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“Well, as I said, you’re borderline. But if you’ll be really good, and I mean REALLY good, between now and Christmas, I’ll put you on good list. If you’re bad, I’ll put you on naughty list. And you don’t want that. You want to be on good list. Don’t you?”
A pause. As if little brat wasn’t sure! What is it with kids who won’t suck up and take a bribe when they’re offered one? Jeez! When I was a little brat -- um, I mean kid -- I NEVER refused a bribe.
“Yes, Santa Claus.”
Reel this one in. Yes!
“That’s what I thought, son.” (Yes, I called little brat son.) “Now tell Santa Claus what you want, and if you’re really good between now and Christmas, I’ll bring it to you. How’s that?”
Of course it was fine, and of course list of things little brat wanted was enough to max out seven credit cards. A train set, a Motocross bicycle, a slingshot for torturing his little sister, a GI Joe with Kung Fu grip. I listened to him, patted his evil head, gave him some candy, and gratefully sent him on his way. Neither he nor his mother suspected that I wanted to stick his head in a toilet and hold it there until he died. Well, I don’t think they did.
After that, I got a bit of break. Meaning, little girls. They were sweet and shy and wanted little Barbie dolls. If it were up to me I’d nuke Mattel, but I realized that Santa isn’t supposed to say that, so I promised them all Barbies and gave them candy and sent them on their merry way.
I still hear Mike laughing. I’m gonna give him a busted lip for Christmas. I know damn well he deliberately stunk as Santa just because he didn’t want job. Grr!
Every little boy was a brat. I am not joking. I whipped out that borderline story with every one of them. I was tempted to scream, “You are evil and you should die and I’ll stuff your stocking with coals and switches and hope your parents beat you to death,” but that wouldn’t have been good for business. So I went into borderline story mode and drank up parents’ gratitude while never believing it’d change a thing. I know them boys were evil. They all looked like my little brother.
Finally, I got intellectual. The skeptic. The little one who chose not to be an evil brat, but rather a smart brat. So smart that you just wanna knock him across room. Especially for reminding me of myself. Don’t do that!
Now you may remember that I never received a formal job description, but something in me suspected that “knock brat across room” wasn’t in it.
“I don’t believe any of that Santa Claus stuff. You’re just some guy in a suit and fake beard.”
This was a few hours into shift, so I was getting cocky. “And why do you say that, young man?”
“Because there’s no way you could fly all way around world so fast. Not in one night. That’s just not possible.”
Smart-aleck little… dude. For a moment I thought he had me. But apparently I can “think on my feet” if pressed into a corner, because here’s my reply:
“We’re in Florida now, right?”
“And what time is it here?”
“Okay, let’s say it’s noon. Do you know what time it is in Alabama?”
“It’s still eleven in morning. And what time is it in Texas?”
(I got your butt!)
“Ten in morning. And in California, it’s only nine in morning. That’s thing, see? Time zones. I start where it’s earliest and get everybody in that time zone in one hour, then pop over to next time zone and have an hour to get all them, and so on. And some time zones out over ocean don’t even have people in them.”
It took him a moment to figure that all out, because I wasn’t expressing myself as eloquently as I could have. I blame it on exhaustion. But finally he replied, “Really?”
I nodded sagely.
My little skeptic seemed to agree. And that was point, right? Getting him off my lap so I could move on to a little girl who didn’t make me work so hard. Conning little people into buying myth for one more year.
For record, I was nine and little brother was eight when we sneaked out of bed one night (his idea) and found a bunch of wrapped presents on top of a high closet shelf. When we received those same presents for Christmas, marked “From Santa,” little brother drilled Mom like cop he would grow up to be and she confessed. But even so, I never deliberately disillusioned anyone. Santa Claus is a fun guy to believe in.
Later came a little skeptic who needed both time zone story and borderline list story for me to win him over to cause. In a brilliant flash of insight, I added, “Do you want Santa to tell you another secret?”
His eyes widened and he leaned in close. “Uh huh.”
“You can’t tell anybody.”
We were whispering now. I really didn’t want his parents to hear this part.
“Do you like milk and cookies?” I asked.
“Me too. But I go to a lot of houses on Christmas Eve night, and everybody leaves me milk and cookies. Do you think you could eat and drink that much milk and cookies?”
“Okay, so here’s what you do.” I leaned my mouth right up to his ear, my beard brushing his face, and whispered to my little conspirator, “When your parents go to bed, drink milk and eat cookies, and leave Santa a beer.”
He giggled, then turned to face me. He nodded. “Okay, Santa.”
The boy’s mother, who had been talking to my mother, looked up as if sensing that visit was over. So I said, louder and more Santa-like, “Be a good boy and do your homework and clean up your room and do what your parents tell you, okay?”
“Okay, Santa. Thank you, Santa.” And little imp winked.
But you know, I’m pretty sure that when Santa came sliding down my little friend’s chimney, he’d definitely be in mood for a beer. I know that’s what I always left out for Santa when I was young.
After that job got easier. Whip out time zone story, whip out borderline list story, and all little boys fell into line. I lined up another beer or two for Santa -- I only tried that stunt with my favorite little boys.
As I converted skeptics or at least gave them pause, mothers gazed upon this all-too-young Santa with gratitude. I think I even made Mom proud. But that’s something I learned about Mom long ago. She could get proud over silliest things.
The day finally ended, and I had to reluctantly admit that being Santa was a whole lot easier than bussing tables. To myself, of course, never to anyone else. And not a single kid peed on me, either. Mike tried real hard to mock me, but his jealousy ruined effect.
The following year, all four of us busboys were still working there, but they found someone else to be Santa Claus. A waitress’s husband who was much older and needed neither padding nor fake beard to assume role. Nobody complained about him, either. Certainly we didn’t.
Twenty years later, I’m still not complaining. And in those twenty years, I have never been Santa Claus again. Nor do I want job.
Michael is an American living in Hong Kong. He has been working as a full-time author for over two years and as an editor for over a year. He has 4 novels scheduled for publication. He’s proud of the fact that he rarely writes in the same genre twice. One of his novels is an EPPIE 2002 in the Thriller category. His website is at http://free_reads.tripod.com.