I have a friend. He’s special. So special in fact that there’s nothing special anyone can say about him that he hasn’t already said himself. I don’t know what he was like as a kid, but I have a good idea what he’s like now. I decided to have a little fun with his “now” and imagine what he might have been like “then.” Luckily, he’s got an excellent sense of humor. If not, he might either shoot me or sue me, the latter being more likely. I took some liberties with some small facts, but I didn’t want to ask him anything and possibly make him suspicious.
Vivek slowly closed and locked the door behind him, careful not to wake anyone who still might be sleeping on a cold, December morning. He planted each boot deliberately, balancing his body above each icy step, knowing that the slightest shift could send his feet flying ahead of him, until he reached the path below. Beneath his arm was a newspaper announcing only fifteen shopping days until Christmas of ’92.
“Personal injury, just waiting to happen,” he mumbled before mentally reviewing his routine for organizing his papers, folders, and scheduled meetings for the day. He turned at the sidewalk and headed uptown. On most days, he would recite the Constitution while keeping a steady pace, and he usually reached Main Street during the sixteenth amendment. However, with three inches of fresh snow overnight, he didn’t turn the corner on Main until the eighteenth amendment.
“How ironic,” he thought. “Walking through the snow makes me move as if I were drunk, and I’m now on the amendment about Prohibition.” He smiled to himself, knowing nobody else would understand.
Movement in the distance caught his eye, and he thought about the days when he might have thrown snowballs and built an igloo with his young friends. For him, those days had passed.
“Delayed opening,” he said. “All the children enjoying an abbreviated day of education. Little do they realize yet another wasted opportunity for advancement, both personal and professional.” He shook his brown head and continued his morning walk to what he considered his office.
“Hi, Vivek!” called Jenn, a yellow-haired girl, from the opposite side of the street.
“Good morning, Jenn,” he returned with slight disappointment. I would really appreciate it if they’d start calling me Mr. Subramanyam, but I guess I can forgive them. Just kids.
“You know it’s a delayed opening, right?” Jenn asked.
“I’m fully aware, but I am thankful that you’d be so kind as to inform me precautionarily.”
He turned his head forward and trudged on, not seeing her shrug and pack another snowball to playfully throw at one of the other kids.
“Forget him,” said her older brother. “Let’s build a snowman.”
He turned up the driveway to the brick building and rolled his eyes. “Good grief, can’t those snow plows ever get here before I do? If my shoes get ruined, the superintendent is getting a summons. He’ll be lucky if I don’t slap him with an injunction.”
Up ahead, an elderly woman, her hair in a kerchief and feet in black, rubber boots, stood shivering at the glass entrance door.
“Dolly,” he said, “did you forget your key again?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Sub – Su – bra – man – yam.”
“Dearest Dolly, no apologies necessary. Not yet. If I had been on time myself, you would have been inside and warmed up by now.”
“On time?” she asked. “It’s five minutes early.”
“My daily goal, or at least my weekly average, is fifteen minutes early. Thus, I am declaring myself late. Without prejudice.”
He unlocked the door, held it open for Dolly, and the two entered the building.
“You know it’s a delayed opening, right?” she said.
“Certainly,” said Vivek. “A delayed opening, which makes very little sense to me, thank you for asking.”
“I didn’t ask.”
“Because if they can get to school by midday, then they can put in a little extra effort to get there for a full day.”
“They?” Dolly said.
“The children, of course. And, if the roads aren’t plowed yet,” he continued, “then they can walk. They can get up a little early, as I have obviously done on this day, and get some necessary exercise for their legs, which are likely en route atrophy with the recent onslaught of video games that have turned them into couch potatoes.”
“But you didn’t get up early. You said so yourself.”
“I said nothing of the kind. Yes, admittedly, I am late. However, I am still early. Now, I have some research to complete before my eleven o’clock meeting, and I can’t waste any more time bickering about children missing school.”
He dropped his satchel on his desk, produced an index card with a list of book titles, and began searching library shelves, at least from the ones he could reach. One hour later, he sat at the Royal electric typewriter, and began punching notes in addition to the three pages he already had. Class would start in only fifteen minutes.
A wrinkled woman wearing black, in stark contrast to her gray-blue hair, arranged papers, cleared her throat, and called, “Next.”
“Your honor, may I approach the bench?”
The woman’s shoulders sank. She slowly exhaled, then closed her eyes.
“Mr. Subramanyam, please.”
“Yes, Vivek,” said Mrs. Gramble, “you may approach the bench.”
“Thank you, your honor.” Vivek hopped down from his wooden seat, straightened his tie, and stepped to the front of the classroom.
“I’m not ‘your honor.’ I’m your third grade teacher. Now just get up here and read your report.”
“Yes, your honor.”
“And did you keep it to only three pages this time?”
“Yes, your honor.”
