With this job, no fears of a layoff
Published: Monday, December 21, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 10:48 p.m.
In Sarasota, Santa Claus works for the U.S. Census.
At least during the week.
On weekends, 62-year-old Mike Linn wears a red wool suit at the Westfield Southgate shopping mall. He looks the part, with a stout frame, pale blue eyes and a full white beard.
And he loves playing Santa.
"It's hours of fun punctuated by moments that cut out your heart," he said. "You know, when kids ask that their parents don't get divorced, things like that."
When there are no children at his station in the mall, Linn makes wooden toys at a workbench. He carves yo-yos out of maple and reindeer out of black walnut.
LINK TO PHOTOS AND VIDEO:
When Terri Lynn Cordes and her kids visited Southgate for photos with Santa, they got a kick out of his woodcarving.
"I think it's great," Cordes said. "It adds authenticity, definitely."
Linn grew up in Indiana. Yes, he visited Santa Claus as a child.
"In Indianapolis, the primo Santa, you rode a train to see him," he said. "That was cool."
Later, Linn moved to Chicago, working for a company that produced catalytic converters. He was also a Baptist youth minister for a while.
When his hair and beard turned white, more than a decade ago, he started playing Santa during the Christmas holidays. He kept going after he and his wife Janet moved to Florida.
Linn used to work for Wellcraft, until the boat company closed its Manatee County plant last year. He was unemployed until he landed a job as a recruiting coordinator with the 2010 census.
Last Christmas, playing Santa helped pay the bills.
"It's good money," Linn said. "A natural bearded Santa makes a nice amount of money."How much?An experienced Claus make between $100 and $200 an hour.
A wet Christmas
Linn stands 6 feet tall and weighs 250 pounds. He isn't a fat Santa, but he does have a little curve to his belly.
He isn't a loud Santa, either. With children, especially, he goes easy on the ho-ho-hos.
"I use a very quiet voice," Linn explained, "because then they have to pay attention to hear me."
He never promises any gift to any child, unless prompted by parents.
Children are unpredictable. Often they cry. Sometimes other things happen and Santa gets wet.
"Pee, poop, vomit," Linn said, laughing. "They slobber on you, they snot on you. It happens."
He starts working as Santa on the day after Thanksgiving. He finishes on Christmas Eve.
In between, he sees hundreds of children. Many of them are contagious, with colds or the flu, but Linn says he has never missed a day of work as Santa.
"I can will myself through the holidays," he says. "I get sick after Christmas almost every year."
Linn doesn't work for the shopping mall. He works for a national company called Cherry Hill Photography.
The home office in New Jersey keeps his stats.
"I'm approaching 80,000 pictures," he said. "30,000 of them are crying children. I don't take it personally."
Linn's pet peeve is with parents who get upset when their children start to cry.
"There are more difficult parents," he said, "than difficult kids."
He tries to joke with some of the moms and dads. If children ask for Santa's phone number, Linn reels off a 25-digit number no one could possibly remember.
"Then I tell them to ask for Extension 1."
Linn says he doesn't know what he'll do when his census jobs ends next year.
Maybe he'll retire. Maybe he'll find another job. Maybe he'll carve more toys to sell on his Web site, santathetoymaker.com.
Linn does know, however, what he'll be doing on weekends next December.
"I love it," he said. "I love being Santa."
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