IN SANTA’S BOOTS

“Who, me?” I protested. “Santa Claus? No way! Not a chance!”

“You forgot ‘Humbug,'” my wife replied.

“Don’t try to make me out as Scrooge, Barbara. I’d need a little notice for something like this. Just home from work with a report to finish before Christmas and you want me to drive downtown and play Santa Claus for goodness sake!”

“Yes, for goodness sake, Dear. old Mr. Duffy came down with the flu and if Santa isn’t at the tree lighting, it will break a wonderful tradition. Please reconsider.”

“I’ll have to think it over,” I said, and opening the closet door to hang up my coat, I spotted a bright red garment. “You took me for granted,” I shouted.

“I took your Christmas spirit for granted, you big softee. You should be flattered.”

Ten minutes later I was being hustled out the front door strutting in Mr. Duffy’s Santa boots and trying to adjust my new beard. “How do I look? The suit looks quite well doesn’t it?”

“It certainly does. Poor Mr. Duffy must have been uncomfortable all those years. He had to use a pillow.”

I drove to the town hall arriving in time for the tree lighting. I ad libbed a few ho, ho, hos, had my picture taken with the mayor and the choir and was intercepted on my way back to my car by one of the greediest little boys who ever recited his Christmas list to Santa. It took five minutes and sounded like the complete inventory of F.A.O. Schwarz. I told him if he was a good boy, said his prayers, studied hard in school and voted straight Republican, he would eventually get everything he wanted. He bought that.

I was the last to leave. I got in my car and turned the key. Nothing! Dead battery! My wallet and cell phone were in my other suit, the one without the white fur trim.

Muttering Christmas carols I trudged over to Main Street just in time to see the last store lights blink out and the first snowflakes sideslip past the street lamps. Pulling my fur-trimmed red cap down over my ears, I headed for home. It was very cold, but I didn’t notice because I was steaming.

A young man approached unsteadily on the snowy sidewalk and I thought I might avoid a two-mile walk. “Excuse me, buddy, can you……”

“Santa!, he shouted. “You remembered my name! Look, Santa, I meant to go straight home from work, but the boys insisted on stopping for a few holiday drinks at Murphy’s.”

“Buddy, I need your help. Can you give me a lift?”

“I’d love to, Santa, but I don’t know where I parked my car or even if I own one, ha ha! Anyway , I shouldn’t be driving tonight. But Santa, where are your reindeer?”

“They’ve been recalled, Buddy. Something about faulty antlers. Go home to your family now and have a merry Christmas.”

“Wait’ll the kids hear about this, Santa……Faulty antlers?”

Buddy was only a voice in the swirling snow as I walked on, beginning to marvel at the credibility and authority that went with my loud red coat and knickers.

Further on I overtook an old grandma huddled in a man’s overcoat. She was pulling a sled carrying a little girl and a bundle of laundry. “Susie, look who’s here,” she cried. Susie was about 4 years old with blue saucers for eyes. I leaned over the sled and smiled at her. “Susie, you’ve been a good girl and I’m going to bring you something special on Christmas. (I caught Grandma’s signal). It’s a pretty baby doll for you to take care of.” Susie laughed and reached up to touch my beard.

I pulled the sled toward a laundromat shining through the snowfall down the stree. “It’s a beautiful doll,” Grandma whispered. Just like the one you brought me when I was her age. Remember?

I told her I did and helped her in with the laundry not realizing what the effect would be as Santa entered with a bag slung over his shoulder. A young couple stopped loading a machine and watched me expectantly. A teenaged girl jumped back a step with a hand to her mouth and an old man stared at me with a puzzled look. I recognized him as a nodding acquaintance from the neighborhood, recently widowed and reportedly taking it hard.

“Merry Christmas everyone,” I called. “I have to be going now. It’s my busiest time of the year.” They laughed and wished me the same. I spoke softly to the old man. “Take comfort in the real meaning and promise of the season, Michael,” I said.

“I’ll try, Santa and thanks for stopping by.”

