with me and I just stand up and say, “Shut up or you’ll get no presents!”
I call up my buddy Tom Laporte and say, “Tom, I need an elf to drive the sleigh.” He bails me out, we get in the car, and we hit ten houses that night. At every house I go to, they love me. And they’re already booking me for the next year. The grandfather’s giving me a tip, the father’s giving me a bottle of Canadian Club, they’re pouring whisky down my throat … thank god I had Frostbite the Elf to drive!
By the last stop, I enter the house with a drunk and jolly “HO HO HO, MERRY CHRISTMAS,” and everybody in the house (there must have been 15 people) is smiling, cheering and applauding. I say, “What’s red and green and goes like this?” and I make a swirling gesture with my hand. “A frog in a blender!” All the kids’ faces fell.
I didn’t get a tip, I didn’t get any more whisky, and I didn’t get booked for the next year. At that point, I really did belong in the drunk tank with the other two creeps. But the way I like to remember that night, except for that one family, all the kids this Christmas Eve get to see the twinkle in Santa’s eye. And all the policemen in Wheaton got coal in their stocking.
Jim Belushi donated his fee for writing this column to Chilmark Community Church.