In the middle of December, I was visited by Kelley, the owner of the condo in which I currently reside. Deciding to make her visit memorable, I took her out for a falafel and we went for a walk down Broadway. Turning the corner from 2nd Avenue on to Broadway, a short walk brought something fascinating into my view: someone dressed as Santa Claus was spreading good cheer through the streets of Nashville. As a photographer, this proved an irresistible opportunity, as it is not everyday that one is able to wander the streets with a passable facsimile of St. Nick. Catching up to the man, I asked him if I could follow him around for a while as he walked around.
“You can come for a little while if you want,” was his response, and so I did.
His effect on the throngs queuing up for the honky-tonks and bars was impressive. People smiled, cheered and reached for high-fives:
As we walked, I got to talking to “Santa.” It turns out his name is James, and his motive for doing this was one of self-preservation. He explained to me that for years he had been a bit of a “humbug” around Christmas, and that he had been sad due to the death of his father a number of years ago and the death of his mother in 2007. After years of being depressed during the holidays, James decided to go out into the world and spread good cheer. He would no longer allow his sadness to control him. He wanted to make the world a better place, in his own way.
As we continued, there seemed to be a few things that were somewhat out of place. For instance, it seemed as if James had a difficult time standing up for himself. At one point during our walk, a man came up to him and started making lewd comments about propositioning him for sex. He got very physical with James, hugging him in a very suggestive fashion. When I saw this, I stared the man in the eye and gestured to my camera. He moved a bit away from James, still carrying on. I continued staring him down, and he walked away. I made a comment to James about how that guy was a “weekend sexual predator” to try and make him feel better, and he just shrugged it off. Another thing that seemed out of place came to my attention when I shared a cigarette with James. Pulling his beard down, I noticed that he was missing a decent number of teeth, but I just shrugged it off. We were in the South, after all.
Aside from the man attempting to proposition him, the rest of the wanderings went well. On several occasions I saw people’s faces light up in child-like glee at the mere sight of Santa, motioning to their friends to say hello. His mere presence seemed to be working as intended: people were genuinely happy:
After a couple more rounds through downtown, we got to talking and James mentioned that he has a girlfriend.
“Do you want to meet her?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“She’s just up the street over this way,” he said.
That last comment seemed kind of strange to me. Why would his girlfriend be just up the street? We walked up the sidewalk on 4th Avenue between Commerce Street and Broadway toward a woman standing in front of one of the parking garages there.
At that moment, the conclusion that I should have come to by putting together the rest of the pieces from before became clear. His girlfriend was standing on a grate that was releasing heated air, and along the wall was the sum of their personal belongings. Santa Claus was homeless.