The snow was deepening, but I had only a short way to go and I made it almost without incident. Barbara handed me a steaming mug of her excellent chicken soup as I walked in the door and I sank into the sofa, exhausted.

“Aren’t you going to change your clothes, Santa?”

“Not now. I just want to sip this soup and gaze at the tree for a while.”

“What about that report?”

“The elves will take care of it. Come and sit beside me.”

We sat in the glow of the tree for a few minutes and then Barbara said, “Santa. do you know there’s a big tear in the seat of your pants?”

“Yes, I ran into a bit of trouble. I began jogging to keep warm and I was attacked by a shepherd.”

“A shepherd? Santa was attacked just before Christmas by a shepherd?”

“Yes, a German Shepherd.”





INCURABLY RETRO

Rip van Winkle, Washington Irving’s 18th century carefree Catskills character, had to deal with the results of his 20-year snooze. Rip had a whole lot of catching up to do after two decades of being out of the loop. I’ve had a similar experience. I wasn’t asleep for 20 years, I just wasn’t paying enough attention.

I was almost as befuddled as Rip who’d dozed off as a British subject and woke up as an American citizen. In my case I conked out mentally sometime before the 21st century and “woke up” late last Tuesday. Well, you know how annoying those TV ads can be and how easy it is to mute them. I wasn’t keeping up with all the advances in gadgetry. There was a lot of such talk among my cyber-oriented kids and grandkids, but I didn’t pay much attention or ask questions.

It’s the same with modern fashions. I’m still wearing 25-year old outfits that are a little tighter now but good enough for me and other like-minded geezers. We’ve been accused unfairly of having questionable taste, but we’ll have our revenge. We’re quite sure bell bottoms, nehru jackets and spats will make a comeback soon.

The technology advances have been the most difficult to grasp. I remember fearing we were in the grip of an ear infection epidemic because so many people were walking around holding one side of their heads. They seemed to be in such pain that they were talking to themselves.

Eventually, I decided I had to get to the bottom of this and, while shopping in a mall one day, I spotted one of the head-grasping afflicted, a younger man wearing a T-shirt with a peculiar slogan: “I’m so cool, I’m hot!”. I approached him cautiously. “Excuse me,” I said, “Is that a transistor radio you’re holding?”

“Are you kidding, mister?” He replied. “This is an iPhone.”

“Well, if it’s an eye phone, why do you press it against your ear?”

“You’re putting me on, right? An iPhone is a touchscreen smart phone capable of video calls. It might have a telephoto camera and can browse the Web. Some models have even more features. This one is equipped with gesture recognition and I hear they’re working on body sweat recognition.”

I didn’t understand much of that, but to be polite, I wanted to say something complimentary. “Wow, that sounds a lot better than my Walkman, but can it play audio tapes?”

He had a frightened look and I think he was punching in 9-1-1 on that thingamajig to report an escaped lunatic so I left in a hurry and decided to call my wife to tell her I might be in trouble. But wait a minute! What happened to all the phone booths?

SCARY NEWS FROM MARS

No need to panic yet, but there have been signs in recent years of an impending chocolate shortage. As far back as 2015, the Mars Candy Company, an $18 billion bonbon giant, reported they might eventually run out of chocolate’s essential ingredient, cocoa, if a disquieting trend continues. Ironically, the problem has been a growing worldwide appetite for chocolate and the demand could posssibly outpace supply.

The most current data shows the Swiss as the leading chocolate-eating population with each citizen downing over 19 pounds a year. Germans, Austrians and Irishmen each consume over 17 pounds per annum. In America, the annual per person chocolate consumption is much lower, at under 10 pounds, in spite of the fact that chocolate is essentialy a vegetable product, with added milk, and not on the taboo list of moderate vegans.

There has been, for years, a general feeling of unease in the industry about a possible unmanageable increase in chocolate’s populatiry. In India, for instance, the annual chocolate consumption per person has been about a pound and a half. In China it’s just over two pounds. But suppose most of the inhabitants of these hugely populated countries became chocolate chewers and semi-addicts like many of us?

