I had been working in the summer as a piano player at the Princeton Hotel, in Avalon, since the late 60s. When the hotel added the Franny Green Banjo Room, in 1975, I joined with Franny’s band.
That was the beginning of several great summers of music and fun and a few unforgettable nights of pranks and mischief.
In the mid-seventies, someone thought up the idea of celebrating Christmas in July. It was a great idea and was immediately embraced by many folks who had recently discovered Avalon.
The official “Christmas” date was the third Sunday in July. Folks waited in line for an hour in the blazing afternoon sun to get in the Princeton and celebrate Christmas with beer and cocktails, dancing to a wide assortment of popular and old-time tunes from the band and carrying on like Monday and work back in Philly would never come, but on this first Christmas in July celebration at the Princeton, The Franny Green Band had something up its sleeve.
Phil Matalucci, the charismatic owner and particularly lively overseer of the Princeton, had purchased a full-sized electric Santa Claus, which he positioned on the stage next to the band.
This was some Santa; an imposing 6 feet of lights, red suit, flowing beard, and arms that swung back and forth, welcoming all revelers. Those swinging arms caught our bass player’s eyes.
He attached a red patch cord (like a coiled telephone cord) to the back of Santa’s black belt. He wrapped the end around Santa’s right arm, and when Santa swung to his right, a sort of catapult was created.
The bass player scooped up some shaved ice from the bar in front of us, carefully packed it into Santa’s gloved hand, and watched gleefully as Santa wound up and pitched that snowball nearly clear across the dance floor to land on the back of some unlucky t-shirted guy. He was so intense on dancing he didn’t even notice.
The band was laughing so hard we had to stop playing. After three or four more shots, poor Santa began to move spastically, eventually grinding to a halt and depositing a small puddle of oil at the base of its feet. Uh-oh.
We quickly removed the red cord from Santa, finished the afternoon music, and then moved over to the Banjo Room next door for the evening session.
Come 2 a.m., I struggled to bed in one of the hotel rooms and was sound asleep within minutes, having played nine hours that day.
Around 3 a.m., I was awakened by heavy footsteps outside my door, followed by a huge pounding on my door.
“Doug. You broke my (expletive) Santa Claus. Let me in. I want to talk to you.”
I was stunned. I said, “Not me. It was somebody else,” barely stifling my laughter.
“Smitty said it was you.”
“No… it was, uh, I’m not sure. I’ll find out and tell you tomorrow.”
The next day at an almost unheard-of rehearsal, the band discussed the Santa Claus incident. We all decided we would pay to fix Santa. It was up to me to confess and that we would take care of it.
Phil was sitting in a large chair in the lobby of the hotel when I caught up to him. He looked me up and down with the steely glare of the Golden Gloves boxing champ that he was. I confessed and cowered, ready to make good on the damages.
Phil sighed and almost smiled when he said, “It’s alright. I had one of the handyman guys take a look at it. He fixed it this morning. Only cost me a bottle of Imperial.”
Knight writes from Avalon.