Friday, December 18, 2009

Santa is a Fraud

When the batteries snapped into his back, Capt. Awesome suddenly became aware of flashing lights and Christmas music in the living room. His tiny AAA heart beat faster.

And then a middle aged woman set him on a coffee table – a COFFEE TABLE! – and took a huge bite from the cookie.

“What the ****,” he thought. “You’re not Santa!”

As the woman stuffed him into a red felt stocking, the reality of Capt. Awesome’s situation set in.

He wasn’t built in Santa’s workshop... he was bought in a store! He was a bastard toy! And like all bastard toys, his life expectancy would be that of a house-fly. Even if he didn’t break before his batteries ran out, Capt. Awesome knew that no self-respecting child was going to choose him over a genuine North Pole toy.

He was doomed to life under the bed.

Eventually, the woman turned off the lights and went to bed. After working for hours to build a bicycle and set up something called a “Barbie Tropical Water Park,” she looked exhausted.

“Why would she go to that much trouble,” Capt. Awesome wondered. “Santa will be here any minute.”
Capt. Awesome spent a sleepless night peering over the white-furred edge of his stocking, waiting. To pass the time, he counted the presents under the tree. There were thirty-four. Four red boxes had gold bows. Two red boxes had green bows. Three blue boxes had silver ribbons. Eight boxes didn’t have bows or ribbons. Six boxes were wrapped in green, five had paper with pictures on it, and one little box was silver and shiny. Most of the presents were square-ish, but three were strange shapes that crumpled the paper. Tucked in a corner were two gift bags with white tissue paper erupting from their tops.

Shortly before 6:00am, Capt. Awesome heard tiny voices telling sleepy parents it was time to wake up. An old man, probably the grandfather, scooped coffee into a pot and made noises that sounded like they belonged outside. A few minutes later, a little boy ran down the stairs and shouted when he saw a shiny blue bicycle.

Capt. Awesome was exhausted. He stayed awake the whole night. Santa never came.
It was the parents. It was the parents the whole time. Every box. Every bow. Every toy and foil wrapped chocolate was a fraud. It was all carried home in a sack. None of it rode in a sleigh.

And the parents let it happen. No, they didn’t just let it happen. They made it happen. Every year they filled their poor, empty-headed children with stories about a fat man – a stranger – who loved them so much and thought they were such good little boys and girls that they deserved presents.

Capt. Awesome was furious. “Wrapping a lie in red velvet,” he thought, “doesn’t make it right.”

Three weeks later, Capt. Awesome sat on the kitchen table while the mother wrote checks to pay credit card companies for the Christmas presents they had bought. Capt. Awesome thought she should forward the bills to the North Pole for reimbursement, but he decided not to mention it. At the moment, the mother looked too fragile to take suggestions, even from a superhero.

Capt. Awesome was sure that before Christmas both the boy and the girl had written letters to the North Pole asking the non-existent Santa for everything they wanted, including a bicycle and a Barbie water park. To their credit, the boy still rode his bicycle and the girl hadn’t yet forgotten about the pink water park in the corner of her room – not that she could. On December 26, however, their markers suddenly went dry. Every day they played, but they never said thank you.

Ungrateful kids.
During the months that followed, Capt. Awesome spent most of his time in the van. He went to soccer practices and swim lessons. He waited in the backseat during dance recitals and birthday parties. He endured the agony of family vacations and once almost won his freedom in a Burger King parking lot. He probably would have gotten away – or at least might have been picked up by a new boy in a new van – if the boy hadn’t shouted for the mother to stop. Apparently, bastard toys aren’t as expendable as Capt. Awesome once thought. Damn.

Capt. Awesome eventually overcame his nausea from the van's stale french-fry smell. He also learned to ignore the endless repetitions of something called “Finding Nemo.” He even taught himself how to mentally dissociate when the boy forced his head through the van’s cracked window as they rushed down the interstate. Capt. Awesome couldn’t tolerate it, however, when he got wedged between the back seats. The horrors he saw in the depths of that dark and sticky hell were more than even the bravest toy could endure.

Capt. Awesome soon learned that the boy’s name was Daniel. The girl was Kris. The mother was usually called Mom or Mommy, except when one of the men was in the van. Then she was called Susan. Capt. Awesome got nervous when the mother became “Susan,” especially if the boy and the girl were staying with a babysitter or sleeping at their grandparents’ house. On those nights, when the mother was in the van alone with one of the men, he sometimes heard things that made him wonder if Susan might be the reason Santa didn’t stop at the Cooper house.
In November, the mood in the van began to change. The boy and the girl, who seldom sang along with the radio, started requesting songs about Frosty the snowman and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. Finding Nemo was replaced by a movie that referenced a disturbing place called the “Island of Misfit Toys.” The mother also began asking the boy and the girl awkward questions about elves and what kind of cookies Santa likes.

