Not Long Tales … December 3rd, 2019

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17.

The Man Who Would Be…

Santa Claus.

A complicated simplification.

For he is a homebody with a flair for adventure and a generous soul with a mission to “nice up the naughty.”

A lowly toymaker with a vision for all the children of the world.

Reginald Carlson was a fan of Santa Claus. He was obsessed with the good saint from the North. It was usually the second thing he shared with any person he met, right after saying, “Fine. How are you?”

For twenty years, Reggie (as they called him at work) found his station in life in the backroom of the local post office, sorting letters that he hoped found correct destinations. But all day long, he would share, with whomever would listen, whatever he had recently learned about Father Christmas.

He studied books.

He read all the legends.

He had over two thousand pictures of Old Saint Nick in his personal possession.

For Reggie, rather than reaching an age when he ceased to believe in Santa Claus, not only continued to keep his faith in the icon but developed a hero worship—an everlasting sensation of sympathetic connection.

He wanted to be Santa Claus. There were three problems:

First, Reggie couldn’t get any skinnier if he were to fast for ten days. No, not an ounce of fat on Mr. Carlson’s frame.

He was also not bestowed with hundreds and hundreds of elfin assistants to aid him in his quest to bring a toy and joy to every girl and boy.

And finally, the traditional marshmallow-white skin envisioned for the toy-giver—well, Reggie’s was a bit more toasted.

But in the midst of one of his musings about trying to do something to become more “Clausian,” he came up with his idea:

North Poling.

It was a rather plain concept. Reggie envisioned selecting twenty small towns in his home state and finding a group of grown-ups in each locale who would become Santa Claus to their community by taking all the families in their little village who were unable to provide a solid Christmas for their children—and not only provide the toys and extras, but deliver them, wearing costumes, on Christmas Eve.

Reggie was so excited he could barely contain himself.

He shared the dream with everyone he knew, and though it seemed a bit farfetched to them, it had a bit of sparkle and nobility, which made each one promise to support and even participate.

Counting his hometown of Baskerville, Missouri, Reggie lined up twelve other communities within a hundred-mile radius and started writing letters. City councils, mayors, preachers, store owners…

He contacted charities and pursued government grants to procure the money for the yuletide venture.

Word of his efforts spread quickly, and some pictures of the first fruits of his gathering in Baskerville even went viral on the Internet.

He received an invitation from the television show, “Invest or Bust.” The program featured entrepreneurs with reasonable ideas, who presented their plans, trying to get money for their causes from the star of the show, who dubbed himself “Snarky.”

Snarky was hard to convince. He was prideful, cynical and had left many people in tears, walking away feeling foolish for having uttered their visions.

Things were going so well with North Poling and there was such a great level of intrigue that when Reggie received the invitation from “Invest or Bust,” he was reluctant to appear. But everybody circled around him, hounding him, for a whole week, until he nodded his head, called back on the phone and set a date for taping.

Meanwhile, Reggie had no illusions of grandeur. He didn’t need some billionaire from New York City to feed his hopes with cash. He kept promoting. He kept sharing. He kept believing and even started his initial planning.

By the time he headed off to tape “Invest or Bust,” there were ten communities which had agreed to be part of North Poling, with over a hundred volunteers. He was ecstatic. His faith in becoming Santa Claus was materializing right before his eyes.

So he took the trip to New York more or less as a lark. He imagined himself being the bearer of great news and receiving—well, overall, a vote of confidence.

But when the show was taped, Snarky, being particularly surly that night, attacked Reggie for his presumption, explaining that it was not only foolish and a waste of time and money, but that in a sense he was discouraging poor people from improving their situation. Reggie tried to defend himself, but Snarky kept up his attack, viciously snarling rebukes and repudiation.

At length, Reggie explained that he wasn’t looking for any money and really didn’t need Snarky’s approval. In doing so, he feared that he had come off angry and defensive.

Reggie was so disappointed with his appearance on “Invest or Bust” that he took an early flight home, only to discover that apparently the whole world had been watching.

The phone started ringing.

One after another, the small towns that had signed up for the project pulled out, stating that they lacked the money or some other lame excuse.

Snarky’s prophesy about the adventure being doomed was being fulfilled.

There seemed to be no encouragement coming in from the appearance in New York except one tailor from Los Angeles, who donated a red and white pinstripe Santa suit for Reggie to wear. When the garment arrived three days later, Reggie looked at the beautiful costume with a deep sense of futility. All that was left was Baskerville, which had shrunk to a staff of only five—to deliver toys to thirty-two households.

