The winter sun blinded me. I scowled. It was a permanent fixture on my face. I could not get the respect of other people, unless I respected myself. And respecting myself took too much work, too much discipline, too much, until I didn’t even feel human. What do you do when respect is everything; when self-torture is required to get respect, and you don’t know if you can go one more hour, let alone one more minute, under the strain?
I was driving through suburbia to pick up what made me feel good, and when I got to the local grocery store, I bagged two bottles of Grandad. Upon leaving, I heard Christmas bells clinking… It used to be that magical time of year, but now I could not understand all the celebrated moments… It was like I had lost the magic.
“That won’t do you any good.”
I turned to the bum who was holding a sign. He had experience— something I didn’t have.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“The bottle—it will only lead you to an AA meeting and a support group. It won’t take you where you want to go.”
“And where is that?” I asked.
He smiled. It was the smile of someone who had been to the North Pole and back.
“Let me get in,” he said.
It was the week before Christmas, and my family had all made reservations to avoid each other. I guess they wanted to avoid trouble. I didn’t. I wanted to look trouble in the eye and punch it in the face.
He was wearing a military jacket from Vietnam, jeans with brown stains, and gloves with the fingers missing. His beard looked like a magpie could nest in it, and his nose was cherry red, bursting with veins.
“What the hell,” I said. I opened the door.
“This car’s a piece of shit.”
“Are you a connoisseur?” I asked.
“No; more like an expert—an expert on bullshit. The government is tracking me because I know things. Like China is preparing to invade the United States and Trump will win the election.”
He grabbed my bottle and screwed off the top. “Cheap stuff, huh?”
“What do you do?” He asked. “No, let me guess… you work in an office. You visit the copier. You talk to your computer. The only excitement in your day is driving home in traffic. That’s about to change.”
The hair on my neck stood on end.
He smiled—a villain’s smile, pulling a Barretta from his jacket.
“Take me to the Porsche dealership. Your car smells.”
I couldn’t believe his nerve. Thoughts were racing through my brain as I raced to the dealership.
“That one,” he said. It was canary yellow—a bird of freedom, the kind of car I dreamt of owning as a teenager.
“You won’t be able to steal that,” I said.
“I know. That’s because you are going to steal it. He punched a hole in the window and offered me the door while the alarm sounded.
“To the airport.”
“Listen buddy, I’ll give you money, whatever you want…”
“I want you to grow a pair… that’s what I want.”
“You heard me… This is my gift to you. I’m Santa Clause.”
I looked at his madness, a madness I had never seen before, and like in a dream, we were driving to the airport.
“You know how to fly a plane?” He asked. “Oh, that’s right, you don’t… This is your sink or swim moment.”
The jet was bright red. “Wait a second… I need to get into my flight suit. He stripped off his camo and jeans, revealing red pajamas with white frills. “You’re flying.”
“What? Where are you taking me?”
“The North Pole.” I had no choice but to handle the controls— it was like putting my hands into leather gloves—they just fit. Santa Clause was helping me to discover myself.
We lifted off, and the plane flew above the clouds. I was still an unbeliever, when the backdoor opened, and his elves came out. They were extremely feminine, wearing lose-fitting pajamas, and carrying champagne.
Santa smiled. I knew this Christmas would be unforgettable.