"I, um, just saw, I don't know, like 20 or 30 wet Santas running, skipping down the block, chanting and, um, howling," she says without taking a breath. "They looked drunk, kind of dodgy. Your kind of people. For your column or something. C'mon! We're going to miss them. They're coming this way. You can ask them what the hell is going on."
I glance at the derisive little cursor blinking on my otherwise blank computer screen, then peer out the window into the torrential downpour.
"It's the Santa Stampede," I explain, hoping an explanation will be enough. "You know, Santarchy: mischievous, barhopping Santas. Nice guys. They do it every year."
Her perfectly black eyebrows rise in two perfect crescent moons, indicating wonder just as they did when she was a kid; then they plummet sharply toward the bridge of her nose, gathering in a storm there. She crosses her arms.
"Really!" I say, flinging open a closet door, clawing through wigs and crinolines and patched overalls and stupid hats and gingham short pants to find a ratty Mrs. Claus dress and a well-worn Santa hat. "Christmas mayhem. Every year. There's absolutely no shortage of deranged Santas in this town, believe you me."
My friend shrugs, her eyebrows falling back into their natural orbit, before she flounces down the hall to make tea.
It's wintertime at Incredibly Strange Wrestling, and a thick, white layer of corn tortillas already blankets the main ring. The tempest shows no signs of weakening; volley after volley of tortillas flies through the air, obscuring my view of the turbulent crowd below. The scrappy young punk leaning over the balcony at my side deftly dodges a tortilla whizzing at his head. "Nothing like a good tortilla storm around the holidays," he says, scooping up the once-edible projectile and flicking it back into the melee. Someone at my right rips open a package of 50 and whips them through the air like a maniacal shot-put champion while humming "White Christmas" between his clenched teeth. An unmistakable, plodding variation of the seasonal "Ho! Ho! Ho!" rises like a soccer hooligan's declaration from one corner of the floor below, and, as whole tortillas give way to handfuls of crumbled corn flotsam, I can make out its source: a writhing, wrestling knot of a dozen drunk Santas. The ISW crowd doesn't care or doesn't notice; the only interest lies in the holy trinity of tortillas, punk rock, and masked wrestling.
Still, this being the holidays, ISW promoter Audra Angeli-Morse thought it appropriate to take a moment to reflect on the true spirit of the season by offering a re-enactment of the Nativity scene prior to the regularly scheduled bloodshed. The Blessed Virgin Mary, played by the somewhat-less-than-virginal drag superstar Kennedy, arrives onstage in a halo and gold lamé hot pants that reveal just a hint of ass crack. She circles the large birthday cake at center stage, wielding a turkey baster, and taps its top layer three times. After a hard-rock serenade, out pops Baby Jesus, quite a manly specimen, really, with long chestnut tresses and thick facial hair. Obviously pleased with her offspring, Kennedy cuddles and fondles the Son of God until she is interrupted by the Three Wise Men bearing gifts: myrrh, otherwise known as anointing oil, or, in this case, K-Y jelly, carried by the sinister Flameus Caesar, disguised as a wise man; frankincense, carried by a giant lion in a turban; and bling bling, better known as gold, draped around the neck of El Pollo Diablo, a 2-ton chicken. While I'm fairly sure the biblical tale does not include the Blessed Virgin being sodomized by a giant chicken or Baby Jesus being beaten senseless by a homosexual emperor and his big pet pussy, I've never taken catechism, so I couldn't swear to it.
What I do know is a "super-plancha" swan dive off the balcony into the ring about 10 feet below has got to hurt, and that's exactly what Mexico's Frankie "Destruction" Dee does during his grudge match against Libido Gigante, a formidable wrestler who trained in Mexico with the world-renowned Ultimo Dragon. Of course, this move means nothing to the Santas in the crowd; they are here for one reason and one reason only -- to see the big black Santo Claus (former WWF wrestler Kamala II, in tighty-whities and Santa garb) and his Crackhead Elf take on 69 Degrees, an insipid boy-band tag team that launches into song before entering the ring.
