Pink Santa is a Christmas novelette of twelve chapters, posted serially by me, your chilly host, Cheeseburger Brown.
Many of the television specials that air around this time of the year, in time for Channukkah, Diwali, Christmas, and the Klingon celebration of Kwanzaa, revolve around the idea of the True Meaning of $HOLIDAY.
Let's just cut to the chase: the True Meaning of $HOLIDAY always boils down to love. It is unclear why this is initially unclear to the people in seasonal specials, but it may be because television is stupid.
And now, we continue our tale:
Wet clumps of white snow fell from the cloudy sky and turned to grey mush on the busy city streets. Horns honked. There were people everywhere, and they were all in a hurry.
Mike watched the hub-bub through the front window of the small, steamy restaurant where he sat at a counter beside Santa Claus. Santa was dressed as a security guard. "What do you usually have for breakfast, Mike?" asked Santa.
"Oatmeal," said Mike.
Santa suggested Mike try bacon and eggs and pancakes and toast instead, and Mike agreed. There were faded, greasy pictures of bacon and eggs and pancakes and toast on the wall and Mike thought they looked delicious. While they waited for the food to arrive Mike looked out the window at the people on Yonge Street.
"Everybody's going to work," said Mike.
"Yes they are," agreed Santa. The waitress brought him a cup of coffee and he said, "Thank you, miss."
Mike asked, "Do you have a work, Santa?"
"I'm working right now, Mike," said Santa, nodding. "I'm watching the department store across the street so I don't miss the press conference."
Mike asked, "What's a press conference?"
Santa explained, "It's when journalists -- reporters -- come to hear about a thing or see a thing so they can tell everyone about it on the radio or in the newspapers. This press conference is about new toys."
"I like toys," observed Mike thoughtfully.
"Me too," said Santa. "But these toys aren't good toys. They're toys that break, so you always have to get a new one. It's a very sneaky and unkind thing to do to children, I think."
Mike nodded. "I think that, too."
At that moment another Santa Claus walked in to the restaurant, making the little bell above the door jingle. Instead of being dressed as a security guard he was dressed as a grocer, but he had a long, yellow-white beard, a round tummy and twinkling little eyes.
He walked up to Mike's Santa and tapped him on the shoulder. They whispered a word to one another. Next the new Santa put a rolled up note in Santa's palm, nodded, and then turned around and walked out of the restaurant.
"Who was that?" asked Mike.
"Santa Claus," said Santa Claus.
Yet another Santa Claus walked in next, this one dressed up in big red pajamas with white furry trim just like the pretend Santa and his grumpy teenage elves. He was wearing a red toque, and carrying a bell and a bucket full of money. Mike leaned in close to hear him whisper, "Saint Nicholas."
Mike's Santa whispered "Saint Nicholas" back, and then the new Santa asked if he needed any money. Mike's Santa shook his head to say no. The new Santa nodded in a friendly way and then left the restaurant. Once on the street outside he rang his bell and held out his bucket so people could put money in. "Ho, ho, ho!" he sang.
Mike's Santa winked at Mike. "Before you ask," he said, "that was Santa Claus, too."
The waitress put two hot plates of bacon and eggs and pancakes and toast on the counter in front of Santa and Mike. Mike forgot all about the other Santas; he was lost in the delicious steam rising up from his plate. He let Santa tuck a paper napkin into the top of his pajamas, then he picked up his fork and started shovelling the wonderful food into his mouth. "Yum!" said Mike.
Santa ate his breakfast with one hand and used the other hand to unroll the note the first Santa had given him. He read it quickly and then surprised Mike by popping the note into his mouth and chewing it up. He made a face when he swallowed, then he sipped his coffee. "Ugh," said Santa, sticking his tongue out.
"You shouldn't eat paper," said Mike.
"I couldn't agree more," said Santa.
When they were done Santa left a little collection of paper money folded into shapes -- a snail, an airplane, a hat -- just like the pile he'd left in the department store's toy section and outerwear section after he had found a winter coat for Mike. Santa made Mike zip up the winter coat before they left the restaurant.
"Are we going to the press conversation now?" asked Mike with a little burp.
"Before we go to the press conference," corrected Santa cheerfully, "I have to change my clothes. So, naturally, we're going into the subway."
"Oh yeah," said Mike even though he didn't understand what Santa meant.
They walked down the dirty steps from the street to the subway station. A man dressed as Santa Claus was playing a guitar on the landing. He had an open guitar case at his feet with a few coins in it. He was singing a song about a snowman named Frosty.
Mike tugged on Santa's jacket. "Hey, it's another Santa," he whispered.
"Nah," said Santa, ignoring the man playing the guitar. "He's not one of ours."
Mike and Santa stopped in front of a wall of small square lockers. Santa fished around in his pocket for an orange key, which he put into one of the locks and the locker popped open. He pulled out a blanket which he asked Mike to hold up like a wall with his arms stretched out wide. Mike held the blanket while Santa stood behind it and took off his pants.
Mike's arms started to get tired. When Santa told him he could drop the blanket Mike sighed with relief, then gasped to see Santa transformed: he had changed his clothes and now instead of looking like a security guard he looked like a dapper businessman in a fine suit.
"Wow!" said Mike.
Santa checked his watch. He said, "Let's go."
The press conference at the Hudson's Bay department store was all ready to begin. There were lots of bright lights on tall stands, all pointed at a table covered in a red drape. Mike held Santa's hand as they gently pushed their way into the crowd of reporters and business people. Mike thought it was strange how so many of the people were chubby old fellows with white beards.