Then a sneaky, sinister statement began to circle through the community.

Reggie was trying to make money off the idea.

One of the volunteers asked him why he had so much money in his checking account. Reggie was shocked. How did this fellow know how much money he had bank? It was outlined to Reggie that “someone knew someone” who worked at the bank.

Reggie explained that he had no place to put the donation money that was coming in, or the few grants that had been afforded his way.

But it didn’t really matter what story he offered. The five Baskerville volunteers were really just looking for a reason to escape. They all deserted.

It was three days before Christmas, and all through the town, all the creatures were stirring, but no support was around.

Reggie was depressed. His wife and oldest son had cautiously stepped away. Oh, they still spoke their support, but whenever he brought up new ideas or asked if they would help him find more volunteers, they gently changed the subject.

The question hanging in the air all over Baskerville was:

What is Reggie going to do on Christmas Eve with what he’s begun if he has no one to help him. What will become of the money? What will happen with the toys? What will he do with the huge truck he rented for the evening?

The answer was simple: Reggie had no idea.

By five o’clock Christmas Eve afternoon, he sat alone in a rented warehouse, staring at presents which were already wrapped—with no place to go.

He was alone. Darkness was falling. The warehouse was chilly, with shadows were lingering across the walls. Reggie sat on a big box containing five bicycles—and started to cry.

After about a half an hour, weary of his own tears, he spoke aloud.

“I am not a religious man. I have nothing against God (if You’re listening). I just don’t like church—sitting for so long and ending up doing nothing. I don’t get it. I mean, if there is anything supernatural—if there is a spirit that causes Santa Claus to be real, why in the hell didn’t it show up? Is it because of me? Am I so stinky and dumb and meaningless that the idea has to wait for a better person to carry it? What did I do wrong?”

He continued. “Was it prideful for me to go to New York? Why couldn’t North Poling work? Even if it is a dumb idea, other dumb ideas work. Putting cinnamon on cereal kind of worked. I think it’s stupid, but it’s still out there. They messed up Coca Cola for a while, but people are still drinking Coke. And even when we have really bad politicians, no one gives up on the government. What happened?”

All at once Reggie raised his voice with a mighty thunder. “What in the hell happened?”

He heard a sound behind him and whirled around.

Standing there was Kathy Gillespie. She was one of the teenagers from the high school—a cheerleader. Reggie knew her because the school often sent her down to the post office to pick up specific packages that the principal wanted as soon as possible.

There she was, standing in the darkened room, frightened and shivering. Reggie foolishly stepped toward her. She jerked back, terrified. “I’m sorry,” she said sheepishly. “I didn’t know you were crazy.”

She burst into tears, turned on her heel and ran out of the warehouse. Reggie thought about chasing her but the image of a grown man tracking down a teenage girl in the night didn’t seem very promising. So instead, the middle-aged post office laborer loaded a few things into the truck, not certain what he would do once everything was in place. All he knew was that he needed to make a go of it.

And if he couldn’t finish it, he still needed to begin.

The truck was nearly loaded. He stepped out and walked down the ramp, and there before him was Kathy again—but this time, she had brought seven teenage boys and five teenage girls with her. Standing alongside them were what appeared to be six younger brothers and three little sisters.

Reggie didn’t know whether to defend his angry speech to Kathy or to simply allow her to share why she had returned. Was she going to try to get him in trouble? Had she brought friends to make fun of him?

Kathy, sensing his nervousness, spoke up. “I’m sorry I bothered you the first time,” she said sweetly. “I ran away because—well, because you seemed kinda nuts.”

One of the boys laughed but then covered his mouth. Reggie was about ready to speak when the girl continued. “The reason we came was that all of us here—felt that you got treated, well…you got treated…”

The biggest boy of the group jumped in. “Like shit,” he said in a basal tone. This caused everybody to laugh. Reggie even chuckled through his depression.

“Well, anyway,” said Kathy, “we thought it was terrible. I mean, all you wanted was to be Santa Claus to a bunch of kids who need one. If we’re gonna wait for answers to fly out of the sky, then a lot of people are going to go without.”

Reggie’s eyes filled with tears. He was sensing that something beautiful was about to happen. He needed to just be still.

Kathy, who apparently had been assigned as a spokesperson, went on. “Well, anyway, there’s only…”

She looked around at the gathered friends. “…about a dozen of us. Maybe more. But we’ve come out—by the way, with our parents’ permission…”

More laughter.

Kathy cleared her throat. “We’ve come out to help you deliver all the stuff in your truck.”

Reggie was beside himself with joy.

