Wednesday, December 26, 2007

So when…?

Ernius: I couldn't believe it, the other day.

Bertus: What? What other day?

Ernius: My coworker. He was telling us about how he messed up being Santa.

Bertus: Yeah?

Ernius: Yeah. He forgot to set his alarm for the middle of the night. So he forgot to put a special something under the tree.

Bertus: Busted.

Ernius: Plus, the cookies and milk were still there. You'd think the mice at least might have shaved off a little of the evidence.

Bertus: So what did he do?

Ernius: The boy?

Bertus: No, the guy, your coworker.

Ernius: He ran some cover story about Santa sometimes comes later, since some gifts need more time for packing, or something.

Bertus: It's cases like these that drive psychotherapy.

Ernius: Funny thing was, the kid ended up running a better story himself.

Bertus: Yeah?

Ernius: "Dad," he said, "there's no chimney, and the door is locked."

Bertus: Ahhhhh, nice.

Ernius: That's exactly the sound this guy made when he told the story too. A long, raspy "Ahhhh," like no chimneys and locked doors was the best thing he'd heard of in months.

Bertus: So how old is this kid?

Ernius: That's what I asked too.

Bertus: So, how old is the kid?

Ernius: He's seven. Can you believe it?

Bertus: What, you never believed in Santa Claus?

Ernius: Sure I did. But it's amazing to see in retrospect how much effort parents put into the tale, for how long they feel obliged to, I mean.

Bertus: So when did you stop believing in Santa?

Ernius: I don't know. In those young years. They all blend together, except for the occasional flash of a horrible birthday party or some unnerving visit to the doctor. Six, seven? How about you?

Bertus: Well, I stopped believing pretty early. It was kind of hard.

Ernius: What happened?

Bertus: My dad got into a fist fight with Santa in our living room.

Ernius: Incredible. Was he in snow-frosted, red gym shorts or anything freaky?

Bertus: No, he was just a tower of crushed velvet and silver garlands. My dad kept ranting about, "Does this guy have a warrant?" and "How did he get in here?" Meanwhile, Santa kept waving his hands at my dad to calm him down. "Ho-ho-hold on, now, mister. I'm just blah blah blah."

Ernius: You saw all this?

Bertus: Yeah, I was hiding behind the Christmas tree. I was four or five.

Ernius: I'da pissed my pants. So they started fighting?

Bertus: Well, they kept their distance stepping in a slow circle for a little when. Santa kept backing up to the fireplace, and then he reached in and whipped out a massive reindeer antler. That's when my dad bum-rushed him. The Big Red One whacked at my dad a couple times with the antler, but it just bounced off his thick wool bathrobe. That's what my mom said she got him the year before.

Ernius: The antler?

Bertus: No, the bathrobe.

Ernius: Go on.

Bertus: Well, by now ornaments were tumbling off the tree, popping and cracking under them as they scrapped. The tree was pulled sideways like a bowing scribe in ancient China.

Ernius: Whoa, was that some kind of Santa mind trick?

Bertus: No, the string of tree lights was all twisted and bunched up under Santa and my dad. My mom was throwing tinsel at Santa, chanting something about the snowy light will fight him, but it was mostly just falling on my dad's head, getting in his eyes and mouth, so he kept wiping it off his neck and saying, "Leave this to me." Santa kept shouting out names like Donner and Blitzen and Rudolph, but my dad just kept saying, "Go back to the North Pole, fat man, go back."

Ernius: You must have been terrified.

Bertus: Actually, I was enthralled. I mean, this is my dad––beating the milk and cookies out of THE Santa Claus. Not like every other Christmas when he beat up some nobody impersonator at the mall. Once he got that antler out of Santa's leather glove, it was over. Santa kept squirming and rolling under my dad, trying to get to the fireplace. He got his arm under the hearth and was sucked right up the chimney like the fat kid in Willy Wonka. The wire for the tree lights must have caught on his boot or something, because when he went up, the tree shot down onto the carpet and slid to the fireplace till the cord snapped.

Ernius: Did anyone call the police?

Bertus: No way. Come on, whose gonna bust Santa Claus? You piss him off and the whole building goes giftless the next year.

Ernius: And that was the end of it?

Bertus: I wish. My dad's standing there huffing and puffing, shaking the antler in his hand like it's a key he doesn't know which door to put it in. All of a sudden we hear this high-pitched rushing sound, and a big red leg comes out of the chimney and kicks my dad in the back of the knee.

Ernius: Freaky.

Bertus: And up goes the whistling sound again, followed by a crazy ho-ho-ho chuckle. My dad stuck his head up the fireplace but soot started pouring down, so he shut the flue and said the hell with it. He made waffles and then we opened our gifts. Whichever ones weren't trampled in the fight, I mean.

Ernius: So did Santa ever come back?

Bertus: Not that I know of. I know once or twice we got long distance phone calls from Greenland and northern Canada. And once, but I can't really say this is Santa, my dad's car got all scratched up with horns or claws or hiking boots or something.

Ernius: So, uh, Christmas must have been a pretty awkward holiday after that?

Bertus: My parents made the best of it. There were some lean years, though. Years when we only got gifts like muffin mix, or "wise" lectures written in our cards. One year I even got conditioner. I was ten. I think Santa must have screwed around with my parents' buying options, or they were just dead-set on working around him. I don't know, but fortunately when I was thirteen or so, my dad got a better job and just started giving us money. "Don't worry, son," he said, "these are unmarked bills so NO ONE can trace them." He always said it that way, too: his eyebrows rolled up and over and his yes went left and right when he said "no one", and he pressed the money into my hand like it was gold dust, all of which I never really picked up on, or at least understood, till after college. "Memory believes before knowing remembers," and all that.

Ernius: So did you ever try to get things straight with Santa, later in life, I mean?

Bertus: I can't say I hate Santa. I mean, he does a lot of good for a lot of kids. But he took a cheap shot at my dad, so how can I respect that?

Ernius: True. Very true. You gonna finish that egg nog?

I would like to develop this into a short comedy sketch. It's at a support group, in an empty office room. A guy stands up and says, "My name is ________, and I don't believe in Santa Claus." Then he starts telling this story. Meanwhile, every half-minute or so, a pack of power-suit traders stampedes across the room behind him, yelling "Buy, buy, buy!" as they run in one direction and "Sell, sell, sell!" as they run in the other. Each time they cross through, they would string one long spiraled phone cord between the doorways. As he tells his tale, the action takes place in front of the support group, though they are only aware of his speaking; the audience can see the boy, and the tree, and the fighting etc.This is one of a series of dialogues I'm created between Ernius and Bertus. I may work them up into a short sketch piece, sort of a surreal, dead-pan social commentary. The first piece is called "On the Earth…" and the second is called "They're like pigeons…" I'm still not settled on each character's voice––attitude, you could say––but there definitely should be a straight man in each dialogue.

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