Saturday, December 19, 2015

28 Xmas Stories 22: Their lives are endless quests.

La ville où tout le monde doit aimer toute l'année
In this town, Xmas tree ornaments are hand-carved, and each ornament is a likeness of someone in the town. Each person in town who is old enough to do this has his or her own Xmas tree, and carves the ornaments for that tree by themselves. Each and every person the ornament-carver cares about has an ornament carved in their honor and hung on the person’s tree. The likenesses are remarkable: the townspeople, one and all, are very skilled at this after so many generations.

But what is more astonishing than all that is why they do this: these tiny icons of their loved ones are created and put up because the more trees one’s image is on, the more powerful the Xmas magic is for that person, and hence the more of their wishes will be granted come Xmas morning. Getting an ornament hung for you on someone else’s tree increases the odds that all your Xmas wishes will be granted.

Because of this oddity the people of the town are both very social and unfailingly nice to each other. They hold doors open, help the neighbors with yardwork, volunteer for charity fundraisers. They offer help to those who need it, compliment each other, never argue. They share what they have and  in general everyone treats everyone else as though each were royalty.

Every person, man and woman and boy and girl, too, tries to make as many new friends as he or she can throughout the year. Their lives are endless quests to be as nice as humanly possible to as many people as can be.

It seems as though all this niceness, being primarily motivated by the desire to have bigger and more spectacular Xmas wishes granted, would start to wear on a person after a while, would seem fake. But the wishes don’t work that way: fake goodwill towards other townspeople garners one nothing, so the feeling is genuine.

And anyway, even if the behavior was fake it’s still a pretty good way to live. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

28 Xmas Stories 21: Ain't no other way.

Rudolph The Regular-Nosed Reindeer Falls In Love On Xmas Eve, 3:
“… he said it was magic,” Rudolph muttered to himself. Or so he thought. The woman stopped looking at the envelope and the streetlight and the snow and the general scene, and looked at him.

“What’s that now?” she said.

“Nothing,” Rudolph said. “I just… nothing.”

“That’s good, because it sounded like you said someone said something was magic,” the woman said, turning back to the envelope, “Which means that you would be crazy.” She started forward a bit, as the envelope got caught in a gust of wind and blew across the street.  “Well, come on,” she said to him.  “I’ll help you get it.”

They both darted into the street and across it. The envelope was lying on the sidewalk, a little damp, near the stoop of a building. The woman reached down and grabbed it before Rudolph could.  She read the back of the envelope:

Seriously Do Not Open Until Xmas Eve Or The Magic Won’t Work
Then looked up at him. “So…”

Rudolph shrugged, reached for the envelope.  “It’s a friend. He’s got a weird sense of humor.” Rudolph didn’t know if Chad had a weird or a regular or any sense of humor. He barely knew Chad. But what was he supposed to say? He was the one chasing after a … magic envelope. There was just too much to explain.

She started to turn the envelope over, and Rudolph made a more concerted effort to get it before she could read that side, too. Just as he grabbed the envelope, a man’s voice shouted:

The woman looked up, startled. Rudolph did, too.  Down on the end of the street, on the opposite side where they’d just come from, was Chad, next to a woman Rudolph didn’t recognize.

“Oh no,” the woman said.

“What?” Rudolph asked.

The woman took off running just as Chad and his companion started sprinting towards them.

Rudolph looked at Chad coming towards him, and the woman running away from him, and then for some reason he looked down at the envelope.

Then he took off running after the woman, as fast as he could.

The snow was making the sidewalk slippery already and when he got to the corner, about a half-block ahead of Chad and the other woman, Rudolph skidded a bit as he tried to slow down. He bumped into several people who yelled at him to watch where he was going, not drink so much next time, have a merry Xmas too buddy, as Rudolph looked around for the woman.  He spotted her about halfway through the intersection, weaving her way at a near jog between taxis and car service cars escorting people to and from holiday parties and department stores.

“Wait!” he yelled. He looked back. Chad was coming up fast, looking grim.  Rudolph leaped into the street, right behind a bus that was pulling out into traffic. Two cabs swerved around the bus and a bike messenger wavered crazily as Rudolph half-ran, half-walked across the street, trying to keep his eyes on the woman and the traffic, and wondering how close Chad was behind them.

He made it across, and the woman was already halfway up the next block, making her way through the thronging people, her silhouette barely glimpsed in the flares of red and green light from shop windows.  Behind Rudolph Chad and the woman were halfway across the four lanes of traffic, horns honking now at the people crossing against the light.  Rudolph again started running after the woman, his shoes skidding more now on the snow.
He made it to the next corner, but their pursuers were gaining on him. He had lost the woman, and looked wildly around the intersection.  Traffic lights, cars, busses, a limousine, a giant group of college-aged kids, behind him Chad only 20 feet back.  Rudolph took a guess, turned right and ran as fast as he could.