It wasn’t the army of toy givers he had envisioned.

It wasn’t the march of twelve communities in unison, providing for the needs of the less fortunate.

It was not the triumph of his childhood dream to become Santa Claus.

But it was something. It was something good.

Maybe the towns should have done better. Maybe Snarky could have been kinder. Maybe…

But this Christmas, it would be the children doing the leading.

It would be those who were young caring for their young friends who didn’t have enough.

There was something heavenly about it.

It took the better part of the night. Some households were happy to see the truck arrive. Others felt put out because of the lateness of the hour.

It didn’t matter.

At exactly 4:02 A. M., they delivered the final wrapped present—this one was for the McCaultry children.

They were done.

Reggie put all his helpers, his elfin assistants, into the back of the truck and drove to a restaurant about ten miles away and treated the whole entourage to breakfast.

Stories, laughter, tears, jubilance.

The owner of the restaurant was so impressed by what this quickly-put-together committee had accomplished that he gave them their morning eats for free. Reggie was speechless.

In its simplicity, North Poling worked.

Maybe trying to do something big was the opposite of Santa Claus.

Maybe trying to get the whole world involved and failing was why we needed a Santa Claus in the first place.

When Reggie arrived back at the warehouse and parked the truck, the kids all got out, hugged, and then turned to head home.

Reggie watched them walk away. They probably always had been good kids—but now they were good kids who had done something good.

Reggie learned a lot that Christmas.

Mainly, Reggie learned that being Santa is a hard row to ho-ho-ho.

 

 

Sit Down Comedy … November 30th, 2018

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Mall Talk

Santa: Jesus Christ!

Jesus: Are you cussin’ or just glad to see me?

Santa: (hugs Jesus and pulls back) I almost didn’t recognize you.

Jesus: That’s because I’m traveling S. I.

Santa: S. I.?

Jesus: (smiling) Savior Incognito. So good to see you, old man.

Santa: Yeah, that’s interesting, because I supposedly have gained immortality, but they’ve stuck me at about seventy-five years of age.

Jesus: Well, I died at thirty-three–that’s where I’m kind of stuck, except I didn’t exactly leave behind a pretty corpse.

Santa: (frowning) Sorry about that.

Jesus: Oh, lighten up, old man. It’s Christmas. We’ll get around to that Easter stuff later.

Santa: Well, what brings you to this mall on this day?

Jesus: I was about to ask you the same question.

Santa: Well, there are so many people dressing up like me now, that it’s easy for me to slip in, as you say, incognito, and play myself at a mall. No one knows the difference.

Jesus: So why this mall?

Santa: The best damn curly fries at the food court. I’m tellin’ you, you’ve got to try them. They’re to die for.

Jesus: Was that another crack at my crucifixion?

Santa: Oh, I’m sorry…

Jesus: (punching him in the arm) Just kidding! You’ve gotta lighten up!

Santa: Well, there’s a lot of pressure. This time of year, you run into this “Christmas war” thing–you know, where you and I are supposed to be enemies. You representing the “true meaning of Christmas” and me being a commercial bungler.

Jesus: Well, don’t people know that you’re real name is Saint Nicholas?

Santa: I’ve always been your greatest fan. I watched what you did with children, learned from how you gave to people. And I took it seriously when you said in your Beatitudes, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.”

Jesus: And you even copied my twelve elves!

Santa: (a bit flustered) Well… Not exactly.

Jesus: Well, sometimes they acted like elves. You see, people like to keep you where they found you. Lots of folks met me in church so they think I live there. (whispering) Honest to God, Claus–I haven’t been there for years.

Santa: You’re right. Because with me, they loved the Old North Pole thing. Obviously couldn’t do all the work in one location. I have it spread all over the globe. Every once in a while, I even use Amazon.

Jesus: If people just understood that there’s no bad way to say Christmas. It’s kind of like the word “candy.” You can substitute “chocolate, peanut butter, confection, caramel”–and still, what comes to your mind is…

Santa: (interrupting) …candy. You’re right! You can say “reindeer, Christmas tree, carols, jingle bells or manger.” What comes to my mind is Christmas.

Jesus: So they can call it a holiday. That doesn’t help them. Because the word “holiday” means “holy day.” They can say “Season’s Greetings,” but everybody knows the season is Christmas.

Santa: People just fuss too much.

Jesus: I’d say “amen” but I’m not that religious.

Santa: You really aren’t, are you?

Jesus: Nope–I just love people. I love my Father, I love Mother Nature and I love the idea of life. You know I was born in a barn…

Santa: (laughing) That’s funny.

