SFGATE.COM - Santa Claus has been canned from Macy's, and he's anything but jolly about it. His fans aren't happy, either. And there are many.
John Toomey, known for 20 years at the Union Square Macy's in San Francisco as "Santa John," was told Saturday he'll have to take his "ho, ho, hos" elsewhere because an adult couple complained about a joke he cracked.
The joke has been in his Santa bag for decades. But after thousands of tellings, the 68-year-old retired caretaker for the elderly finally hit the wrong recipients - apparently an older woman and her husband, who considered it inappropriate.
Toomey - who stays in Oroville most summers and winters in San Francisco while he does the kiddie-on-the-knee gig - said he'd never had complaints before about the joke, which he saves for the occasional grown-up who visits him.
"When I ask the older people who sit on my lap if they've been good and they say, 'Yes,' I say, 'Gee, that's too bad,' " Toomey said Monday.
"Then, if they ask why Santa is so jolly, I joke that it's because I know where all the naughty boys and girls live."
The kids who sit on his lap, he said, get only his trademark laugh and questions about what toys they want.
Macy's spokeswoman Betsy Nelson said the store cannot comment because the matter involves personnel.
But several workers used words including "devastated" and "overreaction" to describe their take on Santa John being booted from his throne at Santaland on the seventh floor. They all asked not be named because store policy forbids them from speaking publicly about such matters, but their un-yule-ish gloom was palpable.
"People make a pilgrimage to see him every year, some for as long as 15 years," said one worker. "Everyone loves him. Everybody's just heartsick about this."
Many customers said that with his gentle manner, chest-length white beard and well-practiced laugh, Toomey looks so genuine you expect elves to be playing at his feet.
"He's totally the best Santa ever, very jolly and very authentic," said Sharon Owens, 56, of Oakland. "I've been coming to see him for years. There's just nobody better."
She and a friend, 56-year-old Theresa Pepin of Martinez, came Monday to see Santa John, and shock swept across their faces when they saw a new Kriss Kringle in his place. The new guy was doing just fine - but the women missed their old favorite.
"We're very sad," Pepin said.
As for Santa John: He's retreated to his local north pole station, otherwise known as a hotel on Market Street, to see what becomes of his request for reconsideration.
"Everything was going OK until this couple came in," he said. "I don't know why they reported me. I don't think I said anything untoward."
There's no doubt Toomey takes seriously the responsibility that comes with the red hat.
"With the children, it's important to listen carefully to them and make sure they're doing things properly, like brushing their teeth, helping Mom around the house, things like that," Toomey said. "Then when they tell you what they want, repeat it loudly enough so the parents can hear, and tell the child you'll talk it over with Mrs. Santa and the elves. That way you leave it up to the parents.
"It's an important job," he said, "and the joking around like I did is only for the adults."
While he waits to see if Macy's will relent, Toomey is looking into hiring himself out at parties and other stores.
"I've got my Social Security and some savings, so I'll be OK," he said. "But I sure do miss being Santa."