1990: The Year Santa Died

Sometimes in movies, holiday movies, well..Christmas movies, you are privy to stories about how and when somebody stopped believing in Santa Claus. In many cases, it involves simply not receiving that one special gift that meant everything. That was all it took. It always struck me as kind of petty. I mean, it’s not as though you discovered your dead father wedged in your chimney, in full Santa Clause garb, stinking and beginning to rot. Now that would be a good reason. Thank you Chris Columbus.

While my story doesn’t involve any grim chimney discoveries, I present to you with this: a story of true revelation, regret, and a little shame.

The year was 1990. I was seven. There was a new kid in my class, Nick. Being the new kid can go one of three ways. 1: everybody hates you, 2: everybody loves you, 3: nobody seems to care. Nick was the coolest. Everybody wanted to be his friend. He knew about the best stuff, told the best stories, and had the coolest things. One of these things were battling 3d sculpted spinning tops. Spinjas. They were almost mystical: the way he carried them in that case, how very selective he was about when he would pull them out, and very particular about who could use them. He told stories about how they don’t even make them anymore, but sometimes you can find them if you look hard enough. I wanted these Spinjas. I wanted them bad.

The first thing I did when I got home that day was ware out  my mother with stories about the new kid, and his mystical Spinjas, and how much I needed to have them, but, they were very hard to get, so we had better get them right away.

If you knew my mother, you knew the inevitable words that would come out of her mouth. No matter what it was, no matter when,  my mother would simply say, maybe for: insert whichever gifty celebration was next on the calendar. True to form, she laid out her terms, “maybe for Christmas.”

I attempted to rebut, however, as a seven year old child it is near impossible to stress the urgency of a situation such as this. As hard as I tried, I simply could not convey an argument that would convince my mother that this toy cannot wait. So rare are these, and so hard I do desire that we must run now quick to procure the precious gem of Spinja. Nothing worked. I would have to wait for Christmas.

Christmas could not come soon enough. Every day was Spinjas. Don’t forget Spinjas. Say, ma, why not picking up them Spinjas while you’re out. You know what I want? Spinjas. And thusly, I continue to wait until Christmas. Then, more bad news.

In the time that I spent waiting for Christmas to come along, another yearly tradition popped up. Elementary school secret Santa. Everybody wanted Nick to pull their name. Every boy at least. Of course, he did not pull mine. Nick pulled Ryan, Brad pulled me, I pulled Crystal. As a boy, pulling a girls’ name is the worst. What the heck do you buy a girl?

After weeks of  little gifts and treats, it came time for the big event. Crystal got silly string (see? I have no idea what to buy a girl). Brad got me some x-men trading cards (not bad). And, of course, Nick gave Ryan a Spinjas set. Not only did Nick give Ryan a Spinjas set, it came complete with one of Nick’s amazing stories.

According to Nick, he and his mom made a special trip to Toys R Us. There were no Spinjas to be found. His mother searched out an employee who informed her that they were no longer going to be carrying Spinjas, but he would check in back for any back stock. He finally came back with what he said was the last set in the store, and that he technically shouldn’t sell it to her, because it was being sent back to the manufacturer. The last set in the entire store.

That afternoon I sprung from the bus and ran home frantically to tell my mother the story. The last in the store, I said. I urged that if she hadn’t yet, she had better get out there and find some Spinjas before they were all gone.

At this point, the desire to get Spinjas was stressing out my childhood life far beyond the capacity of a seven year old. I had to do something. No more simple words, action was needed. In a fit of desperation, in hopes to quell the stress, I hatched a plan. The next time my parents were out of the house, I would snoop. Classic Christmas snoop. Maybe if I caught a peek, if I could just confirm that they had gotten the Spinjas before it was too late, it would ease my mind.

Alone in the house, I began the search. It didn’t take long to find the massive cache of gifts in the way back of my parent closet, shrouded in a giant sheet. The monstrosity was not easy to maneuver, particularly without causing the structure to be noticeably awry.

Having pushed, prodded, and manipulated the mass of gifts, one thing became clear: there was not a single Spinja in the bunch. What I did find, however, was another spinning top fighting game. Not quite as fancy, no sculpted characters, no spring loaded spinners, WWF Wrestling Tops was brandished across the box. I couldn’t help but feel a wave of disappointment in the discovery. I carefully rebuilt the pile into as close a match as I could muster to its original form, and went about my normal seven year old business.

As Christmas grew closer, I no longer mentioned Spinjas. I tried to forget about them. I thought more about this new spinning top game. It was actually very comforting that my parents went to the trouble to find something that, to their knowledge, was very similar. I was even into WWF, at the time. This wasn’t all bad. Christmas was not ruined.

Finally, Christmas morning arrived. After the normal Christmas routine of trying to get my dad up, and waiting for him to get coffee, the gift opening was under way. I got a lot of great stuff. I know because I always got a lot of great stuff. Then came the box. To Daniel, from Santa. Santa liked to call me Daniel. The shape of the box was vaguely familiar. But, kid’s toys tend to be that way. Games in particular. I opened the box. WWF Wrestling Tops. From Santa. The game that I had, just days ago, discovered while snooping in my parents room was right in my hands, and it was from Santa.

