Sunday, December 17, 2006

Santa's Village

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is only a week away. In Los Angeles, it’s still warm and sunny every day… The leaves on the trees are just now beginning to change colors and fall. Ditto for the pine needles on sad, dry Christmas trees.

That’s not to suggest that there’s no holiday spirit in SoCal. Driving around at night, you can actually see some of the normally-invisible mansions in the Hollywood hills, illuminated by twinkling lights. The palm trees lining Wilshire Boulevard are also festively decorated. But for a newcomer to L.A., it’s a bit disorienting. One can’t help yearning for more tangible proof that Christmas is here.
Two years ago, when I first started talking about moving to L.A., my brother and his wife gave me a book called L.A. Bizarro: The Insiders Guide to the Obscure, the Absurd and the Perverse in Los Angeles. It’s a Lonely Planet guide for the truly antisocial, filled with unsavory recommendations for fast food, alcohol and porn in the greater Los Angeles area. (I’m not sure what this says about how my brother and his wife see me.) One of the starred entries in that guide was Santa’s Village in Skyforest, CA – an hour northeast of Los Angeles in the San Bernadino Mountains. The authors are effusively sentimental about this warped slice of Americana: “Piece together moments from the early Pia Zadora vehicle Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, select chapters from Terence McKenna’s Archaic Revival, and throw in one of Lewis Carroll’s most enigmatic wet dreams – maybe then you can begin to grasp the subtle glory of all that is Santa’s Village.”
The tour begins: “After passing through the portals of the Santa’s Village Welcome House one almost needs to stop for a moment and refocus – or decide to run. The lay of the land takes shape much the same way the bottom of that rabbit hole must have hit Alice. Perfectly manicured pathways trimmed with 300-foot pine trees and psychadelic mushrooms crisscross through the grounds, leading visitors past freak-out focal points like a jack-in-the-box standing two stories high, or a hyper-realistic masterwork like the Crooked Tree House. Santa casually strolls the ground with a reindeer or two on a leash, while the sounds of The Beach Boys’ ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ blares – along with an obscure mix of other holiday tunes – over the speakers perched high in the treetops throughout the park. Kids run laughing from the petting zoo – where they’ve just gotten their hands good and filthy with goat saliva – over to the Candy Kitchen for some homemade sweets. A spaced-out hippie gets into the holiday spirit as he sits beneath a box of popcorn twenty feet tall just across from the Pixie Pantry. With pupils dilated like two eyes made out of coal, he grooves to the Santa’s Village color palate: a kaleidoscope of chartreuse, lemon yellow, acid green, hot pink and orange popsicle. Young and old, Jew or Gentile, everyone is tuned in and turned on at Santa’s Village.”

For weeks, I’ve been thinking: What better way to celebrate our first Christmas in Los Angeles than by visiting this gleeful perversion of childhood fantasy? Sadly, when I went online to mapquest the way to Santa’s Village, I learned that it has been closed since 1998. According to the unofficial Santa’s Village website, the owner lost the ranch due to tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes, and the rides and attractions are now being auctioned off. The authors of L.A. Bizarro (published in 1996) have been unsuccessful in updating their book (details here), which includes numerous attractions that have recently fallen by the wayside. One of the authors has even forsaken the City of Sinful Delight for the majestic mountains of Vermont! (For shame….)

So, it appears that restless little Angelinos yearning for a Christmas-themed field trip will now have to settle for the Whoville set at Universal Studios.

For the truly antisocial, who would prefer not to leave the house anyway, there is the perennial magic of the Internet, where you can take a postcard tour of Santa’s Village, or view an immanently forgettable television production showcasing the theme park during its heyday… You’ll see all of your favorite characters from Christmas lore: Merlin the magician (obviously drunk and desperate for a gig, like the best of Hollywood stars), a broken-spirited Easter Bunny (the victim of a cruel kidnapping?), Ferocious Wolf (struggling with anger management in the wake of his crack addiction), Stinky the Skunk (Santa’s laziest helper, who has an unhealthy fixation on jolly ol’ St. Nick’s North Pole) and Mr. Puss N. Boots… the village chief of security who orders infidels to “stop in the name of Santa!” (Personally, he reminds me of those fun-loving rascals, the Happy Tree Friends. I keep waiting for him to tear somebody’s head off.)

Sadly, we are not able to experience this mayhem for ourselves. We can only hope that our friends and family fare better in their search for Christmas cheer.


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