He’d gone only five feet when a hand reached out and grabbed at him. He was nearly yanked off his feet as the grip on his arm tightened. Rudolph was spun around and felt himself lifted bodily off the ground by his elbows, and was then looking up at the face of a large bald man with a goatee, wearing an eye patch. He put Rudolph down and nodded to his right. Rudolph looked and saw a barber’s pole and a small door in the building down three flights of stairs. The large bald man nudged him and turned around, and Rudolph took the hint. He skittered down the stairs and threw the door open.

Inside were three old-fashioned barber chairs and a short man bent over a broom. He wasn’t sweeping. He was just resting on it. He looked up at Rudolph, and shook his head.

“You look a wreck,” he said. He tsktsktsked Rudolph and put the broom off to the counter. 

“But no time to worry about that. I expect you’ll be wanting the door.”

The door? Rudolph thought.

“The door?” Rudolph stammered.

“The door,” the man said, with a matter-of-fact sigh.  “Go on in,” he pointed towards the back wall, where a small door stood slightly ajar.

Rudolph looked back up at the door he’d come through, then at the door the man indicated. 

“I…” he said.

“Go on,” the man said. “Ain’t no other way,” he added.

“No other way… what?” Rudolph asked.

“Look, you seemed in a hurry. You think my son can hold them off forever?” the man said.

“Son?” Rudolph said.

“Go on now,” the man said. “And mind the drop.” Rudolph felt himself pushed by the man’s wrinkled but insistent hands. The door was pulled open and he was ushered in. It was shut behind him and he stood there, eyes adjusting to the gloom.

There was a shape across from him. He squinted. It was a person-sized shape. When it moved he realized it was a person and nearly yelped in surprise but before he had even processed this all, the shape said:

“I hope at least you have your envelope.” 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

28 Hours Until I See "The Force Awakens!"

If I have to be sitting up at 3:29 a.m. with Mr F (who is unable to sleep and thus makes other people unable to sleep) at least I've got this Bad Lip Reading of Star Wars to watch over and over:

PS Here's Mr F

28 Xmas Stories, 20: This Story Is About...

This Story Is About A Guy Telling You The World’s Shortest Xmas Story.

Hope you enjoyed it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

28 Xmas Stories, 19: "Grrrrr!"

American Bear Celebrates Xmas, American-Bear Style
When American Bear celebrates Xmas, he goes all out, American-Bear Style.  Sure there are the Xmas trees (one in the living room, one in the den, one small one for the bedroom window) lit up like the last days of Rome, or something else that gets lit up.  There is also the house, decorated (some would say garishly, but not to American Bear’s face) with the lights and the other lights and the inflatable Santas on the roof (four of them) and the snowmen (acrylic) in the yard waving (mechanically) at the passers-by, but those are unobjectionable to most people.  Also unobjectionable is American Bear’s habit of overspending on Xmas presents, for his friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, the mailman, the paperboy, the electric utility worker from the county, and sometimes just for random people like the time American Bear handed out gift cards to Starbucks™ at the local diner. 

That’s how American Bear rolls, American Bear would say.

What people tended to get a little upset about was that American Bear also launched fireworks on Xmas Eve, at midnight. Red, white and blue fireworks. Spinning star fireworks. Roman candles and bottle rockets and M-80s and even sometimes some fireworks American Bear bought in Kentucky that are not what you would call “street legal.” American Bear would blow these up, and shine spotlights on his Santas, and put out a Nativity scene that was very nearly life-size. (It was 7/8 size and you’d have to look close to not see that it was life-size) and the Jesus in it was a good American baby, and you know what I mean by good American baby,let’s not make an issue of this. The point is, the Jesus in American Bear’s crèche was Jesus the way American Bear and his (American) neighbors wanted Jesus to look.

The people who were not overly crazy about all this were the people who had small children, and the people who had elderly relatives, and the people who were just plain tired on Xmas Eve after a long holiday season and had just finished putting together (for example) a 775-piece Lego pirate ship so that the kids in the morning could have the thing ready to play with (and anyway they’d just end up putting it together tomorrow morning, honey, so why not get it over with tonight, and here’s some more egg nog with brandy?)

These people felt perhaps it was a bit… much, especially at midnight on Xmas Eve, when kids were trying to sleep and the elderly were trying to reminisce about how much better Xmas had been under Roosevelt, and etc.