Jesus: (serious) What’s funny about it? You live in a toy shop with reindeer.

Santa: (serious) Well, I didn’t want to argue with you.

Jesus: (laughing) You really are uptight about this Christmas thing, aren’t you? Tell you what–let’s head off to the food court and you can buy me some of those curly fries and prove to me that they’re the best in the world.

Santa: That’s a deal–if you’ll tell me about the first Christmas.

Jesus: Well, I was just a little baby surrounded by asses.

(Santa is shocked)

Jesus: (poking him in the arm) You know–donkeys. Listen, old man–we’d better hurry and get those curly fries right now. You are desperately in need of some good cheer.

 

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Salient…June 11th, 2018

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There are matters that are too important to ignore or leave to chance. These are salient moments.

Even though it is not the holiday season, I found myself thinking about the song, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

If you are six years old, the title of this tune is frightening, leading your young mind to believe there’s a divorce in the making, custody battles and certainly a scandal awaiting the great Toymaker to the North.

If you happen to be older–let’s say above fourteen years of age–you don’t have quite the visceral reaction, since you have some inside information which might explain the circumstance. In other words, there might be a reason that Mommy is kissing Santa Claus that the young tyke isn’t fully aware of.

This is the advantage of knowledge, especially when it’s clothed with a great coat of common sense, and sits in a comfortable chair, with calmness.

Yet we, who are supposed to be grownups, are being carried away by all sorts of foolishness and deceptions, as if we are unaware of the possibility of different interpretations.

In politics, we’ve convinced ourselves that lying is an acceptable part of the practice, even though, in our mature minds, we are cognizant of the fact that no liar ever totally gets by with his or her fabrication.

In social interaction, we don’t seem to be able to distinguish the difference between a very poorly executed attempt at flirtation, harrasment, stalking and rape.

And in our religious realms, we deem ourselves to be the judges of humanity, when we were warned by the Judge of All not to don His auspicious robes.

To put it plainly, we are much smarter and more sophisticated than we pretend to be. Just as we know Mommy’s not really kissing Santa Claus, we likewise know that politicians can’t lie without eventually being destroyed, men and women need to learn how to interact with each other without singeing the edges with sexuality, and God needs to be worshipped instead of our fellow-human-beings defamed because they fail to measure up to chapter and verse.

We can do better.

  • We can actually take responsibility for the intelligence we’re supposed to have.
  • We can walk in the mercy we require for ourselves.
  • And we can garner the respect for one another that our own souls yearn to receive.

So for our salient moment:

Be as smart as you need to be by making sure you do not dumb down the world around you by pretending that dumb things should be heard.

 

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Ask Jonathots … December 1st, 2016

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Do you think Christmas is too commercial?

Every year when I watch the original movie, “Miracle on 34th Street,” there is a small speech delivered by one of the young men in the cast. Even though the movie was done in the late 1940’s, he laments, in his soliloquy that Christmas is too commercial.

So it is nothing new.

I would never question the sincerity of those who are concerned about keeping the purity and message of Christmas. But I will say that such complaining is contrary to the story itself.

The first Christmas was a tiny, nearly unnoticed intrusion on a world of commercialism. Augustus Caesar was taxing the empire, innkeepers were making so much money that they had no room for two vagabonds coming in the middle of the night, and the shepherds were busy watching their flocks.

Things were bought, things were sold.

In the midst of that, an absolutely miraculous event occurred–which rattles the world to this day.

The message of Christmas did not need much space to gain place.

If department stores want to make a dollar and other folks wish to focus on decorations and North Pole shenanigans, Baby Jesus still seems to always win out–just like he did that First Noel.

Why?

  • Because “peace on Earth, good will toward men” is necessary to keep the stores open.
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself” creates the environment for capitalism to flourish.
  • And Saint Nicholas probably wouldn’t give a crap about children if he hadn’t learned it from Jesus, who made young ones a strong part of his mission.

So when you hear people sneer about the “commercialism of Christmas,” please understand that the first time angels were heard singing on high, the world was either asleep, gambling or finding ways to increase the profit margin.

Caesar is dead, the innkeeper has passed along … but Baby Jesus is still rocking the world.

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Cracked 5 … December 8th, 2015

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Ideas A New Talent Agent Wants to Institute to Promote Santa Claus

A. An all-black suit:  Bleak, but slimming.

B. Santana Claus: Carols, slick with guitar licks.

C. New reality show from the North Pole: Toying Around. (Spoiler alert–many elves are bi-polar.)

D. Slightly soften “You better watch out” slogan to “Be cool, fool.” (Complete with Christmas rapping…)

E. Getting in front of the rumor that Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is transgender. The new name is “Rulinda.” 

