©1997 A.D. Sullivan
Twelve Twenty Four
Every Year This Time
SPR interviews Santa
What It Be Then, Bethlehem?
Sledding in Manhattan
The trees are dark and empty
Their branches, slim and bare,
The frost has caught the sparrow's next,
and lingers in the air.
The horse-trodden path is icy,
and slow fills up its cracks,
the soft brown doe from the frozen lake
has hit the southern track
The golden wheat fields have gone to sleep
beneath a clear, white frigid crust,
the old pump handle is trimmed with ice
and must surely turn to rust
My breath is warm and steady, now
as I breathe upon this pane,
I draw a picture of Santa's sleight
with Santa at the reigns
He's short and round like a circus clown
with a red and weathered face,
his full white beard like a snow man's ear
flows out all over the place.
He totes a bag of red and gold
which he carries inside his sleigh
and he struggled down like a chimney sweep
with bag getting in his way.
The small reindeer in their smart leather gear
stand ready in the snow
for when Santa's sleigh makes its getaway
before anyone else can know.
Twelve Twenty Four
In silent harumph fashion, the four gnomes thumped down the hall that led to the giant green and red door.
Their titles in turn were, Chief of Cryogenics, Chief of Surgery, Leader of the Teams and Captain of Asides.
Upon reaching the massive portal, each signed the clipboard proffered by an automated clerk. And hadn't these machines caused more than their share of trouble this year, three of them silently agreed, the fourth gnome being in the midst at the time of an off the cuff remark.
"This clipboard needs a refill," said the Captain of Asides.
All the gnomes were tediously aware of the clock ticking away over their heads, projected into the corridor from a spot above the door. They could also hear the lock at the end of the corridor. There were 420 clocks at the station. It was 7:23 on the eve of The Event.
"While we're waiting for the time-chime to open, we should check the valves," the Chief of Cryogenics said.
This took five minutes and it was now 7:28. They all stood back several paces from the door and looked up to the panel of lights that would indicate the door was opening.
"Let me get some pictures," said the Leader of the Teams.
"Stand back, and give me some room," said the Chief of Surgery.
This request went over very well. There was now only 10 seconds to go. A hush could be felt falling like a dead leaf through the whole station.
At exactly 7:30, signal bells were rung all through the complex and the four gnomes, after all these years, could not stifle a collective gasp as the mighty green and red door slowly opened with a hiss and an ornate, gilded platform started inching out.
"This is indeed a proud something or other," said the Captain of the Asides.
It could not be seen that a rather large body was resting on the platform which was being forced erect by hydraulic pumps, pumps that sounded strangely harmonious. The shape and features were hazy and indistinct under a pulsing plastic cocoon. The Chief of Surgery popped the seals and fir scented air hissed into his face. He reached into the cocoon, lifted the tissues off the eyes. And leaning over, careful not to cause a shock, he whispered: "Evening, Santa..."
Every Year This Time
He only saw them on Christmas,
each year they came knocking on his door,
each year expecting things to be different,
he hoping this year they wouldn't come back,
they hobbling up to his door,
backs bent with bags of presents,
and he, with a sigh saying:
"Since you're here already
you might as well come inside,
and yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too, Ma"
SPR interviews Santa
SPR: Well, folks, it's that deck-the-hall-with styrofoam-balls-and-plastic-holly by-gosh-by-gollie time of the year again, and just to show you how good we're trying to be, we at Scrap Paper Review have spared no expense -- we've hooked up a long-distance call through our local Internet provider to bring you a chat-room interview with -- Yes Virginia -- Santa Claus himself. Santa? Are you there?
SANTA: Cut the crap, sonny. And don't call me Santa. It's Mr. Claus to my associates. I'm especially known for my contractual genius in the boy marketing field, not to mention my reputation for delivery. I'm a businessman, son, and I'm not to be jollied up to. I've seen your web-zine and I figure you're about the only ones who care little enough to get the facts straight. Everybody else wants to falsify, glamorize and capitalize. They've all got to much to lose. You got nothing. So forget the foregone conclusions. Let's get down to tacks.
SPR: Okay, uh, Mr. Claus. Sorry. This is quite a departure from your media image. I mean, ho, ho, ho, and all that.
SANTA: Good PR, my boy, is as simple as this: Make whatever claim you want, wear a funny suit, spout out some memorable slogan, no matter how ridiculous -- not, strike that -- the more ridiculous the better, and soon you and your product will be a household item. I'm surprised you didn't know that, boy. I see a lot of that same principal in progress right in your own web-magazine.
SPR: Uh, right. Well, it has been a long time since you got your act on the road, so it's become deeply enough ingrained in the culture. So much so that even we thought to re-evaluate it. You seem more like a Scrooge-type than a conventional Saint Nick.
