Sunday, December 23, 2012

Santa Claus at stake

Henry, with Santa. The real one.

By Felix Carroll

There were no third-party witnesses, which leaves us with two somewhat conflicting accounts, two people crying, and the belief in Santa Claus on the line.

Here’s what I’ve been able piece together.

On or about 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 13, Cara Marie Carroll (age withheld) was operating a 2012 Kia Soul (Titanium Pearl Metallic in color, hamsters not included) when a conversation ensued with the lone passenger, one Henry Thomas Carroll, 10, belted in the backseat, reportedly questioning the existence of Santa Claus and stuffing his mouth with Craisins.

We photographed a set of skid marks on Blue Hill Road for evidence. (The skid marks, by the way, indicate the Kia Soul owner foolishly opted for the standard 15-inch tires with the steel wheels rather than the 16-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels, which look sculpted and striking. Oh well.)

The weather conditions were dry and sunny. Straight and roughly 22-feet long, the skid marks were typical for instances when wild animals have entered the roadway or when distressing news has been delivered. While the Soul shows no signs of distress, two souls (lowercase) continue to demonstrate existential anguish.

Ms. Carroll gave a statement later that evening after “Craisin Face” (her term) went up to bed. Pounding a bottle of Polar Seltzer (pomegranate), her eye shadow smeared, her lower lip quivering (“It’s not quivering!” It was quivering), she said:

Here’s the story: It was a typical Friday. I picked him up at school. As is custom, all us parents whose children are “walkers” were gathered in the gymnasium waiting for school to be dismissed. Why do they call them “walkers,” anyway? His school is in the middle of nowhere. No one “walks” anywhere. Anyway, you know the routine. The preschoolers enter first, followed by the kindergarteners. Jeez, remember when Henry was a little guy like that? A cute little fudge muffin with tractors and fire trucks on his shirts? He’d walk into the gymnasium all shy and vulnerable and look for me in the crowd of parents. I’d be waving like I’m waving a checkered flag, and he’d come sprinting, giggling and ecstatic, and jump into arms and hug me so tightly and shout “Mooooommmmmmmy!” and it felt like heaven must feel like. Heaven cannot be as good as that. I don’t even want heaven to be any better than that. Remember that? Remember how that felt?

Okay, I do. But what happened?

He got old. He’s 10 now, and this is bullshit!

No, I mean, what happened this afternoon.

Well, wait, I’m getting to that. In first grade, he’d still come running to me in the gym. That’s the truth. Second grade, too, but the sprint had become a trot and the “Mooooommmmmmmy!” had become a “Moommmy!” Jeez, I loved it when he’d come trotting to me like that, with his construction paper artwork flapping all over the place and all the pieces of macaroni that would get everywhere.

Can we speed this up?

You mean it’s not going fast enough for you?! He’ll have armpit hair before we know it!

No, I mean, what happened today?

I’m getting to that. Third grade was okay. He was still happy to see me, but the trot had become sort of skip-hop. You’ve seen him skip-hop. It’s fun to watch, but let’s not kid ourselves: Even then, his love for us had leveled off.

Today. What happened today?

Well, he rarely skip-hops his way to me. Sometimes he still does, but that’s probably just repressed muscle memory. He walks into the gym nonchalantly now and continues to walk straight to me without breaking stride, and he says, “Hi Mom,” then keeps walking. And of course the school administration makes the parents of the older children wait and watch the younger children come in first and give those fudge-muffiny hugs.

I know. It’s a bummer. But what happened today.

He was in the backseat, and just out of the blue he says, “Mom, I don’t think I believe in Santa anymore.” Maybe I stepped on the break, but there must have been a squirrel in the road. I tried to stay calm. I really did. But I cried. I really did. I knew this day was coming. But it was just the way he said it. He was so sweet the way he said it, and he was using the scientific method, just like we’ve encouraged. He just figured it out — deducing that the Santa story makes no sense. Just the sheer logistics of it: the reindeer, all those cookies, all those presents, all those homes. So when we get home, he changes his story. He says he actually does believe in Santa Claus, but he’s only saying that because he saw me crying and he thinks he ruined Christmas. The whole thing is a mess.

I went upstairs to take the statement of said fourth grader. He had his light on and was staring at the ceiling. He said:

Dad, I didn’t see a squirrel in the road. She just slammed on the breaks for a second, just out of the blue. I don’t know why.

