Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mark's Christmas short story


It’s Christmas Story time. As usual, the names and happenings in this year’s tale were dreamed up… after a short prayer. Wishes for the very best Christmas ever from the Hayters.

“The very best picture ever”

The good thing about Galen’s job was the fact that few people would be able to recognize him. Except for Kate. She would know him anywhere. They had been friends since junior high, and husband and wife for 17 years. Oh, and Kate was there when he first tried on the Santa suit. She laughed, even though she assured him she wouldn’t.

It was a long hour before his next break, and he was already completely sapped. Both physically and mentally. It’s hard to believe the number of kids who are thrust upon Santa. “NOOOO! No, Mommie!” Then comes the shrill bawl.

That was pretty much a normal day. But, with a little less than a week to go, he was still trying to focus on the positives of life. He was certainly doing something different. Different’s good. He hoped it more than believed it.

He had spied Kate and the kids coming out of JC Penney a half hour earlier. The activity around the portable cliff-climbing wall distracted Bailey long enough for Kate to blow her husband a kiss. Santa caught it with his free hand.

He wasn’t expecting Kate to bring the kids to the mall today. He was only the part time Santa, and thought sure Kate would pick a time when the full-time Santa would be there. That’d be Larry from church. Larry started letting his beard grow out in late July. By December, kids would yell and point at him, telling their mom’s that “It’s Santa!” Larry was the real deal.

He was also the one who recommended Galen for the Santa job. Larry knew the family was hard-up at the moment, and just wanted to help out. While Galen was not comfortable with the job, it did supplement what he earned from stocking shelves at the discount store and his newspaper delivery job.

“Over here. Look up here. Smile!” Elf Wanda was a good photographer. She was so unthreatening to the kids. The antithesis of Santa. Of course, put her in a Santa suit and she’d be scary, too.

While waving bye to the screaming Cody, Santa said, “Okay, who do we have—“ He then glanced over to see Bailey, his six-year-old daughter, being escorted by Elf Nancy. Santa glanced over to see Kate giving him the “I couldn’t-help-it look.”

Bailey was the only Sutton in the family tree with red hair and freckles. She was a true wonderment. Her camouflage-cap and cherished Seahawks jogging outfit did nothing to detract from that wonderment. Bailey knew nothing of the Seattle team. She just liked the colors. Oh, and, she kept the camo-cap on constantly… except for bed and baths. “Don’t make a big deal of it, darling. She’ll tire of the cap when she starts second grade.” Right.

All during the usual ho, ho and what-do-you-want-for-Christmas spiel, Bailey never took her eyes off Santa. “You look like my daddy,” she finally said. “Are you my daddy?”

Galen pulled his fake wire-framed glasses further up on his face and said, “Why I’m Santa, Bailey.” – Bailey’s mouth flew open. “How’d you know my name?” – “I’m Santa,” Galen said. “Now, why don’t you tell me what you want for Christmas?”

Bailey informed Santa that she had already sent him a letter telling him what she wanted. “Don’t you eben member?”

Galen thought hard and then replied, “Oh, yes, you want some kind of explorer doll.” -- Bailey beamed. “That’s right. I wanna Dora The Splorar Doll, and a sticker machine what makes stickers, a jewelry box, a silber ring and a necklace wif snow flakes…” Bailey’s list ended with “… and a guitar.”

“A guitar? I don’t remember a guitar on your list,” Santa told her.

Bailey nodded and then explained. “That’s thcause my bruder ober dare,” she said pointing to the 12 year-old standing next to Kate, “he wants some drumbs and I wanna guitar to pway in his band.”

“Will there be anything else?” Bailey shook her head. “No, sir. That’s just what I want. But see, Mommy and Daddy always gib me the little pwesents, and you always bwing me the one big pwesent. This year, I’ll just get the one fwom you, ‘cause Daddy got laid away at work and doesn’t make any money for Cwismas.” When asked what one present she wanted Santa to bring, Bailey looked deep in a thought and then said, “I think I want the sticker machine, what to make stickers for people. And, that’s all. Or, maybe the Dora doll.”

“I see. I see,” Santa said. And, with tears in his eyes, he said, “I’ve got somebody working on that right now.”

After the photo, Aiden walked over to retrieve his little sister. He aimed her toward Mom, and then climbed into Santa’s lap. “Aiden, I can’t believe you want a picture with Santa.” -- Aiden shook his head. “I don’t, Pop. If such a thing like that got out, the guys at school would kill me. No, sir, I just wanted to see what it was like here.”

“You never did believe in Santa, did you?”

“No, Pop. Didn’t make sense. But, it’s cool that you do this. Oh, and I wanted to say I’m sorry for getting upset about the drums. You would get ‘em if you could. Things will get better.” Santa’s loving look caused Aiden to add, “Uh, don’t hug me now, okay Dad?”

Galen apologized for the near disaster. The he asked if his son had any second choices for Christmas. “Well, it’d be nice if we could get a flat screen TV and have the cable turned back on, but that’s not happening, is it” Galen shook his head. “Then I just want you to pick something out that you’d like to have. We’ve got the same taste.”

