It was colder this year at the North Pole. The summer had brought about a record snowfall, and the drifts were higher than Robert Downey, Jr. The wind chill had dipped lower than the OJ Simpson dream team, and apathy had settled in like a flea on the back of a slobbering Saint Bernard.
Santa sat in his Lazy Boy with his pants unsnapped, watching a college football game. Notre Dame was taking on Southern Cal in the Toilet Bowl, and Claus was a big USC fan. (Whenever the announcer would mention “Trojans” it always made Santa giggle.)
“Throw the damn ball! You run like a snowman in a tar pit!” Santa yelled. Mrs. Claus entered the room, carrying a plate of sugar cookies.
“Santa, it’s just a game,” she said as she sat the snacks on his beefy lap.
“I’ve got 500 beans riding on this, and I’m giving away seven and a half points,” Santa snapped.
“You promised you weren’t going to gamble anymore after the bookie took the sled,” said Mrs. Claus.
“ESPN said it was a lock. Rip up Berman’s list. He gets coal this year,” Santa grumbled.
“Well, it doesn’t look like anyone’s getting anything this year. I’m sure the kids—”
“Oh, don’t start!” Santa yelled. “Do not start with the kids! I work my tail off all year for ‘the kids’ and whatta I get? Milk and cookies! Go get me a beer.” In a huff, Mrs. Claus walked away.
Santa had grown old and tired. He was no longer interested in bringing joy to millions of children. He just wanted to retire, sell Toyland, and move to Miami to golf and count ballots. He had put in his time: 623 years, to be exact. Jolly Old Saint Nick had become bitter and antsy. To stifle the lingering discontent, he had started drinking, gambling, smoking cigars, and eating Prozac like it was gingerbread. He had gained 265 pounds and was constantly wheezing. His ear and nose hairs were almost as long as his yellow, tainted beard. As if that weren’t enough, his fingernails were the length of candy canes, and he refused to leave the house for fear of germs.
The toy factory, too, was in disarray. The elves were no longer being drug-tested. They were sleeping in after all-night parties, and sexual harassment complaints were on the rise. The reindeer farm was in shambles. The barn was in dire need of four walls and a roof. Piles of dung littered the snow, resembling a carton of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream. The animals hadn’t eaten for weeks and were almost as thin as Calista Flockhart. The only way they could fly was on a 767.
To her credit, Mrs. Claus had tried her best to motivate her husband. She made his favorite dishes, massaged his flabby love handles, and even dressed up in a tight Easter Bunny outfit to see if that would get his eggnog pumping. But it was to no avail. The jolly man wasn’t looking for jollies anymore. His life had lost its zest— and we’re not talking soap. Meaning had hopped a bus to Chicago. Purpose had taken a train to Denver. Ambition? Well, let’s just say that was on a slow boat to China, looking to link up with a fluffy, unattached Panda Bear named Ding-a-ling.
Christmas was just around the corner and down 34th Street. Things did not look good. Santa was now up to three fifths of Smirnoff a day and his nose was so red that if he did venture out on Christmas Eve, he could likely guide his own sleigh. The alcohol had made him irritable. At the drop of a mistletoe leaf, he would fly into a rage. Elves would tease him by sticking “kick me” signs on his back, putting mascara on his face when he passed out, and hiding wet, sticky gumdrops in his beard. The reindeer had all kept their distance ever since the night that Santa, in a drunken stupor, had staggered into the barn and jumped on Blitzen’s back, yelling, “Yee haw! Get along little dogie!” When the frightened animal tried to buck the heavy oaf off, the intoxicated slob vomited on its head and fell to the ground laughing. The members of the traumatized sled team all huddled in a corner, quivering and fighting to hide behind one another.
One snowy night, Santa passed out on the floor near the couch. (One drink fewer and there’s a good possibility he may have made it to the sofa, but that’s pure speculation.) Next to him, a roaring fire crackled. Luckily, it was in the fireplace. As the lumpy lush lay on the floor, snoring through his crusty whiskers, a bright light illuminated him.