It's obvious from the start that 69 Degrees will be no competition for the Pole's Main Man, especially with the Santas in the crowd shouting, "Ho! Ho! Ho!," but the big surprise of the match is Crackhead Elf. A fierce little ball of homicidal energy in green short pants, CE is speedy and relentless. The way he leaps off the top rope, the way he rabbit-kicks his opponent and rides around on Santo's shoulders -- he reminds me of someone. I think I love him.
I dress in elf garb for the Naughty Santas' Black Market, just on the off chance other elves might be similarly lured. Under the auspices of Hernan and Brynne Cortez, SomArts has been transformed into less a winter wonderland than a surrealist toy shop located somewhere beyond the looking glass. In the main hall, artists peddle their wares -- hand-painted fairy wings, animated jewelry, hats adorned by antennae and fun fur, plush-toy vaginas, insuperable games, and fantastic apparel -- while self-appointed "toychitects" forage through mounds of decimated playthings, combining their parts into strangely beautiful Frankentoys using just a hot-glue gun and a few shots of peppermint schnapps. While this is an ideal setting for him, Crackhead Elf is nowhere to be seen. I wander into the theater, where Kennedy is fronting the Yuletards, a group of very off-color Christmas carolers, and I am immediately caught on the business end of a candy cane.
"We've lost our elf," says the spritely Santa-girl on the other end of my favorite peppermint confection. "Will you help us?" I glance around at the bleary-eyed Santas in her company and think better of it. It's a well-known fact among holiday miscreants that the Naughty Santas have a long-running feud with the Porn Clown Posse, and I don't want to be stuck in the middle. Sure enough, in a matter of minutes, there is a great disturbance. Lascivious clowns wearing adult undergarments and strap-on dildos descend on the Santas, shouting invectives about subnormal Santa intelligence while wielding whips and bottles of cheap clown booze. The Santas fight back. There's a smackdown in the kiddie pool. Baby bottles and grapes go flying. Greasepaint and fake white beards are everywhere. It's revolting and depressing, and, just when I think I can't take it anymore, something happens. The Santas offer the Porn Clowns a peace offering -- a black velvet clown portrait -- and the age-old rivals agree to a truce, promising from here forward to turn their aggressions to the more constructive task of slaughtering Easter Bunnies. It's a Christmas miracle. It warms the cockles of my heart (in much the way that certain appendages are warmed, whenever a Porn Clown pees in his diaper, just because he can). As peace descends over the Black Market, a troupe of living tulips gathers onstage for the Cloud Factory Design Collective's otherworldly fashion show.
"It's all about cha-cha heels," says Leather Santa, dragging his sinewy, bare-chested elf on a leash.
Of course, as with all events produced by Marc Huestis, there is much, much more to "A John Waters' X-Mas" than just cha-cha heels. There's the perverse Christmas montage that includes a film clip of Karen Carpenter, with her sunken eyes and spindly arms, baking cookies; and The Poseidon Adventure's Carol Lynley reciting "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" in a satin dress that proves, once and for all, women over 50 can still go braless; and Tom Amianno's inexplicable exclamation of the word "cunt" from the stage; and Waters' own fuzzy hope that a roving pack of holiday reprobates will slip ragged, secondhand clothing onto the mannequins at Neiman Marcus. But in the end, Leather Santa is absolutely correct: It's all about the cha-cha heels. While my Washington pal finds it very difficult to believe, people in San Francisco are willing to go to great lengths, and undeniable lows, for the title of "Miss Cha-Cha Heels 2003."
This year, for example, Putanesca performs "Feliz Navidad" as Charo; Pippi Lovestocking recites a lovely little holiday limerick and paints a Christmas wreath around her bare ass; Johnny Kat butt-syncs a Christmas carol executed entirely in farts; and this year's winner, Precious Moments, arrives onstage absolutely nude, with his "rod and tackle" squeezed between and behind his legs, jumping rope while singing "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful" in Latin. It's a crowd-pleaser, but my holiday hopes are dashed. Thousands of Christmas freaks and not a Crackhead Elf in the bunch.
At the end of a cold, lonely walk home, I catch a sudden flash of green at the mouth of the alley near my house. Quickly turning the corner, I stumble across the words "So many elves, so little time" written in green spray paint near a puddle of urine. There is no elf to be found, but somehow it doesn't matter anymore. When I open my front door, hearing my childhood friend scrambling up the back stairs, I have to think to myself, What a wonderful world.