The Loophole Clause

On the Street With a 12-Step Santa

In reply to a philosopher who claimed that everything in the universe exists first as a thought in the mind of God, Samuel Johnson is alleged to have kicked a stone and said, "I refute him thus!" Santa's druggy refutations—of God, of birth parents, of foster parents, of humiliating childhood narratives, of callous or helpless strangers, and of creaky social systems—are supplanted now by what he calls "acceptance." If the word smacks of resignation, this isn't at all how Santa understands it.

"It's more like passive resistance," he says. "I've got my own interpretation of a higher power and my own interpretation of the Serenity prayer—you know, change the things you can, accept the things you can't change, know the difference." Which is how it is that Santa appears so palpably grounded as he holds his spot in that swollen river of prosperity whose floodplain is Fifth Avenue between 48th Street and FAO Schwarz. Rather than feel, as some do, a welling resentment at the annual influx of holiday "cheer," Santa remarks, "I'm enjoying myself with it. Now that I have my life turned around, it's all about giving back." It's a function of Santa's sincerity that a gorge doesn't rise when a stranger takes note of his observation that "nothing makes me feel better than when I can get a little kid to smile." Improbable as it sounds, this Santa is for real.

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