Early December - Charlie
People think it's easy to do this Santa Claus crap at the department stores.
I'm here to tell you it's one hell of a lot of work. All day, every day for a few weeks in that damn Santa get up. How would you like to wear that sweat soaked outfit day after day until it gets so wet and smelly so that you couldn't stand it yourself?
And the kids? People have this strange idea that, especially at Christmas time, kids are charming little angels. They are not! Most of them are little devils that pull on my beard to see if it's real then put their gum in it when they find out it's not. Spiteful brats!
All day, every day... "Santa, I want a Playstation 3. Make sure it's a 3 'cause I already got a 2 and I don't want another one of those. Are you really that fat? Is that you that smells?"
Or, "Mr. Santa Claus? You have to give me two Barbie dolls this year 'cause last year I only got one and my friend Jamie got two. So, Mr. Santa Claus, you won't be fair if you don't give me two this year. Ewww! What's that smell?"
Hey, kid, you wear this get up, day after day. You will smell just like me.
And the lines ... I didn't realize there were so many kids in this
Worst of all were the parents.
"I'm watching you, mister. You put one hand on my little girl and I'll put you in jail. God, you smell awful! Do you live in a bar?"
Well, lady, you would smell too if you had to wear this damn suit and you, too, would smell like a brewery if you drank all day just to get through it!
So I had a pint before I could get going in the morning. So I hit the flask every time I took a bathroom break. So I had a whole hell of a lot more when I got back to the dirty flophouse every night. I'd learned early that, if you were blitzed enough, the every evening fight between the roaches and the rats was more entertaining than not. I'd learned to put my money on the roaches.
There were just so many of them ... they kept coming, and coming. I now know how the peasants felt when the Mongolian hordes were running rapaciously through the land. They ... just ... kept ... on ... coming.
Came the day I pretty much died. It started like any other day - lousy. The bedbugs were getting to me; I was dirty, drunk, sick. But if I didn't go play Santa Claus I couldn't buy more rye. Yeah, I had fallen so low that I was drinking Rye Whisky.
How's that old song go? Oh, yeah,
Rye whisky, rye whisky,
Rye whisky, I cry,
If you don't give me rye whisky,
I surely will die.
And today felt like the day I would surely die.
I did make it in, somehow. I noticed how much room I had on the crowded subway.
Hey, lady, there is a seat here.
I guess she wants to stand up – usually pregnant ladies like to sit.
I finally got to the department store – not too late. Yeah, I got my ass chewed, but since that happened every day I didn't sweat it.
I started working my way through the lines. Bathroom break; snort. More kids, snort. Damn, the flask is almost empty.
"Santa, I want a new computer, a wide screen TV, a new bicycle, some more games for my Xbox,..."
Sure, kid. Whatever you say.
"Santa Daddy, when are you coming home?"
What? Ohmigod ... it's Carla! My sweet little first grader – so pretty in her plaid skirt and white blouse. Small for her age, but so smart.
"Santa Claus! Daddy. I miss you, please come home."
Tears in her eyes. Tears in mine. I looked around for June but between my alcoholic daze and the wetness in my eyes I couldn't see her. I jumped up and ran for the bathroom. Sat in a stall to hide. Finished my flask. Carla. June. Cramps in my stomach ... when did I eat last? I tried to get up – the stall door fell open and I fell, twisted, turned, tried to stand – the sink rushing at me.
Quiet. A light? Blackness. Noise, bustle. Sirens? Whispers, hands grabbing me, the ... what? Nothing. Silence. Peace.
Dreams - Charlie
I drank. That's who I was, what I did. Oh, not all the time. I was good at faking it. Vodka when I had to.
June, that beautiful lass. Hair of gold, eyes the translucent blue glow of an alpine lake. Soft skin, oh, so soft. A quiet beauty, my quiet beauty. Cut down on the drinking, yeah, I lied to her by my falseness. Love so beautiful. I tried - oh God, I tried to stop drinking.
A disease, I heard on the TV one night. Naw, it's good ... it gave me peace and confidence. It was my friend ... how could it be bad? 'Sides, I never got violent like real drunks do. I just got sleepy, so sleepy. But warm, fuzzy.