He struggled to open his eyes, grumbling, “You damn elves leave me the hell—”
But a vision halted his sentence. Santa’s blood-shot pupils focused on what appeared to be a short, old bald man dressed in a cheap suit and smoking a cigar. “Where did you come from?” Santa slurred.
“I just flew in from Purgatory, and boy do my arms feel guilty,” the ghost joked.
“Just who in the blazes are you?” Santa asked him.
“I’m da Ghost of Christmas Past. And speaking of Christmas, last year my wife put a bow in her hair and wanted me to unwrap her. I exchanged her for a tie.” A quick drumroll and a cymbal crash came from somewhere above. Santa just stared at the man.
“Oy vey, tough crowd,” the ghost snapped. Shaking it off, he grabbed Santa’s arm and said “Let’s go Slim, we gotta look back on your life.”
“Ho, ho, hold on a second. Aren’t you Jewish?” Santa asked. The man shrugged and grumbled, “Who knew?”
In his previous life, the Ghost of Christmas Past had been a Catskill’s comic known for his reliance on oneliner jokes. His material was so bad that audiences would bombard him with whatever food they had in front of them. One night, during the second set, an under-ripe squash made contact with his skull. It put the hack in a coma from which he never recovered. Ironically, the vegetable had rendered the man a vegetable. But just before the comedian had died, the hospital nurse swears she heard him mumble, “Take my life… please.”
The ghostly, funny man took a long puff of his cigar and then exhaled a roomful of smoke. When the secondhand smog had cleared, Santa and the comic found themselves standing at the foot of a rickety bed. A frail, dying woman resembling a young Phyllis Diller lay covered by a green and red Afghan. Her wrinkly head was propped upon a goose-feather pillow, and a small boy stood next to her, feeding the withering hag some cocktail peanuts.
“Great balls of popcorn! That’s my, my mother!” Santa exclaimed. “Momma, Momma! It’s me, Nicholas!” Santa called out.
“Hey, no heckling. She can’t hear you,” the ghost said.
“Who’s that small boy?” asked Santa
“Listen to you,” the comic quipped. “When they passed out brains you must’ve thought they said trains and taken one to Albany. That’s you, ya little brat.”
“But my hair was red, not black,” Claus said.
“Yea, well, color flashbacks ain’t cheap, and ‘dis comes out of my pocket, tubby,” the comic responded.
“I’m sorry they were out of cashews, Momma,” the young boy said, placing a beer nut on his mother’s dry tongue.
“That’s all right, Nicky,” the woman gasped. “Just promise me you’ll make toys and deliver them to poor, unfortunate children all around the world.”
“But, I thought you wanted me to be a lawyer, Momma,” said the young Claus.
“No, oh no, you’ll never get to Heaven that way,” his mother coughed as she patted his tiny head. “Go with the toys, my boy. Go with the toys.”
“I promise, Momma. I promise,” the tyke answered. At the foot of the bed, Santa mumbled, “The toys…” as he looked at the comic.
The ghost smiled and said, “Two toys walk into a bar…”
Morning had arrived and Santa’s eyes slowly opened, his tattered head resting on an empty bottle of Wild Turkey. Sitting up, he grabbed his throbbing skull and groaned in pain. “Ho, ho, holy snowballs, I should’ve put more ice in the glass.” A loud noise startled him as Mrs. Claus pushed a reverberating vacuum cleaner into the room. Santa pulled himself onto the couch. Huffing, he leaned over and bellowed, “Turn that thing off!”
After several overt strokes of the Red Devil, she clicked off the machine. “Did you enjoy yourself last night?” she coldly inquired.
“Don’t start on me. Do not start,” Santa said in his best Ralph Kramden tone.
“Is there or isn’t there going to be a Christmas this year?” asked his wife. “Because I need to know. If not, I’ll just throw the sugar plums out. There’s no use in keeping—”
“Enough, woman!” Santa yelled, as he made his way over to the dry bar. Trembling, he began to mix a Bloody Mary as Mrs. Claus started the vacuum again. Santa took a sip of his drink, made a sour expression, then added some Tabasco sauce. He looked in the mirror. His face resembled the surface of Mars, with craters and deep canals burrowing from the chin to the forehead. “The toys…” his mother’s raspy voice whispered, as Santa remembered his dream. Mrs. Claus finally turned off the vacuum and started to walk out.