Did you mention something about Santa Claus?

No. Well, not really. Maybe I said something. I forget. I didn’t mean to make her cry.

Do you believe in Santa Claus?

Yes, of course! Santa Claus is real …  and he’s coming — to town. I think.

Conclusions: I predict skip-hopping on Christmas morning. Those tire marks were straight, indicating a steady, steely refusal to deviate from said lane while seeking to lessen an anticipated impact. In other words, that wasn’t a squirrel in the road. It was a reindeer.

For now.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A funnel emergency!

By Felix Carroll
''Of all of my children, you were always my favorite. Just don't tell the others.''
That's what my grandfather told my mother on his deathbed. Years later, she and her four siblings came to the realization he had said the very same thing to each one of them. For years, each of them was upheld by the happy, misbegotten secret of their father's fondest affection. He was just trying to put everyone in good cheer, that's all. What an awfully nice man.
Like my grandfather, I lie my butt off in the name of generosity. Which is why, a few days before Christmas, I drove up a hillside to a neighbor I had never met before, knocked on the door and announced I was having "an oil funnel emergency."
That wildly untrue phrase, "oil funnel emergency," slipped through my lips as easily as an involuntarily exhale. If I had been truthful in this instance, no one would have benefited because I would have said: "Hello. Sorry to disturb you during breakfast. I live down the way a bit, and I've been led to believe that several months ago you correctly pegged a friend of mine as being the owner of an oil funnel. You saw his garage. You saw all his stuff, and it came about that you borrowed his funnel. It was nice of him to lend it to you. We can agree to that. But here's the thing: You never returned it, and now he's miffed and swears he'll never ever come to the aid of a stranger again.
"I'm not accusing anyone of theft. I'm merely here to inquire whether you might consider allowing me to transport the funnel down this hillside so I may return it to its owner and bring closure to this affair."
As you can imagine, truth, as a course of action, would have been confusing in this instance. Maybe even confrontational. Maybe even cause for a 911 call. So instead, I said: "I know this is a weird question, but I'm having a bit of an oil funnel emergency. Do you happen to have an oil funnel I can borrow?"
I was met with a pause. One of those "pregnant" pauses you read about. A pause so pregnant I feared octuplets. I cannot say what sort of data processing I had set into motion in his mind. Whether a memory was jogged. Or a jig was up. Or he had no idea he had a funnel that belonged to someone else. And anyway I wasn't there to judge. I was there to collect a funnel, and it was an emergency.
Thankfully, in its simplicity, the term "oil funnel emergency" requires — no, it insists upon — no explanation. When you say "oil funnel emergency," what you can expect are results.
My neighbor strapped footwear to stockinged feet, wrestled on a winter coat and set about foraging for a funnel while I stood by the breakfast table with a family I didn't know who probably were wondering what sort of a person gets himself caught in an oil funnel emergency.
But wouldn't you know it: Moments later I had an oil funnel in my hands.
"Here you go," he said. "Keep it"
Keep it?
"Great meeting you," he said. "Good luck with your funnel emergency. I hope everything is OK. Let me know if I can help. And merry Christmas."
I then went home, sheathed the funnel in bubble wrap, gift-wrapped it and had my friend's wife place it under their Christmas tree. Santa couldn't have done any better. I had declared a state of oil funnel emergency. It could have gone wrong. There could have been panic. Instead, I brought peace to my fair village. And no one got hurt. Doggone it, the world needs its George Baileys.
Funny, though. As word has spread in our circle of friends about my act of heroism, questions have been raised. Uncomfortable questions. Like "Wait a minute. It's a cheap, plastic, dirty-old $4.99 oil funnel. What possessed you?" And "Who comes up with a phrase like 'oil funnel emergency?'" And "If you lied about oil funnel emergencies, what else do you lie about? Did you really read 'Ulysses' from beginning to end?"
I've gone through it all in my head, and still I come to the same conclusion. My friend got his funnel back, and he understands now that people take these matters seriously. And I've made a new friend: A neighbor who believes he's done a good deed — given a funnel to a guy afflicted by an oil funnel emergency. What an awfully nice man.
Gifted liars like me, and like my grandfather, give society's circulatory systems a fighting chance to flow hassle-free. I should be teaching a college course on this. Thank me later.