Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Here Comes Saba Claus

Thanksgiving this year was pleasant and heavily decorated. Pretzel salad made an appearance but hardly anyone dared to eat it. My mom made some people try it, but you could tell they were being polite and disguising their horror. We didn't have as big a crowd as previous years, though many people came in and out throughout the night and several neighbors popped by for dessert and coffee. Nothing untoward happened and the evening felt festive because Christmas exploded on my parents' house. Because of my sister's wedding in two weeks, my mother has decorated the house like never before. It's as if she's trying to break a world record for most decorations in one place. I remember seeing portraits of Queen Elizabeth I where she was so decked out, bedazzled and stuffed into elaborate costuming with jewels, ropes of pearls, high collars, crowns and vests and laced bodices that she no longer looked like a human being under it all. When I first stepped into my parents' house last week, seeing it decorated that way for the first time, I thought of Queen Elizabeth I. That's how the house looks and you know what, I like it. I should take some pictures of it.

So no one acted up. Nothing ridiculous happened. All was well and it was a nice holiday although I now need carbohydrate detox in order to fit into my bridesmaid's dress. I was alarmed at its sudden snugness.

My old world, Jewish grandparents Saba and Savta (grandma and grandpa in Hebrew) came and I hadn't seen them in a while. A lot has been going on with them lately and I believe my grandfather is up to no good here, but more on that in a minute. It was good to catch up with them.

Recently my extremely religious grandfather retired his post as Cantor of the Basura Bat Yam Synagogue. He is in his 80s and was still working over 40 hours a week. He loves to work. The man worked through stomach cancer a few years ago. Now, although he is very old and just had half of his head gouged out from skin cancer, he still wishes to be active. It amazes me how much energy my grandparents have at their age. Compare them to my grandparents in Millpond, who were a couple years younger, and it's really shocking. Up until my other grandfather died in June of 2008, those grandparents had basically spent the past decade in easy chairs watching TV from All My Children to Jeopardy, with the occasional, twice yearly trip to Red Lobster. Saba and Savta are the total opposite of that and are older! Every summer they tour Europe and then go to Israel where they spend two months there visiting relatives.

Since retirement, it's been almost impossible to track down Saba and Savta. I've wanted to go visit them a couple time in the past month but every time I try, they're suddenly out of town. Where were they going, I thought.

"Kentucky," my dad said.

"Kentucky??" I replied.

The next time they were in the Ozarks. Why?

Then all of a sudden my ancient, Orthodox grandparents were on a cruise to the Bahamas. After that, they went on another cruise. Something was up.

"You've been traveling a lot," I mentioned to my grandfather.

Then the story came out.

Last summer a time share company contacted my grandparents. This is a common scam. They offer you a free weekend somewhere and then force you to spend most of it touring timeshares and sitting in on an endless presentation. Afterward, sales people torment you endlessly with hard sell tactics designed to break your spirit and make you buy a timeshare.

But my grandfather is on to them and wants to beat them at their own game. He accepted the first trip and told them he was definitely going to buy a timeshare if only he could find the right location. He wanted to try out some other spots. They sent him on more trips. Then, all of the competing time share companies somehow caught wind of this and also began courting him. Now, every time he gets an offer to go check out some new timeshare, he accepts the free trip, sits through the presentation, which he says is relaxing because he just naps through the whole thing and then tells them he's definitely buying a timeshare somewhere at some point but just can't decide. This must drive the salesmen out of their minds.

"They are thinking they will break me," Saba explained to me on Thanksgiving, "I am not broken."

My grandparents actually had to leave early that evening because they had an early morning flight to New Orleans, where, you guessed it, they are looking at more timeshares that they aren't going to buy. The whole thing seems to have turned into a matter of great pride for my grandfather. He feels he is beating them at their own game, perhaps.

But the timeshare trips aren't the only unusual thing going on with my grandfather.

Not having seen my grandfather for some time due to his excessive travel schedule, I was surprised to see that he had grown an unusually long and bushy white beard. This is not like him. He's always had a beard, but it's always been very tailored and clipped quite short. This new beard is out of control and very suspicious. He also seems to have put on a few pounds and he's normally very slim and small. In addition, with all this new free time he has, he has been missing most afternoons for the and evenings for the past two weeks. On numerous occasions we've tried to call (when we knew they were in town and not off exploring timeshare options) and have found my grandmother at home alone and weirdly evasive.

"Where is Saba?" we ask.

