A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story

by Thomas Pancake

Christmas time and we had no heat in the house. My housemates and I had cleaned the whole neighborhood out of dry pine moving pallets that last about ten minutes in the fireplace. It took that long to bust them up into suitably sized units for burning. We had stockpiled a dozen or so in the backyard for the holidays and all of us were hoping that they would hold out till after New Year's, when the shipping companies picked up business.

There were four of us at the house: my good friend Shine, Victor the Cuban, a drunk named Heidi and me, who had already done one winter. Who was fresh?Neither Victor nor Heidi would bring home firewood nor would they go through the process of starting a fire, even if I was to size the wood before leaving the house. They preferred to huddle under blankets shivering, and wait for either Shine or me to come home and laugh at them.

December 25th about two o'clock in the morning I was waiting for my pal Jed to come over. He had asked me to give a hand with a Christmas project, something "real hush hush" he said. I said sure and was just waiting around when Jed drives up in his '92 Toyota pickup, parks it on our front lawn and comes in without knocking. Now Jed is about six-foot, has brown, shoulder-length hair, and is pretty well-built with a passion for tight pants and half shirts, an excellent combination if it weren't for his more than average amount of belly hair.

This night his coloring was exceedingly seasonal with a matching Santa hat and mirrored cop glasses. As he sat down I offered him some gin and eggnog --my own creation -- to which he said yes and when I returned with the beverages, he proceeded to describe one of the finest little holiday larcenies that I have ever had the pleasure to take part in.

"Tommy, it's somethin' for you and everyone else here in the house. I got this line on a herd of reindeer. I tried to get them myself but they're too heavy, but I figure me and you can get them just fine . . ."

Jed went on talking about the details but to be honest, I didn't need any more convincing than that. I had the picture in my mind and the joy of Christmas in my heart. I saw that he was certain of his venture and when I agreed to join in, didn't his face light up and he jumped up ran out of the house. I heard the truck door slam and a second later, he was back inside with a red fluffy thing he was holding out for me. I took it and then the both of us, guarded with matching Santa hats, started drinking and waited for the quiet hours of the morning.

We started out at about four and after twenty minutes were in a posh neighborhood. In fact, of my hometown, Portland, that area has the highest crime rate of the city: Upper middle class people who are apparently unaware of the authorities ability to find stolen goods and call the police whenever someone might break in and take something. Rich enough to have stuff but too cheap to take the proper precautions.

We pulled up about a block away and killed the lights. I could see them sitting there, the herd of reindeer, tranquil and serene. Full of a simple peace that we poor humans might only find in the grave. Grazing on an average patch of front lawn green, they were five of the finest examples of commercial decorative masonry in town. Jed and I sat in the truck and finished the beers we'd taken for the ride, then slowly pulled up next to those uncomprehending little creatures and got out. As I stood there contemplating the deer, Jed took a bag of rubbish from the truck and, after separating the recyclables, tossed it into the garbage bins at the foot of the driveway.

When he had reached where I was standing he asked "What do ya' think?" I replied that while I did think they were magnificent, I did not think they were reindeer of any sort as they were only three foot tall and their antlers were the wrong shape. To which he replied that they were, of course, "pigmy Reindeer" and that not only the horns, but the entire body shape were the same as those creatures in the stop-action animation dramatization of Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer. A sound argument, but I was forced to point out the mild overgrowth around the feet and the crowd of small stone dwarves near the porch. I explained that I felt that they were fixtures of a more permanent sense and were not seasonal at all but rather a fanciful woodland motif for the entire year. After a few more moments we wearied of the sport and set about to business.

Choosing a smallish one, I took the nose and Jed took the tail and on three we gave a good heave. I estimated the weight of those creatures at between eighty and one hundred kilograms, no problem for two able-bodied young men, so when our first effort produced almost no effect, you may imagine our surprise. With the second attempt, Jed and I truly applied ourselves, and were rewarded with a tiny movement of about one inch. It was then that we divined the reason for this animal's refusal to comply. Anchored into place by a large block of concrete that was sunk into the lawn, the mass was easily doubled. Added to this was the tensile strength of a highly developed root system that supported the little pitch of Oregon crab grass. Jed and I would have to work a little harder.

Reindeer and people alike are subject to the laws of physics, so after seven or eight minutes of rocking our friend back and forth, we were able to free him from his grassy bondage and, with a fair effort and a good amount of cursing, place him in the bed of the truck. After forty-five minutes we had deposited three of the little beasts, but for the last two larger ones, all our bodily strength was useless. They would not move and after an hour of being involved in this less-than-legal endeavor, the situation was beginning weigh more than the livestock. I was happy enough to sacrifice and leave without an animal for myself, but Jed would hear nothing of it. There were four people living in that house and three deer would not do.

