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DOM'S MERRY CHRISTMAS STORY

By Terry Sheils 

Dom DiPietro, the retired barber, had always been something of a misanthrope and, when a stroke restricted him to a wheelchair, the tenants of Kenford Mall expected his misanthropy to become aggravated. It was, thus, somewhat of a surprise when he offered, as part of the ongoing spirit of co-operation among the tenants of the Mall, to baby sit for the women who were having their hair done at Maxine’s two doors down. This he did, because, as Dom put it, he “preferred children to human beings.” 

Thus it was that, every Christmas, Dom collected the children he’d entertained over the year, and regaled them with a special Christmas Story, of his own devious devising.

To fully appreciate this story, one has to understand that Dom, while perhaps not a good Catholic, was certainly a devout one. So he regarded the pagan rites associated with the festival with some disdain. Particularly, he believed that Santa Claus was really the Devil, having passed through the guise of Saint Nicholas, (i.e. Saint Nick,) from his original form as Old Nick.

Moreover, Dom was convinced that the bottom line was that Santa Claus was Jewish. (This dislike of Jews was the reason he called his partner, whom he quite liked, by the name of Murray, though the name on the sign was “Dom and Tony’s” and Tony’s name was really Moishe Feldstein...if you follow.)

At any rate, every Christmas, Dom would gather his little entourage of tots around him in the back room of Dom and Tony’s and recount his personal Christmas Story, which went like this...

*****

            A MIDWINTER'S TALE

or

Santa Claws is Coming

 

After the necessary introductions had been completed, Paul Usher got right down to business.

"And how can we at Surface Services be of assistance to you, Mister Hayden?" he asked the Dark Man.

"I'd like to improve my image in order to spruce up business," the Dark Man replied.

"That is the forte of this Division of Skindeep International," Usher nodded.  He pronounced the Italian word as if it were written f-o-r-t.  "So, as usual, let us also begin with what you consider to be your forte.  Give me a brief profile of yourself...emphasizing your strong points as you see them."

The Dark Man placed his fingertips together and pursed his lips.  A wisp of smoke curled up from his nostrils as it always did when he was deep in thought.

"Well," he said at last, "I should think everyone is aware of my liberal egalitarian views...everybody at my factory is treated equally.  No one complains of favoritism."

"From what I hear it is an equality of misery," Paul Usher said.  "And your factory, I understand, is more...well, a sweat shop."

"There!  You see?  That's exactly the problem," Mister Hayden snapped his fingers and paused to blow them out.  "Everyone thinks of me in conjunction with fire and brimstone and all that stuff.  Truth is, the only reason I am so attracted to fire is that I am always so damned cold."

"Is that so?"

"Check your Isaiah.  Chapter Fourteen, Verse Thirteen, I believe.  He places my family's seat of business in the North - where it is, of course.     People have forgotten too, that I was once called - in a more monarchic age - the Prince of Darkness.  I ruled, therefore, over the Winter Dark and my solunar cycle is highest at the Winter Solstice."

"The longest nights of the year, let's work on that," Usher nodded.  "Where do they occur?"

"The North Pole, Iceland, Lapland... Saint Bonaventure placed me in Lapland."

"Where you had a team of reindeer, as I recall..." the Public Relations Man nodded again.  "Now we're getting somewhere.  What did you call them, again?"

"Beelzebub, Bashun, Nosferatu, Calliope..."

"Calliope?"

"Hellish sound."

'Well, it doesn't matter, we'll have to change them anyway.  Tell me more about the real you, the Prince of Frozen Souls..."

"The Northern Germans, Saxons and Angles had it right - along with Isaiah and Bonaventure."  The Dark Man grinned, showing his perfectly-formed, sharp white teeth.  "They called me Nick,  or Nickel or Nikker - you could find that it Beowulf - or, in Germany, Pelznickel.     In those days I was an aged man, dressed in red fur and with a long, flowing white beard."

"Were you also covered in ashes and soot and did you carry a large sack?" Paul Usher asked.

"That's me.  Where did you hear about that?"

"That's irrelevant.   Tell me, why were you covered in soot?"

"From climbing down chimneys.  I told you the warmth of fires attracted me."

"And why did you carry the sack?"

"To kidnap small children."

"Whom you discovered when you climbed down the chimneys?"

"On Midwinter's Eve, right.  Ask any Dutch child.  But I'd often leave them alone if the family had left me some food and wine."

"And why did you capture the children?"

"I sacrificed them...well, three of them...on Midwinter's Day.     Cut their heads off."

"Is that why Saint Nicholas is symbolized by three children's' heads," Usher gasped.  "I'd often wondered.  I never realized they were severed..."

"Saint Nicholas, Cinder Klaus, Old Nick...that's me." Mister Hayden's eyes glittered like diamonds on black velvet.  "So, now that you know the real me, what can you do for my image?"

"Well, it seems to me..." Paul Usher began thoughtfully, "that we don't actually have to change you...the real you...that much, at all. What we have to change is people's perceptions of you."

"I'm so glad," the Dark Man sighed with relief.  "I've been who I am for so long, I wasn't really looking forward to changing.  Oh, physically, I can change any time I want.  But my personality...?"

"The changes will be minimal, I assure you.  Like Polonius we will 'with devotion's visage sugar o'er the devil himself.'"

Mister Hayden laughed a dark, hollow laugh, like winter wind in a cold chimney.

"Now that's one thing we will have to change," the Public Relations Man said.

"What?" asked the Dark Man.

"That laugh.  It just won't do.  Do you suppose you could manage more of a hearty belly-laugh?"

"If I had a hearty belly, I suppose."

"Then that's something else to work on.  Cut the wine, up the food."

