‘NOW TELL me,’ said the psychiatrist after settling his patient down on the couch, ‘How long have you thought you were really Santa Claus?’
‘Santa Claus? My name is George!’ The man lifted his head and scowled. ‘What makes you think I think I am Santa Claus?’
‘Er, w-w-well. I don’t get a lot of jolly, fat guys with white beards and red suits in here who don’t think they are Santa Claus.’
‘I am NOT jolly.’ The man sat up now. ‘I feel very stressed.’
‘Um, yes, I can sense that.’ This was already shaping as one of his more unusual consultations since moving into the High Street premises, sandwiched between the dry cleaners and the pet grooming service.
‘And I DON’T think I am Santa Claus.’
‘Okay, calm down.’ The doctor put a hand on the man’s shoulder and coaxed him to lie down again. ‘Can you tell me then why you are dressed like that?’
‘Oh this?’ He pinched at his robes. ‘I’m on my break.’
‘From the North Pole?’
‘No, from the department store down the road. It’s my job. I dress up as Santa and little kids sit on my knee and tell me what they want for Christmas. They ask for something extravagant and it embarrasses their parents into buying at least something from the department store to shut them up.’
‘I see.’ The psychiatrist was skilled in gently extracting information from patients. ‘And this strategy troubles your conscience?’
‘Gawd no. The salesman in me supports the sell-at-any-cost principle. I’d rather work in the lingerie section, but that’s a personal preference. I’m not sure that the Santa Claus strategy would work too well there — though I am willing to give it a go if the young women customers are willing to sit on my knee.’
‘So, it’s a sexual fantasy problem then?’
The patient glanced at him, as if he were an idiot. ‘I was only joking.’
‘Sick of children pulling your long white beard, perhaps?’
‘No, I’m getting used to it.’
‘Sick of children being scared, instead of happy to see you?’
‘Hey, I can handle it. I’m a grandfather. My kids have kids and we don’t always see eye to eye.’
‘Sick of children throwing up on you?’
‘No need to raise your voice. If you must know, it all started when my wife Beryl saw an advertisement in the newspaper recruiting Santa Clauses. Despite my protests, she said I’d be perfect for the job.’
‘Oh, you know. The usual stuff. I’m 66, overweight, bearded and the only job I ever had was as a salesman. We didn’t really need the money so I think she just wanted to get me out of the house.’
‘Aaaah, you feel rejected then?’
‘No, I’ve come to enjoy getting out of the house.’
Dr Lint felt exasperated. ’Well, what is the problem then?’
‘Ah, it’s like this.’ The Santa substitute rolled back his red top to expose his enormous stomach.
‘Since I’ve been wearing this outfit, look, I have been getting red lint inside my belly button every day. Is there anything you can do for me? Can you clean it?
Dr Lint looked the patient in the eyes and shook his head, trembling with anger.
‘Clean it? I’m a psychiatrist, man, not a belly button cleaner!’
‘Really? I only came in here to get some advice about cleaning my fluffy red garment! Crikey, no wonder I thought this was the most unusual dry cleaners’ shop I have ever visited!’