THE APARTMENT BELL had been built in the last century
sometime after the Wright Brothers flew. The bell buzzed up through
the tenement like an angry bee with a faint echo. George waited in
the musty alcove of chipped tile, breathing old smoke, hearing the
crotchety voice again.
“Oh … another wannabe Santa?”
He leaned close to the brass speaker and pressed the button.
“Then what the hell are you?”
George paused. The man he had found under KRIS KRINGGLE
did not sound friendly. In fact, he sounded downright hostile. George
pressed the button again.
“The Macy’s Santa told me I should contact you if I have questions
about being Santa.”
“Jerry doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground as far as
being Santa goes,” the old voice grumbled. “Just goes to show you
how hard up Macy’s is.”
“Well, I’d appreciate if you could just give me a few minutes. I’m
not really a Santa by trade. I’m doing it for my daughter who is nine
and doubting the existence of Santa Claus.”
The voice on the speaker grunted. “It’s that Internet and the
Xboxes and DSis and cell phones and the rest of the shit kids waste
their time on. Of course she doesn’t believe in Santa with all the crap
that’s out there now!”
George stared at the rolled newspapers piled up by the heavy
lacquered door. He pressed the button again. “That’s true. That’s why I
wanted to be Santa for her and try and bring back some of the magic.”
“Well good luck with that,” the speaker blared back.
George paused then pressed the bell again.
“Jerry at Macy’s said you were one of the best Santa’s he knew!”
“What an asshole. I am Santa!”
George chuckled and pressed the button again.
“Aren’t we all.”
“No … I … AM … SANTA, YOU MORON!”
George swallowed and considered that going into the dark tenement
wasn’t such a good idea after all. He pressed the bell again.
“Why should I kid about something like that?”
George rolled his shoulders and pressed once more.
“I just didn’t think Santa cursed as much as you do.”
“You try getting all these goddamn gifts together and getting behind
a bunch of smelly reindeer who shit all over you and fly through
the air with the shit freezing so fast it feels like a cannonball when it
hits you, and you’ll be cursing too.”
George nodded slowly and held the button.
“You have a point there. Reindeer do seem to defecate quite a bit.”
“Defecate! They shit is what they do!”
George paused and breathed deeply, leaning close to the scorched
speaker. “So do you mind if I come up and have a few words with you?”
The electric latch buzzed angrily as George pulled back the heavy
door. He slipped up the musty stairs that smelled slightly like piss and
continued down a long, dimly lit hallway that led to the door with a
single piece of garland stapled to the center. Kris Kringgle was posted
on a four-by-six notecard. George paused then knocked.
He pushed on the door and thought of his grandmother’s house
up in Wisconsin. The smell of butter combined with cigarettes and a
faint scent of dust and musty clothes. The long bowling alley hallway
was dark, with a light bleeding from a room at the far end.
“I’m back here,” a voice called down the narrow passage.
George walked along the hallway that became an organ of creaking
floorboards following him into a living room where a man with a
white beard and long hair sat wearing a blue sweatsuit in La-Z-Boy
with thick woolen socks and White Christmas playing on a black and
white television. Newspapers were stacked level to his arm along with
pizza boxes. He didn’t bother slapping the paper closed nor did he
remove the spectacles on the tip of his nose.
“The Bears need a damn quarterback. That man cannot have a
game without an interception!”
George stared at the newspaper.
“What can I do for you?” he asked, keeping the paper high.
George sat down on a couch that poofed up dust. The man in
the chair snapped the paper to another page. George stared at the
man behind the paper.
“Well… you certainly look like Santa Claus.”
He snapped the paper shut and looked at George.
“What are you, some kind of L.L. Bean moron? I don’t look like
Santa Claus. I am Santa Claus, you idiot! Jesus!”
He opened the paper again. George looked at his coat. He had
never heard his parka summed up quite that way.
“Well … I’m sorry.”
“You have some questions for me. I have a lot of work ahead of me
as I’m sure you can imagine,” he murmured, looking over his glasses.
He snorted. “You think?”
“Well … I assume so.”
“I’m due to leave for the Pole tonight, as if it is any of your business.”
“Ah …” George paused. “Well, I guess I was wondering if there is
any … ah … secret to being Santa.”
The paper snapped again.
“Say HO HO HO, and give out a lot of gifts, and don’t get stuck
in the chimney, and wear goggles so you don’t get reindeer shit in
your eyes.” He looked over the paper. “ How’s that?” He slapped the
paper to another page.
“That comes from experience, I suppose.”
“I’m sorry … I don’t really know your name.”
The paper crackled again. “Kris Kringgle! Can’t you even read?”
“I saw the name on the Internet. How did you get yours changed?”
The man dropped the paper onto the stack and looked over his
glasses, leaning slightly forward.
“Let me ask you a question.”
“Are you retarded? Did you escape from some institution?”
George smiled slowly. “Me? No, I’m an engineer. I build bridges
mostly, or I design them. Well, I used to before I got laid off.”
Kris Kringgle leaned back and stared at him.
“Can you give me a list of bridges you designed so I never go
George laughed lightly.
“They are safe, I can assure you.”
“Uh huh. Well, what else do you want to know?”
“Just if there is any secret I should know. You know, tricks of the
trade to being Santa.”
“I told you—wear goggles.”
George pursed his mouth up and nodded.
“Well, I guess if there’s no real secret to being a good Santa Claus,
then I appreciate your time.”