SANTA: A businessman is a businessman. I keep busy and pressures are more than a less generous soul could bear. I haven't got time in my more candid hours for the jolly-old-soul bit that keeps the kids in line.
SPR: What exactly do you do, aside from make toys, up at the North Pole?
SANTA: Whoa, boy! First of all, I don't live up at the North Pole. There's no access to telecommunications, even with the Internet. And there's no social life, no financial advantage whatsoever.
SPR: It's been a long time since your last interview, hasn't it? How did the North Pole image come about and where do you base your operations?
SANTA: People seem to like the idea of generosity springing full-blown from a frozen oasis. I don't know. I first got into the trade around the time of the industrial revolution hit Europe: Holland, England, America. I went wherever the market was on the rise. I keep a home now in California. But my headquarters have established themselves in Japan. I'm thinking about moving them to China. Hey, I need to milk this boom economy for all it's worth.
SPR: And was it true? Did you hire elves to fly around in a reindeer-driven sleigh?
SANTA: Once upon a time. But, of course, the elves unionized and I had to let them go. They didn't realize when they had a good thing going. Now, most of them are on welfare (though the government's put them on workfare, I hear). Many of them have become lobbyists for dead or dying causes, like the Democratic party. As for the reindeer, Lear jets are much more fun. And they don't smell as bad -- from the inside, anyway.
SPR: Who does your work now?
SANTA: The Japanese, Vietnamese, Cubans, Salvadorians, you name it. I'm an equal opportunity employer, unless they want too much money.
SPR: I heard you were good friends with the former president, Ronald Reagan.
SANTA: Ah, Ronnie. How I miss him. I knew him back when we were both kids. Those were the days, shooting Indians, abolitionists, long haired agitators of all kinds, and making the world safe for the Xmas spirit. The world was our arcade in those days. Yes, Ronnie used to be a good pal. When he was running for office, I gave him a good turn out at the poles.
SPR: You gave Ronald Reagan an election landslide?
SANTA: You should have seen his face when I gave it to him. He said it was just what he wanted and was the best present anyone ever gave him.
SPR: So, Mr. Claus. What now? You cover your obligations until the end of the year, and then back to seclusion?
SANTA: Right now I'm doing the shopping mall circuit and the street corners, but, of course, that's just a front for my activities in the Third World. Give'em a good-will line once a year and it's good for a piece of the international pie. You don't stuff the old red suit with just good intentions. There's a pillow case full of hundred dollar bills under this beard and I aim to keep it there.
SPR: What about the kids?
SANTA: Ah, but that's the beauty of the whole thing. You see, if they'll believe in me, they'll believe in anyone who's got media clout. Today, they want Tickle-me-Elmo, tomorrow they'll want a Strong National Defense or a BMW. Let them grow into it. Tell'em someone out there wants to take their Tickle-me-Elmos or won't allow them to play with their Nano Pets, and they'll die for you. Watch the way they go wild at one of my rallies. Wonderful!
SPR: Santa, you're a sick puppy!
SANTA: Hey, you've asked nothing about my film career. I've done more than "Miracle of 34th Street" and "The Christmas that almost wasn't." Did you catch my last splatter flick?
SPR: Merry Xmas to all, and to all, a good night.
(Adapted from a previous work published in Scrap Paper Review by M.Alexander)
What It Be Then, Bethlehem?
So it is that religion gets harder to ken
What it be then, Bethlehem?
Let's mount up and cut out and stop the pretend,
Let's climb out together from this Christmas fen!
It remains to be seen if there's love in the glen,
What it be then, Bethlehem?
Let's shake off the flakes; don't go round the bend!
Let's climb out forever from this Christmas fen!
Sledding in Manhattan
Christmas with our nanny's boyfriend is sure different. Nothing nearly as stuffy as what Daddy puts us through with clothing, dinner and some silly kids show at Radio City. This year me and Minnie have seen a part of the city we never saw before, and all because of Pauly.
You would like him a lot. He's funny and always acts like he hates kids, though he does grumble a little too much about not having money or a job. He looks through the want ads whenever he stays over with Jane saying how no one seems to be offering work which would fit his temperament.
Daddy doesn't like him much -- but you know Daddy. He doesn't like anybody let alone someone who sits in his chair and smokes his cigars. Of course, Pauly only does this when Daddy is away, but Daddy notices and complains about him constantly to Jane.
But he doesn't dare complain too much because he's afraid to lose Jane, and she's the best nanny we ever had. But he's not nice to Pauly. Sometimes he doesn't even say hello to him except to move him from a chair or have Pauly put down a piece of his precious sculpture which is all around the flat.
Yet Daddy was peeved the other day when he came home and found Pauly alone with us, demanding to know where Jane was and how she could leave us in the hands of a shyster.
Pauly, who never takes Daddy too seriously, shrugged and said it must have been temporary insanity.
