WHAT WE ATE
Corner Stop Cafe, Lawrenceville
Two baked chicken lunch specials, with green beans and mashed potatoes: $13.98
Sweet tea: $2.11
Editor's note: "Out To Lunch" is a periodic feature that allows readers a chance to learn about the people behind the titles in Gwinnett County through a lunchtime conversation with a member of the GDP staff. The subject picks the place, we pick up the tab and then share the conversations that occur during the meal.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Being Santa, ladies and gentlemen, is not all rosy cheeks, cute pictures and mistletoe. For the good ones, it means equal parts technique and finesse, love and observation.
It means, for Ed Sveum, abandoning the crop of dirty blond hair he's still holding on to in his early 60s.
"I go in usually right around Thanksgiving to get my hair whitened," the 15-year veteran of the Santa game said. "That's pretty much a most-of-the-day process. Several applications of the bleach and the toner to get the color right."
Not that Sveum, who owns and operates a Suwanee ultrasound business by day, needs a ton of help to look like the North Pole's head elf. He keeps some version of a beard year-round, and there's something about his face -- tight, happy eyes, small nose -- that screams Kris Kringle.
He needs the appropriately tiny reading glasses anyway, and we won't talk about the belly.
Picking over a plate of Southern comfort food -- baked chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes hold the gravy -- at a downtown Lawrenceville cafe last week, Sveum waxed about life on the holiday circuit. After spending four years as the Mall of Georgia's official St. Nick, the grandfather of five is now a self-employed Santa for hire.
These days, he bides his time working primarily private parties, day care centers and schools.
Jovial but soft-spoken, he shared a few tricks of the trade:
-- It's physical: Lifting up and holding kids all day can be a bear, especially if you're working the mall, where you can see as many as 30 or 40 lap-sitters an hour.
"I'd be eating good, and I'd still lose five to 10 pounds doing that," Sveum said.
-- Positioning is key: "You want them a little bit sideways so you can talk to them, but you can also turn them pretty easily to get the pictures that the parents want."
-- There are two groups that pull the beard: The babies, who yank anything they can, and the 5- and 6-year-olds that want to make sure it's real.
"They'll give it a good strong tug if you're not careful," Sveum said.
-- Listen!: Kids are impressed by Santa. You know what impresses them even more? When Santa knows their name.
"A lot of times you have to listen and hear the parents talking to them and say their name, then you know who you're talking to," Sveum said. "If you can say their name without them telling it to you, it really helps."
-- Never. Promise. Anything: Kids tell Santa what they want for Christmas. Santa, however, should never, ever make any guarantees about those requests.
"You don't know what the parents are doing," Sveum said. "You never promise them anything."
-- Find a good cleaner: Kids eat candy and ice cream and then sit in Santa's lap, on his rather expensive suit. That means frequent trips to the dry cleaner.
"You've got to find a good cleaner to take care of those (suits)," Sveum said. "If they're not careful, all that white fur, they can really mess that up."
Sveum is so convincing as Santa Claus that even his grandkids (OK, the 11-year-old might be catching on) believe he's actually St. Nick. The fact that he spends his down time making basic toys like trains and dolls out of wood (in Santa's workshop, as it were) probably doesn't hurt the illusion.
The young ones aren't afraid to let Santa/Grandpa know specifically what they want for Christmas -- one would assume Sveum tends to break his own rules and make a few promises.
"They've grown up knowing that their grandfather is Santa Claus, and that's just the way it is," Sveum said with a chuckle, taking a gulp of sweet tea. "A couple of years ago, I had one grandson that called me on my cellphone, and he wanted to make sure that Santa Claus knew that he wanted Reese's peanut butter cups in his stocking."