Two nights ago I made an honest attempt to catch Clint Eastwood's latest film, "Invictus", at the Regal Cinemas in the Poughkeepsie Galleria Mall. Running about 15 minutes late (not bad for "Joan Standard Time"), I arrived at the theater to find a long ticket line standing between me and the movie. Deciding that I should see this particular story from the beginning, I aborted my original plan and took a stroll around the mall. After about ten minutes of dodging kiosk salesmen and stray children, I started to head back to my car and towards a glass of wine at one of my favorite restaurants.
Before leaving the mall, I caught sight of a poster that read "Paws and Claus. Pet portraits with Santa. Mondays 6-9". Housebound by the recent cold snap, Ms. Grace was in need of an outing and a trip to the mall seemed just the ticket. I'd bring my Heidi Klum back the next night for her very own photo shoot. Now, back to that cabernet.
We arrived at the mall at about 8:15 on Monday and jogged through the parking lot to the mall entrance. The photos were being taken at the opposite end of the building, so we made our way through the waves of holiday shoppers, only to find that Santa had finished his shift at 8:00. "I'm sorry- there was a typo on the advertisement. You can bring her back tomorrow morning, if you'd like. We could fit her in before it gets too busy with the kids." Thanking the very nice young woman behind the counter, I knew that I would not be back the next day. I had brought my own camera, so I figured I'd grab a few shots of Grace amid the holiday decorations while she socialized with the shoppers. Our mission would be accomplished.
We got about twenty feet away from the photo studio when we were stopped by a baby-faced security guard who informed me that only certified therapy dogs were allowed in the mall. I explained that we had missed the Santa shoot and that we had to walk back through the building to the car. With sheepish authority, he advised me to avoid the food court. "We had an incident today with a small dog-someone had an allergic reaction." I thought to myself that said reaction was more than likely due to MSG infested Chinese takeout, but I held my tongue and politely went on my way.
At the risk of sounding like yet another overly infatuated parent, I can't get over the effect my dog has on people. Whether it was her goofy grin or the showgirl swish of her hindquarters, she captured the attention of countless passers-by. Undoubtedly, a dog out doing her holiday shopping might prompt a second glance, but the hugs and kisses bestowed upon Gracie as she continued along her promenade appeared to be the product of her own brand of magic. I kept my eye out for the next authority figure who would bust us as I allowed Grace her share of the limelight. She was in dog heaven.
We made a quick stop at Petco's treat bar where I filled a bag of mixed biscuits while Gracie cleaned the floor and grabbed a cookie or two out of the bins. A few more petting sessions and a display of tricks for the cashier and we were on our way back home.
Craving a cup of coffee, I turned into Dunkin' Donuts. As I reached onto the floor for my purse, I looked into the store window and saw a familiar character in a red suit. Santa! I hurriedly unzipped my camera case, grabbed Gracie's leash and jumped out of the car just as he was walking out the door. "Santa! May I take a picture of you with my dog?" As calmly as any man capable of delivering millions of presents in one evening while at the helm of eight tiny reindeer, he said, "Why of course."
He handed me his card, which identified him as a "real beard Santa", available for private and corporate parties, holiday parades and Christmas Eve. Apparently a distinction has been made between the St. Nicks who sport their own growth and those who don prosthetic fuzz; this fellow was the jolliest of natural specimens.
After taking some quick shots, Santa asked if I would snap a few on his disposable camera. I obliged as he explained that his stepfather was battling cancer and he was sure that the photo would cheer up his mother. Popping Gracie back in the car, I thanked Santa, wished him well and went inside to grab my coffee. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I smiled as I saw Santa on his cellphone, standing next to his minivan.
Ho, Ho, Ho. Merry Christmas.
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