Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, Chapter 7

     At this writing, Christmas is less than two weeks away. In 2002, a few weeks after Christmas, I wrote this novella as a reaction against the way Christmas has become a racket. Many of the worst offenders are professing Christians who have bought into the Christmas racket and are contributing to the world's problems by participating in that racket.
     We need to reconnect with the world, and we need to rethink Christmas.
     Over the coming days, I intend to post each of the fourteen chapters and addendum to Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits. The following is Chapter Seven.  For the Table of Contents to Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, click HERE.

Chapter Seven
Santa Gets Replaced

     Before following Ebenezer Christian home, let's take a final look at the scenes at Stewart's Department Store.
     It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve—the busiest time of year for Stewart's Department Store, and they had no Santa Claus. They were desperate. One of the clerks suggested that they hire Robert Mobley.
     "Who?" everyone else asked. The name was unfamiliar to them. Robert Mobley was a street vendor. Ever since the day after Thanksgiving, he had been sitting in front of the store selling Christmas paper, ribbons, pencils, and such. For a fee, he'd wrap presents, which place him in more direct competition with Stewart's Department Store. He'd often been chased away because the presence of poor people tends to dampen Christmas shoppers' feelings of comfort and joy, and is therefore bad for business.  
     (Before we further proceed with our introduction to this man, we should note that, unlike most folks with the surname Mobley, he pronounced it MOB-ly, rather than MOBE-ly.)
     For most of his adult life, Mr. Mobley had worked as an assistant manager for the Bedford Falls branch of Decker's Discount Store. Decker's, we should interject, was the largest discount store chain in that part of the country.
     Mr. Mobley never wanted to become more than assistant manager, although, when he was younger, he'd often had opportunities to move up. You see, he was shrewd enough to follow the homey advice, "Look before you leap," and here's what he saw:
     As it was at most big businesses, there were three levels of management at Decker's Discount. The lower level managers were the store managers and their assistants. Regional managers occupied the middle level. Upper level managers all congregated in a single building up on Mount Olympus, or some such place as that. From their lofty perch, the upper level managers issued directives to all below, oblivious to everything except the reports that came across their desks. Thus isolated from the realities of the day-to-day existence of their lowest-level employees, they were largely unaware of (and, for the most part, unconcerned with) how their directives impacted their lowest-level employees.
     If a gold coin is dropped from a height of ten feet, it's a valuable and much-appreciated gift. If dropped from five hundred feet, though, it's a deadly missile. This principle becomes more ominous when we consider that, in business, gold is supposed to flow in the other direction.
     At Decker's Discount, middle-level management may be compared to a minefield or shark-infested waters. Each manager is struggling toward the promised safety of the upper level, while he hopes those around him will be the casualties. If the man just ahead of you (there were no women at that level) stumbles and falls onto a mine, his grisly demise brings the ambitious middle-level manager six feet closer to his goal. To use the other analogy, if you can push someone else toward the outer edge of the cluster of swimmers, he will be eaten instead of you. In either analogy, survival required constant vigilance, an almost moment-by-moment struggle, and—above all else—no remorse or pity.
     A fair-minded store manager usually provided a sort of buffer between Mr. Mobley and the minefield (or, if you will, sharks) just a little higher up.
     For almost forty years, Mr. Mobley managed a reasonably comfortable existence for himself and his family. If he made no major mistake, he could count on a reasonably comfortable retirement from Decker's Discount.
     Alas, Mr. Mobley made one major mistake: He got old.
     Two years from the scheduled date of his retirement, he began to feel the pressure. Middle level management wanted him to take time out from his "free time"—without pay—to take additional training courses. Other burdens were placed upon him. His fair-minded store manager was replaced by someone who had ambitions for middle level management.
     The new manager, fully understanding the way things worked at Decker's Discount, had his own metaphor for advancement. He climbed the ladder of success by kissing the feet of the ones above him and kicking the heads of those below him. If anyone near the same level as he were brash enough to reach for a ladder rung close to his own, that meant that only one of his rival's hands was holding on to a rung. It then would be a simple matter to step on his fingers and push the presumptuous competitor to his doom.
     Though the new manager never actually told anyone his philosophy of life and strategy for success, it soon became painfully apparent to all the skulls beneath him.
     Though Mr. Mobley could complain or tell of his troubles to friends, he'd never felt he could actually confide in anyone other than his wife. It was during this period that she died. As his children were all grown, Mobley—for the first time in over thirty years—was completely alone.
     It was an open-and-shut case of a business trying to force him into resigning in order to avoid paying retirement pay. They couldn't fire him without inviting a damaging lawsuit against themselves; but Mr. Mobley couldn't sue them unless they did fire him. All he had to do was outlast them.
     Chest pains, and a visit to the Veterans' Hospital (he had served his country in action during the Korean War) revealed that he couldn't outlast them. He turned in his resignation only six months before his scheduled retirement.
     He soon found himself living in a flop house on South Dargan Street. The flop house, which once was a fine, upper-middle class home, had descended into dilapidation. The owner of the place was a kindly, elderly lady named Sarah Artless, who shared half the downstairs area with fourteen dogs. Robert Mobley’s room had been the downstairs parlor. Skid row riffraff occupied the four upstairs bedrooms. There was but one bathroom—upstairs—for the five tenants.
     No one seemed to know if Robert Mobley had any living relatives. The clerk who'd suggested Robert Mobley as a replacement Santa Claus just happened to know the name because he had been present once when the store security guard signed the police document ordering Mr. Mobley’s arrest.
     Some troublesome do-gooder had bought him two business licenses: one that allowed him to vend his wares, and another that allowed him to wrap presents and related services. An organization of similar trouble-makers (the name of which I'll leave unmentioned) subsequently threatened to haul the management of Stewart's Department Store into court for harassing "the aforesaid Mr. Robert Edward Mobley." (That's the way lawyers talk. The author would wager that, when lawyers die, they must go to the "hereinafter.") Thereafter, Robert Mobley was the beneficiary of an uneasy truce between himself and his more prosperous competitor.
     In a pinch—which is one way to describe the predicament in which Stewart's Department Store then found itself—Robert Mobley looked as though he might pass for Santa Claus. He had a round belly from the low-cost, high-starch diet that was his usual fare. His bulbous nose, too, was a plus. His hair and beard were almost completely white. Though his beard seemed a little short, the beard—like Mobley himself—would have to do.
     Robert Mobley immediately became defensive when Mr. Capra stepping up to him to speak. When Mr. Capra began speaking in respectful tones, Mobley eyed him quizzically. Then the poor street vendor was made what seemed an extravagant offer for playing Santa Claus. Through a sheer act of will, he controlled himself, and his face didn't betray his excitement. He demanded twice that much, and the shocked store manager readily agreed.
     Robert Mobley reckoned that Prince Leopold of Austria had not demanded that much money for the ransom of Richard the Lionhearted.
     Only then did Robert Mobley dare show his pleasure. He broke into a smile that revealed every tooth: every crooked, rotten, or missing one of them. They were sure that this discovery also meant that Robert Mobley's breath could break the ornaments on a Christmas tree or knock out any child who was unfortunate enough to sit on his lap. That ended that. Mr. Capra and his lackeys quickly ducked inside the store, and Robert Mobley stoically resumed his customary pre-Christmas occupation.

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