Before Elf Wanda could snap a shot, Aiden hopped off Santa’s lap and went to watch his sister while his mom sat on Santa’s lap. “What on earth are doing?” Santa asked. --“I’m hittin’ on Santa; what does it look like?”

“Hey, you can’t do that lady. Just tell me what you want for Christmas. No hanky panky.” -- “Well, let me think. What I’d really like is a night out with my husband. Maybe a movie, a large popcorn and then some seafood at Babin’s. That’s what I’d really like.”

Santa thought for a moment and then said, “How about a movie, we split a small popcorn, and then we split a meal at Black Eyed Pea?” – “Sounds great, but where would we find a cheap sitter for the kids?” – Santa gave an assuring nod and said, “I think Aiden can handle it. The kid has grown up quite a bit over the past year. Both of ‘em have. You know, a month after Christmas, I’m gonna check on e-bay. There’s bound to be someone trying to unload a set of drums. As much as I hate the thought, I think we should get Aiden a set.” That’s when Kate kissed Santa… right there in the mall.

And, that was the prelude to Christmas 2009 for the Sutton family. The only tangible evidence of the happening is a framed picture sitting atop the old 27 inch Zenith. It’s a photo of Kate, Aiden and little Bailey all snuggled on Santa’s lap.

“I wish Daddy coulda been dare,” Bailey said. “Then it would be da berry best picture dare is.” Bailey is a true wonderment. A freckled-faced, red-haired, camo-capped wonderment… with a new sticker-making machine. Oh, and a Dora the Explorer doll.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Christmas light speedster guy

MARK’S ARTICILE -- December 17, 2009

"A Christmas light tour"

There might be some cause for worry here. No one has mentioned driving around to look at Christmas lights. I’ve brought the subject up more than once, but you’d think I was asking people to sniff my socks.

You know what it is, don’t you? The Plilers say I drive too fast through the neighborhoods. One speed bump incident eight years ago and they go crazy. Won’t let it die. Two chipped teeth, a nosebleed and a bruised spleen. You’d think I’d killed somebody. I didn’t even know you could bruise a spleen.

Isn’t there a law against unmarked speed bumps? Aren’t they supposed to be painted with some kind of reflective material? This one was painted with cloaking paint. The road looked flatter than a 50-cent burger. The strewn hubcaps along the road were the only indication that the bump was there. Doesn’t matter. I’ve now got the reputation of a… uh, Christmas-light, driving speedster guy. Something like that.

Kay has even bought into the myth. "Not tonight, Dear. I’ve got to straighten out the Jell-O mold." Looks like I’m gonna have to go by myself. "Pick a night, Mark." I’ll show ‘em. They’re gonna laugh themselves all the way into a… uh, no-Christmas-light touring bunch of silly people. What I’m sayin’?

There’s another Christmas first I’m considering. I’ll tell you, but you’ve gotta promise to keep it to yourself. Promise? Okay, get in close. No pinching. I’m thinking of going to the movie Christmas day. Shhh! What’d I tell you?

Did you know that "Sherlock Holmes" is opening on Christmas Day? Well, it is. Years ago, I would’ve never considered this. That was back when I actually got stuff to play with for Christmas. And, back when we played football after we ate.

Some of you may be thinking that it’s irreverent to go to a movie on Christmas. Mom would’ve even gotten after me for the mere thought. But, Mom’s reasoning was all warped.

Is going to a movie any worse than staying home and eating till you about get sick? Or, trying to throw family members in the mud while playing football? Or getting a new stopper gun and trying to make a stopper stick to Al’s forehead? I don’t think so. Each of ‘em may wear the taint of irreverence, but each is something Mom did herself. Except for the stopper gun. -- "Mark, you quit aiming that thing at your brother! I’ll bop you with this stupid lamp your father bought me!" Ah, Christmas memories.

When you shuck down the corn, I think it’d be a blessing if I took Kay out on a date Christmas Day. The only reservation I have is that the people running the concession will be teenagers forced to work on Christmas Day. That’s a gross trick waiting to happen.

As long as the trick is covert, I’m okay with it. Unlike a speed bump, I’d just as soon not know about popcorn tampering. I eat popcorn so fast that I only taste about a tenth of a bag. Kay gripes about that, too. Calls me a, uh… a too fast popcorn eating person. That’s one of the things she calls me.

Well, see you at the movie. Or not. I’m thinking not.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Hairless Vampires and Big Dogs

MARK’S ARTICLE – December 11, 2009

I took Kay to the movie last weekend to see “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.” For those of you out of step, that’s the movie about the teenage vampires and werewolves. Young people are going gaga over it. And, some older people. No men.

Kay is not a fanatic by any means, but she has read all four Twilight books. It’s no biggee, though, ‘cause the girl reads a lot of different stuff. Constantly.