“Did you see an old Jewish man here last night?” Santa asked her. “He told jokes and, and…carried a violin.”
Mrs. Claus just glared at him. “You’d better get some help, fat man,” she snorted as she stormed out.
By 7:00 that evening, Santa was half-in-the-bag, literally. He had climbed into one of his burlap sacks that typically hold presents and had fallen face-down on the newly-swept carpet. All day he had polluted his body with a mixture of tequila, Bacardi rum, and a splash of eggnog. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Disgusted, Mrs. Claus had gone into town to shop for some scented candles and a brick of cinnamon botanical potpourri. As a result of his afternoon binge, the chubby man drifted off to Tipsy Town.
Santa was awakened by a crooning version of “White Christmas.” In the corner of the room sat a man with droopy cheeks, casually smoking a pipe. “Hey ba, ba, boy,” his low, bass voice rumbled. “Looks to me like you been dipping in the sauce a little too much.”
Santa sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Who are you?”
“Oh, I’m the Ghost of Christmas Present,” the man said as he puffed away. “I was just on the road to Heaven, thought I’d swing ba, ba, by and pick up my wings.”
“Didn’t I put some golf clubs under your tree one year?” Santa recalled.
“1938, and a fine set they were. Dunlop XL’s, I ba, ba, believe” the man smiled as he stood up. “Well, come on ba, ba, big boy, we got places to ba, be.” And with that, he exhaled a puff of pipe vapors, and the pair vanished into thin, cloudy air.
The twosome found themselves in the toy factory. The place was a mess. Littering the floors were dolls without heads, wagons without wheels, stuffing seeping from fuzzy animals and toy soldiers missing uniforms. In fact, there wasn’t one completed toy. “Holy night! What’s happened to the toys?” Santa gasped.
“Looks to me like your workers went on holiday for the holidays,” the crooner quipped. From the back room, the sounds of rap music shook the walls.
“What in the Charles Dickens is that noise?” asked Santa. “Must be ba, ba, buffalo mating,” the smoking ghost said. “It sure ain’t music, ba ba ba boo.”
Suddenly, Santa found himself in the midst of a wild party. Liquor flowed like latte at a corner Starbucks. Drunk reindeer flew recklessly into walls. Elves danced, bumped and ground, half-naked, on the work benches.
“Quite a show you’re running here, Saint Nick,” the ghost exclaimed. “Reminds me a little of the Play, ba, ba, boy Mansion. I thought your racket was making toys for little girls and ba, ba, boys.”
“Yeah, well, I’m tired of the toy business. Let the Japanese have the market. I’ve had my fill,” Santa belched.
“Sounds like you’re in a ba, ba bit of a pickle,” replied the ghost, pretending to swing a four-iron.
“I’d like to be pickled,” Santa huffed. “Can we get outta here?”
“You know, you remind me of a chubby little sidekick I used to work with,” laughed the ghost. “Always wanted the funny lines. Never wanted to give. Poor fella got the laughs. Me, well, I just wound up with the ba, ba, beautiful girl.”
“You stuttering idiot,” Santa sneered. “Is that why you brought me here? To tell me some nonsensical ho, ho, horrifically lame story?”
The ghost shook his head. “You just don’t get it ba, ba, boy. Don’t you see? It’s when we give that we receive, a pah-rum-pa-pum-pum.”
“I need a drink,” Claus mumbled.
He awoke bright and early the next afternoon to find his wife standing over him. “You know,” she said, “if we had toys this year we could fill the bags under your eyes.” Santa merely grunted. “You smell like a Whoville brewery,” Mrs. Claus cracked.
Santa managed to stumble over to the sink. His hands shook as he filled a glass of water, placed six aspirins on his discolored tongue and washed them down. “And another thing—” his wife began.
