Merry Christmas and a hearty HO HO HO to you.
Just a weekend or so ago I was privy to seeing Santas in places I’d never seen them before as SantaCon met in packs about our fair town to drink strong concoctions from bottles of Pine Sol, whiskey dripping from their long white beards and down the front of their red frocks. I commingled with that strange red and white furry frill coat brigade who revel in the weird and are hell bent on spreading holiday spirit to every passerby.
There is nothing like hundreds of Santas walking along the sidewalks to get the car horns honking.
From all over the City Santas arrived at their undisclosed location by word of mouth, Tweets and Laughing Squid, Mr. Beale’s most excellent online resource. My peculiar jolly contingent met at Civic Center in the vomiting frozen mist amongst those sterile leafless trees. That day, Santa was jolly and sultry, swarthy, sexy and otherwise altered or soon to be, as we milled about all wet and festive, waiting for critical mass and once attained, our pod began moving against the falling rain with Santas dancing to “Thriller” and Santas of a huge multitude of candy cane stripes and sizes, several green Elves, the occasional random reindeer with jingle bells on her antlers and otherwise oddly Holiday adorned Santas to make our way up into Polk Gulch where the real party started.
When you have that many Santas in one place, you are a force to be reckoned with.
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen”
Bars filled up with the red and white at 1:00 in the afternoon, much to the delight of bartenders. Santas chanted and waved at the befuddled folks in cars who honked their horns as they passed. We offered cigarettes and drinks to homeless Santas.
Santas prowling and howling, lustily guffawing in grand Santa packs around San Francisco on this most festive of holidays and it was a jolly old scene.
The rain eventually abated and at one point as I stood in Polk Gulch, as far as I could see down the hill, steaming Santas smoked and drank in the sun as their heavy red coats evaporated the last hour of rainfall. Neither rain nor beer no snow…
Is that a CANDY CANE in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? What does this have to do with Burning Man?
Nothing, although our fine City of San Francisco is a Petri dish rife with alternatives to the alternative, and Santarchy is but one expression of what transpires when so many creative spirits run in the same circles and cross pollinate in this City, this tolerance metropolis at the western most edge of the American experiment. Burning Man is but an offshoot of this place and it is one of many.
Sure, you can have a “traditional” Christmas, what with your turkey loaf in the oven for 160 minutes while you chain smoke and smash cranberries into a mush for fermentation with your bare feet. You can turn on the Christmas lights, finish off your 750 of bourbon and perform the yearly cleaning of all your guns all while watching your 5 hour loop of Rankin Bass analog video tapes of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town and The Year Without a Santa Claus (just for the Heat Miser song) but really, when you can be with Santa in the flesh, shouldn’t you take that chance?
I remember back in the early nineties sitting at a dark bar in the Tenderloin when outside there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bar stool to see what was the matter. Then, to my wondering eye appeared, a throng of drunk Santas with snowy white beards.
There were hundreds of them, drinking and toasting and staggering to the delight of some and the consternation of others. They were disheveled and screaming in unison, “Ho, f**king, HO!”
They waddled and drank out of brown paper bags. They meandered and moved along as a red slick on a river of chaos, planting seeds of Santa Gone Wild in the minds of Mickey Mouse pilgrims, then they disappeared into Macy’s, all HUNDREDS of them, and at the time I just laughed, knowing I was an amateur. These Santas were PROS.
Back then, soon thereafter I saw the Charlie Manson Levis enhancement of that billboard at the curve of 101 when you passed the 5th street exit. I remember the “AM I DEAD YET” Camel neon billboard and the “Where Do you want to go Today” realignment of the BG Crusade billboard right off the Bay Bridge, also on 101 where the Bill Board Liberation Front may or may not have moved the Microserf cursor finger over one finger so that it was shooting a bird heavenward and I thought, “Who Does This?”
San Francisco is the birthplace of many things, and for our generation it has spawned situational contra, absurdist, disorganized examples of insanity including fire breathing monster robots from the Survival Research Labs and Seemen, a culture of the prank in the Cacophony Society, the Brides of March, Saint Stupid’s Day, the Power Tool Races at Ace and Dr Hal at the Odeon to name a few. I was there when SRL was clawing hanging RVs to death beneath 101 just before the Dot Com boom beacon called carpetbaggers from all over to disenfranchise artists from sincere Live Work Lofts and send them to the East Bay and parts beyond. Years later it seems that we have come back from that great diaspora and there is more than enough ART to go around everywhere. When you look at the fertile soil all over the Bay Area you see an abundance of ART communities like the Crucible and American Steel among others.
