Pardon me for asking, but are you Santa Claus? Yes. My name is Billy Joe James. I live in Woodinville. I Santa for Arthur & Associates Photography. This is my twelfth year. [He's carving Santa Claus Christmas tree ornaments from the wood of a western red alder tree.] I started carving these about 34 years ago. I grew my beard to see if I could look like what I was carving. Nine months later, I was working as a Santa.
You looked in the mirror and said, "Wow, I look like Santa"? Something like that [laughs]. Art French of Arthur & Associates was a photographer and journalist for the P-I. He was the first photographer ever to start taking commemorative Santa pictures, in 1942.
What's the hardest part of being Santa? How much energy it takes to be a good Santa. You'll see mall Santas who can no longer smile. It's hard to be jolly for that long. Those guys are exhausted. When you have a 10-hour shift, they're killing their Santas. Arthur & Associates' longest shift is five hours.
How often do kids want world peace for Christmas? Quite often. I tell 'em we've been working on that for 2,000 years. You have to tell them that there are some things Santa can't do. I also get lots of requests for ponies. That's a toughie.
What do you do if a 300-pound football player wants to sit on your lap? Oh, I've had 300-pound offensive linemen on my lap. You have to brace the linemen up against the arm of the chair. You don't want to be in pain for the picture.
Anybody ever peed on you? Sure. Usually it's throw-up. Sometimes you get leaky diapers. You get lots of screaming babies. Some of them haven't seen a big white beard before. I don't do the "Ho ho ho." It's not a natural laugh for me. Mine's more of a "Heh heh heh." [He laughs, and it is a quality Santa laugh.]
What do you do when you're not feeling jolly? You overcome it. Whether you're hurting, or you're sad, or you're tired, you've gotta be Santa for the children. You're making a memory for them. It's easy to be a bad Santa because you're hurting or tired. I won't see that movie Bad Santa. Don't want to.
How do you deal with the pressure? If it goes wrong, you could ruin some kid's life. I take it seriously. It's a responsibility. But I really do enjoy doing it. I like people, and I like making people happy.
Who was the first Santa? Is it a pagan thing? We really don't know when Christ was born. When the church first started, they were competing with pagan religions, which had a huge winter festival, with an orgy on the shortest day of the year. To compete, the Christians said we're going to make that day be Jesus's birthday. That's why it's December 25. It's the end of the darkness, the start of the new year, the birth of the Christ-child. The present-giving started with a woodworker who made gifts for children and delivered them on a sleigh with reindeer.
Being Santa is sort of like being Jesus, minus the orgy. Sometimes it's like the spirit of God telling you what to say.
What's the key to a successful Santa beard? Keep it clean. Shampoo and conditioner. Comb it out. Children who can't hear need to be able to read lips, so I trim it around my mouth.
When you're dressed up in full Santa, what do you do when you see another Santa? As a rule, we stay away from each other in the malls. I'll duck into a corner, or get out of the way. When your shift is over, you put up the "Feeding the Reindeer" sign, walk into the back room, and then the next one comes out.
You've gotta be one of the top three Santas in Washington. When you see another especially Santa-like Santa, do you feel competitive? Maybe his beard is bushier, or his twinkle is twinklier that day. No. It's a brotherhood. We all do it for the same reason, and it's not for the money. I envy the bilingual ones. There's an association of natural-bearded Santas. It's a public service, and it's a joy. It's for the children.
What's the max number of visits you'll do in an hour? I did 42 once. There's a rush to get it in the last few days.
Women love Santa. Yes they do. Do I get hit on by women? Yes I do. But there's a Mrs. Santa. I've been married 54 years. She's walking around the mall here today, getting exercise. I can't because of my back. I do deep-water aerobics. I also have a wheat allergy. Not many Santas have wheat allergies.
Are you the real Santa? Do I look real?
How did you get into the sword-selling business? My dad got me into it. This store's been here for 35 years. We're one of the original eight stores in the Alderwood Mall. I'm the only cutlery store left. The other ones have all gone under. And I'm the last independent left in this mall. They keep raising the rent.
Do you do background checks on people buying gigantic, lethal samurai swords? No.
