|More Kitty, More, More|
Nick At Night
When my husband Max asks me what I want for Christmas this year, my first
thought is, “a baby.” Naturally, the part of me that’s one-quarter Jewish on my
father’s side thinks, “Maybe our kid’ll turn out to be the savior the world
awaits.” But when I think about the size of the ozone hole, and how little money I can earn temping for, say, Enron, giving birth to anyone even a messiah
suddenly seems selfish. If I must cuddle someone magical, dear and squishy in my arms, I suspect I’d be better off hugging Santa Claus.
Which I wouldn’t mind at all, now that I think of it. I quite like the way
he affirms my basic goodness (regardless of how many dubious thoughts I’ve had
this year), and of course there’s the spendthrift sugar-daddy angle (I can so
picture him buying me a Thunderbird),
but what I adore most about the man the Dutch called “Sinter Klaas” is his
quiltiness. Santa stitches so many traditions and mythical characters into one
narrative fabric that to make love with him, I imagine, would be like sleeping
with every star in “Oceans Eleven” at once only without having to worry
about your abs.
So I reach into that overstuffed grab-bag he calls his identity and come
up, to start, with a mysterious fourth century hero from what’s now Turkey: the
original Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra. Although the factual details of his
life are largely in dispute, legend has blessed him with all the sweetness of an honest-to-goodness holy man and all the louche democracy of a hipster. Did he really save a trio of girls from prostitution by throwing three bags of dowry gold into their open window? Nobody knows. But any man who could become the patron saint of children, bankers and pawnbrokers, brides and single women,
perfumers and bootblacks, travelers, seamen, stevedores, brewers, coopers, the
unjustly imprisoned and also poets is a deep enough guy for me.
“St. Nick,” I say to him, “let’s ride, daddy-o.” And I hop up into his
sleigh. In the back, we snuggle down in a pile of synthetic reindeer hides (made from reprocessed copies of the late Brill’s Content). There’s snow in the air. The danger and cruelty of ice, like a terrorist threat, gives an ominous edge to the sparkly panorama below. Beneath the implacable stars of an oil-black sky, the reindeer take off with a jolt and a jingle of inane bells and I slip my hand in between the buttons of Nicholas’s vestments (made of recycled Kozmo.com flyers.)
In firmness, Santa’s belly is somewhere between a plum pudding and a
fruitcake. Pregnant with appetite, it is a symbol of optimism in uncertain
times. I rub it reverently.
“I can give you the caves of Tora Bora for Christmas, but not a cure for
Ebola or peace in Palestine,” St. Nicholas bargains, not wanting to tumble me
under false pretenses.
“I don’t expect miracles,” I shrug, “although I would love it if Exxon
produced cheap, renewable energy by saving something wonderful and doomed…like the spotted owl, or trial by jury.”
The great man smiles, pleased that my Christmas wishes are as generous as
his own. He kisses my throat, nuzzling beneath my scarf (woven from sensitive
documents my president has ruled off-limits to future historians).
Unzipped, Santa shapeshifts into Kris Kringle, that faithful servant of
Christ whom Protestants promoted as a substitute for the Catholics’ sainted
joy-boy. Kris’s rosy, velvety hood is softly pointed and his wrinkled burlap
sack is swollen with bounty. He’s adorable!
Down my chimney into the heat of my hearth he dives, in a ritual whose
pleasures require no explication. In the moment he seems to me as he seemed to
the dentist Clement Moore when he wrote “The Night Before Christmas” in 1822
no bigger than an elf , yet powerful as Thor, the German thunder god upon whose legends (among others) the poem rings variations.
As Santa’s reindeer soar improbably across the moon, my nerves blink and
twinkle. I’m a Christmas-tree angel now, spangled as the new dawn. Fly me,
Santa. Get me high enough above the rat race, the blood-bath, the Chapter 11s,
where the world appears at peace. And beautiful. And easy to love. Joy to it.
Oh… joy eternal!
Then, bing: I’m back on my couch uncoupling with Santa-as-we-know-him. It’s
the big jolly red-suited gent created by political cartoonist Thomas Nast in
1883 and slicked up about 70 years later by Coca Cola’s illustrator Haddon
Sundlun into an airbrushed icon of child-loving merriment.
“Is it right to bring a new life into this world?” I ask him, ready to
accept his final answer.
“Coke adds life,” he replies. I laugh, because, while he has obviously sold
out to his legions of employers, when it comes to promoting a spirit of simple,
childlike fun, Santa still has all other messiahs beat by a luminous red nose.