Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas 2005 -- The Best Secret Santa Ever

Now for something a little different. Every year, my siblings and I each write a Christmas Story. This story is read to the family at Christmas Eve. For my part, I keep to a strict word count, which means my plots are often resolved abruptly. Also, I go with my first draft and I don't write the story before December 22nd. So, these stories are often glimpses into insanity.

Anyway, here's the story I wrote for 2005: "The Best Secret Santa Ever". It uses much of the cast of my dream sitcom that I'm developing in my head, but that's neither here nor there. Anyway, I hope you enjoy!

They’re trying to get me to quit. That’s the only possibility. First off, Secret Santa participation is supposed to be voluntary. As in, you can elect to participate, or you can elect not to. That’s how I interpret ‘voluntary’, at least. Perhaps there’s a new dictionary, probably online, that defines it as ‘a state of being forcibly volunteered’. My boss stopped by and told me “I’m putting your name in for Secret Santa”. I naturally assumed he was joking, because who forces somebody to do Secret Santa?
Not joking, as it turns out. And apparently the drawing was done under the most secret of conditions. I imagine angry German Shepherds and barbed wire flanking the perimeter. Nobody actually saw the names being drawn, and yet, nobody was willing to question the veracity of said drawing. But maybe that’s because nobody else got stuck with Popcorn Q. Richdale.
I don’t even know where to begin with Popcorn Q. Richdale. Back in the 60’s his parents were on a game show sponsored by Orville Redenbacher. It was sort of like The Newlywed Game crossed with Let’s Make a Deal. At one point, each couple was offered a color TV to sign a legal affidavit promising to name their first child after the sponsor. The first couple jumped at the name ‘Orville’. The second couple could take the TV from the first couple by naming their child ‘Popcorn’. They turned it down, but couple #3, the Richdales, jumped at it. I assume something similar was at work when they gave his younger sister the middle name ‘Vagisil’.
By the way, I had to research that myself. Popcorn Q. Richdale doesn’t like to share personal information. Or socialize. Or restrain his hatred of all other human beings.
The other thing about Popcorn Q. Richdale, the third thing I guess, with his odd name being number one and his dickishness being number two, the third thing about Popcorn Q. Richdale is that he hasn’t been in the office in almost two years.
Popcorn Q. Richdale was lucky enough to fall down the stairs at work. He bumped and skidded his way down two flights, which is sort of like winning the lottery of clumsiness. His lawsuit against the company is still pending, and they’re trying to settle amicably. Thus, he officially stays employed at an increased salary, and he never comes to work. Since the fall landed him in a wheelchair (Figuratively. It’s not like there was a wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs. Actually, there was a wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs, but he missed it. Which is just as well, because as luck would have it, there was a sick kid occupying the wheelchair at the time, and that’s serious nightmare fuel right there.), they can’t fire him without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
So, having made a short story really quite lengthy, Popcorn Q. Richdale was still considered my co-worker, even though he didn’t do any work and never entered the building. With this lack of participation, I had to assume that he didn’t know that he was in the Secret Santa, and it seemed unlikely at best that anybody was getting a gift from him.
Since I still harbored an unreasonable belief in logic and basic social mores, I went to see my boss.
“I don’t want to do Secret Santa.”
My boss, who often claims that he was the inspiration for the character of Bugs Meany in the Encyclopedia Brown series, did not look moved by this announcement, so I continued. “Everybody said it was voluntary, and I didn’t volunteer, and now I got stuck with a guy who doesn’t even actually work here. I mean, how would I even get a gift to him?”
“You’re going to bring it to his house.”
“That really doesn’t sound like something I’d do.”
“Look, Harris. I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re facing some tough times at this company.”
“Yeah, I kind of picked up on that when they started charging us for using the parking lot.”
“We’ve all had to tighten our belts.”
“I know, sir. Oh, is that a new picture of your second home on your desk there? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it with your gray Porsche in front like that.”
“Actually, that’s the silver Porsche. I was having a hard time with the new camera.”
“It’s a hard knock life, sir.”
“Point is, very soon it’s going to come down to the question of who is a team player and who isn’t. A team player.”
“Go team.”
“And let’s face it; team players participate in Secret Santa.”
“Actually, it’s mostly unmarried middle-aged women and the simple who participate in Secret Santa.”
“When the axes start falling, they’re going to be looking for team players, Harris.”
“The axes are looking? I’m not sure I want any qualities that would cause an ax to look for me. Are they magic axes?”
“I know you’re not happy about it now, but in a year, you’ll be thanking me for saving your job.”
“Somehow, I don’t see it coming to that, sir.”