But you probably don't sell to someone who's obviously crazy. Well, how can you determine that? Because some people just look kinda crazy, like you.
I would definitely not sell me a gigantic, lethal samurai sword. There are no laws. You can sell to whoever you want to. We have a rule that we don't sell to people under 18 unless they're with their parents.
Where do you get your swords? They come from China. I buy from more than a hundred different distributors.
What are they made out of? They're various grades of carbon steel. There's 1045 and 1065. Then Damascus steel, which is layered and shows a pattern.
I bet your sales skyrocketed when those Kill Bill movies came out. Not really [laughs]. We sell more of the Hobbit swords. We have a Legolas one. And one of Bilbo's original Sting swords. I bought it when the first Lord of the Rings movie came out.
Does it glow blue when orcs are near? You have to buy it to find out.
How often do people come in who can't figure out what gift to get their significant other? They see your place, and they're like, "I know, I'll get them a gigantic sword!" All the time. People like axes, too. We sell lots of hunting and fishing knives, as well. A nice kitchen knife is a good present.
How do you make knives stick in the wall? It's actually pretty easy. You throw it overhand like a baseball. It's supposed to turn two and a half times in the air. If they're between eight and eleven inches, they're easier to throw. Little small ones are harder.
The Shopping Girls (Lenna and Sem)
Why are you at the mall today? I got locked out of my house. So I called her, my best friend, and said let's go to the mall and have fun. We came in, got a sample of chicken. Now we're just walking around.
And looking at this Maserati. I want this car so bad [laughs]. But I can't have it. There's always a new car here. It's weird.
What are you shopping for today? We're not actually shopping. I'm just looking around to see what I want. I've been saving my money for two months. I could have bought a new phone, but I decided to wait until Black Friday. I'm saving all my money until Black Friday so I can splurge on a bunch of things. I want cropped gray yoga pants, some boots, and skinny jeans. Summer dresses will be on sale, too.
What are your go-to shops and kiosks? Forever 21. Victoria's Secret. And H&M, definitely. We don't really go to kiosks. They're for older people. My friend just bought something from Adore, but I think he regretted it. No one really shops there. And the salespeople are crazy. They're always grabbing you to go to their kiosk. And they hit on us. The shoeshine guys do, too. They asked us if the guy we were with was our brother. I feel like they were trying to get with us.
When you all are shopping, are you constantly being hit on? It depends on how good you're looking. On Friday nights, all the guys come out. That's when you get hit on the most.
What's the craziest thing you've ever seen at a mall? I saw a guy dressed in a banana suit once. For no reason. He was pretty cute, though.
What's your favorite mall? Southcenter. They have all the stores I need in one place.
Two Dudes Playing Xbox Basketball (R. Blue and Earl)
What teams are you playing? LA Clippers versus Portland Trail Blazers.
You know Jamal Crawford from the Clippers went to Rainier Beach High School, right? And Brandon Roy from the Blazers lives in Madison Park. [No response. The guy playing the Clippers puts in Jamal Crawford, who immediately hits a three-pointer.]
Do you ever bet each other over a game? Blazers Guy: No. Because he doesn't want to lose his money.
What brings you all to the mall today? Clippers Guy: Work.
Color-Coded Ravers (Leif and Taylor)
What brings us to the mall today? Leif: We're bored. And cold. We were thinking about going to Edmonds. But it's too cold. She wants candy.
What kind of candy? Taylor: Lolli and Pops is the best. I have candy in my pocket right now.
Do you ever mess with mall cops? Taylor: There was one guy we would mess with. His face looked like Paul Blart, we called him Turkey Bacon.
What's your favorite mall store? Leif: Zumiez. It's where I got my longboard. It's good for getting around places. I've had it for seven years. You can't do many tricks on it, though.
Talk about your color-coordinated looks. Leif: I got mine at a fair, they're called Fuzzy Hats. I don't know why we're coordinated.
Taylor: I got these because I was going to a rave and my theme was Rasta colors. I love Rasta colors.
Watch out for bad molly at the raves. People are dying. Leif: Yeah. My friend went to one, and people were saying there was a methed-out tiger running around loose inside. But there was no tiger. They just made it up.