On Santa’s Lap, Anywhere

On Saturday I went to the nearest Ace Hardware store, on Parsons Avenue, to buy some light bulbs for the kitchen.  As I was checking out with the cashier, I looked over and noticed to my surprise that the store had a Santa sitting over to one side, in a pretty good approximation of the North Pole, waiting patiently for some squalling child to sit on his lap and tell him what was on their Christmas list.  Santa politely said hello, and I wished him Merry Christmas.

00020405I’m not sure that people normally associate an Ace Hardware store with the possibility of a visit with Santa, but I think this is significant news to report to the families in the Columbus area who have young children.  Folks, it looks like you can go to the Ace on a Saturday and get right in to see the Big Fella!  This is important information, because taking the kids to see Santa is an annual tradition in many families, and frequently is planned with the precision of a military operation.  Where to go and when — so as to avoid waiting in line for hours with some squirming, fidgety kid who is eventually going to have to go to the bathroom — is a key part of the planning exercise.

Maybe I’m wrong in my recollection, but I don’t think the location of the Santa visit would have bothered me one bit.  Whether in a gaily decorated old-line department store or in the area next to the hardware store aisle where they sell hatchets, I just wanted to make sure that Santa knew what I wanted most — and it wasn’t world peace.  So long as you accepted that the guy you were talking to was one of Santa’s agents, ready to convey your intense desire for a Rock ’em, Sock ’em robot game to the Jolly Old Elf himself, the location of the visit with the ersatz Santa was irrelevant.

As parents, of course, the key thing about the visit is to get the adorable picture of your kid sitting on Santa’s lap.  And when you think about it, you don’t really care where the picture is taken, either.  Consider the above dim, horribly underexposed photo of Richard and his cousin Joe, dressed in their holiday finest, sitting slack-jawed on the lap of some unknown guy in an area with a Christmas tree, white cotton snow, and, improbably, penguins.  (Improbably, because everyone knows that Santa’s workshop is at the North Pole, whereas penguins are native to the South Pole.)  Do we now have any recollection of where this picture was taken?  Nope!

For all I can remember, it might have been the Ace Hardware store.

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Polar Penguin Prudes

In 1910, on an ill-fated expedition to the South Pole, a British biologist observed the activities of adelie penguins.  He was shocked by what he viewed as depraved acts by the penguins — so much so that he recorded his observations in Greek. His later paper on the topic was so disturbing to the pre-World War II sensibilities of the British scientific community that it was never published.

The paper has been discovered in the files of the British Natural History Museum and published in the journal Polar Record.  The biologist, Dr. George Murray Levick, recorded incidents of sexual coercion, physical and sexual abuse of penguin chicks, non-procreative sex, and apparent homosexual liaisons among the penguins — but what he found most “depraved” was attempts by male penguins to mate with dead females.  (According to modern biologists, the latter conduct is explained by the fact that female adelie penguins indicate their readiness for sex by assuming a certain position, and if a dead female’s body happens to assume that same position, the male penguins have a sexual reaction and just can’t help themselves.)

It’s hard to imagine that a biologist would be morally troubled by the conduct of birds or animals, but the extreme sexual inhibitions of Victorian and Edwardian England were pervasive.  Anyone who has lived with dogs knows that you can’t assign human sensibilities to animals that think nothing of sniffing the rear ends of fellow pooches, eating rabbit droppings for a snack, or dry-humping a visitor’s leg.  You would think that penguins would be given a special break in view of the fact that they live on barren rocks in frozen climates without much else to occupy their thoughts.  After all, you can only do so much swimming or eat so many fish.