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Monday, October 20, 2014

Chapter Four of Real Santa ( A Chapter a Day Until Christmas)

 
                                     A Christmas Panzer
 
GEORGE TURNED INTO his neighborhood, with the box of

his belongings on the seat next to him. He drove past inflated Christmas

globes that looked like incubators. There was a giant Frosty the

Snowman, St. Nick, and a few penguins. George didn’t care for the

inflatables with the pneumatic pumps and the flaccid plastic on the

snow like giant rubbers.

He had come to accept the smiling pumpkins lolling on their

tethers and even a few turkeys during Thanksgiving after they had

moved out of the neighborhood bordering the city five years ago. His

country home with the wraparound porch swung into view. It was a

Victorian built around the turn of the century, and the Realtor had

almost not shown it to him. It’s too old, she had told him. George

reminded her they were moving from Park Ridge, a community of

old homes, and she had stubbed her cigarette and shrugged. “It’s

your nickel.”

George slowed to look at his lights. Two weeks ago he had lined

the entire roofline with fat Christmas bulbs like his dad used to do

when he was a kid. Most people in the neighborhood had their homes

professionally decorated, but George took pride in the multicolored

lights running up to the peak, the icicle lights bordering his porch, the

swirled twinkles around his pines. He put a wreath on every window
and an electric candle in the center. His house was Christmas, and

he felt the hurt of the day subside.

George breathed deeply. He loved the Christmas rituals. They

had to buy their tree right after Thanksgiving and decorate it that

weekend, complete with the old G-Gauge Lionel train from when he

was kid. Then over the next three weeks they would go downtown to

Chicago and see the windows at Macy’s and then Santa. After that

they went ice skating on Michigan Avenue or had lunch at the Walnut

Room on the top of Macy’s. At some point they would go see the big
tree at the State of Illinois Center and catch Scrooge at the Goodman

Theatre or watch It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen at the Music

Box Theatre on the North side with the sing-along Santa Claus.

Then they would catch the lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo and

have a Christmas Eve dinner of fondue with chocolate. During all

of this, George made sure they watched the prerequisite Christmas
movies, Miracle on 34th Street (old version, noncolorized), White

Christmas, Holiday Inn, Christmas in Connecticut, Scrooge (1941

version with Alastair Sim), then the newer additions—Elf, National

Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and then the final movie, his all-time

favorite: A Christmas Story. George loved Christmas because it was

the only time he felt like a kid again. The rest of the year he felt like

an overburdened adult getting older with each passing year. But at

Christmas, he was young again.

George turned from his house to find a Panzer cannon pointed

at him. The cannon wobbled slightly in the wind and bobbed up and

down, then continued its sweep of the neighborhood. He watched

George Shanti’s inflatable warn all comers that Christmas would be

brought in with a Panzer. It was the inflatable that made you wonder

about the man. Why would anyone purchase a tank with a turret that
rotated and flashed Merry Christmas when it shot you?


He and George were neighbors in the classic Midwestern sense.

They waved and talked occasionally. They had found little to connect

on after mowers and rakes and grass seed. The inflatable Christmas

tank made its debut the year before, and George had vowed to take

it down. He had purchased a Daisy BB gun,( the same kind in the
movie A Christmas Story) and one night, after Mary and Megan were

snug in their bed, he had slipped out the back door and snuck down

to the three pines in his front yard.

From there George could see the tank very clearly. The night
 

was bitter cold and the electric pump worked to keep the tank inflated

and turning on its axis. The turret wobbled and jolted along

as George lay down in the snow like a GI in the Battle of the Bulge

and extended his BB gun out of the pines. He watched as the turret

rotated around and pointed directly at his house. Sometimes it got
stuck and bumped up and down as if taunting George.

George cocked his gun and lowered his eye to the site. He aimed

dead center on the tank and squeezed the trigger and heard the soft

thunk of the BB. The tank continued on its merry rotation, flashing
Merry Christmas with each shot. George listened and heard no hiss

of pressurized air. He cocked his rifle again and aimed at the center

of the tank . The soft thud of the BB hitting the polyethylene reached

him like a defeat. He then stood, like John Wayne with a Winchester,

and began to unload a volley of BBs, trying to find a weak spot where

the inflatable might give way. But the cold had turned the plastic
into a tank, rendering the BBs as harmless as summer gnats. George


emptied his gun and contemplated attacking the tank like a crazed

soldier who has run out of bullets, but realized Shanti would press

charges if he caught him. So the tank remained.

George sighed and pulled into his driveway, feeling his phone

vibrating in his chest. He glanced at the number and considered not

answering.
 
“Yeah, Dad.”

“You’re a hard guy to get hold of.”

George put his Prius in park and settled back into his parka.

“Yeah, well, a job and kids and Christmas will do that.”

“Kids! I thought you only had one kid.”

“Well, I do have another family.”

“Oh, well I don’t count them.”

“That’s great, Dad.”

“How’s the job?”

George paused. “Not so good … I got fired today.”
“Jesus! Fired! You got fired before Christmas! How the hell did

you manage that?!”

George shut his eyes and rubbed his brow. Leave it to his father
to put getting canned into the category of a choice. You opted to get

fired before Christmas? “I didn’t manage anything, Dad, but yes I got fired before Christmas.”
 
“How the hell did that happen?”

“They just pulled me in and told me I was fired.”

“But what happened? Were you drinking on the job? Were you

banging some broad in the office?”

George stared out of his fogged up windows. In his father’s world,

people only got canned for being a drunk or banging Betty the floozy

secretary. No one ever got canned for a bad economy, performance,

or because they just didn’t like you anymore.

