GEORGE STARED AT the snow-covered ramp and felt the same
as before he gashed a hole in the two hundred and fifty thousand
dollar boat. The circumstances were not so different. A large amount
of money had been invested in the gleaming white sailboat George
was to bring down from Waukegan to Chicago. It had become a
ritual and Matt Demler had always called on him with the promise
that if he would bring down his boat, then he could have access to
it all season long.
George was a self-taught sailor and approached it like engineering.
He was proficient and methodical, but he was not a natural sailor.
He did not have the instinct some men possessed that allowed them
to find the edge of the wind. George was an expert sailor, but like the
expert he had to stick to the rule book. The day that he was to take
The Sally Jane down to Monroe Harbor was windy. He jumped on
the boat with the two men who had come to help and took his place
behind the wheel. The owner knelt down on the dock. Matt owned
several boats but The Sally Jane was his pride and joy.
“George, when you back up the wind is going to try and take
you. Just goose the shit out of the motor, and you’ll clear the dock.”
George had saluted in his yellow foul-weather gear with his fur
hat and glasses. He ordered his assistants to guard against the dock
wheels, which were small tires to keep the boat moving along the
wooden rim. George cast off and felt as he did holding the reins in his
Santa suit. It was a feeling of freedom combined with the suspicion
he had no idea what he was doing.
The Sally Jane was immediately taken by the wind, and they started
going straight out toward another moored sailboat. Matt cupped
his hands, and George became confused. Did he say goose it or did
he say go for it? He wasn’t sure, and while trying to hear exactly what
Matt said, he froze. The Sally Jane was about to crash into The Norma
Jean, and that’s when Matt Demler screamed again.
“Give it the gas, George!”
And like a man woken from a dream, he pushed the throttle all
the way up and The Sally Jane churned through the water toward the
dock. George jerked the wheel hard to starboard but the big boat
scraped the dock with all her tonnage against the bumper wheels,
crushing the wheel and exposing the bracket that tore a foot long gash
in her fiberglass hull. Matt cried out in agony, and George turned a
“You stupid bastard!”
That’s what Matt Demler called him. Then he banished him from
sailing any of his boats, and George never did sail again. He eventually
let his membership in the Columbia Yacht Club lapse as well. George
knew he had failed some critical test, and he wondered as he waited
for Dean to signal him, with McGruff standing by with an electric
cattle prod, if he was about to do it again.
The clock touched five to midnight, and Dean was up on his
camera crane. “Alright, mate. You are going to go up onto the roof
and through the snow and the smoke machine, and then you have to
stop those bastards and dismount. You ready? I’m going to ring the
bell now for the little tyke.”
”Roger. Ready to roll.” George looked at Jeremy. “Ready, son? I
really wish your sister were here to see this.”
Jeremy shrugged. “She’ll probably come along eventually, Dad.”
“Alright, quiet on the set,” Dean announced through a bullhorn.
George saw him on his camera boom.
“Alright, then—hit your snow and smoke!”
A long roll of vaporous fog enveloped the roof, then the air filled
with thick white snow like detergent blown out of a pipe. It was
“Hit your projectors!”
George looked down at the monitor as the bell began to ring.
“Alright, mate, she’s up!”
Megan was sitting up in bed and staring at the window.
“Alright … she’s got her camera, and she’s moving toward the
window. Looks like she’s filming now … keep those projectors rolling,”
Dean continued into everyone’s ear on the set.
McGruff appeared by George. “Snap them reins!”
George snapped the reins, and the reindeer remained where they
were. McGruff’s men began pulling on the reindeer.
“C’mon, George, get those shitting bastards moving up the ramp!”
George snapped the reins again. The reindeer continued breathing
smoke and farting like popcorn. McGruff’s men had taken to
punching the reindeer. Jeremy leaned over.
“Dad, I think you have to yell at them you know—Away, Donner,
George shouted, “Away, Donner! Away, Prancer! Away, Vixen,
Cupid, and Blitzen!”
“George she’s at the bloody window,” Dean said into his ear. “You
got to get up on that bloody roof! I can only cover with the snow so
“The bastards won’t move,” George yelled into the wireless mike.”
He stared at McGruff and felt The Sally Jane starting to drift into
another boat. “Do something, McGruff!”
“Hang on to yer ass,” McGruff shouted.
He then leaned over and goosed the three lead reindeer with
his cattle prod. The reindeer bolted like they just heard the starting
bell. George and his son were thrown back against the sled as the
animals charged the long wooden ramp. George grappled the reins
watching the backs of the nine reindeer rolling up and down as they
hit the angled ramp. It sounded like a hundred horses clopping across
a bridge as the wood groaned and snapped under the weight load.
George felt the sled swing back and forth as they gained momentum
and bumped onto the ramp.
“ALRIGHT!” Jeremy screamed.
George watched the world fall away with the snow and the wind
and the reindeer pounding up the wooden ramp. Then he realized
he was behind the nine seven-hundred-pound animals, who had
dumped him before. The reindeer had decided that going anywhere
was better than getting shocked. They bolted for the roof in the deafening
thunder of hooves. The question was then: Would they turn
and would they stop?
“Fantastic, mate!” Dean blared in his ear.
George hung on tightly to the reins and heard Dean’s shout again
as he doubled up the reins and entered a void of oily smoke and
chemical snow. Dim train lights strafed the smoky, snowy gloom as
the digital projectors shot an image into the sky. But now George
saw nothing. He was lost in the smoke and the snow with the digital
projector blinding him like the light of a train. His son was holding on
to the sled like someone on a rollercoaster, and George pulled back
on the reins as he felt the sled turning. McGruff had men on the roof
who were to assist in guiding the reindeer on the turn.
“YOU ARE ON THE ROOF, MATE!”
“I can’t see a damn thing with all this smoke and snow,” George
shouted into the microphone.
“She is still at the window, and you are not in front of her. You
got to stop them, mate, when I tell you, or you’re going to go right
back down the other ramp!”
George could hear the hissing and the hum of the smoke and
snow machines and tasted the oily chemical snow. He wondered what
his daughter was seeing right now. Like a man in a fogged-in ship,
he looked for any kind of landmarks. He was a jet on final approach,
waiting for a signal from the tower and praying he could stop.
“Alright, assistants, get the hell back before you get seen. The sled
is lined up, and those reindeer have got to stop! Get ready, George!
Okay, you are in front of the window! STOP!”
George felt the sled slow, but the reindeer were still trotting forward.
He jerked back with all of his might and still they didn’t stop.
“Mate, you got to stop those bloody reindeer so the assistants
can grab them!”
And just then, George saw The Sally Jane. She was heading for
the dock again, and he was about to tear a foot-long gash in the side.
George stood up in the sled and pulled on the reins as hard as he
could, screaming out: “STOP! STOP, YOU BASTARDS!”
The reindeer stopped. George looked at Jeremy in his elf hat,
coated in the same white paste that had painted him like a cream-colored
minstrel. They looked like two men who had just flown in from
the North Pole. His son shook his head, eyes beaming like a twelveyear-
“That was awesome, Dad!”