Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Images of Christmas

By Todd Morehead

Originally published 12-23-09


We’ve gotten comments –some good, some not so good—about our holiday themed cover art over the years. Last issue we ran a photo of Jesus squaring off nose-to-nose with Santa to tie into the theme of our liberal/conservative gift list and to illustrate the dichotomy of the holiday itself. Of those readers to whom I’ve spoken, none seemed more affected than a young boy at the West Metro Parade of Lights in West Columbia. He actually had Christmas issues from the last two years stuffed into his jacket pockets. City Paper, it seemed, had driven the little guy to a crossroads.

I was on my third doughnut when I saw him standing nearby and staring down at a crumpled copy of the December 3 edition. The boy, slight for his age, had a shock of thin brown hair that had been mussed, I assumed, by the Spider Man toboggan he had tucked under his arm. His large brown eyes seemed to be transfixed on the cover image and his lips worked silently while he tried to make out the words.

“Hey, little fella,” I said walking up to him. “Where’d you find that?”

Without looking up, he cocked a mittened thumb over his shoulder to the dumpster behind Zesto. I noticed, then, that he also had the December 3, 2008 edition rolled up and hanging out of his jacket pocket. Even partially hidden, I recognized the cover illustration of a brutalized Santa Claus hanging from a cross.

“Wow, kid, you must be a fan.”

“Not really. My dad says these guys hate Jesus.” He wiped his nose on his jacket sleeve. “Santa Claus, too.”

“Actually, I think that image was supposed to represent the ailing American construct of Christmas in this bleak economic landscape; an ode to modern capitalism, if you will.”

He shrugged. I noticed that he had a small piece of notebook paper in his other mitten and when I squinted at it I made out a few items listed in green crayon. It was his Christmas list! He had written in big red letters that he hoped Santa visited him this year, because he didn’t come last year.

Before I could comment on the list, a youth group from a local Pentecostal church began to sing carols from the bed of a pickup truck. One caroler started to toss candy canes toward us, but I waved her away. The boy ignored the float, too. I followed his gaze to a small terrier that was wagging his whole back end and tugging playfully on a bright red leash, while a little girl laughed gaily and fed it bits from her cookie. The little boy’s eyes lingered on the dog and an expression of familiarity and recent grief seemed to pass across his face. He pulled out the bloodied image of Santa begging for death from the cover of City Paper and stared at it for a long moment.

“Mister?” he asked finally, tugging on my pant leg. “Do you think Santa is in heaven with my dog Patches?”

“Nah. Dogs don’t go to heaven, silly.”

I got down on one knee, took the toboggan from under his arm and pulled it onto his head to keep his ears warm.

“Listen,” I said, “You know how your grandma has been asleep in the hospital for a few months with the beeping machines and tubes? Santa’s kind of like that right now.”

“Oh.” The boy’s voice cracked and his bottom lip began to tremble. He looked away toward the parade to gather himself. After a moment, he looked up and his eyes were filled with tears.

“I only did one bad thing this year, mister, I swear! I – I thought maybe it would make Santa mad at me again.” The boy’s eyes widened and he seemed to physically stoop under the weight of some dawning, unnamed horror. “Do... do you think because of me?” He brought a mitten up to his mouth and gaped at the mutilated image of Santa. “Did I do this to Santa?”

“Come on, kid.” I took a bite of doughnut and stared out at the street. “Don’t beat yourself up over it.”

A passing fire engine blared its horn and I thought I heard the Shriner mini cars buzzing in the distance. I needed another nip from the flask in the porta john to properly enjoy them.

“You should, uh, run along now, kid. And find yourself a good spot. You don’t want to miss Andre Bauer do you? I hear they’re gonna have him propped up in the back of a convertible.”

“Whoopee,” he said flatly.

He hung his head, turned without a word, took a few steps and stopped with his back to me. Silhouetted against the glow of twinkling lights, he looked like a North Pole elf who’d been around the block one too many times. He seemed to gather himself to turn and ask another question but it never came. After a moment he let the Christmas list fall from his hand. It fluttered briefly on the curb amid the glitter and confetti and then it dropped silently between the grates of a sewer drain. Once it had drifted out of sight, the boy walked away without looking back at the parade.

I watched him make his way past the brightly lit snowflakes and candy canes hanging from the telephone poles, the smell of hot cocoa wafting on the breeze. He kicked a trash can near the corner, then shuffled past laughing families lining the sidewalk, the copy of City Paper still clutched tightly in his little fist.