"Just a minute," Mister Hayden fixed Paul Usher with a black-ice glare.  "You assured me I wasn't going to have to change personally, and the first two things you suggest are just that...personal changes.  Suppose you give me an example of what you mean by a change in people's perception of me?"

"Very well," the PR man smiled unctuously.  "Suppose we begin with that sack you carry."

"To put the little sacrifices in, right."

"Suppose we let it drop - say, to a couple of society columnists     - that your sack actually contains presents for good little girls and boys."

"Untrue.  But never mind.     So, what then?"

"Then their perception of why you come down their chimneys will change too."

"I'll be a jolly old elf," Mister Hayden mused, finding it a bit hard to get his mind, as well as his tongue, around the idea.  "Spreading kindness and generosity and joy...yeuchh. But won't they be more likely, then, to leave goody-goody stuff - like cold milk and cookies - instead of red meat and strong drink?"

"There's more hearty belly in cookies than cognac," Paul Usher reminded him. "Besides, you can always get tight when you get back to Lapland."

"I told you, I can change physically at the drop of a hat.  Anyway, suppose people buy that idea, there's still the problem of my name.  People associate Old Nick or Nikker with a different kind of elf altogether."

"Your name is a problem, I'll grant you," Usher said grudgingly.     "But we'll put it in the hands of our name experts, Stuyvesant and Smythe.  One of them's Dutch, the other English.  If the Dutch can botch German like they did, and the English can make Chumley out of Cholomondeley, they should be able to screw up Saint Nicholas in a way that won't remind anybody of the real you.  We'll also give them the reindeer to rename.  I think that pretty well covers it."

"Not quite.  My festival days are still a problem.  People associate the solstice with the saturnalia, with pagan bloodletting and drunkenness."

"I don't suppose you'd be willing to change your feast days?"

The Dark Man shook his head.

"Not after all these years.  I may hate the cold, but it's familiar.  Besides, it's the image we're supposed to be changing, not the substance."

"True," Usher said thoughtfully.

"So?"

"Just a sec," the PR man said suddenly.  "I may be able to kill two birds with one stone here.  I've got these other  clients, group of guys who claim to be the followers of some other guy who got himself crucified.  Claimed to be the son of a God who preached peace and good will."

"I've heard of him," Mister Hayden said.  "It's just possible they're telling the truth."

"Be that as it may; it's no business of mine," The PR man said brusquely.  "The point is, would you mind sharing some billing with someone who claims to be the Son of God...whether he is or not?"

"Not at all.  I think it'd be a hoot.  But what exactly do you mean 'share some billing?'"

"I've suggested to these guys that what they really need is a feast day around which they can really push their product.  Like the guy's birthday or something.  Trouble is, none of them knows for sure when he was born.  Now, if we could tie him in with your Midwinter's Day...which is when, by the way?"

"December twenty-first, or the twenty-fifth..or January sixth..depending."

"Let's take the middle one...anyway, suppose we pinned that down as this guy's birthday.  It would seem your new image of kindness and generosity could profit by association with a guy who claims to be the son of a God of peace and good will."

"It's almost an overdose of virtue.  I may be ill."

"It is an overdose...but that's what selling is all about."

"But just a minute...won't people be expected...won't some of them try...to emulate all this pukey virtuousness?"  Mister Hayden suddenly had black clouds hovering over his eyebrows.

"Of course.  That's the point of the whole sales pitch...of the whole new you in fact," the man from Surface Services beamed.

"I'm afraid I don't get it," Mister Hayden frowned.  "Surely, you are aware that I thrive on sin..."

"Of course.  But are you trying to tell me that, after all this time, you've learned nothing about human nature?" Paul Usher asked, almost scornfully.

"I should say not!" The Dark Man fumed.  "I know human nature inside out - which is the way you usually find it."

"Then tell me the most important thing you know."

"I know," Mister Hayden said definitively, "that at heart they are all savages.  That they wear their civility like a burlap chastity belt."

"So you might say that behaving kindly, and generously, and lovingly would be going against type?"

"I'll say!"

"Then suppose our combined campaign...you and the ‘God is Love Boys’...were to be hugely successful?  That we could get a large number of humans to behave like saints for three weeks...even a month?"

"You're stretching credibility, but I'll concede the point for argument's sake..."

"Then how do you expect they'd behave when the festivities are all over?"

"Abominably!" the Dark Man chortled.  "All that poison stored up for so long..."

"Exactly.  And, besides, what do you know of the behavior of the human species during festivals of any sort?"

"They generally drink too much..."

"Yes...and...?"

"And that leads to the lessening of various inhibitions.”

"And during a festival where generosity and a spirit of giving predominate?"

"The possibilities for carnal excess are almost limitless!"     The Dark Man clapped his hands and set the carpet on fire.  "Usher, your ideas are almost beginning to make sense."

"We'll fly with those, then?"

"We'll see," the Dark Man said tentatively.  "I'll try them out for a little while..."

"Three or four hundred years is all I ask."

"That's reasonable," the Dark Man nodded.  "Just so it's understood that, if my association with this group of religious fanatics isn't working out, they're the ones who will have to abandon the Winter Solstice."

"Of course.  You have the prior claim."

"Very well," the Dark One said, standing up to his full four feet, including his cloven hooves. "I'll be back, probably before you know it.     But, for now, what do I owe you?"

"Oh, this consultation's for free," Paul Usher smiled superciliously.  "Never let it be said that I sold myself to you today."

"No, Usher," the Dark Man said, with a smile that was almost upside down.  "You did that the day you went into PR work."

*****

Of course, the kids didn’t understand much of the story, but it really wasn’t for their amusement; it was for Dom’s.

And, when the mothers picked their kids up and asked them, on the way home, what the story was all about, and they said,

“God and Santa Claus sharing Christmas,”

the mothers said,

“That’s nice, dear.”

And everyone was happy.