Now, I was not completely naïve. Whispers of Santa Clause being fake, a ruse perpetrated by our own parents, had made its rounds plenty during the season. However, this was hard, “in your face, kid”, evidence.

I didn’t say anything. My mother explained that Santa must have known I had wanted spinning fighters and that they, my parents, weren’t able to find them. It struck me that instead of taking the credit, they used it to fuel the illusion and keep the magic of Christmas alive for there seven year old boy.

I felt ill. Not because of the revelation, so much, but because I felt like I had betrayed my parents and taken something away from them that they found joy in. I feel a pit of guilt in my stomach just writing this right now.

I smiled in appreciation, and said something to the affirmative. The morning continued as usual.

I played with that toy a lot that year. Maybe it was because it was fun. Maybe it was because it was representative of being “in the know” about something a lot of kids weren’t. Or, maybe it was because I knew that my parents were the ones who really put all of the thought into finding something for a kid who just wanted some spinning tops that battled, and I needed them to know that I truly appreciated the gesture. Right now, I’m feeling the latter.

It was a year or two before I finally lead on that I knew the secret. Not for the sake of the gifts, but for the sake of the guilt. Even then, I didn’t tell my parents the real story.

 

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The Not-So-Great Pumpkin

 

Halloween is upon us. How I love Halloween. Halloween is especially great when you’re in elementary school in the early nineties. Parading through classrooms as a pirate, pumpkin contests in the media center, partying with candy and games while that one kid stands alone in the hall, and of course, the most fulfilling busy work art projects of the year.

 

It was second grade. We were all tasked at creating a jack-o-lantern of crumpled orange construction paper on a black construction paper background with yellow construction paper features and green embellishments: construction paper. I have never used as much construction paper in my whole life as I did in elementary school. Nobody has. I bet the industry would cave in if not for projects such as this.

School was winding down. Lunch had passed, math, social studies; we were in the remainder of the day. Where busy work lives. The whole class was tearing off little bits of orange paper, shaping them around the end of a pencil, and gluing them to their black paper sky. As many had done, to keep my desk clear for the task at hand, I had placed my sheets of orange paper on my seat. Tearing the bits from between my legs and applying them as described. As the minutes passed, and the time moved slowly toward the end of the day, I heard a faint call. It was nature.

No big deal, school would be out soon and I would be able to relieve myself. As I sat tearing and crumpling orange paper over my pencil, the call turned into a yell. Clearly, waiting until the bell was no longer an option. I raised my hand. Almost immediately, I realized that the teacher had left the room. It was the nineties, and teachers were allowed to leave a class full of students unattended for extended lengths of time. In an effort to drive this fact home, my fellow classmates also informed me of the teachers’ obvious absence. My body panicked. The yell in my bladder turned quickly to a scream. Like the phenomena in which the human body amps the urge into overdrive as soon as home is in sight. Only home wasn’t in sight. Not even close. In a foolish effort, I raised my hand even higher. I frantically threw up my left arm, creating a figure four, holding up my right. Whether it showed or not, I was in a sheer panic. My peers continued to inform me that the teacher was gone. A fact I well knew yet was apparently unable to comprehend in my predicament. I only had one thing on my mind. I fought and squirmed. Hand firmly in the air. And I lost the war. The screaming from my bladder faded as warm urine filled my desk chair. I slowly lowered my hand.

Moments later the teacher walked back in the door. If my classmates took the time to let me know of her return, I didn’t hear it. I was in a daze. I sat silently and stared into nothing. When the bell rang, I slowly stood up, making sure that nobody was watching. I looked down, contemplating what I would do to clean the inevitable puddle on my seat. Nothing. The orange construction paper that I had been sitting on had absorbed what my pants hadn’t. I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I told no one, stuffed the wet orange papers into my desk, and escaped.

 

A few days after the incident I completed my pumpkin masterpiece. Soon after placing it on her desk, the teacher called me back. She informed me that, while my pumpkin was very good, if I were to move some of the darker orange pieces to spread them out it would look more balanced. The darker orange pieces, she said. It may have been in my own head, but I would have sworn there was something behind her voice when she used those words. She could just as well have said, “Move around those stinky urine ones. At least make it pretty. By the way, I know what you did.” I did as she asked, and for the rest of the season, my pumpkin was prominently on display in the halls of Hugo Elementary. The only one with mysterious dark orange pieces in perfect balance with the light. I never brought the project home. It was a great Halloween.

 

This is Why I’m Going to Hell

From my youngest years, I have vague memories of going to church: dancing in a weird costume for some reason, reciting the wrong prayer in place of the “our father”, using the “I brought this guy and he brought me” loophole to get a ‘bring a friend to church’ prize. Going to church, Sunday school, is something that I just did. My parents went to church, they took me, I believed what I was told. So is the basic belief structure and understanding that a small child has on religion, you believe in your parents and they believe in this.