Rudolph Girl

 

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G-Poppers … November 27th, 2015

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Though a little bizarre, G-Pop decided that Thanksgiving was fine because the grandchildren outnumbered the dogs by one.

Yes–five to four.

A little too close for the sake of sanity but still within the margin of error.

As all the family busied themselves preparing the delicacies they hoped would be the winner of the day, G-Pop just sat in his chair and thought for a moment about how absolutely amazing Thanksgiving and the season leading up to Christmas truly is.

In a way it’s about Santa Claus.

Very few personalities are as much maligned and revered as the Jolly Old Elf. But he does have a special formula for approaching humanity which is a workable format, and seems to gain traction every year.

It’s never out of style. It’s never rebuked so much by the religionists that it ends up being cast aside in favor of Biblical themes, and his presence is not so bound to the manger that those who have no reverence can still acknowledge the relevance.

It’s really a very simple plan of action:

1. Get prepared.

Think about the children and get the grownups to become more childlike.

2. Climb a little higher up on the roof.

You can see better. Ground level often leaves us grim.

3. Once you see better, slide down into people’s living rooms.

For after all, there’s no way to get folks to come to the North Pole–it’s too cold. At least, that’s the rumor. Also, human beings are not interested in becoming elves. So instead, you go to them, you go into their living rooms where they fellowship and nurture one another.

4. Next, bring gifts.

We’re all suckers for a gift. As long as we don’t have to sign on a dotted line, ending up with hidden payments, a free gift opens up the human heart.

We will never be able to intimidate the world into a submission of peace.

We will never evangelize the world into accepting a common Christ.

But we can come into their homes with a great package:

A. God loves.

B. God listens.

C. God learns.

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Untotaled: Stepping 31 (December 18th, 1966) One Last Time … September 13, 2014

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(Transcript)

My home was just two blocks from school, so when the bell rang, dismissing classes for the holidays, I hung around. I was in no hurry to make the trek to my house.

It was my birthday and I was vexed by a bit of melancholy.

Maybe it was the reality of turning fifteen and still not loved by any girl, and kind of shoveled to the side by a family that had more pressing concerns.

I borrowed a basketball from the boys locker room and shot some hoops. I was temporarily invigorated by the fact that I set a new personal record for free throws–eight in a row.

When the janitor came into the gymnasium, he frowned. I realized he was going to ask me to leave, so I redeposited the ball back into the slot where it belonged, grabbed my books and headed towards my abode.

Darkness was already beginning to fall on the little central Ohio community. Clouds were clumped in the sky like folded dirty towels, haphazardly stacked on the shelf, precariously threatening to tumble on the floor in the linen closet.

It was gonna snow.

It didn’t take me long to get home, although I shuffled my feet most of the way. I had never seen that little stretch of road so vacant. Everyone had settled inside, lit their fires and were preparing to endure the forecasted six inches of the white stuff.

Strangely enough, when I got home there was no one there. The house was warm, dark and certainly well-suited to my threatening depression. I left the lights off and turned on our old television set.

There was Clara Jo’s Toy Shop. I never watched it–too “baby,” too silly, too girly, too stupid. But today I was in no mood to rise from my chair, turn the dial and find something else.

All at once, she introduced Santa Claus, to come out and talk to the kids. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head, and I realized, “Oh, yeah. It’s Christmas time.”

I cried.

I don’t know exactly why–but as I watched the man on TV pretending to be the saint from the North Pole, I suddenly wanted to believe again.

After all these years of growing up, knowing that the tales spoken of the northern elf were probably not true, I desired him in my life.

I was so lonely. I tried to play the piano, but each song just made me weep. Then I fell silent–so still that I could hear the howling wind foretelling the coming storm. The window panes in the dining room were already fogging over, promising frost.

With some tears in my eyes, I spoke out loud to the television set. “Santa Claus, all I want for Christmas is to still believe in Santa Claus.”

I cried again.

For a minute, it looked like I was going to be inconsolable. Then suddenly, it just stopped. I sniffed and peered at the television set.

I thought to myself that the family would soon be here. I was frightened that they had all forgotten it was my birthday. I didn’t think I had the heart to endure it.

Suddenly Clara Jo began to sing, in her off-key alto pitch, “Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus…”

I allowed my mind to wander to Christmases years before. It was December 18th, 1966 and I was fifteen.

And as a chill went down my spine, I thought to myself, “There goes Santa Claus.”

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