The pandemic has temporarily added other problems for Mars and their competitors with airports and hotels having reduced product demand and the West African cocoa farmers being hampered by Covid-19 safety rules.

It would be premature to liken this to the recently invented “toilet paper crisis”. Chocolate hoarding would not be a good idea. If you’re like me, you’ll devour your six-month stash in a few weeks. After all, we chocohaulics are only flesh and blood and unfortunately, blubber.

If the worst happens we should unite and oppose as we did, the so-called oil shortages and high prices of OPEC. We will have to learn how to get by on fewer Milkyways per mile and to join candybar pools. We might also campaign for more product availability by encouraging the construction of a chocolate syrup pipeline from Hershey, Pennsylvania. I would gladly sign an easement allowing the line to cross my backyard and possibly, my basement.

SEEING CAN BE DECEIVING

I took an online test today and found I’m not colorblind. So how come my daughters laugh when I show up in my favorite green tweed jacket and the neato orange tie someone gave me last Christmas? That color combo works for pumpkins doesn’t it?

I’ve recently learned when it comes to color perception, we humans, even without colorblindness, are handicapped compared to many other earthlings. Some tropical fish and birds live in a much more technicolor world than we do and there are reptiles with color receptors that far outnumber ours. So it must be a real downer to be colorblind as well and perceiving even less of the world’s brilliant rainbows, flowers, fireworks and pizzas.

However we’re better off than our keen-smelling dogs who can only distinguish blue, green and yellow and will probably never be eligible for driver’s licenses, but I don’t think they care. My dogs have always preferred the rear car seat and an open window where, with their ears flapping in the wind, they can bark colorful insults and challenges to outraged pitbulls and tomcats along the way from the safety of their chauffered dogmobile.

And it must be the waving of the toreador’s cape that angers the bull because he doesn’t see red any better than Fido. Wikipedia reports the ability of us primates to see red was once a vital talent to identify edibles in the forest. It also helps us now to see when we have to apply bandages and when not to wear orange ties.

Colorblindness is quite common among humans. It affects one in 12 men and suprisingly, only one in 200 women. That might explain the laughter of our high school girlfriends when we showed up for dates dressed, as we thought, to the nines, but actuallly, to the giggles.

The typical colorblind human has a reduced sensitivity to red or green or blue. In very rare cases, something like one in 20,000, the poor victim lives in a black and white world with no color at all. If you’re ever at a patriotic rally and the fellow next to you sings, “Three cheers for the gray, white and dark gray,” you’ll know you’ve encountered one of these rare unfortunate individuals.

A NIGHT AT THE ZOO

I sneaked in once, soon after dark

to the famous zoo in Central Park

to watch the animals romp and play

when all their keepers were away.

I must admit, I was surprised

to see they were so organized.

The wily chimpanzees

had filched a set of keys,

and working fast, in stages

they’d opened all the cages.

The big cats leaped.

The serpants creeped

and soon the playful monkeys

rode the miniature donkeys.

Polar bears in icy pools

were breaking some of Nature’s rules,

asking penguins and eager seals

to join them in their seafood meals.

The key was found to the Snacks Arcade.

Soon Jumbo inhaled the lemonade.

Some weiners went to a grizzly bear,

but Leo took the lion’s share.

I had no knowledge in advance

that every beast just loves to dance.

There is no mammal, now I know

can boogie like a big rhino.

As dawn approached I heard a gong

and a huge gorilla, name of Kong

climbed an ancient hickory tree,

Oh my God, right next to me!

“Friends,” he roared and called for quiet

and managed to subdue the riot.

“We’ve had a night of harmless fun,

but look east now. Here comes the sun.

Now go to your dens in this pretty park

and make it as peaceful as Noah’s Ark.”

All turned to leave as the sky grew bright

and I heard a chimp shout, “See y’all tonight.”

UNDER WOOD

Scientists have been heard to say

machines will rule the world some day.

But do not fear those big computers,

we’re already the subjects of other neuters.

Our daily lives are largely guided

by what cabinets and bureaus have decided.

A ruling from the bench, it seems

can change our future, puncture dreams.