I have never met a more giving and philanthropic a young man as Jed. When I think of all the things that we risked that night, him more then me, just to bring a little holiday spirit home that night, it fills me with joy. I feel secure that for both of us it is one more happy deed in the good column of that big book of accounts.

After a quick conference, Jed retrieved an industrial orange extension cord from the cab of his vehicle, and began to apply it to the tow bar of his truck while I secured it to the reindeer. With both of them fastened, Jed hopped back in the truck and started it up. The sound of the engine seemed incredibly loud on that quiet street and as he slowly revved it up, the first of the remaining two reindeer pulled free from the ground, but the second refused to budge. The most contrary member of the family was making a stand for the rights of property and refused to leave. Jed took the foot off the gas and slack fell into the cord.

Figuring that this was the end of the night's work, I was about to move forward to unfasten the fellow and to give up the fight, but then I heard the shift of gears and the sound of the engine ring a new pitch. Like the snap of fingers all the looseness leapt from the cord and it pulled taut. The first deer leapt from the ground and the second immediately shifted on its foundation. Then, with four quick pops, as if startled by the sound of gunfire, it leapt into the air, leaving its stone platform behind, and with a reasonably loud thump, landed upon its more agreeable sister.

For several seconds Jed and I were perfectly still, each of us staring at the windows of the houses of the street. But no light came on. No other sound was heard but the quiet idling of Jed's Toyota . . . nothing but the quiet of Christmas morning. Jed and I loaded the last two of our wards, covered them with an old blanket of mine and, leaving those little dwarven jailers behind on the lawn, headed for home.

The mornings work had produced a hunger for both of us and it was decided to stop at the 7-11 near my house for burritos. Driving down Burnside at speed limit, Jed carefully signaled before turning into the parking lot. All day, every day of the year, the 7-11 is a beautiful and dependable institution and this one in particular. I have never known it to close nor need any maintenance of any kind that would entail it shutting its doors to the public.

Located at the corner of the two streets that divide the entire city, the only fault that a person might find is that when one is approaching the store from the east, one cannot see the parking lot until having already turned in to enter it. This was the situation that Jed and I were in. It is impossible to describe the unpleasantness when, upon turning, we saw a '97 Ford Taurus painted in the traditional blue-and-white fashion of the Portland Police Deptartment. Lightning fast, I announced "We must drive in, it would be impolite to do otherwise."

I had the benefit of clarity of thought. Jed on the other hand had to struggle with the idea of the impending loss of his vehicle, but Jed soon regained his composure.It was a man with nerves of steel that parked that truck in the spot next to the police car and killed the engine.

As we got out of the pickup, we noticed that not only were the two officers engaged in conversation with a most unhappy looking young man but that they were also both wearing matching Santa hats. As they raised their eyes to us, seeing that we had hats of the same make, they both smiled a bit, said "Nice hats boys," and went about their conversation with their less jolly friend.

Inside the store, Jed and I made our purchases. Jed did his best to ignore the fact that the police were outside, while I tried to eye them with the same curiosity that everyone has whilst watching any police action or automobile accident. I did my best to banish any thought of personal concern on the chance that it might be visible on my face. It seemed certain to me that the police were not going to leave any time soon and as it would be unseemly to loiter, I did my best to politely hurry the clerk.Then we two gallantly exited the safety of the convenience store and entered once again into the proximity of the police.

The fact that the police were currently involved in an interaction and that we were all, with the exception of the unhappy little elf that the police were talking to, wearing the same hats of joy was not enough to temper the extreme disquiet in my stomach. We had not committed any sin in our own eyes, and the fact that we had been able to acquire our truckload of concrete livestock had, at the time, made it seem that our actions were condoned by a heavenly court. But I knew that without the blessing of the spirit of Christmas, or if that blessing were to be rescinded, both Jed and I would be subject to the law of man and all the suffering that it might care to subscribe for us.

It was at this point, when matters seemed most unpleasant, that we heard the words "Hey boys, come here. We want to ask you a question." The only way I could possibly describe the emotions of this situation to you is with tears. Jed and I released the door handles of the truck and slowly approached the police. The stink of our reluctance seemed to fill the air and I was sure that they somehow read our guilt in the measure of our pace. The police stood there smiling. Their unhappy friend holding his elbows and looking as small as possible, with the contents of his backpack strewn across the hood of the police car. All three of them waiting for us to join the party.