 

We were young.

My brother was in the doorway of his bedroom at the end of the hall laughing with a friend. The way they were huddled indicated that something very interesting was occurring. Being the little brother to the older cooler brother, I needed to know what this funny, interesting thing was. There was a back to me, and my small self was trying desperately to see around, over, under, wherever I could to catch a glimpse. The moment I was discovered, the activity stopped.

What is it? What is so funny? I had to know.

My brother assured me in that brotherly way that it was nothing, and to leave them alone.

I pleaded, I begged, I must know this thing that is causing so much joy and elation

He said, “Fine,” adding, “But, you have to promise not to laugh.”

“Okay,” I affirmed

“You promise?” He asked, “Do you swear to God?”

“Yes!” I declared instantly.

“Say it,” he said, “Say, ‘I swear to God’”

“I swear to God,” I said.

Confident that I was on board, my brother proceeded.

Standing at his dresser, me in his doorway, my brother held up his thumb. He raised his hand and began to move his thumb downward toward the surface of the dresser top. An action that might suggest he was going to stick his thumb into some non-existent pie.

In the few moments that this was happening, I began to lose it. I felt the beginnings of a tremble in my belly. The trembling moved quickly to my chest. My throat. I placed both hands over my mouth to stifle.

My brothers’ thumb made contact. I struggled desperately to keep it together.

The thumb was on the dresser for no more than a second before I exploded into hysterical laughter.

My brother lifted his hand instantly and looked at me with a smirk.

“Now you’re going to hell.” He said.

“No I’m not, why?” I asked.

“Because you swore to god, and you laughed. You lied. You are going to go to hell when you die.”

“That’s stupid,” I said, and walked away.

That night, in the darkness, I couldn’t sleep. I sat awake thinking:

Swear to god. Do I swear to God? Why did I swear to God? This is stupid. How could I have messed up so bad? I’m going to hell. I’m going straight to hell when I die. It’s all over. He didn’t even do anything! Why did I laugh?!

I wept until my eyes were raw.

I fell asleep knowing that I was doomed to an eternity in hell.

 

As I have grown, I have come to realize that these things are not nearly as rigid and finite as a child may interpret them to be, and what was so real at the time was actually a very silly notion. I am now fairly certain that I am not doomed to an eternity of damnation. Though, it does sometimes humor me to think that at those pearly gates, as I peek over the pedestal at the logbook containing all of my trespasses, the thumb incident will be somewhere at the bottom.

Just what the hell was he doing with his thumb, anyway?

The Cereal Incident

I.

Remember the days you could go to the grocer with your mother and rely on the cereal aisle to have box after box brandished with the words, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘Free Toy Inside!’  Few and far between these days. I can remember hiding a box of Corn Pops under my bed overnight to be sure to get my hands on the sticky football that would tumble down any wall you chucked it at. (I was young, naive, and my brother already had one, so, fair play)

Furthermore.. do you remember the days that that fun toy was actually hidden, imbedded within the sweetness of the cereals for you to dig your hands in and excavate your prize? These days if you do luck upon a box with a toy inside, it is sealed in its own baggie, safely outside of the cereal bag itself. Now..I understand the modern desire to sanitise everything, but spelunking the box through masses of flakes or loops or puffs or what-have-you was one of the funnest parts of childhood. You earned that free toy inside. Allow me to tell you a story..

 

II.

When I was four years old my mother brought a box of cereal home from the crunchly club.

The crunchly club is what, in my childlike innocence, I had dubbed “The Country Club”. A grocery store that once resided in the space that is now a Gold’s Gym just down the mall from Donatelli’s, near Century College. I’m sure many of you know the spot. As I recall I spent many-a-time side tracked from play, repeating those words, “crunchly club”, to my parentals, who assured me they weren’t laughing ‘at’ me.

The aforementioned box of cereal was a big box of the Cap’n. Cap’n crunch. So delicious, then and now. Of course, being the good old days, this box contained a free toy inside. A robot..which perhaps did something that I can’t recall. I wanted this robot.

Taking the box to my room I assured my mother I just wanted to look at the box.

“Just don’t open it” she said.

I closed the door. My first attempt to open a box of cereal culminated in an explosion of miniature yellow biscuits all over my childhood room.

I immediately started weeping uncontrollably, much like a four year old, which I was. Frantically, and in a panic, I started cramming handful after handful of cereal pieces and carpet fibers into the mangled bag and box, chanting a mantra of ‘mom is gonna be so mad at me’ ad nauseum.

When all was done I confessed my transgression to my mother between the dry hiccupy spasmic inhalations that only come to children after the most intense bouts of sobbing.

I never got the robot. To this day I’m not sure what it did, if anything,aside from being plastic and robot-y.

The cereal was likely tossed. Nobody should be eating that many foreign particles and carpet fibers.