On this day of Gifting, it is good to remember that the spirit of our culture here is one of the greatest gifts of all, and in most part it is all free. You are Santa. We are all Santa. Hello Santa.
Last weekend our merry Santarchy lurched through the ‘Loin at the behest of Santa’s ever present blaring drunken bullhorn and we moved down City towards the epicenter of all things commercial and shiny – Union Square. Silver and Gold, but Santa wasn’t buying and our swarthy pack congealed into a large patch of red, coagulating the slowly moving throng of bewildered shoppers who were stirred awake from their collective bargain hunting by copious chants of “HO HO HO” that were answered by other Santas across the square with a hearty reply of “HO HO HO”.
Friendly SFPD handed out tickets for open containers, but you could tell they welcomed the break from the boredom of babysitting shoppers. Frank Chu and his 12 Galaxies was there and we were spontaneously met by more random Santa squadrons from every corner of the City who perused street vendor wares, invaded more bars, and met up with the resplendent SPS (Santa’s Protective Service aka Sugar Plum Service).
Santas appropriated reserved tables at Irish bars. They flirted, belched and otherwise spread the holiday cheer. A black and white Ice Queen appeared adding to the festive rush of eye candy.
Remember, Santa is the reason for the season.
“His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry”
After more drinking, tipping and general carousing, our groups moved up to the Union Square Christmas tree then down the street past the Green Door to the Gate at Grant and into Chinatown. Santa needed a drink.
I’ve seen flash mobs and Finch Mobs and Werepads and Boxshops. I’ve been with the Bunnies at their yearly BunnyJam EGGstravaganza. I’ve flirted with Porn Clowns. I was at Santa’s Black Market when Naughty Santa had a posse that year when the Santas and Clowns settled their long standing feud because a velvet Klown painting was presented and both groups united against the Bunny menace. I’ve seen the Zombies barhopping and Justin Herman Pillow Fights. I’ve been at the Great Highway under the cover of night, just departed from the Doggie Head with Christmas trees in tow as hundreds united to cross that border after a slow moving SFPD car just passed with his lights slowing flashing announcing absurdly:
“There will be no burning of Christmas trees on the beach this year…”
then as we ran across the highway and down the dunes to the beach and tossed our trees into a pile that grew and grew in moments and was lit with flares, a triumphant cheer arose from that Post Yule Burn while all the authorities could do once they found us by our glow was watch until it burned down and the tides carried it all away.
There are roots to San Francisco’s culture jamming mentality and they point to a post punk, Discordia and Situationist situation of Suicide Fight Club Clubbing. This is a fertile soil of Temporary Autonomy and Pirate Utopias that appears, astounds, then disappears like Frosty the Snowman, man. There is no structure to chaos and the three fisted conspiracies behind every new idea dictates that commercial interests will immediately co-opt our ideas but that THEY have to wait until new ideas come from our collective take on a world that has no idea how dysfunctional it is and how perfectly sane the lunatics are.
He sees you when you’re sleeping.
That last weekend ago, down the block from the Grant Gate, our Santa pack moved in large succession into the Buddha Bar where we once again overwhelmed another bartender and made her feel the holiday spirit as we tipped generously and drank to keep Santa warm. Santa was all over Chinatown, perusing merchandise, heartily laughing on street corners, bringing wonder and tears to the eyes of so many children. Then after many more rounds of drinks, Santa made his way into North Beach to the old Condor Club where gyrating Santas danced the night away. Other contingents met up in the Haight, the Castro, the Mission, and all over the town Santa spread his and her holiday spirits.
The Bay Area is still a place where all the energies of every intelligent creative castoff can commingle into something new and vibrant. This is a place where odd Chickens have taken up roost, where there are so many absurd realities to throw you off any TV induced hypnotic swagger that staying stupid and oblivious is a chore. This is a place where you can expect the culture of commodification to be jammed daily and if you try to avoid the messages, fnord to you. We are a bunch of people who are only intolerant of intolerance and who are coming together always to create something new, something ideal, and something that others will eventually emulate.
Santa says, the most precious gift you can give is who you are, so make that the only gift that matters.
So when you feel that little Kris Kringle Tingle remember, You are Santa. We are all Santa. Santa lives within us and Santa likes strong cocktails in this most WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR.
… and don’t be afraid to sit on his lap for only the JOLLY survive.
“But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
- quotes from “A Visit from St. Nicholas” anon 1823.
- all photos Moze unless otherwise noted
and an excellent blog at http://santaslittlesecretservice.org/2009/12/23/operation-yule-storm/