“Woman, you’re gonna be the death of me!” Santa burped, his balance uncertain. “You hear me? The death of me!”
Enraged, Mrs. Claus threw one of her fuzzy boots at him, barely missing his head. “Ho, ho, ho,” he snickered.
“That does it, you abdominal snowman,” snapped Mrs. Claus. “I’m going to Mother’s.”
Mrs. Claus stormed out of the room in tears. Santa kicked the Christmas tree and ornaments and bulbs shattered on the floor. With craziness in his eyes he slurred, “I don’t need anybody.” But Santa was wrong. That night, the irate alcoholic invited Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels over for a party in his belly.
As usual, the hefty, alcoholic sponge fell into an intoxicated slumber. And, as usual, a ghost woke him up. “Ra, ra, ra , ra, rise and sha, sha, shine, Harvey, I mean Santa,” the tall, skinny apparition stuttered. “I’m the ga, ga, ga, ghost of Christmas Future.”
“Can’t you ghosts just give me one silent night?” Santa whined.
“Wa, wa, wa, well, we, we could, but wa, wa, well, it wouldn’t be ra, ra, right, by golly,” the ghost replied.
“Alright, let’s get this crap over with,” moaned Santa, reluctantly.
“Le, le, le, let me see if I remember how to do this li, li, little effect,” the spirit said. The ghost held a cigarette up to his mouth and lit it. He began coughing out smoke. “Ga, ga, good stuff!” he wheezed, as the room became hazy.
The two time travelers found themselves standing in a run-down trailer. Dirty dishes and a Confederate flag decorated the room. A small boy sat in the corner, weeping. “That poor little fella. Why’s he crying?” Santa asked the ghost.
But before the ghost could respond, voices from the back room grew louder. “Whatta ya mean you spent your paycheck at the bar?” a woman screamed. “You were supposed to buy Tiny Tom a Razor Scooter! That’s all he wanted for Christmas!”
Santa shook his head in disgust. “That father’s a selfish louse,” he mumbled.
The couple continued to battle as the young boy snatched his Snoopy blanket and ran out the door. Santa tried to grab him but the little guy just passed right through his body. “Where’s he going?” Santa asked the ghost. “It’s snowing and freezing out there!”
“Tha, tha, that it is. But it’s warmer out there than it is in here,” the ghost replied.
“What happens to him?” Santa questioned.
“Oh, the, the, they find the kid tomorrow morning, frozen, on the side of the road. In the snow he wrote ‘God Bless Everyo’.”
Santa’s heart stopped as he struggled to breathe. “Who would let this happen?” he choked out.
The bickering spouses emerged from the back room. The man smoked a Marlboro Light and scratched his full, white beard. He held a bottle of Boone’s Farm wine, wore boxer shorts, and sported a tank-top T-shirt that read “Bite Me!” under a small Budweiser logo.
Recognizing himself, Santa wavered in shock as the ghost attempted to steady him. His face went sick and pale.
“Wha, wha, well, what did you expect? A wonderful life?” the ghost said.
Morning had arrived at its designated time as snow gently floated past the window. The house was quiet except for a mouse stirring…his coffee. And Santa was down for the count again, curled up under a sheet of wrapping paper. It looked like Christmas was going to take a “time out” this year.
Suddenly, oh what a sight, Saint Nick sprang in the air like a Laker guard. He bulled his way through the furniture, and oh what a clatter! He ran to the window and opened it wide. He called down to an elf who was carrying a keg. “What day is it, my fine, short-statured friend?”
“Why it’s Christmas day, sir,” the elf answered. Santa’s lips quivered as tears flooded his eyes. The elf looked up and smiled. “I’m just yanking your chain, tubbo. It’s only Thanksgiving.”
“D’oh! Santa said, gritting his teeth. “Why you little—”
“Hey,” the elf continued, “Why don’t you grab a couple of bottles and come over to the factory. We’re having a Macy’s Day Parade and we need a float.”
Santa slammed the window shut. “As God is my witness, there will be a Christmas this year!” he vowed.