“Aw, hell. What do I know? Is that what you’re saying, Harris? You think I need the solution printed backwards in the back of the book?”
“I’m going to go back to work, sir.”
And so, I went back to work. By which I mean, I sat at my desk and looked up pictures of penguins and obese cats on the Internet until 5:00.
* * *
Later that evening, I met my friend Davis at the mall. I figured that since he knew Popcorn Q. Richdale exactly as well as I did, he could help pick something out. And he likes hot pretzels, so it worked out for everybody.
“Do his hands still work? You could buy him gloves.”
“I don’t know. I thought it was just below the waist, but I’m not really sure.”
“Really, I guess you could give him gloves either way. Dead hands still get cold. I think.”
“But if his hands are dead, how would he put them on? And I don’t even think he leaves the house, so he doesn’t really need gloves. Nope, gloves are out.”
“Well, I’m out of ideas.”
“One idea? That’s all you’ve got? You’re supposed to be helping me here.”
Davis started to say something and abruptly stopped. Then he said something entirely different from what he was going to say before he stopped.
“The hot girl is at Lotions, Lotions, Lotions.”
“Which hot girl?”
“The one who works at Lotions, Lotions, Lotions.”
“Oh yeah. She is hot.”
“We have to stop in for a hand massage.”
“Is that legal?”
“They’re premiering this new hand lotion that’s supposed to moisturize without over-drying, or dry without over-hydrating, or some damn thing.”
“And your hands do seem to need both drying and moisturizing.”
“No, see, if you go in there, they’ll ask if you want to try the new lotion, and if you say yes, the salesperson will soak your hands and rub lotion, and it’s like they give your hands a massage.”
“Man, that sounds really creepy.”
“Hey, it’s the lotion business. What can you do?”
“What I would do is not take advantage of some college senior who’s contractually obligated to rub stranger’s hands. But that’s me.”
“But then I can talk to her and ask her out. If she’s rubbed my hands, she might as well date me. It would save so much time.”
“Fine. Go be perverse. I’m going to find a present for a crippled man who doesn’t really know me at all.”
“Then we have a deal.” Davis hustled for Lotions, Lotions, Lotions and I ducked into Radio Shack, because I was just that desperate. I’d never been inside a Radio Shack before. For all I knew, the whole chain was a front for some white-slavery operation. Sure, it seemed to be all electronics and cables and a couple of robot gorillas, but that’s what back rooms are for.
The stench of sadness settled in immediately, and I worried it would stain my clothing. I backed out, keeping tabs on the greasy clerk without ever making eye contact, and then I saw it. The S/V Cable.
I don’t know what an S/V Cable is. I mean, I understand cables and that it’s necessary to connect some electronic component to some other electronic component. I’m not sure what the ‘S’ or the ‘V’ stand for, and I don’t really know what it connects. All I know is that my friend Kenny said at least six times last year ‘This would work much better with an S/V Cable. When he hooked up my DVD burner, when he bought a new camera, when he wired a Playstation 2 to a Plasma Screen TV, he always needed an S/V Cable. Clearly, this was the most useful of all cables.
I brought an S/V Cable to the register. The clerk didn’t stop mumbling to himself as he rang me up. I’m pretty sure his mutterings had something to do with Firefly, or perhaps FireFox, but I didn’t want to take that detour into Crazy Town. Point is, I had an S/V Cable as a fallback gift. If I found something else for Popcorn Q. Richdale, I could give the cable to Kenny, and everybody would be happy.
Next, I tried out the calendar store. It only exists for 30 days every year, not unlike Brigadoon. Did they really make enough money in that month to justify their existence? I realize that there’s no money to be made from the sale of calendars eleven months a year, but I didn’t realize that one month could pay the bills for the whole year. Probably calendars are the way to go when it comes to short-term windfalls.
It never ceases to amaze me, the depth and breadth of calendar selection. Name a television show, there’s a calendar. It makes sense for cartoons, and for shows with pretty stars who’d be worth looking at for an entire year. I’m totally onboard with the Gilmore Girls calendar, especially since Jess left the show and I don’t need to deal with his little weasel eyes. But how can anyone expect to be a productive member of society when they’re greeted each morning with the cast of The Sopranos? These are not people I want on my refrigerator for the entire year. You look at Silvio for 30 days, and then you get to turn the calendar, thinking it has to be better, only it turns out to be Uncle Junior or Big Pussy, or Wide Guy. And the picture for November actually comes from the scene in Season Three when Gigi Cestone dies on the toilet Thanksgiving night. That’ll freak a brother out.
Calendars from movies that didn’t even have 12 interesting shots, calendars of pop stars, and an array of increasingly specific animal-themed calendars. I’m on board with 12 months of dogs. Dogs are cute. I can even see 12 months of Yorkies or German Shepherds, for the fanatical pet owners. But when you get into 12 months of Butterscotch Golden Retrievers, all of whom are photographed next to a watering can, you’ve lost me. If your tastes are that specific, just buy a poster.