A motion to the chair from the floor

has been known to lead to civil war.

And many a strong heart turns to flannel

when confronted by an angry panel.

Who has such bold conceit

that he holds no awe for the County Seat

or does not bend his will in accord

with the edicts of his township board?

Electronics and plastics are all very good,

but our world is already ruled by wood.

And who are the controllers of wood, the takers?

Why the joiners of course and the platform makers.

HISTORIC INVENTIONS # 57

We tend to take the common chair for granted. Actually it’s one of the most important inventions and has contributed as much to the advancement of civilization as the wheel, indoor plumbing, vel-cro, Tupperware and beer, to name a few of the great scientific breakthroughs.

Without the chair, mankind (and womankind) would become exhausted a few hours into every work day and too pooped to figure a way to reach the moon, invent the Internet and improve our healthcare systems which, by the way, would be overburdened with bunion, sacroiliac and varicose vein cases.

We don’t know who invented the chair. It might have been the same ancient ancestor who invented the wheel, the intellectually gifted Cro-Magnon (Let’s call him or her “Aah!”) who realized it was easier to roll a log into the cave than carry it. After a long hard day in the forest competing with sabertooth tigers and gigantic bears as a hunter, and possibly as a huntee, Aah! came home and plopped down onto that very same historic log. Suddenly, Aah! understood it was a much better perch, even with the painful splinters, than the cold, sharp edgy rocks of the cave floor. Aah! spread the word and log seats began to be rolled into all the neighborhood caves.

We owe a great deal to Aah!. Imagine a chairless world. There you are, dressed in you best, dining on the polished oak floor of a 4-Star restaurant or standing in a Broadway theater during a two-hour performance.

Imagine impatient patients pacing wearily in chairless doctors’ waiting rooms, reading old magazines with blood pressures rising. Strap-hanging would be the only option on trains, planes and buses. Those too short or otherwise unable to grasp a strap, would be, for safety’s sake, fastened somehow to the walls of the vehicles or the aircraft and, during cross-country flights, would miss the feature movie and the included peanuts snack.

Automobile drivers would be standing at their steering wheels like Ben Hur during his chariot race. This brings to mind the ancient Romans who, according to historic movie scenes, preferred to dine while reclining sideways on their couches even though chairs were available. What messy meals they must have had! Could this odd unacceptance of chairs been a factor in the eventual fall of the Roman Empire?

THE TOASTMASTER

His throat was as dry as an old cigar

as he walked into the noisy sports bar.

“What’ll ya have?” the barmaid roared

above the TV as the home team scored.

“I’d really enjoy an ice cold beer

and make it a large one please, my dear.”

A burly type sauntered up, grinning.

“Stranger you’ve arrived at a crucial inning.

We boys are drinking to our favorite team.

This year’s pennant is our fondest dream.

Please tell me pal,” he said with a sneer.

“What’ll you drink to with that big glass of beer?”

“What will I drink to? Why my usual, I guess.

Each day at this time I drink to excess.”

As he hit the floor, he expressed his regrets.

“I see by your cap , sir, I should have said ‘Mets’.”

MULTIPLE FLASHBACKS

The pointy-elbowed sumo wrestler on my right was beginning to cross the perimeter of my narrow coach seat as the Weight Watchers dropout on my left placed her large Coach bag on my armrest. The airline had promised “Friendly Skies” and, as I looked out the window over the huge bag, the skies actually did look friendly. There were no enemy fighters in sight as we flew over Akron, Ohio.

Suddenly, the NFL linebacker seated in front of me decided to take a nap and lowered his seat into my lap. I was firmly packaged and, although we’d been thumping through deep air pockets for a half hour, I just had to walk off the agonizing cramp in my left calf. As I rose, with a friendly nod to the sumo wrestler, I was accosted by an angry cabin attendant. “Never, ever leave your seat when the seatbelt sign is on!” he howled. At that moment I had a flashback.