Kringgle put his paper on the stack and flipped out a lighter and
lit a Marlboro. He clapped the lighter shut and studied George with
the cigarette by his cheek.
“Why are you doing this?” He motioned the cigarette. ”I mean
this thing with your daughter?”
George rolled his shoulders.
“I want my daughter to believe in Santa. She’s only nine. She
wants to videotape Santa and prove to the world there is one. So I’m
going to be the Real Santa for her.”
Kringgle waved his hand.
“They all try and do that, and I catch them every time. Never get
me on YouTube.”
“Well, I want her to video me. It’s the only way I can give her the
Kringgle flicked ash from his cigarette.
“Yeah, giving the magic back. That’s where most parents screw
up. They are so intent on their careers and their iPhones and their
iPads and iPods, they forget about their kids. They forget the magic
they had when they were kids.”
George nodded. “That’s right. That’s what I want to give her. I
lost my job, and I don’t know, I think I’ve missed a lot. I screwed up
my other family, and I don’t want to do it again.
Kringgle picked up his remote and switched the television to It’s
a Wonderful Life.
“You going down the chimney?”
“Yes … I had it all hollowed out so I could fit.”
Kringgle shook his head. “Don’t fall down the bastard. That first
step is a doozy.”
“I hope not to.”
“Relativity cloud is a lot easier you know. Just zoom, and you are
there. No creosote or getting stuck halfway down. ”
George chuckled. “Well, I don’t have one of those.”
Kringgle tipped his cigarette toward him.
“What about getting the sled to fly?”
“Digital projectors and smoke machines,” he replied. “I will have
the reindeer on the roof with ramps at both ends.”
Kringgle watched George Bailey with the cigarette fuming in his
mouth. “Lot of trouble. Relativity clouds are a snap, like I say. You
just move faster than the speed of light and pop down the chimney.”
“That’s pretty good.”
Kringgle looked over his glasses. “Just get done with your bullshit
before I get there. I don’t like people screwing up my landing zone.”
Kringgle put down his remote and looked over his glasses. The
cigarette whisked by his cheek.
George shrugged. “I guess not …” He paused. “But … well … you
really believe you are Santa?”
Kringgle rolled his eyes, puffing perfect smoke rings.
“But … well, how did you know?”
“What do you mean, how did I know?”
“Santa Claus. How did you know you were Santa Claus?
Kringgle opened a box and took out a piece of pizza.
“I just knew. Same way you knew you were an engineer.”
George stared at him.
“I never told you that. How did you know?”
“Santa knows everything, you moron.” He bit the pizza.
George looked around. “How did you end up in this apartment?
Isn’t Santa supposed to be at the North Pole?”
Kringgle shrugged. “Mrs. Kringgle and I separated about a year
ago, and I let her stay at the Pole. She said she was tired of being alone
every Christmas Eve and that all I do on the off-season is watch football,
smoke, and eat pizza and read the paper. I told her everybody
deserves their downtime. Anyway, she found some old boyfriend
on Facebook.” Kringgle raised his fingers in quotes. “Said he had a
normal nine to five.”
“That happened to me too,” George cried out.
“Yeah … she married me for excitement, and now she wants this
boring guy. So I got the bachelor pad, and she kept the Pole. Did the
divorcee bars for a while, but they’re brutal. And I’m not going to cut
my beard just to look younger.”
“I never would have thought Santa had marital problems,” George
“Hey, I am who I am.” Kringgle stubbed his cigarette. “She knew
she was marrying a fat guy who smoked and has to work the graveyard
George nodded. “Yeah, my wife isn’t too crazy about the money
I’ve spent so far on being Real Santa.”
Kringgle waved his hand. “Don’t get me started … she shops until
she drops, and I give her anything she wants. But I drink a little beer
and watch a little football, and it’s a problem.”
“I guess everyone has the same problems”
“Maybe.” Kringle lifted the paper. “Well, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, yes.” George stood up.
“Get the door on the way out will you?”
“No problem.” He turned and walked toward the hallway.
“How did you know my name?”
Kringgle’s mouth flattened.
“Please! I knew you when you thought I had been incinerated in
the ionosphere. Your dad … now there is a real moron. He should
read up on relativity clouds.” Kringgle paused. “So, you really going
to do this? This Real Santa thing?”
“This is going to cost you a lot of money.”
“I have already spent forty thousand.”
“And it’s dangerous being on a roof, and your wife thinks you
have lost your mind.”
“We might split up over it.”
Kringgle looked up. “So … why are you doing it?”
“I told you—I want my daughter to believe in Santa.”
Kringgle waved his answer away. “I know that. But why?”
“Look … you want to know the secret to being Santa?”
Kringgle gestured with the newspaper. “Then tell me why you
are doing it.”
George paused and looked down, then back up. “Because I love
Kringgle snapped the paper open.
“Shut the door on your way out will you, and give my best to
Megan. Tell her I’m working on the guitar.”
“Sure …” George paused. “Wait a minute. I didn’t tell you my
daughter wanted a guitar.”
Kringgle snapped the newspaper to another page and shook his
“Morons … I’m surrounded by morons.”
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. 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."
Best-selling author Hazelgrove (e.g., Ripples; Tobacco Sticks) captures the human need to believe in something good. This book will satisfy readers looking for a happy Christmas story.-- Library Journal
"Hazelgrove's lively improbable narrative will appeal to the readers in the mood for holiday fiction."