You get a lot of strange looks from passersby when your job forces you to wander around in public with a three-foot-tall stuffed Santa doll tucked under your arm.
These are the same sort of looks you would get if you marched around stark-naked in the frozen-food section of your local grocery store wielding a machete.
I have never puttered around Safeway in the buff, but I have spent a fair bit of time over the past year dragging Creepy Santa, the icky plush Santa doll I inherited when my parents moved to the West Coast, to a host of public events.
For the record, Creepy got his nickname from my daughter because she feels his plastic face with its open-mouthed glare makes him the spitting image of one of those inflatable dolls you can -- or so I am told -- obtain from unsavoury sites on the Internet.
The Creepster attained a certain level of local notoriety when I wrote several holiday columns about how my wife and kids enjoyed hiding him in obscure locations around our home -- the basement shower would be just one example -- and then waiting for someone to stumble on the leering elf and shriek with horror.
His fame widened when, a few Christmases ago, he was kidnapped from our front porch -- where his job involved scaring away carollers and neighbourhood kids hoping to shovel the driveway -- and we started receiving anonymous manila envelopes in the mail every month.
Inside these mysterious envelopes were pictures of Creepy in exotic locations -- marching in the Opening Ceremonies of the London Summer Olympics, for instance -- along with notes describing how much fun the little guy was having with his kidnappers.
He was returned to us at a party where my wife and I celebrated our 30th anniversary. We walked into the restaurant and -- HELLO! -- there he was, none the worse for his year on the lam, parked precariously on a stool at the bar with a glass of fizzy champagne in front of him.
In fact, as I write these words, Creepy has an ice-cold beer sitting on the table just in front of his plastic nose. So do I. The two of us are relaxing on the patio outside the Free Press News Café, where we have just shot our latest weather video, the hard-hitting biweekly feature wherein a middle-aged newspaper columnist and his best buddy, a red plush doll with an unsettling expression on his plastic face, deliver highly inaccurate weather information along with helpful suggestions on weekend activities you and your loved ones might find enjoyable.
Over the past year, my professional journalism job has required me to drag Creepy on board a giant Amphibex icebreaker on the frozen Red River, to the MTS Centre for the Olympic curling trials, to the pool of a major downtown hotel to swim and sip tropical beverages, to Morden's Chocolates for the pre-Valentine's Day sugar rush and a host of other public events where you do not normally see grown men in the company of disturbing red-plush gnomes.
When we venture out in public, Creepy is the undisputed star, the one bemused bystanders can't wait to meet, the one everyone seems to recognize. When I get invited to speak in schools, the invitation typically stipulates that Creepy must come along because the staff and students are big fans of his work.
He routinely gets gushing email from fans, who frequently include photos of their own stuffed Santa dolls, which they vehemently insist are Creepy's long-lost relatives.
In the latest weather video -- which you'll find at www.winnipegfreepress.com -- we are on the patio at the café, hoisting cold ones and holding umbrellas because, in this city, even if the forecast does not specifically call for rain, you need to be prepared for a deluge that will spawn bloodthirsty mosquitoes the size of Yorkshire terriers.
It ends with Creepy and me getting blasted in the face by a super-powered water gun wielded by our multimedia editor, Tyler Walsh, who seems to enjoy working with a stuffed replica of Santa Claus. "He's like your sidekick," is how Tyler put it. "He's Robin to your Batman. Or possibly the other way around."
It was all a bit embarrassing when deputy editor Julie Carl first suggested it would be hugely entertaining for me to co-star with Creepy in our roving weather segments. But I'm starting to get more comfortable with the concept of playing second fiddle to an inanimate object.
Just moments ago, a lovely young woman I've never seen before strutted past the patio with a group of friends, excitedly pointed at the pair of us sitting in the corner and giggled loudly for everyone to hear: "OK, NOW THAT IS CREEPY!"
I wonder how she recognized him.