What you're not seeing on the holiday is all that’s real. I met the real Santa Claus. And here's what he brought home with him.
In 1996, I was hanging out at New York's 92nd Street Y performing a humor-advice interview with Arsenio Hall. We were chatting about age when the camera guy stopped me and asked, “Are you ready to meet Santa Claus?”
I was. He had his big red sleigh in front of the museum and was waiting for me outside. Just a few weeks before, I had been asked to be on Hall’s “Gimme Santa” TV special (and he’d been to see me on the “Tonight Show”). So I went.
But how’d he sound?
“He was so soft and breathy and whispery,” I remember the director saying, “and really handsome — in a young Santa way.” He had this sort of baby-teeth stuff that just didn’t sound like Santa.
Oh, well, I said, have him do something funny for me. So he told a story about his trip to the North Pole.
“The guy there is a celebrity with 400 to 500 elves waiting outside to see him,” he said. “He had to keep walking, and everybody was calling him Santa Claus! When the hook came up and he saw what I was wearing, he said, ‘Strom! That is me!’ He looked real goofy, and he was even wearing my hair."
“Then, he gave me a present,” I said. “We wrapped everything up and he went off and hugged his wife.”
“You got a present?”
Yeah. His name was Strom and he came from Baltimore. “We weren’t sure about you,” Strom said. “But we saw what you did and said, ‘Hey, come with us.’”
We drove to the General Thereford house in Baltimore — a lovely Georgian-style mansion, built in 1860 — and went upstairs.
“You talk a lot, Strom,” I said. “I have to stop. The fabric is a little too cozy.”
“Not at all,” he said. “This is actually a nice place for a man to be.”
I was so surprised — I thought Baltimore was a little rough for a white guy — that I jumped up. “You know, I grew up in a nice home in a nice neighborhood,” I said. “The President of the United States is from Baltimore. Your uncle’s on Broadway.”
“My grandma’s a cabaret singer,” he said. “A lot of the places we go, all the good restaurants in town, are owned by Italians.”
“Really?” I asked. “Did you know that?”
I thought about it. “Do you know where I get my gifts?”
“Elves,” he said. “They’re for your children and your sister.”
“Oh,” I said. “A lot of nice things.”
“Yeah. And you give to the sick and to the poor and the handicapped.”
He got up and walked back downstairs. “They love this place,” he said. “And they want things for their children and grandkids.”
“Thank you, Strom,” I said. “I know.”
I love the story of the real Santa Claus, too, but I was too terrified to tell him.
As the story goes, when my mother and I went to the Mount Vernon Place Marketplace that year to look at holiday lights and decorations, I noticed a Santa Claus on the wall and asked him if he knew who I was. He knew, he said. He wished I was home.
“Would you be able to bring something with me?” I asked.
“I couldn’t because I have a lot of elves,” he said. “I would give you money — if you’re around.”
My dad was disappointed that I didn’t get into the story the way we’d been told it should have been told. He thought the show was about Christmas and the season, and I was asked to present the gift at the end.
So, we never met the real