Carla came along, singing a song, even in my dreams I still imagine things – but I can't piece it together.
Carla, my little beauty. My love. I lied to June – I hid things from her. But, Carla. No, I couldn't. I tried. I really tried. I cut back. Just drank beer. Yeah, sure! Carla my life.
Then that night. I was on a bender ... hadn't been home for two days. June came looking for me – found me – in back of Lenny's Tavern with the local bar slut. She saw my car. Wasn't sure. Opened the door. Started crying, crying, running, running away from me. Bar slut laughed and handed me the bottle. The next day I was in jail and June wouldn't come.
She didn't ever come anymore. My sister called a lawyer for me from her home in Washington and he got me out on a misdemeanor "drunk in public" – no more, my sister said – and I moved to the Roach Motel. Or was it the Rat Motel. Sure, the Roach and Rat Motel. One day a guy came by and gave me some papers. I tried to read them but they were all fuzzy and there were two of everything.
Then I ran out of money and one of the other Roach Motel residents, my friend and neighbor, told me about the Santa gig. He had an extra suit and beard so I did that and got booze and watched the rats and roaches fight and the kids asked for everything and gave nothing.
Now these machines whirring beeping shots bottles dripping I don't know what, and those white uniforms fussing and bitching. One was nice – Lee Anne. An image, chubby but not fat, nice ... smelled good why didn't I stink anymore?
"Come on, honey, say your prayers."
"Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take."
"And I pray for grandma and grandpa. I pray for Bert and Ernie that they stop fighting. And I pray for Santa Daddy. Please, God, bring my daddy home to me and mommy.
I tucked her in, trying not to let her see my tears. I gave her a big hug and went down to finish in the kitchen. Everything done I fixed a big mug of Eggnog. Ever since I had figured out that Charlie had a drinking problem I quit putting brandy in it. I didn't miss it at all. The warmth of the mug comforted me as I thought about what had happened at the mall that day.
I was frazzled, a bit, trying to buy stuff for Carla without her seeing it and getting stuff for Judy, my sister's kids. As a ruse to distract Carla from what I was buying I sent her out to get in line for Santa Claus.
I got what I wanted but there was a problem with the credit card machine. The clerk had to phone the charge in. I could see my baby through the store window and I wanted to be there when she saw Santa.
Running a little, I got there just as I heard her say, "Santa Daddy, when are you coming home?"
I looked closer. Oh, no. It was Charlie. I stood there stunned, as Carla continued, "Santa Claus! Daddy. I miss you, please come home."
With that, Santa Claus, Charlie, got up and started running.
Carla started crying, inconsolably, as she saw her daddy running away instead of coming home. All I could do was hold her and cry myself.
It had all gone bad so quickly. I loved Charlie more than anything. It wasn't until I was pregnant with Carla that he started coming home late – coming home smelling of cigarette smoke and bars. I tried to talk to him but he would just laugh and hold me, give me a big kiss. I don't think he even noticed when I started turning away from him.
I could see the beginning of the end when he lost his job as a software salesman for missing too many client appointments. He had been one of their top performers but when his sales plummeted they could only keep him for so much time.
I tried, I really tried. He would be doing okay then once every few months he would go off on what I call "Charlie's walkabout." I wouldn't see him for a couple of days then he would stumble home, smelly, dirty, drunk, sick with the alcohol. I'd nurse him back to health and he would cry and promise to stop drinking.
Yeah, he'd try for a while but it never lasted. I started finding his stashes and pouring them down the sink. He would get quite inventive ... hiding bottles in the pool house, in the tree house he built for Carla, in the trunk of his car. I even found a couple of bottles in the pockets of his golf bag – he hadn't been golfing for years.
I pleaded with him to get help. I cried; I cajoled – even threatened. He was never mean or anything. Sometimes I wished he were so I could just throw him out. This dragged on for a long time ... until that night about a year ago. He'd been gone for several days but by then I knew which bars he would haunt.
I didn't see him but remembered once when I was looking for him.
.... There is more of this story ...