Whenever these people thought they might talk to American Bear, ask him to tone it down just a bit, this is more or less what they would imagine:

People: Hey, American Bear, do you think this year perhaps you could not do the fireworks at midnight and the spotlights and all because that’s a bit much?
American Bear: What, don’t you like Jesus and America and Xmas? Because I love those things and want to celebrate them.
People: No we love those things as much as you do American Bear we just…[they would pause, wondering how to continue.]
American Bear: GRRRRR! [and they would imagine him eating them.]

In reality, American Bear thought his neighbors loved these things too. It never occurred to him they did not share his enthusiasm for garish and loud displays at midnight in celebration of the birth of the Lord, and Santa, and The Greatest Country Ever Made™. Had they simply asked him not to make such loud noises and manic disruptions, American Bear would have politely agreed not to do so. He would have found another way to display his incredible religious and democratic (with a small D) feelings. He also probably would have given them a present to show them hey no hard feelings.

That, too, is how American Bear rolls. They just didn’t know it.

PS: To any Romans offended by that comparison, I really wish that there was something else that was lit up which didn’t cause such pain thinking about it. I am sorry for the sacrifices that sometimes literature requires of us all. 


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

28 Xmas Stories, 18: #xmasaintperfect

The Robot Who Believed He Could Be A Better Santa Claus Than The Real Santa Claus

There was a robot who believed he would be a better Santa Claus than the real Santa Claus, and to prove it, he went up to the North Pole and challenged Santa to a duel.

“What kind of duel?” Santa asked, a bit wary. He’d never been challenged to a duel!

We will each deliver presents tomorrow night, the robot said (I forgot to mention that the robot had arrived at the North Pole on December 23rd) and whichever of us does it better will get the job.

The robot then beeped and blinked some lights in a challenging manner.

Santa didn’t want to accept, but Mrs. Claus and the reindeer were all watching and he didn’t want to look like a wimp, so he really was backed into a corner.

The next night, Xmas Eve, the Robot and Santa each took ½ of the “Nice” list, at random, and each took a magic bag full of presents and set off to deliver their half. 

It wasn’t even a contest. Santa and his reindeer worked as hard as they could, but the robot, what with his rocket feet and mechanical arms and Stealth™ technology finished all his presents in about 1 hour.

When he returned to the North Pole, Santa handed the robot the keys to the cottage, showed him where the reindeer feed was kept and gave him a copy of the elves’ union contract, and then retired.

For the next few Xmases everything was fine, pretty much. Santa relaxed a bit and took up jigsaw puzzles, and entered Scrabble™ tournaments. He even came close to winning a few. He was kind of a hit at the conventions.

The robot, meanwhile, managed to make the elves even faster with his introduction of new technology. The reindeer were free to roam the wilderness again, never having to be harnessed. And presents were more plentiful and arrived well before the dawn on Xmas. The robot re-evaluated the list of Naughty and Nice, finding mathematical theorems to better sort who was naughty or nice, and because he was a robot and could not make mistakes he never needed to check twice. He even processed the milk and cookies left for him without complaining, using the components to 3D print a small Thank You Figurine.

Everyone was more or less content, although truth be told it was sort of more to the or less side of that. Nobody could quite put their finger on what, exactly, they felt was wrong, but if anyone had ever talked about it (nobody did) they’d have agreed that yeah, right, something was wrong, they knew it too, they were just thinking that.

Nobody, as I mentioned, ever talked about it. Except Terry. Terry decided to do something about it. First, he wrote a strongly-worded letter to the editor of the local, twice-a-week paper, the Lake Area Reporter. When this did not have any effect at all, other than Terry’s mom clipped it out of the paper and put it on her refrigerator to show the neighbors when they came over for tea, Terry sat up on Xmas Eve, waiting. When he heard a clatter on the rooftop, he rushed outside, where he saw the robot preparing to slide down his chimney.

“Hey, robot!” he yelled, loudly enough to be heard down the block.

Several neighbors threw open their sashes to see what was the matter.

What is it the robot asked.

“I don’t think you should do this job,” Terry said. He had had a whole speech planned, the kind of thing Jimmy Stewart might have said, had Jimmy Stewart ever starred in a movie about a robot taking over for Santa Claus (which is a very good idea, if the author of this story says so himself: someone should make this into a movie!) but the speech sort of dropped out of his mind, and Terry wasn’t a speech-ifying kind of guy. So he said what was in his heart. He said:

“I know you’re more efficient at it, and things are generally better in a sort of mechanical, objective sense. But some things aren’t meant to be perfect, or improved. It’s like the time I was making Xmas cookies with my mom.  We were cutting them out with her old cookie cutters, and putting red hots and sprinkles and candied cherries on them, and then frosting them.  Those cookies were a mess, and the whole kitchen was. They didn’t even look like reindeers or snowmen or Santa or nothing like that.

