Illustration by Jim WashburnSanta sat in his lanai, kicking back with some primo myrrh and Chris Gaffney and the Cold Hard Facts' Live and Then Some on the hi-fi.
Ximino, his chief elf and current No. 1 son, came in ringing a hand bell and looking alarmed. "Santa, wake up!" he shouted. "You're late getting all the little children of the world's presents made!"
Ximino did this every year, a running joke between he and Santa. Of course, Santa never made toys anymore or chorused through the chill night sky or got near a filthy chimney. Taking a cue from God, Santa had decades earlier convinced the world he was dead, and hence humans had shouldered the burden ever since. The job should be his alone. Now, he liked to watch the puny people rush madly about, using and abusing one another in the name of joy and sharing. Sometimes he'd dispose of a mall Santa and take his place for a day or two, just to savor the suffering close at hand.
Usually Ximino's joke cheered Santa, but this time Santa reached out and brutally gnawed off the elf's head, arms and torso right at the belt-line, swallowing it amid much noisy gnashing of teeth. Though not popularly known, Santa was a Titan, one of the rough proto-gods of yore who pretty much made a between-meals habit of devouring their young.
"S! What are you gnawing and gnashing on in there?" asked Mrs. Claus. "You know I've got dinner on."
Lots of modern women went by Ms., but Mrs. Claus was a Mrs. and proud of it. Her biscuits were legendary throughout the arctic wastes.
"I just ate half of Ximino. He wasn't half bad."
"Now Santa T. Claus, you know better than that! Ximmie's always been your favorite."
"So's your pot roast, and it doesn't interrupt when I've got Gaffney on. We're overdue for making some new elves anyhow."
"Stick it in your stocking, S. You're not even getting near me unless you give me Al Green's fine autobiography, Take Me to the River. And Gore Vidal's new historical novel, The Golden Age. And the new Sade album, Lovers Rock. And even then only maybe."
"Where's my other favorite elf, Obispo?"
"Right here, boss. What're you listening to?"
"Chris Gaffney. He is just my kick-ass country monkey-man."
"That's funny, boss—I don't like country, but I like this. Isn't that the solo from 'Highway Star'? They rock."
"They'll set you free, little elf, if I don't eat you first. Whoops, too late," Santa growled, snatching up the colorful elf. Then he set him down on the fine koa-wood floor of the lanai with a pat on the head. "Just kidding. Hey, listen to this. . . ."
Santa went up to his McIntosh tube hi-fi and put on Joe Ongie's new CD, Lovefest.
"Isn't this that Gypsy Den java jerk?" Obispo asked.
"I'm making this my official Christmas record this year, and it was only $10 from cdbaby.com," Santa said, proud of his find. Santa and the family usually wintered in Newport Beach, until Dennis Rodman ruined the neighborhood. He was well aware of the Gypsy Den's banana mochas, and was starting to consider Ongie's latest opus, a 12-song rumination on man-woman distances, to be the audio equal of the famed mocha.
Obispo wasn't of the same mind. "You're calling Joe Ongie's album a Christmas record, Santa?"
"Sonny, The Who Sell Out was a Christmas album. Whatever gets you through the holidays is a Christmas record."
"And you're saying this gets the job done? His Cuckold album had some really soulful songsmithing on it. This sounds more like a clever exercise in studio technique."
"I was of a similar mind, Ob, until one night I had it in the carousel on random-play alongside Aimee Mann, Fountains of Wayne and other pop masters—Beatles for Sale, even—and damn if it didn't hold up. Dig the way he mixes Pet Sounds and Revolverinfluences on 'Tomorrow the World.' 'I'm Only Guessing' is pretty glib, I'll grant you that. But admit it—you'd be grateful to hear any of these songs coming out of your radio."
"I'm grateful enough you didn't chomp me. Aren't those Ximino's legs over there?"
"Yes. That reminds me: saddle up the sleigh. I need to pick up some presents for Mrs. Claus. I've gotta grease the path to her love patch."
"But, Santa, isn't the Christmas spirit really all about just keeping the energy of life moving through us all? I find that if I hang on to things I don't really need, I start to feel blocked. It frees me up to receive new things and new experiences when I use my talents for others or give things away, letting them go where they might be better appreciated."
Santa leaned over and bit off Obispo's left arm at the shoulder.
"You mean like that?" he asked the truncated elf.
"Jesus, Santa, that wasn't very nice! That hurt! And I was just about to give you some examples of niceness, like how Tom at Goat Hill Records in Costa Mesa sells CDs by local artists Gaffney and Patty Booker at his cost—we're talking $14 for the Gaff's double CD or $8 for single discs—just because he likes to help good things along. And how 'bout Linda Jemison at the Doll Hut, who, as usual, is devoting the proceeds from most of her shows this month to deserving charities? For $8 a head, people can treat friends to a show such as Saturday's acoustic Christmas night with Jay Buchanan, Joe Wood, All the Madmen and Mulch, where the givers will have a great time themselves and also be supporting a good cause. It's a win-win-win."
"Linda. Are you blind?"
"No, but my shoulder hurts like a motherstuffer."
"If you're looking for an apology, go to a Hallmark store. Now go saddle my sleigh."
None of the Titans recognized international copyright law, but Santa was by far the worst transgressor. In his peak years, he was knocking off Barbie dolls and Bing Crosby albums by the millions. These days, though, it was easier to go pop off to the mall than to have to fire up the elves' counterfeiting shop.
It felt good to get out of the old warmth of the house into the bracing air. Santa never felt his bulk when he was out in the elements.
Obispo and the next-eldest elf, Termino, held the sleigh ready. They'd ride along on the runners.
"Boys, I'm feeling frisky. What say we take a spin around the world as long as we're out?"
"You bet, Santa!" said Obispo.
Termino piped in, "If we go over America, can we drop a bag on Eminem?"
"Make it so. What say we fill the bag with rock cocaine and cinder blocks?"
"That's dope, Santa," said Termino.
"Are you black?"
"Then don't try to talk black. It's embarrassing."
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"Can we kill Sammy Hagar, too? Just because?"
"We can't right all the wrongs in the world, little elf. I've got shopping to do."
He hopped into the sleigh, more spry than you would expect, and wasted no time cracking his whip over the reindeers' antlers.
"On Gundry! On Gaviota! On Molino! On Loma! On Orizaba! Away!"