It was to a similar moment on a very different airplane in 1949. I was one of seven Air Force hitchhikers aboard a B-25 bomber flying from Georgia to New York. This might have been one of the 16 Billy Mitchell bombers in the Jimmy Doolittle bombing raid on Tokyo soon after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

The standard crew on a B-25 was five, so we passengers were crammed into the gunners’ space in the waist, sitting on bucket seats while we bounced through the storm clouds at about 9,000 feet. I overheard the comment of a nearby officer wearing bombardier’s wings. “I hate to go up in a B-25 in bad weather like this,” he said.

Suddenly I had a flashback within a flashback! As a Jersey teenager in 1945 I’d played hooky and took the ferry to New York to visit the Empire State Building which, a week before, had been hit by an Air Force bomber that was lost in the fog and crashed into the 80th floor. Oh my gosh!. That was a B-25!

Trying to calm down and needing to stretch I crawled through the short tunnel to the tailgunners’ bubble. What a wonderful, enthralling place, like flying backwards on a magic carpet at 200 miles an hour past towering thunderheads and high over brightly lit cities and colorful farmlands.

Eventually I became a little uneasy about being out of touch with the passengers and crew. What if everybody had left while I was back here? I crawled back to the waist and saw my barracks buddy, Sergeant Worjickowski, the flight engineer. “Newman!” he shouted above the roar of the twin engines. “Where the #@! * have you been and where is your parachute?”

“I took it off, Sarge, so I could crawl through to the tail.”

“Never, ever take off your parachute in a B-25, good weather or bad,” he growled and I noticed the bombardier nodded in agreement while holding what looked like rosary beads. We landed safely in Long Island an hour later.


MISCAST PLAYERS

Shakespeare had it right: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” Our lives are a lot like Broadway productions and movies with their crises, climaxes and denouements and with a refreshing dash of comedy relief thrown in from time to time.

Although we’re given some control of the production, in a very critical area we’re hardly ever consulted. We have so little to say about the casting for the Story of our Life. I have no complaints about the leading players, but the selections of some of the supporting cast members and the walk-on parts have caused periods of distress and frustration.

Celestial Central Casting made a big mistake near the beginning in selecting my kindergarden teacher. I was hoping for someone like Snow White or Mary Poppins. Instead, they sent Cinderella’s nasty stepmother. My poor Mom had to drag me to school every day, kicking and screaming.

My first boyhood job was as a drug store clerk. If the pharmacist had been a friendly, talented medic like Dr. Kildaire, I might have gone on to become a dedicated physician, but he was more like Frank Burns, the bumbling, scheming surgeon in M*A*S*H and I’ve had “pharmaceutical phobia” ever since.

Think about the characters that fate has tossed across your path recently. Can you see how important the supporting cast is to the tone of your life? There was my waitress last Friday evening. I was trying to unwind after a rough week and hoping for friendly, good-natured service. A little inefficiency would have been okay as long as it came with a smile. A Rachael Ray type as my waitress would have been perfect, but even Phyliss Diller would have worked. I needed a few laughs. However, the maitre d’ sent out Judge Judy and I sat stiffly at attention during the entire meal trying not to upset her.

The first person you meet on the way to work each morning, maybe a bus driver or the security guard at the building, can impart a certain amount of tranquility or irritability to your demeanor that lasts until your coffee break. Is your first morning person more like funny Jerry Seinfeld or grouchy Frank Costanza?

When I last took my car to the inspection station I hoped for an easy-going type of officer like Oscar Madison of The Odd Couple. Instead, I got Felix Unger and I was rejected because of dirty bumpers. Officer Tim Conway reached in to scrape off my old sticker, slipped, and slashed my padded dashboard.

I try to be realistic. There are not enough Merle Streeps and Gregory Pecks to go around so they’re not going to put star quality types in minor roles, but they should try for closer matches. Why did my first date look more like W.C. Fields than Sally Field? How come the nurse at the last blood drive laughed like Bela Lugosi ? Why is it whenever I need expert advice on a comlicated problem I end up dealing with Inspector Clouseau?

I have many more examples, but I have to stop now. The Three Stooges just arrived to fix my water heater.