"This man says that he found this tool-kit in a dumpster. Now, do you think that is the sort of thing that you would find in a dumpster?" When the words fell from the police officer's mouth, it took me a full second to comprehend. When I did realize what he was saying, I quickly understood that the police were in no way suspicious of us at all but had mistook us, because of the hats, for having similar views of naughty and nice. It was then that I took notice of the items in question: The tool-kit of twenty one sockets and adapters, which seemed in an excellent state, and the thirty-something, grubby-looking white man, who did not seem so well off.

I assure you that the moral dilemma of this situation was almost too much. I did not want to concur with the police both for ethical reasons and for the fact that I knew all too well that there was some likelihood of finding such a tool kit in a dumpster or some other comparable place. On the other hand, I did not want to make my own situation any more unpleasant than it already was. I could do nothing but look at Jed and wait for him to make the first move.

After a show of scrutiny of the said tool-kit Jed made the definitive statement that he had found "plenty of fine things in dumpsters." Without skipping a beat, I readily agreed to having done the same and added that the tools did seem to show a bit of usage. This elicited looks of displeasure from the police. The officer who had questioned us first, felt it important to clarify his question by saying "Have either of you ever found a tool-kit like this in the dumpster?" to which Jed repeated his former statement and added that people throw out high quality, perfectly good things all the time, while I again tried to point out the wear. To this the police became altogether menacing and repeated the question in a manner, which led us to believe that they wanted a very direct answer. There was nothing more for us to do.We gave the fellow apologetic looks and answered honestly that "While we had found many fine things in dumpsters, neither one of us had ever had the luck to find a tool-kit like that one."

The police not so very nicely thanked us for our time and then told us to leave. We reached my home with no further mishap and as quietly as possible unloaded our cargo into the front room. Then, unable to contain our excitement woke up the rest of the house with coffee and loud noises and spent the morning reveling in our adventures. Those reindeer stayed in the house for about three months, until they were moved to the front yard where they stayed for the entire time we lived there.At one point, our little woodland creatures were abused by a couple fellows hired by the rental agency to paint the house, but otherwise were unmolested. When we did leave the question as to whether to take them or not did arise, but it was decided that those darling little creatures had brought us so much joy that it was only fair to leave them for the next tenants. Unfortunately that was never to happen, as they were victims of the cleansing arson that befell that home a week or so after we had left.


Thomas Pancake

Born in Oregon in 1973, as the cause for my parent's marriage rather than its product. I spent the average amount of time being a child and growing up. With the exception of a short sojourn to Canada, I had, until recently, spent my entire life in my hometown in Portland.

It is my opinion that we are all defined, as a matter of linguistic and culture, by either the extremities of our mischance or by what we attempt to do. Currently I am neither a cancer patient nor a lottery winner though I do smoke and I do play. I have also have had the opportunity to pretend to be many things.I have tried to be a waiter, a plumber, a street hustler, a junky, a musician, a potter, a teacher, a husband, and a half dozen other things not really worth mentioning. When people ask what I do, I pick one from the list. I might as well tell them that I play the lottery. It would be as true as anything.

The measure of my existence is uncomfortably devoid of accomplishments and I often find myself determined by comic or tragic personal anecdotes.I have made some little progress and I am not crying the tune of a misspent youth, but the yield has been solely those funny little stories to tell friends at bars or lovers on the pillow. What notoriety I do have is terribly localized and restricted to the not very large city to which I was born. In my hometown there are three or for contractors will say that I am a fair plumber. All my fellow musicians should say that I am mediocre. A couple of restaurants back home will say that I am a not so very good waiter. A few guys downtown will say that I am a pretty good at a grift for a beginner, but only for the benefit of the color of my skin and the shape of my face. If not in jail, there should be a flock of Mexicans who could tell you my drug of choice. My family, teacher, and a few buyers would say that I am a good potter, and one young lady would probably say that I'm a deadbeat and a mistake. If I am incorrect and we are not defined by what we do, then certainly we are by what others say about us.

What I do not claim to be (yet) is a writer. This, and that which is printed directly to the left, is the total sum of printed words written by me. It was at the request of some people I enjoy. I hope to make a habit of this business of writing. Many of my friends and acquaintances keep this hobby of writing and it seems to bring them a great deal of pleasure. I also am planning to visit the doctor very soon, having recently discovered a small lump in the middle of my upper lip. It seems to be slowly growing and is, in my opinion, not very benign.

Published Kilometer Zero Magazine, Volume 00, December 2000