"It's the pressure of having to do last minute Christmas shopping," Pauly told him. "It drove her right over the edge."
We thought Daddy would explode, but he seemed more annoyed at Jane than Pauly, saying she was supposed to have done some shopping for him. He looked at us and sighed.
"The kids wanted some sleds for Christmas. What was the name?" he asked me.
"Flexible Flyer," I said.
"Sleds? In Manhattan?" Pauly said and laughed. "Where are they going to ride, down Broadway?"
"There is the park, I suppose," Daddy said. "And they do go out to their mother's place around Christmas. Besides if they want the things I'm not going to ask what they're going to do with them, as long as they're happy. The problem is I don't have time to be wandering through a department store."
Which meant the chauffeur was supposed to have gotten them and forgot, leaving Jane to buy them for us, but she was already gone.
"I was counting on her as to not disappoint the kids," Daddy said. "And I would have given her a little extra for her trouble, too."
You should have seen Pauly's eyes light up.
"You mean as in money?" he asked.
"Of course I mean money, fool!" Daddy said. "But I don't suppose Jane'll be back in time."
"I could do it," Pauly said, drawing Daddy's dark gaze.
"You? And who would watch my kids?"
"I could take them with me. I'm sure they'd like the ride."
Daddy didn't like it. That much was clear from his face. But he looked at us an d knew he didn't want to face us empty-handed on Christmas either."
"All right," he said.
"Flexible Flyers are expensive," Pauly said, his eyes still glowing. "At least $200 each."
"Nonsense. I've seen them on sale for $150," Daddy said, unfolding $400 from his pocket.
"There is cab fare."
"That should cover it."
"Barely," Pauly said, staring at the money as if he wanted to change his mind.
Lucky for us, he didn't-- because we wound up having the best time ever. Only we didn't take a cab downtown like Pauly told Daddy. Instead we took a subway uptown. You should have heard the noise and saw the strange people. Pauly was particularly vexed with us for wanting to wander away. There was so much we'd never seen before.
"You'll see plenty where we're going," he said. "Just stay close and for God's sake don't tell anyone your names. All I need is for someone to think of kidnapping you."
It wasn't far. But boy was 125th Street different from 96th-- and with black people walking all around as if they owned the place. Neither me nor Minnie had ever seen so many black people in one place before and none had on a maid's uniform or a doorman's hat either.
We pointed this out to Pauly and he told us to keep quiet about that, too.
"People around here don't like to be reminded about such things," he said.
Now I wonder what he meant?
Well, anyway, there were tons of dark little shops with odd people standing out in front of them. Pauly stopped often to talk with them, asking where he could find a pair of Flexible Flyers. People shook their heads and Pauly seemed to get worried. But me and Minnie were having such a grand old time, laughing and singing, that we didn't care much about whether he found the sleds or not. We even saw a black Santa Claus if you can imagine that!
Finally we came to a dirty little store with a dirty man outside who wasn't black at all.
"Flexible Flyers? Sure I got them," he said. "But it's gonna cost you."
Oh, and did he and Pauly argue, shouting so loud we thought they were going to hit each other. But after a while the man nodded and went inside the store. He returned with two sleds and handed them to us.
"You happy?" Pauly asked.
"Sure!" we said.
"So am I," Pauly said, directing us back to the subway as he folded a bunch of money and put it in his pocket.
The evergreens seem taller now,
wide-bottomed sentinels surrounding the door
with pine-coned hands and frosted sleeves,
and -- the stairs seem shorter,
ticked in sleepers drifting under
the soft, wet sheets of white
dusted by the wandering wind.
The gray house seems as gallant as ever,
only colder and unused,
its buttoned door with peeling paint
barely opens anymore;
and when it does, only the hollow sound
of a single pair of shoes is heard,
only the scare call of the agent
trying to sell....
And here, it is Christmas
with no prospective buyers,
"Maybe it needs painting?"
The agent mumbles
the gust of wind stealing his words
But the trouble's on the inside looking out:
the ragged flames aglow too brightly
from beneath those yellowed shades.
Its wood too moist crackles in complaint
in the chipped brick of its broken hearth.
The trouble's on the inside looking out.
"The troubles in its cold upstairs,"
the agent thinks sadly as he drops
down from the sagging wood porch
his cruel step breaking the barren skin
of nearly virgin snow.
The trouble's in the ghosts that think too much,
haunting the attic with the unclear glaze
of crystalled panes: eyes crossed and narrowed,
blinking with the cold without and
the deep, desperate flames within.
The agent laughs as he stumbles down the hill,
feeling the wind ripple behind him,
hearing the low, solemn voice whisper
in his retreat:
"Merry Christmas all,
And to all a good night."
All work is by A.D. Sullivan except where otherwise indicated.
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