Soon it would be Christmas, the most dishonest time of the year.
Early one morning, the family piled into the van already arguing about their day.

“I get to go first,” said the boy. “I’m older so I get to go first.”
“But it’s my turn,” the girl protested. “Daniel got to go first last year. It’s not fair!”
“I told you, it doesn’t matter who goes first. You’ll both get a turn,” said the mother. “Kris, what are you going to ask Santa for?”

The girl didn’t even have to think about her answer. “I want an American Girl doll, a bike like Daniel’s with a pink helmet and a white seat, and a white fairy princess dress.”

The boy also had his list memorized. He wanted a chemistry set and a microscope like Brendon’s “so we can do experiments together.” He also said he was going to ask Santa for a remote controlled car and something called a DM3.

The rest of the way to the mall, the mother was obviously working to keep her lips from moving while she rehearsed their lists. Capt. Awesome couldn’t believe the boy and the girl didn’t see it. Sure, they were only kids, but how weak did your batteries have to be to not see the mother memorizing every word they said?

American Girl. Pink Helmet. White seat. Princess dress. Chemistry set. Microscope. Car. DMSomething.

A week later, the mother drove back to the mall without the boy and the girl. She stayed inside for several hours. When she came back to the van, Capt. Awesome could see a chemistry set in one of her bags and the white sequence of a fairy princess dress in another.

“Christmas,” he thought, “when deception disguises itself as goodwill.”

After last Christmas - his first Christmas - Capt. Awesome was convinced that Santa was a great manipulation, and nothing more. He was a fraud built by the collective imaginations of adults who regularly spanked their children for lying. Capt. Awesome was sure that by perpetuating the Santa story, the parents were digging their own graves.

Did parents really think the world leaders these parents were raising would find solutions for the fossil fuel crisis when they honestly believed magic elves spent twelve months a year making everything people asked for?

Had the parents actually convinced themselves that the global economy would be stabilized by a generation who thought an overweight saint slid down their chimneys to deliver toys?

And who did the parents think would care for them in their old age? What possible motivation would their children have for giving selflessly to another person when they believed a 1400 year-old fat man existed for no other reason than to give them presents?

It was all so absurd.
After the kids sat on Santa’s lap, the van was filled and emptied four different times. The mother brought home rolls of paper and hid department store bags under her bed. At the grocery store, she bought two bags of the candy she used to help fill the kids’ stockings. Capt. Awesome remembered it from the year before when he stood on it through that horrible sleepless night. At the toy store, the mother asked a handsome young man wearing a blue vest to help her load a bike-sized box into the van. The young man smiled weakly when the mother handed him a dollar and wished him Merry Christmas.

Long before Christmas morning, Capt. Awesome knew that not only was the boy getting a chemistry set and a microscope from “Santa,” he was also getting a basketball and two new shirts.

The girl would love her fairy dress and would probably spend most of Christmas afternoon riding her new bicycle. But Capt. Awesome knew that “Santa” was also going to surprise her with a shiny chrome bell for her handlebars.

The kids had no idea what was happening behind the Christmas scenes. Every afternoon they rode home in the backseat of a grey Astro-Van that secretly doubled as Santa’s sleigh. If they knew that Santa poured their cereal and drove them to school every morning, they would go absolutely mental.
On the Saturday night before Christmas, the mother dropped the kids off at their grandparents’ house and picked up the man who was her current favorite. On their way to dinner, the mother and the man talked about Christmas and which child would like which present the best. “Susan,” the man said, “You’ve kinda gone overboard this year, haven’t you? Can you afford all this?”

“Not really,” said the mother.

And then she started to cry.
After Christmas, the man helped the mother tie a brittled Christmas tree onto the top of the van. After they dumped the tree in a pile near the playground in their favorite park, the man announced he was taking everyone out for pizza to celebrate the new year.

On the way, he turned to ask the boy and the girl if they had a good Christmas.

“Sure did,” said the boy. “Santa got me a microscope and a cool chemistry set and a DM3!”
“I got a silver princess dress and a pink bicycle with a bell on the handles,” said the girl.
“That’s great,” said the man. “What did your mom get you?”

The boy and the girl looked at each other blankly.

“I don’t remember,” the boy answered. “Mom, what did you get me?”

Capt. Awesome couldn’t believe his ears. If he had any muscle control – if he had any muscles at all – he would kick the boy in the lap.

“Santa,” he wanted to scream, “is just a front man your parents use to launder their own generosity. He’s a puppet crafted to give you the clothes you need and the toys you want and let somebody else get the credit. I can’t believe your mom sits in the shadows while an overstuffed fairy tale steals her glory.”

Ungrateful kids.