An unhappy young man came by and checked Santa's press pass, which was a little card that said it was okay for Santa to be there. "Does the kid have a pass?" asked the unhappy young man.
"He's here so we can get a child's impression of the new toys," said Santa, even though it was a lie. "Say hello to the nice man, Mike."
"Hello," said Mike.
"Fine, whatever," said the unhappy young man. He walked away to check the press passes of the other people in the crowd.
A few minutes later a tall, thin man with a dark suit and a big frown under a thin mustache stood up in front of everybody and raised his hands for attention. He had a little microphone clipped to his tie, so when he spoke his voice was very loud. He said, "Attention please, ladies and gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen: your attention."
A guy took a picture of him with a big flash. When people stopped talking the man cleared his throat and continued. He said, "My name is R. P. Baron, and as you know, I have had the great honour this year of assuming the leadership of Baron Toys International."
Lots of people clapped, so Mike clapped too. Santa did not clap.
Mr. Baron went on to say, "Baron Toys has a long and proud tradition of dominating the market for juvenile play, and that's a tradition we intend to uphold now and in the future. To show you our latest innovation to assure that future for us and our shareholders, I'd like to call out my young assistant. Miss Chloe?"
Mike gasped with surprise as Chloe stepped up beside Mr. Baron. Mr. Baron gave her a toy clown on a trapeze to play with, and it quickly broke. Mr. Baron gave Chloe a brand new toy clown on a trapeze and Chloe made an unhappy little smile. Some people in the audience clapped.
"Toys by subscription," said Mr. Baron, patting Chloe on the head. "By paying a simple low monthly fee parents can rest assured that their investment in our products is secure, now and in the future. Immediate replacements are guaranteed -- no more disappointment. I will now take your questions."
Santa put up his hand. Mr. Baron nodded at him.
Santa said, "Dominick Kringle, Toronto Star. Mr. Baron, doesn't the idea of toys by subscription ignore the fact that children bond with the toys themselves, not just with the character or idea behind them?"
"Nonsense," said Mr. Baron. "This is all about not having to worry. Children come to know their toys as something they can count on, rather than being heartbroken over losing something that cannot be replaced. I think you'll find that children will be as delighted as their parents. Right, Chloe?"
Chloe nodded. She had been promised a hot lunch if she said "yes" to everything Mr. Baron asked.
Another gentleman with a white beard put up his hand. "Santos Hernandez, National Post. Mr. Baron, has your company given up on toys that can stand up to rough play?"
"Not at all," said Mr. Baron, "Baron Toys makes products that meet or exceed industry standards for quality and durability. That's my promise the families of the world, children and parents alike."
A new hand went up. "Stan Claussen, Globe and Mail. Mr. Baron, can you still make that claim while your company is abandoning over a century of making toys out of wood and metal in favour of plastic parts?"
Mr. Baron said, "The industry as a whole is moving away from wood. Baron Toys doesn't want to be a part of cutting down the rainforests of British Columbia."
While the audience of Santa Clauses went on asking Mr. Baron pointed questions, Mike waved to try to get Chloe's attention. "Chloe!" he whispered. But Chloe did not see him. She stood beside a bright light on a tall stand, clutching her knapsack and looking at the floor.
Meanwhile, the press conference had become unruly. The real reporters were upset that the Santa Clauses were getting to ask all the questions. Some people were shouting. The unhappy young man who had checked their passes was talking quickly into a tiny telephone. One of the reporters barked out over the noise, "Mr. Baron, have you rigged this press conference with fake reporters? Mr. Baron, who are these bearded men?"
Mr. Baron was furious. His thin mustache twitched.
Another one of the real reporters pointed at Mike's Santa and yelled, "I've never seen you at my newspaper before! Who are you?"
"I think it's time to leave," said Santa, taking Mike's hand.
"But what about Chloe?" cried Mike.
"Later, Mike, later," said Santa. He pulled Mike out of the crowd and walked quickly through the department store. The other Santas all walked off in different directions.
"Santa, where are we going now?" asked Mike.
"I have to get to a phone," said Santa Claus, looking around. "Did you notice any payphones in this place, Mike?"
Mike shrugged. "What's a payphone?" he asked.
"Sugar!" said Santa.
"Yum," said Mike.
Santa found some pay telephones near the penny fountain. He put a coin in the slot and picked up the receiver, pressing it into his big white beard. He touched a bunch of buttons and then, after a pause, spoke into the telephone the words, "Saint Nicholas."
Mike asked, "Are you calling the North Pole?"
Santa nodded. He cupped his hand over the telephone receiver and whispered, "This is Agent Kappa-Kappa West Nine, calling from a public line. I have a coded report ready for oral transmission to the Order."
Mike blinked. He thought Santa sounded like a spy. But the next thing Santa said even more strange!
He said, "The lizard is king, I repeat: the lizard is king. The temperature is high, and the barometer is dropping. Six eggs for seven foxes, three geese per nest. All umbrellas are open and oiled. I've got a little wart on my finger, however. Report ends."
He hung up. Mike said, "You're kind of a silly guy, Santa."
Santa shrugged. "That's true," he said.
"What do we do now?" asked Mike.
"We wait for the phone to ring," he said. "It never takes long."
They sat down on the edge of the penny fountain. They scooped pennies out of the water and then threw them back in. Santa was really good at it, and he made Mike giggle by making funny faces when he threw. Santa also seemed to have a good time.