Later that week when we were shopping I saw a bakery with the most perfect cookies you ever saw, and as a surprise for my mom I bought them. I snuck home before her and I threw out all the cookies we’d made, and put out a platter of these beautiful gingerbread men and angels with golden dust on them and Santas with actual rosy cheeks, and when my mom came home she saw that and she started crying.”

Terry paused, and realizing how many people were listening, got a little stage-frightened. But he gathered his courage and went on:

“I never knew why she was crying, and she didn’t tell me. I figured it out the first year you took over this, full time. I realized then that it isn’t how perfect Xmas is. It’s how much feeling is in it. It don’t matter if we get the right present or the tree is a little crooked or the Xmas turkey is a bit dry. What matters is that for at least a little part of our lives, we put our hearts into trying to do something nice for other people, to think about nice things and make the world prettier and generally be in a better mood.

“You’re really good at this, robot. But you don’t handmake the toys and you don’t wink at the kids when they peek at you, and you don’t lick your lips when you eat a sugar cookie some little girl made. You're just cold circuits. You're efficient, but you ain’t got no heart, and I think you oughta give the job back to Santa and let Xmas be a little less perfect and a little more human again.”

With that, the whole neighborhood began applauding, and because a local news crew had shown up and caught the tail end of the speech and a live feed had gone on CNN, people around the world were watching and everyone cheered in their houses and at Xmas parties, and various websites posted clips and the hashtag #Xmasaintperfect began trending.

The robot watched all that and then blinked its lights thoughtfully. 

It made a couple of pensive beeps. 

Then it went back to doing its job and nobody ever said much again because you can’t stop progress, man.


Monday, December 14, 2015

28 Xmas Stories, 17: It made me feel like I was really something special.

Five Very Brief Stories


When I was about eleven years old I liked the comic strip Doonesbury. One year for Xmas I got a collection of Doonesbury comics. It was Doonesbury’s Greatest Hits, and had Zonker Harris in a white suit on the cover.

About two weeks after Xmas, my mom got mad at me for some reason and I argued back at her. As punishment, she built a fire in the fireplace and burnt my Doonsebury’s Greatest Hits book.


“So what are the hot toys for kids for Xmas this year?” she asked me and my wife.

“Well, this year we’re getting one of our sons an office chair,” we said back.



One year at Xmas I got a phone call from a doctor telling me that there might be something wrong with my brain. That year, as most years still, I took one of our twins for a ride each night to calm him down before bed. That year, on our ride, you could just barely see an apartment building behind the insurance office on the corner of University Avenue. One of the tenants in the building had decorated his apartment by putting a string of colored lights around the window.

I don’t know why, but every night when I saw that string of colored lights, as I drove around worrying about my brain and listening to Xmas carols with my son, I felt better.
I think that tenant must have moved. It’s Xmas now, and we drove by it tonight but the lights weren’t up. I’d like to find out who lived there and say hey thanks for putting up those lights man.



The best Xmas Eve of my life was the one where it snowed too hard for us to drive to Milwaukee and visit my family. So we stayed home and took the kids sledding, and later that night we watched Godzilla before going to bed. I compare every Xmas Eve to that one now and although some of them are pretty fun, none of them measures up to Godzilla Sledding Xmas Eve.


Those were all true stories, and so is this:

When we were kids, one year on Xmas Eve we had the whole family over: uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, everyone. Around nine o’clock we were all in the living room waiting to open presents when suddenly Santa Claus walked in. He had his red suit and beard and a bag of presents, and he gave presents to all the kids and asked if we were good that year, and Ho Ho Ho’d and then after he was done he walked out into the hallway and I assume he left the house but we didn’t see him go.

Later on when we were older we of course knew that it must have been someone in a Santa suit but I still remember how awesome it was that Santa came right into our house and talked to us. Even after I realized it wasn’t really Santa there was a part of me that remembered what it felt like to actually have Santa come into our house. Santa. It made me feel like I was really something special, for a long time. If I’m being honest, it still kind of does.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

28 Xmas Stories, 16:

Reason #6 Not To Get Drunk At The Office Xmas Party

Rosa,” he said, “Kiss me under the mistletoe! I’ve loved you forever!”

“No,” she said back.

Why not?” he wondered aloud.

“You’re not in love with me, you’re drunk,” she told him “That’s not mistletoe. It’s a fern. My name isn’t Rosa, it’s Shirley. Plus, the Xmas party was a month ago. And you don’t even work here.”

“I knew it,” he said.

EXTRA CREDIT: Do you think she was lying? Discuss.

Mr Bunches made some holiday cards for his teachers...

... and got to put his own personalized message or picture in each one.

Like this:

Or this:

These are a few of his favorite videos and games, so it all makes sense if you know him.