Last March Santa looked forlorn strapped to the fifth floor balcony of an apartment building near the Canisius College Metro station. His cherry red suit was faded to a soft tea rose pink. His pink cheeks had bleached to vampire whiteness. Traffic soot embedded into his beard, hair, and the rim of fluffy white on his hat gave them an ultra-real dimensionality that shouldn’t be possible on his round plastic body. Now a year later, Santa still rigidly dangles that hundred or more feet off the ground. But between last March and today he had his weeks of glory, and the true brilliance of the apartment owner shined into the December nights.
We assumed that Balcony Santa was collateral damage in someone’s busy life. You know what I mean – wreaths that were perky in December but flap forlornly in February’s gusts, the spindly Christmas tree carcass that appears on the curb in April, and one of my favorites – Rudolph standing in an unkempt front garden with late summer purple coneflowers bobbing around him. We figured Santa was just like those forgotten remnants of Christmas spirit. But this winter, on a fine December evening we were hurtling down the Scajaquada Expressway and there he was shining far above the road. Santa was lit and glowing: his red suit agleam, his dark eyes like holes in his dreadfully cheery winter-white face. He hovered, one arm in the air raised to spread a message of Christmas cheer: “Farewell to all, and to all a good night…” He lit up the Christmas season. He glowed through New Year’s Eve. And then he was shut off.
You have to figure that Santa is tied onto that balcony railing pretty firmly. Even permanently. He hasn’t sagged. He doesn’t move in the 50 or 60 mile an hour winds that howl through the city. And when I think about the annual effort of untangling lights, hanging lights, prying lights down, stowing lights – I wonder if Santa’s owner isn’t much smarter than me. Sure, a person would have to have selective vision, to be able to look past Santa on say, the Fourth of July, but I bet that is easier than going hypothermic for the Christmas spirit every year. Balcony Santa isn’t forgotten. He is simply waiting in his aerie. And maybe, he is keeping an eye out – checking off the naughty and the nice.