Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, Chapter 8

     At this writing, Christmas is less than two weeks away. In 2001, (not, as I'd incorrectly remembered, 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 Eight.  For the Table of Contents to Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, click HERE.

Chapter Eight
Santa Gets Replaced Again
     The parents in Stewart's Department Store were growing impatient, and the children already had grown restless. As the impatience and restlessness grew, so did the store manager's desperation. Soon the store's target consumers would drift away to another store, never to return that year.
     Mr. Capra weighed his options. Though he was skinny he could wear the costume with a pillow. Since he'd been relying on a fully-bearded Santa, there was no false beard. Perhaps he could cut open a pillowcase and glue its snowy-white contents to his face. No, it wouldn't look real enough; and, besides, the synthetic fibers would be itchy. He wouldn't be able to resist scratching, which would result in "Santa" shedding all over a child—a sensitive child. That would be worse than no Santa at all.
     While he stood there tearing at his lower lip and pondering his plight, he heard a voice. "Excuse me," a man said, "but I may be able to help you."
     "The public is not allowed in this part of the store," the manager said automatically. Turning toward the source of the voice, he was stunned at what he saw.
     The person who had spoken was a jolly-looking man just above five feet tall. He was a chubby fellow with a snowy-white beard that billowed like clouds—or like the smoke from the pipe he held firmly in his teeth. His cheeks and bulbous nose were a cheerful shade of pink, like someone who has just come in from the cold. His eyes twinkled, his manner was ebullient, and—as all were soon to learn—he had an infectious chuckle. Even in the clothes he was wearing, he looked the perfect Santa, and anyone who could have seen him would have been irresistibly drawn to him.
     There were, however, a few problems. As he was a pipe smoker, he'd have to brush his teeth and gargle with mouth wash before "going on" as Santa; and he'd have to agree to leave the pipe in the stock room. He was much shorter than Ebenezer Christian, so it was certain that he couldn't fit into the latter's Santa suit. The clothes he wore were, to say the least, controversial: fur, and not just fur lining! He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot. Would the children and their parents accept a Santa who wore something other than the trademark colors of the multinational corporation I've already mentioned? That would be one more problem.
     There was yet another thing: Flabbiness is unacceptable to contemporary shoppers, and this man was definitely flabby. In fact, when he laughed, his spare tire shook like a bowlful of jelly. That could be a problem.
     The store manager, who by now was in such a fit of desperation that he almost would have asked Ebenezer Christian to come back, decided that—flaws and all—this stranger would have to be his Santa Claus.
     It wasn't until later that Mr. Capra realized that he'd never actually asked the stranger to play Santa Claus, nor had the stranger mentioned it himself. He said not a word but went straight to his work. They would have to discuss the money later.
     The new Santa pleased everyone concerned (with one reservation, which I'll describe in a moment). The manager and clerks of Stewart's Department Store were relieved, the parents were charmed, and the children were so delighted that they didn't want to leave the store—which further pleased Mr. Capra and the sales clerks, the latter of whom were working on commission.
     Store insiders who were privy to events leading up to the hiring of this new Santa came to express their amazement at the store's good fortune. The stranger said only that it was something he felt he had to do: he didn't want to disappoint the children. If he was to be believed, that was his only motive. He'd never been a department store Santa before, nor had he ever wanted to be one.
     The one shortcoming this new Santa had was that he didn't use his privileged position to plug the store's toys. In fact, he even tried to dampen children's enthusiasm for certain popular toys.
     Among boys, one of the most popular toys was the UN Peacekeeping Action Figure (That's what they call dolls for boys: "action figures.") with such accessories as peacekeeping flamethrowers and grenade launchers. Another was the NATO peacekeeping bomber plane "that can level a city." Santa disliked both of these and asked what they had to do with "peace on earth and goodwill toward men."
     Likewise, he objected to hand-held computer games, which he said "rot your mind and cause children to become less interested in friendships." To this, the children generally replied that computer games gave them one more thing to discuss with their friends: that is, which one of them could rack up the most points.
     For many years, Bobbie dolls had been a popular means of promoting unhealthy attitudes in young female minds. Bobbie made a large carbon footprint with lots of clothes, friends, accessories, and, of course, a boyfriend named Kent. Would she have all these things—especially Kent—if she didn't have an unrealistically proportioned figure? No. They were all part of the same package.
   To satisfy the skeptics and to meet changes in the social climate, this year the Martel Company came out with a Bobbie-goes-off-her-diet doll. It didn't come with a Kent doll, presumably because she was a liberated woman. Self-styled liberated women, however, would not be mollified. They said that the absence of a Kent doll was due to Bobbie having gone off her diet. 
     In spite of Santa's best efforts to promote the Bobbie-goes-off-her-diet doll, it was less popular than the trailer trash Bobbie doll.
     Except as a gag gift, nobody wanted to buy a fat Bobbie doll or a trailer trash doll. That is, until kids discovered that they were the same size as the G.I. Joe action figure. Kids could then pretend that G.I. Joe was stressed from multiple deployments and dressed in Bobbie's clothing to get a discharge. They could also put the trailer trash Bobbie doll in G.I. Joe's uniform. The G.I. Joe doll, with no clothes on, could be the prisoner of war that the trailer trash G.I. doll led around on a leash, on all fours like a dog.
     The old man playing Santa said it was hard to decide which was more demoralizing to impressionable youths: the fantasy toys available to children or actual news events.
     What did this eccentric old man playing Santa Claus expect as payment for his services? When asked, he just chuckled and said they should "give it to Jesus." When asked how such a thing as that is possible, he'd shrug, "The heart that truly loves always finds a way."
     Near closing time, the stranger was nowhere to be found. No one inside Stewart's Department Store had seen him leave. After some animated discussion with his sales clerks, Mr. Capra decided to place the man's payment—three crisp, new hundred-dollar bills—into a kettle with which a woman dressed in dark blue was collecting money for needy people. Ebenezer Christian had not intended to give her more than twenty-five cents. By a Christmas miracle, he directly and indirectly gave her $320.
     I said that no one inside Stewart's Department Store had seen the stranger leave. Although it may be a coincidence, a mass hallucination reportedly occurred in the alley outside of the store that same night.
     A gathering of (shall we say?) men of leisure were in the alley, observing Christmas the same way they observed many other days: passing around a bottle of inexpensive wine. The aforementioned short, chubby, bearded, elderly man, who was dressed rather unconventionally, sneaked out of Stewart's Department Store and entered the alley.
     Having a "live-and-let-live" philosophy of life, the men of leisure chose not to pay the stranger any attention—not until he placed two fingers to his mouth and loudly whistled. That very moment, the inebriates imagined that they saw a sleigh full of toys, drawn by eight flying reindeer, land right in the middle of the alley. Thereupon, the strange man jumped into the sleigh, whistled again, and the jolly fat man, his reindeer, and the sleigh flew away.
     Anyway, that was what they reported having seen. The day after Christmas, all of them told identical stories upon entering the Mid-State Council on Alcoholism to request admission for treatment. The last your author has heard, not one of them has changed his story, and not one has resumed his former hobby.

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