Santa tore open his closet doors. He ripped his red outfit off the hanger. With the strength of six Grinches, plus two, he sucked in his beer gut. He wiggled then jiggled ’til he could wiggle no more. He was getting in those pants, that was for sure.
He waddled over to the bathroom sink, trimmed his beard and cut his nails. (That’s right, Claus clipped his claws). Now it was time for business. He gathered every ounce of liquor in the house and, sweating, flushed it all down the toilet. It felt good—then bad—then good again. Some say Santa’s liver shrank ten sizes that day.
The reindeer and elves were partying and living la vida loca when the door to the factory crashed inward. An axe-wielding Santa announced in an eerie Nicholson voice, “Heeeere’s Kringle!”
“Look!” cried a drunk elf, “It’s the bearded drunk!” The workers burst into laughter.
“Ho, ho, hold it down my ‘faithful’ workers,” Santa calmly said.
“You’re the one who can hold it down!” Rudolph yelled.
“Yeah, a whole gallon!” Herbie, the elf, added.
Santa smiled and casually walked among the pint-size party rebels. “It appears what we have here is a failure to communicate,” Claus remarked. “We’ve got some toys to make. Now, we can do it the hard way or the easy way. So, what’s it gonna be, ba, ba, boys?”
Squatty, the biggest of the elves (who towered at threefeet-eight-inches), boldly stood up. “We don’t take orders from drunks,” he snickered.
“Is that right?” Santa asked as he looked around the factory. Cocky, the elves and reindeer nodded in unison.
“Well, in that case, I think I’ll help myself to a frosty mug,” Santa said, seeming to surrender.
Everyone raised their cups and cheered. The stout man leaned over the beer barrel, but instead of pouring himself a draft, Santa picked up the keg and crashed it over the head of Squatty. The eyes of the big (tiny) elf rolled back in his head and he collapsed into a crate of Rudy Toot Toots.
A pine needle could be heard hitting the floor. “Anyone else?” Santa asked.
With eyes agape, everyone shook their heads in fright.
“Well then, what’s everyone standing around for?” Santa yelled. “We’ve got toys to make!” Sobriety instantly filled the air, sending the workers scurrying to their stations.
The elves worked around the clock, cranking out toys by the minute. Reindeers practiced take-offs, rooftop landings, and built up their stamina for the arduous journey. In his shed, Santa busily constructed a sleigh. Mrs. Claus returned to gather some knickknacks she had left behind. (Like any woman, she had a fondness for knickknacks.)
Unbeknownst to Santa, she was also carrying divorce papers. When Santa saw his wife, he swept her up in her arms and said “I love you, Mrs. Claus!”
She looked at his glowing puffy face and knew he was sober and that he meant every word. She smiled and said, “I love you, Mrs Claus.” The jolly man twirled her around and around until she threw up on his hat.
It was Christmas Eve and the elves had just finished packing up the sleigh and harnessing the reindeer. Dressed in his gleaming red suit, Santa sat at the wheel. Mrs. Claus ran out of the house holding a tin of cookies and a fruitcake. “Wait!” she yelled. Santa climbed down off the sleigh. “The doctor just called,” Mrs. Claus said.
“Oh, no, no, no. Is my cholesterol count too high to fly?” Santa asked sadly.
“Your cholesterol level is fine and your blood pressure is normal,” she beamed. “I’m pregnant!”
“Ho, ho, ho! It’s a Christmas miracle!” Santa exclaimed. He picked his wife up—but decided not to twirl her around this time—and kissed her.
“Now you get going,” Mrs. Claus said as she handed him some treats. “Here’s some snicksnacks for your ride.”
Santa climbed back onto the sleigh and fastened his seat belt. He lifted a Walkie-talkie to his mouth.” Flight four, six, niner, prepared for take off.”
An elf in the tower responded, “You have clearance, Claus.”
With a tug of the reigns, the jolly man yelled, “On Dasher, on Dancer, on….on…ah, you know your names.”
Then up to the sky
the sleigh started to cruise.
There would be a Christmas!
Now that St. Nick’s off booze.
by Jeff Charlebois