Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chapter 41 Real Santa Nine Days to Xmas

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

bright-sunset red.

“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

amazing. The

“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!”

Dean screamed.

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,

Prancer, Vixen—”

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.


“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!”

Real Santa

Books by William Hazelgrove