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A yuletide triple threat

When they prepare my tombstone -- not anytime soon, I hope -- it should point out that I was a triple threat during Christmas season.

In the past few days, I have been asked to play Ebenezer Scrooge, Santa Claus and the author of the classic editorial, "Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus."

None of these gigs will earn me a dime, but they're ego boosters for a guy whose principal Yuletide duties have consisted of putting up Christmas decorations, hauling away mounds of crumpled wrapping paper and paying off January's credit card statements -- Yikes!

This is the second year that Candy Randall, head elf for Rock Hill's ChristmasVille, persuaded me to utter a few mean-spirited lines as Dickens' memorable character during the festival's opening ceremonies.

"But no one could so convincingly do Scrooge," Candy pleaded when I tried to demur, saying a fresher face might be needed. How could I say no?

The old skinflint

After all, I reasoned, since I in no way resembled that crotchety old skinflint in "A Christmas Carol," the rave reviews that followed my inaugural portrayal clearly were testimony to my skills as a thespian.

(Did I mention that Tiny Tim kicked me in the shin? He's not as sweet and innocent as the movies lead you to believe.)

Santa, I have been playing for several years for a former employer. I won't mention the company in case some of the bairns who sit on Santa's knee also read The Herald, but it was a local newspaper.

I don't recall when I inherited the part for the annual Christmas party for employees' children, but the guy I replaced lost his zeal for the job the year that a Santa suit they rented from a Charlotte costume company arrived without trousers.

Thanks to Dennis Stuber, a banker friend of mine who had connections at the North Pole, we were able to find Santa pants at the last minute, but the poor chap was so unnerved by the thought of playing Old St. Nick in his BVDs that he took to drink -- like the Macy's Parade Santa who gets the boot in "Miracle on 34th Street."

Compared to Scrooge, the Santa role is a cinch. The only line you have to remember is "Ho, Ho, Ho!"

I admit that I get a kick out of seeing the little kiddies' faces light up when I call their name and hand them a present.

Mostly, this goes without a hitch. One year, however, one of the little darlings told her mother that the guy in the red suit wasn't nearly fat enough to be Santa. The next year I stuffed a bigger pillow inside the suit. For some reason, however, I've noticed the costume has gotten snugger each year since. I blame it on the dry cleaner.

An age limit

There is an age limit for the kids to attend the party, but there have been times when I suspected a ringer. I didn't have the heart to tell the mother, but one year when Santa handed her son a new football, he whispered, "I'd rather get a carton of Marlboros."

Playing Frank Church, editorial writer for The New York Sun, is my latest acting assignment. Sandie Fenton, outgoing president of the York County Master Gardeners, called last week and asked if I would read his celebrated response to little Virginia O'Hanlon at the group's annual Christmas party.

She was most persuasive. "The person I had asked to do it has a conflict, and you were the unanimous choice to replace him," she said.

I told her it was hard to resist such flattery. That was before I saw the e-mail she sent out: "Does anyone know someone who might be good for playing the part of a newspaper editor who's been dead for 100 years?"

I mentioned to Herald columnist Andrew Dys that I would consider my Christmas acting resume complete if someone would ask me to play one of the Three Wise Men.

"Boy, would that be an example of bad casting!," he said.

Merry Christmas to you, too, Buster.