Things in the Santa line unraveled quickly.
Lemarcus Wright took his 3- and 6-year-old children, his mother, niece and girlfriend to Quad-City Arts Festival of Trees on Saturday night, and everybody was eager to hear what the 3-year-old was going to tell Santa he wanted for Christmas.
But the boy wasn’t in the talking mood.
Trying to coax an answer out of him, Santa suggested maybe he should get some “rocks,” Wright said.
The suggestion instantly struck a nerve, the 27-year-old said.
“Santa refers to coal, not rocks, but I didn’t want to make no scene,” he said. “The first time, I said, ‘No, he don’t want no rocks.’
“But then he said it again. I said, ‘Hell, no, my son don’t want no rocks!’”
Wright said he may have been especially sensitive to the “rock” remark. Some children today, including his 3-year-old, know “rock” is streetspeak for a rock of crack cocaine, he said.
“Honest to God truth, the part that messed me up: I been locked up four times,” he said. “I used to be that. To be treated like that when I’m not that anymore, he was out of line. There was white kids in front of us, and he didn’t talk to them about no rocks.”
Seeing things were headed in a bad direction, Wright said, he tried to shake Santa’s hand.
“He had that nasty face like he didn’t want to touch my hand,” he said.
Then it happened.
“I said, ‘Man, you voted for Mitt Romney, didn’t you?’” Wright asked Santa. “As soon as I said it, he snapped. He said, ‘Yes, I did! And I work hard for my money!’”
To Wright, the remark confirmed the far-from-paternal vibe he was getting from Father Christmas.
But the man in the Santa suit said he meant no ill will.
Mike Peppers may be the Quad-Cities’ best-known St. Nick. He has been donning the reds and sharing his love of Christmas, often from the seat of his Santamobile, for more than 40 years.
He said Monday that he did not wish to discuss the incident.
“I work hard all year long, bringing joy to kids (and) families of all races, creeds and colors,” he said. “I have no one out there I mistreat.”
Asked why he made the “rocks” remarks, Peppers said, “Coal. Santa Claus gives children coal.”
He declined to say whether he mistakenly and repeatedly used the word “rocks.”
Carmen Darland, executive director of Quad-City Arts, said she talked to Peppers about Saturday’s unhappy encounter and said he misspoke when he told the 3-year-old that Santa would bring him rocks.
She said Peppers told Wright it was “none of his business” how he voted. However, he eventually engaged in a political exchange.
“The dad brought politics up,” Darland said. “He (Peppers) said, ‘Yeah, I voted for Mitt Romney.’ I would call it a disturbance — an unfortunate disturbance.”
Though workers at the festival returned the money his family paid for admission, Wright said Santa ruined their night.
“We was trying to take our kids to Festival of Trees,” he said. “We weren’t looking for something negative.”
Peppers said the focus belongs on the joy of the festival and the hard work by thousands of volunteers.
“This man was trying to upset everybody in the building,” he said of Wright. “There’s no story here.”
And the election is over.
Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or firstname.lastname@example.org.