I ended up buying a 365 days of kittens calendar, just in case. I decided that a kitty calendar was exactly the opposite of an S/V Cable, so he’d have to like one of them. And then I’d give the other one to Kenny. Every gift was a good gift for Kenny; if it was something he couldn’t use in the conventional way, he’d end up filming it falling from a great height, or use it in a stop-motion short about a man besieged by office supplies.
I found Davis hanging around the entrance of Lotions, Lotions, Lotions – his hands smooth and supple.
“Turns out, a hand massage is not nearly as hot as you might think.”
“Did you ask her out?”
“No. Just…no. It didn’t go well.”
“Your hands look nice, if that counts for anything.”
“You know, it sort of does.”
* * *
Popcorn Q. Richdale’s house looked, appropriately, like the house of a man who couldn’t stand up under his own power. Wild and overgrown lawn, peeling paint, broken shutters. It also looked like the house of a man who was disliked by his neighbors. Ragged strips of toilet paper clumped in the branches of the trees. Large blots of what appeared to be mucus dotted the walls at random intervals. Presumably, somebody egged his house on Halloween and the eggs just festered for nearly two months. That was my preferred rationale, at least. I suppose it was possible that somebody actually spread mucus on a man’s house, but I didn’t want to think about that possibility and more than necessary.
I rang the doorbell, wondering when, if ever, it was acceptable to use ‘ringed’ as the past tense of ‘ring’.
“Go to hell,” a tinny voice blared from the speaker above the recently-ringed doorbell.
“Popcorn Q. Richdale?”
“Shut up.”
“It’s me. Uh, Adam Harris. I work in that building where you don’t work.”
“What do you want?”
“I’m your, well, Secret Santa. I brought you a present.”
“Secret Santa? Are you some kind of homo?”
“Never mind. Uh, do you want me to just leave your present by the door?”
“Sure. Make a man in a wheelchair pick stuff up off the ground like some kind of monkey. Bring your crap in.” With a click, the door swung open.
Stepping through the doorway, it felt like I stepped over my own grave. And then I saw him, a gray little man in a wheelchair. He actually had a blanket over his legs, like Patrick Stewart in "X-Men". Unlike Patrick Stewart’s portrayal of Professor X, he was wearing a t-shirt bearing a screenprinted photograph of a masturbating chimpanzee. I think that particular wardrobe addition would have made the movie way better, but it’s too late for that.
“Give me my present.” He was a tight little ball of anger, that Popcorn Q. Richdale.
“Actually, I’ve got two, and you can, you know, choose your favorite.”
“I want ‘em both.”
“First off, you don’t even know what they are. Second, no. That’s just plain greedy. You get one present. You can choose from this lovely S/V Cable, or the 365 Days of Kittens.”
“Both. I’m spending the rest of my life in this chair, I want both presents.”
“That’s not the way it works.”
“I’ll call our boss, whatsisname. He’ll sort you out, you little bastard.”
“Fine. Take them both. But that’s not what Christmas is all about.” I handed him the presents very slowly, allowing him the maximum amount of time to be infected with the spirit of Christmas. Sadly, it didn’t happen and he grabbed the cable and the calendar from my hands.
I waited again, first for a sudden infusion of Christmas spirit, then for simple social courtesy. Finally, I primed the pump. “You’re welcome.”
He blinked at me, and then turned back to the cable.
“Well, Merry Christmas. I guess I’d better be going.”
“Guess you’d better.”
“I could, you know, pick up your Secret Santa present if you’d like.”
He thought for a moment. “Damnedest thing. I got an e-mail from work saying that I picked Adam Harris in the Secret Santa. Is that you?”
“That would be me.” Was it a Christmas Miracle, or was the whole thing rigged to create a closed loop so nobody except me had to interact with Popcorn Q. Richdale? I didn’t need a mirror to read that solution.
“There’s a tuna sandwich in the refrigerator. Merry Christmas.”
“Oh. Well, thanks. For the Christmas sandwich.”
“Now get out. I have to take a crap.”
“How does that work?”
“What’s the matter with you? You homo freak!”
“I just mean, uh, can you, you know, do that? I thought if you were paralyzed, uh, well, I thought your butt was also paralyzed. I’m sorry. Now I’ll know next time I encounter a person in a wheelchair.”
“Get the hell out of my house!”
There was nothing more to say, so I went into the kitchen, took the tuna sandwich, and left the house.

I’d like to be able to report that Popcorn Q. Richdale’s heart grew three sizes that day, and he became a decent and loving human being. And I suppose I could, since you wouldn’t do the necessary legwork to find out if that statement were true. But, let’s not lie to each other. He sucked then, he still sucks, and he will suck right up until the cold hand of death forces him to stop sucking, and even then he’ll probably cling to sucking for a little while.
It would be nice if there were a moral, or even a conclusion, but sometimes, stuff just happens. It was a pretty good sandwich, I guess. Maybe that’s enough of a resolution for you. Sorry I don’t have a ghostly narrator with an irritating manner of speaking to tie together events using a series of groaningly obvious puns. So, you know, Merry Christmas, I guess.


Don said...

Your family is like the Osmonds ...but for writing instead of singing.

Myndi said...


Growing up, my neighbor was Mrs. Butterworth. And her husband, the erstwhile Mr. Butterworth, strongly resembled Orville Reddenbacher.