The Spirit of Christmas
A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann
I saw Santa the other day. No kidding, the real Santa Claus. In
Manahattan, walking along Eighth Avenue with a young girl.
Really the real Santa Claus? He had the clothes and the build and the beard and the bag. He didn't have the hat, but his flowing white hair draped against his broad shoulders and framed his beatific face. There was a strange fire in his eyes; whether it was the flame of merriment or the smolder of madness I leave for the reader to decide.
The young girl was angry. She was about eleven, with long plaits of flaming red hair. Her eyes were ablaze with hostility. "Dad," she scream-whispered, seething. "Dauhd! Listen to me!" She hustled along beside him, half-backwards, hurrying to keep up with his long strides and at the same time using the whole of her scrawny body to defend her case. "Dad, we go through this every year!"
"Yes," said Santa in a rich booming voice. "You don't know how to profit by experience."
"You don't know how to profit by experience!" she steamed. "Every year you come out here with your bag of goodies, ready to save the world. And every year something rotten happens. Did you ever think that maybe the world doesn't want to be saved?"
"Oh, Jenny! How can you say such things?! It's Christmas! Surely every rogue deserves the warmth of a kindly smile, every thrall the depth of a compassionate understanding. And what about the children?! How can the children do without toys?!?"
"They don't deserve the spit they're unfit to wipe up!"
"They're scum, dad. Rotten to the core. When're you going to learn that?"
"Never, my darling daughter. Never!"
Jenny took a breath. "You're an idiot."
"And you're a brat. But you'll see! I'll find the Spirit of Christmas and so much--" he snapped his fingers "--for your opinion!"
Jenny spun around and walked off in the opposite direction. He said: "Where are you going?"
"Home! You're going to do it anyway, but I don't have to watch!"
"No... No, you don't." If he could have seen the sadness in his own eyes, he might have understood his daughter's expression. They stared at each other across a gulf of blindness, a rend of vision no family bond could mend. She spun away again and was gone. He centered the weighty bag on his back and marched off, hohohoing and smiling gaily at the hurried passersby.
I tagged along, just within earshot, as he trundled down the twilit strip of the world's largest human trashcan, Eighth Avenue near the bus terminal. The street was busy with Jersey commuters rushing for their buses, along with the regular population of permanent transients: urchins, shopping-bag things and crafty young men in brand new sneakers.
Santa stopped in front of the blaring lights of a peep academy. A businessman and a flashily dressed woman came outside, arm in arm.
"Ah, young lovers!" Santa enthused. "How touching! Happy Christmas!"
The businessman looked startled: "What'd you say, bud?"
"...do I know you? Who sent you, anyway? ...oh, Christ!" he moaned. "You're not from a [umph]ing detective agency are you?!?"
"Why no," said Santa, surprised. "I just stopped to wish you a Merry Christmas."
"Oh, Christ!" the businessman groaned. "Oh, Holy [umph]ing Christ! You don't have a camera do you? Oh, shit! That truck over there! They're making films from the [umph]ing truck!" He said to the woman: "Hide your face! We gotta get out of here!"
"Glad tidings to all men!" Santa called as the couple scurried off.
A gaggle of young punks had been drawn by the commotion. Now they began to taunt him, mocking his gait and posture, hohohoing themselves into a sidesplit frenzy. One danced around behind him, weaving in an out, teasing the air with the extended blade of a knife. He stabbed out at the bag, tearing the fabric. "What's in the bag, man?"
"Toys!" Santa replied beatifically. "Toys for the children!"
"Toys for me!" said the Knife Wielder.
"Oh, but they wouldn't interest you! They're for little kiddies."
"They're for us," said one of the other toughs.
"Yeah," agreed the Blade Brandisher. He slashed out at the bag, leaving a long tear. Joyously wrapped packages spilled out on the pavement. They were swept up instantly by greedy hands, fought over, then spirited off into the anonymous mob. A pack of tiny kids swept past in a blinding rush grabbing the toys on the ground and those still in Santa's bag. In a moment he was alone, the bag hanging limply over his shoulder. I thought I saw something of sadness in his eyes, but then he said, "Hohoho!," and marched forward again.
In front of the bus terminal he stopped an attractive young woman. "Merry Christmas!"
She said nothing, but a look of fear leapt to her face.
"Oh, how jolly I get this time of year! Young lady, my only regret is that I have no gift to give you!"
"Are you some kind of pervert?"
"Why no! I just stopped to wish you a Happy Holiday."
She backed away from him fearfully, grasping for something in her collar. She pulled forth a police whistle and gave it three long bursts.
Without stopping to reflect, Santa raced off around the corner, into the dark depths of West Fortieth Street.
When next I caught sight of him, a minute or two later, he was being pummelled by a gang of kid muggers, the kind who attack five or six at a time. He was swarmed by them. There was nothing I could do: by the time I got near them, they were scattering. Santa was bloody lump, bruised and babbling.
"Peace on Earth!" he called to the retreating muggers. "Good Will Toward Men!"
"Huh...?!" A lurching wino was stopped short by the sound. "Whatwuzat?" He caught sight of the oozing Santa. "Sheeit! Somebody done give it to him!"
I stared stupidly: it was the truth. "...he was looking for the Spirit of Christmas..."
"Then he shoulda ax me!" the Wino said, thumbing his chest. "I been knowin' where that is!"
"Where!?" Santa burst, wheezing. "Where is it? I must know!"
"Haw!" the Wino guffawed, holding up his pint flask. "Right in here! That's the only place it's ever been!"
"No!" Santa cried. "There is a Spirit of Christmas! I believe, I believe, I believe!!"
"Urk," the Wino said, Night Train trickling down his chin. "...you're an idiot."