“There’s a depression on, Dad.”

“This ain’t no depression! Let me tell you, I was a kid when there

was a depression and this ain’t no depression. You still got your house,

don’t you?”

“Yes, I still have my house, Dad,” George said dully.

“Then it ain’t no depression, but seriously, son, what the hell

happened? This is your third job in six years!”

“Fourth in six years, Dad.”

“Fourth or fifth, does it matter?”

George really didn’t want to go down this road again. He felt kind

of stupid and silly for waving his ass in the air and barking. He had

to clean out his desk and office, with his coworkers staring at him.

He should have just flipped Mike Soros the bird and walked out.

“There were some political issues, Dad.”
“Political? What, they fired you because you were a Democrat?”

“Yeah, Dad. They fired me because I was a Democrat. Jesus!”

“Those dirty bastards!”

“There were performance issues, Dad.”

“Performance issues? What do you mean? When I worked for the
railroad, you just did the work. There was no performance involved.


When I was in that caboose testing the bridges after WWII, Floyd

Habersham and I were out there in the middle of nowhere and—”

George sighed. The story of his father going all over the country

in a railroad car with Floyd Habersham was legend. He had heard
many times how he tested every bridge in the country and big steam

locomotives backed onto the bridges to see if the steel would give

way. He was glad to hear the familiar beep in his ear of another call.

“And Floyd and I went all over the damn country—”

“Hold on, Dad. Hold on. I have another call.”
 
“Dad?”

“Yes, hello, Jeremy,” George said, feeling the good tidings of his

only son.

“Dad! Everyone at college has a new car, and I just have that old

clunker you gave me.”

“I see. Is that a problem?”

His twenty-year-old son made a sound in his throat. “Yes, it’s a

problem, Dad. My car sucks! And Mom says it’s your fault that I don’t

have a good car because you won’t let her sell the house!”

George rubbed his eyes behind his glasses. “Now, that’s not true,

son. We can’t sell the house until the economy comes back.”

“Mom says you are a liar. That you live in a big house in the

country while we are in this shitbox!”

“She shouldn’t say that—”

“Hold on. Jamie wants to talk to you.”
“Dad! Dad!”
George sat up in the car.

“Hello, sweetie.”

“Dad, I want an iPhone!”

George breathed heavily in his fogged over Prius. “Well, now,

you have a phone. I gave you my old BlackBerry and—”

“I don’t want your shitty old-man BlackBerry! I want an iPhone!”

“Now, Jamie—”

“Mom says you have to get me one because you don’t pay her

child support!”

“Well now, you are eighteen, and by law, I don’t have to pay that

anymore, but I do and your mother—”

“Dad, I’m a senior in high school!”

“I know honey, but—”

“It’s embarrassing not to have an iPhone and be a senior!”

George breathed heavily. His Prius was a steamed up capsule, and

he really wanted to forget about this day. “I’ll see what I can do—”

“Mom wants to talk to you.”

“George!”

“Yes, Cynthia,” he said wearily.

“I didn’t get the check! It’s Christmas. I need money!”

“I sent it to you. You should have it today or tomorrow,” he re
 
plied calmly.

“It better be here or so help me we are going back to court. It’s
bad enough you won’t let me get out of this shithole, but now you

stiff me on support!”

“Shithole,” George murmured. “So, that’s where Jeremy gets that.”

“He knows a shithole when he sees one. I could move on with

my life if you would let me sell this shithole!”

George rubbed his forehead.

“Cynthia, if you sold now you couldn’t pay off the note.”

“That’s your opinion! And I got a kid driving a beater and a daughter

who needs a phone while you’re out there in your perfect home

with your perfect family while we get screwed!”

George drew a small circle on his fogged over windshield.

“I’ll see what I can do for the kids.”

“That check better be here tomorrow, George, or I’m going to

file again!”

The phone went dead and George paused, remembering his dad

was on the line still. He sighed and clicked over.

“What the hell? Did you forget about me? I would think you need

family now that you got canned.”

“Dad, I’ll call you later.”

“But—”

George turned off his phone and got out of his car into the clear,

cold night. He stood in the drive, staring at the lights winking in his

pines. He felt some of the stress leaving. It was Christmas again. He

heard a slight whirr, a sliding of cold plastic, and turned. The Panzer

pointed at him and fired.

Order Real Santa 1.99

STARRED REVIEW BOOKLIST

"If somebody doesn't make a movie out of this book, there's something wrong with the world. This could have been played as an out-and-out slapstick comedy, but instead the author approaches the story like a character study: a portrait of a man with the best intentions in the world watching those intentions collide with reality. It's a steamroller of a story, starting small, with George's idea, and getting bigger and bigger as George tries to put the elements together, as his obsession takes him further and further away from reality. Beautifully done."                                                                                                 
                                                                                                 David Pitts Booklist


"The author marries the everyday dramas found in the novels of Tom Perrotta and Nick Hornby to the high camp of Carl Hiaasen or Dave Barry.It's not as frenetic as Christopher Moore's The Stupidest Angel or as maudlin as all those holiday staples (read: A Christmas Story), but adults looking for a funny holiday-themed tale that doesn't lose its sense of wonder in the face of realism will find a treat here. A lovingly crafted comedy about the madness that fatherhood inspires."
                                                                                              Kirkus Reviews


"Hazelgrove's lively improbable narrative will appeal to the readers in the mood for holiday fiction."
                                                                                              Publishers Weekly


"Charming...Hazelgrove has real compassion for his characters." Chicago Tribune




 
 
 
 

Books by William Hazelgrove