"Oh you know," she will say.

"What is he doing?"

"You know, he is just out doing things," she replies.

Then she admitted that Saba was at the mall. Several times, Saba was at the mall. This is very out of character, as Saba is not a big shopper. He might go to the mall, begrudgingly, once a year if he has to and it's always with Savta. Now he's been at the mall by himself more than once in one week. I mean, he could be taking advantage of some of the holiday savings. He could be Hanukkah shopping. Maybe he's joined one of those mall walking fitness programs for the elderly.

My cousin said it first, and this is particularly notable because my cousin is also devoutly Jewish and also Orthodox, or Conservadox or whatever they're calling it these days.

"Dude," said my cousin, "Saba looks like Santa Claus."

"I mean, I wasn't going to say it, but I thought the same thing," I said.

I decided to confront my grandfather.

"Saba," I asked, "Are you playing Santa Claus at the mall now that you've retired?"

My grandfather looked shocked that I would ask such a thing. Then he laughed wildly and walked off to the bar where he poured himself a shot of this horrible, black Czech liqueur that only he enjoys. I'm serious. This stuff makes Jagermeister look like watery Kool-Aid.

But he didn't deny it!

I can't express what a scandal this would be both within the family and within the strict, gossipy community of petty, nosy old Jewish people that my grandparents are a part of. They live in one of those housing developments for people over 60 that are so common in South Florida. Remember Del Boca Vista on "Seinfield"? That's where my grandparents live, except it's Orthodox and all anyone there does is spy on their neighbors to see if they're breaking some obscure rule in the Talmud and then if they are it's a major scandal and gives the old people something to bitch and moan over for several months.

You have to understand how religious my grandparents are. My grandfather was Jewish clergy for Heaven's sakes. My grandmother has never worn a pair of pants in her entire life. They've never flipped a light switch on the sabbath or eaten non-kosher foods. They don't drive on Saturdays. Before Passover they make a bonfire out of bread in the backyard and when their oldest son married a shiksa with a shiksa kid, their devastation knew no bounds. Christmas is anathema to these people. Even acknowledging its existence seems dirty and wrong to them. I think when they look at a Christmas tree, they need Visine. Once, my grandmother admitted in a muted whisper that she found Christmas trees pretty and I guarantee she went home and flogged herself over it.

So given all this, my grandfather secretly working as the mall Santa Claus would be just as shocking as my grandmother wearing fishnets and a leather mini and strutting her stuff through the streets of Millenium Bay for the 90 year olds on rickety golf carts. If anyone found out, they'd be run out of the neighborhood. The Life Alert circuits would be jammed from all of the octogenarians in their complex having chest pains upon hearing the news.

Still, I think this may be what is going on. I think my grandfather is the Jewish Mall Santa Claus.

Perhaps if they offered him a timeshare at the North Pole...


Jean_Phx said...

LOL - it would be so very funny if this is true.

Heather said...

The scandal! Wow, I have so many questions. First, do you think your grandmother knows if he's working as a mall santa? Could you figure out which mall and show up to catch him in the act? How long was it before your grandparents decided to accept your mother and you as part of their family? You all seem so close now -- I was surprised to hear that they were so upset. (Although it does make sense -- even my Conservative Jewish family was a little upset when my dad married my Catholic mom, I'm sure.)

redb said...

You know what I wonder? I wonder, if you posted pictures of your parents house, how many of your readers who only know you anonymously would actually gasp and say, "I've been in that house!"

Laurie said...

I absolutely LOVE your family. PLEASE take some pics of your parents house for us!

Anonymous said...

I think I just fell in love with your grandfather! What a character! One doesn't have to believe in Christmas, or SANTA, for that matter in order to have a few sly chuckles and make some bucks on the side.

Go Grandpa!


Jan said...

Two weeks to the wedding! Is that boat parade night?

MtnMama said...

Love it! Of course, Santa is totally pagan, so it isn't strictly a religious thing - but I understand that they don't consider it that way.
I'm not Christian, but I'm all over the tree and the lights and the food and the get togethers and the merriment. Just get kinda nauseated by the music, at times. :)

Green said...

Your grandpa is so totally being a Santa Claus at Boca Towne Centre!

That's hilarious.

I confess to always wanting to go to that christmas decoration display at Tradewinds off Sample Road when I lived in C.S. but couldn't bring myself to do something so sacreligious.

Anonymous said...

This is the best thing I've read in ages! What a freakin' awesome story!

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