I can read, too, but not as fast as Kay. Kay reads at least ten times faster than I do. That’s ‘cause I look at all the words and say them in my head. Kay doesn’t like to dwell. Her eyes flow over a page like waves over a fish carcass. Or, waves over an empty perfume bottle. Yeah, more like that.

She did enjoy the Twilight read, though, and suggested we see the latest movie. Since there was nothing I really cared to see, I took her up on it. You give me a big enough bag of popcorn and I’ll sit through a halftime performance.

The Twilight movie turned out to be more like five consecutive halftime performances. There’s not a big enough bag.

Nothing I say about the movie will in any way sway Twilight fans’ view of it. But, between non-fans and me, I gotta say it was beyond sappy. Sappy plus. The acting was actually quite good, though. It took super actors to deliver some of that stinky dialogue.

On the bright side, I did learn a lot about vampires and werewolves. Vampires aren’t really scared of the sun. It’s just that they get all glittery-looking when they’re in sunlight. They’re not supposed to let people know they’re vampires, so they stay in the shadows. I had no idea. Neither did Bela Lugosi. The guy was an idiot.

And, most vampires aren’t all that mean. They just get real excited about human blood. Kind of like I am with cashews. Well, not that bad, but close. Oh, and werewolves are really just wolves. Big wolves. And, the moon doesn’t make them turn. It’s when they get angry or excited. I didn’t know that. Kay said the werewolves in Twilight weren’t really werewolves. More like shape-shifters. Ooookay.

Something else I discovered was the fact that the young men of today have no chest hair. When I was growing up we had hair on our chest, backs and toe-tops. Boys today are hairless. I think it’s those I-Pod things.

You surely know that there are two camps forming over which boy in Twilight the main girl should go with. Should she choose the pale, thin vampire or the tanned, buffed-up werewolf? Most of us know that she should pick the vampire. I’m as straight as you can get, but I gotta say that that vampire guy is super cute. The wolfboy was just muscles.

As we left the theatre, Kay apologized. Told me that since I had been so nice about the movie, she’d go to the next big, stupid action flick with me. I’m thinking the next Rambo. “Rambo 9: Boy, is he mad!”

Speaking of which, I’d take Rambo over either one of those hairless Twilight guys. I mean, I wouldn’t date ‘em or anything! Sheesh! I go to one vampire chick-flick and I end up having to defend myself. Ridiculous. Uh, regardless, no one mention this to my brothers, okay? Let’s just move along, people. Nothing to see here.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Man against crab: A saga.

MARK’S ARTICLE -- December 4, 2009
“Crab Man”

Yesterday evening after supper I ended up cleaning two pair of pliers, two box-cutters and a hammer. We had one serious meal. I don’t care to duplicate the experience any time soon.

It was Kay’s fault. That morning she called me from work to tell me that Kroger had crab legs on sale for a penny short of five dollars a pound. That meant something to her. The news was lost on me, though.

Kay went on to tell me about the time she bought a pound of crab legs and had a feast. I said, “Was I born yet?” That’s what I say when I don’t remember stuff that happened.

Kay told me that she did it when I was out of town the last time. I asked her why she never told me. After all, it’s weird. We’d never done the crab leg thing before. She said that she just likes to do wild things when I’m out of town. That was comforting as all get out.

I told her that I don’t know how to cook crab legs. I don’t. She said you’re supposed to steam ‘em. Suggested I get two pounds of ‘em while they were still on sale.

I ended up getting a few ounces over three pounds. I seriously doubted I’d ever get crab legs again, so wanted to get my fill. Always thinking.

Don’t know if you’ve ever steamed crab legs. They’re a rather unwieldy entree. Gangly is what they are. Takes a massive contraption to steam those buddies. I first thought of boiling ‘em. Everything I read mentioned that they needed to be steamed, not boiled.

Why is that? You can boil a lobster, boil a shrimp and boil and egg, but you steam a crab. One thing I read said to keep ‘em at least two inches above the water. That’s one finicky crustacean, you ask me.

By the time Kay got in I had a small pot of cooked rice and a pan of stir-fried veggies on the stove. A wash tub of steamed crab legs took up most of the table. I used every pot in the house. Glad no one was filming the spectacle.

Kay came to the table with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver. I went to the toolbox and grabbed box cutters, channel locks and a hammer. Mealtime.

Do you peel till you get a whole pile of crab, or just eat as you go? I did some of both. Oh, the horror. I sent crab juice flyin’ all over the place. Kay was daintier, but still worked up a sweat. When the fog of crab settled, the table looked like a herd of otters had been amongst us. Herd of something.

And, like I said, the cleanup was massive. Don’t know if you’re aware, but you have to disassemble box cutters to completely de-crab ‘em. The hammer was no trouble. The pliers, just awkward.

I ended up mopping part of the floor, spot-cleaning the curtains and lighting three scented candles. Heck of a meal. The stuff of legend.

It’ll never happen again. Wouldn’t have happened this time had it not been for Kroger. Can’t believe they did that. Of course, part of the blame is mine for going out of town. She likes to do “wild things” she says. That’s just scary.