I sighed at the image and smiled. Man, I love Christmas.


Images of Christmas By Todd MoreheadWe’ve gotten comments –some good, some not so good—about our holiday themed cover art over the years. Last issue we ran a photo of Jesus squaring off nose-to-nose with Santa to tie into the theme of our liberal/conservative gift list and to illustrate the dichotomy of the holiday itself. Of those readers to whom I’ve spoken, none seemed more affected than a young boy at the West Metro Parade of Lights in West Columbia. He actually had Christmas issues from the last two years stuffed into his jacket pockets. City Paper, it seemed, had driven the little guy to a crossroads.I was on my third doughnut when I saw him standing nearby and staring down at a crumpled copy of the December 3 edition. The boy, slight for his age, had a shock of thin brown hair that had been mussed, I assumed, by the Spider Man toboggan he had tucked under his arm. His large brown eyes seemed to be transfixed on the cover image and his lips worked silently while he tried to make out the words. â€œHey, little fella,” I said walking up to him. “Where’d you find that?” Without looking up, he cocked a mittened thumb over his shoulder to the dumpster behind Zesto. I noticed, then, that he also had the December 3, 2008 edition rolled up and hanging out of his jacket pocket. Even partially hidden, I recognized the cover illustration of a brutalized Santa Claus hanging from a cross.“Wow, kid, you must be a fan.”“Not really. My dad says these guys hate Jesus.” He wiped his nose on his jacket sleeve. “Santa Claus, too.” â€œActually, I think that image was supposed to represent the ailing American construct of Christmas in this bleak economic landscape; an ode to modern capitalism, if you will.”He shrugged. I noticed that he had a small piece of notebook paper in his other mitten and when I squinted at it I made out a few items listed in green crayon. It was his Christmas list! He had written in big red letters that he hoped Santa visited him this year, because he didn’t come last year.Before I could comment on the list, a youth group from a local Pentecostal church began to sing carols from the bed of a pickup truck. One caroler started to toss candy canes toward us, but I waved her away. The boy ignored the float, too. I followed his gaze to a small terrier that was wagging his whole back end and tugging playfully on a bright red leash, while a little girl laughed gaily and fed it bits from her cookie. The little boy’s eyes lingered on the dog and an expression of familiarity and recent grief seemed to pass across his face. He pulled out the bloodied image of Santa begging for death from the cover of City Paper and stared at it for a long moment.“Mister?” he asked finally, tugging on my pant leg. “Do you think Santa is in heaven with my dog Patches?”“Nah. Dogs don’t go to heaven, silly.”I got down on one knee, took the toboggan from under his arm and pulled it onto his head to keep his ears warm. â€œListen,” I said, “You know how your grandma has been asleep in the hospital for a few months with the beeping machines and tubes? Santa’s kind of like that right now.”“Oh.” The boy’s voice cracked and his bottom lip began to tremble. He looked away toward the parade to gather himself. After a moment, he looked up and his eyes were filled with tears.“I only did one bad thing this year, mister, I swear! I – I thought maybe it would make Santa mad at me again.” The boy’s eyes widened and he seemed to physically stoop under the weight of some dawning, unnamed horror. “Do... do you think because of me?” He brought a mitten up to his mouth and gaped at the mutilated image of Santa. “Did I do this to Santa?”“Come on, kid.” I took a bite of doughnut and stared out at the street. “Don’t beat yourself up over it.”A passing fire engine blared its horn and I thought I heard the Shriner mini cars buzzing in the distance. I needed another nip from the flask in the porta john to properly enjoy them.“You should, uh, run along now, kid. And find yourself a good spot. You don’t want to miss Andre Bauer do you? I hear they’re gonna have him propped up in the back of a convertible.” â€œWhoopee,” he said flatly.  He hung his head, turned without a word, took a few steps and stopped with his back to me. Silhouetted against the glow of twinkling lights, he looked like a North Pole elf who’d been around the block one too many times. He seemed to gather himself to turn and ask another question but it never came. After a moment he let the Christmas list fall from his hand. It fluttered briefly on the curb amid the glitter and confetti and then it dropped silently between the grates of a sewer drain. Once it had drifted out of sight, the boy walked away without looking back at the parade. I watched him make his way past the brightly lit snowflakes and candy canes hanging from the telephone poles, the smell of hot cocoa wafting on the breeze. He kicked a trash can near the corner, then shuffled past laughing families lining the sidewalk, the copy of City Paper still clutched tightly in his little fist. I sighed at the image and smiled. Man, I love Christmas.

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