“Son of a,” Mrs. Gramble whispered.
“Excuse me?” the boy said.
“Nothing. Just read your paper.”
Vivek stopped in front of Mrs. Gramble’s desk, turned with the precision of a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and lifted his chin. Before he could begin, Mrs. Gramble stood.
“Wait a minute,” she barked. “What the hell is that?”
“What’s with the print?” she asked.
“Times New Roman.”
“Times what what?”
“It’s a font,” said Vivek.
“What the hell is a font?”
“It’s a type style. You know, like Courier and – ”
“What are you talking about? Did you type that?”
“But you didn’t write it.”
“Of course not. I had it typeset at the print shop in town.”
“Why are the letters so small?”
“Because you limited me to three pages, and I could not possibly fit everything on only – ”
“Never mind,” she said, falling back into her seat. “Let’s just get his over with.” She looked at the clock. “Hopefully you’ll finish by dismissal.”
“Not again!” said a large boy in the front row. He peered over his desk at Vivek and showed his teeth at the small, brown boy. “If I’m late for hockey practice, you’ll be sorry.”
“William,” Vivek began, “the more you – ”
“Who is William?” Billy asked.
“My apologies. Clearly, nobody in the Cro-Magnon era could have ever named their offspring with something as prevalent or popular as William.”
Billy turned to the class. “Anyone named William here? If so, I’m going to beat the crap out of you after I’m done with brownie over here.”
“Billy, please have a seat.” Vivek turned towards Mrs. Gramble again. “Your honor, with your permission, I would like to read into the record, Exhibit A.”
“Yes! Just read and get it over with please!” she cried, head sinking into her folded arms.
“Thank you, your honor. Docket number one-zero-one-one-nine-two. Subvarmanyan v. Claus.”
“Holy Christ,” whimpered Mrs. Gramble as she searched her desk for Tylenol.
“I was given the task of revealing which items of personal gain I would like to receive from one Mr. Santa Claus. Implicit, though unstated in this revelation, is also an explanation as to why I should receive such items. However, based on case history, historical fact versus fiction, and eye witness accounts, the only conclusion that could possibly be reached is that any and all testimony and or accounts of having seen or been in the presence of the alleged perpetrator are undoubtedly false.”
A small girl in the back raised her hand. “I have to go to the bathroom,” said Melissa.
“Go,” said Mrs. Gramble. “And take him with you.”
“With all due respect, your honor,” said Vivek, “that would be a violation of school code, which clearly states that each restroom is specifically designated as per gender, a rule punishable by a minimum of three days detention.”
“Just shut up and read,” cried the teacher.
“It would be impossible for me to both ‘shut up’and also ‘read.’ However, if you are leaving this for counsel to police himself, then I choose to read. Duly noted is the interesting juxtaposition, which I will gladly address on another day.”
Barely audible, Mrs. Gramble said, “I need to retire. Or die.”
“Your honor, if I may continue,” said Vivek.
“Please. Just start, don’t stop. Go.”
“Thank you, your honor. If one would logically examine just the premise alone, that one man, one rather elderly man of uncountable and purportedly endless years, might possibly circumnavigate the planet. To correct myself, he legendarily goes well beyond circumnavigation because that simply means to circle the earth, one could only assume at the equator, yet we are also led to believe that Mr. Claus goes incalculably beyond such a circling by allegedly visiting each and every residence globally.
“Assuming that Antarctica is essentially uninhabited, and ignoring the various inland lakes, the total inhabited land on earth is about 79.3 million square miles. Assuming that the destinations are evenly distributed over the available land, the average distance between destinations is on the order of 0.71 miles. Total distance traveled would equal 111 million miles, or roughly 19.35 percent longer than the distance from the earth to the sun.”
“Roughly?” asked Mrs. Gramble, face still in her folded arms.
“Should one attempt such a feat, one would have to begin on or before the fourth day of January of any given year in order to complete such a feat by December twenty-fifth of the following year. That would be only about two weeks shy of two years, yet we are led to believe this super human event could take place all in one evening? I invite you to contemplate the utter absurdity of the suggestion.”
“I knew that kid was trouble when they moved him up from kindergarten,” said Billy while cracking his knuckles and stretching is arms.
“If I may continue,” said Vivek. “I invite you to harken back to the previous year’s winter celebration, or Christmas, with my apologies to other events, both secular and non-secular. I implore you to imagine any one item allegedly delivered to you by Saint Nick. Ask yourself this question. Could that item be obtained and/or purchased at any given retail outlet? Or, is that item of such uniqueness that it could only have been produced by someone of a tiny stature with pointy ears and above-average manual skill and dexterity while under the direction of Mr. Claus?”
“I’ll give you manual dexterity,” cried Mrs. Gramble, lifting her head for air.
“Furthermore, let’s examine this purely from a transportational angle. A sleigh? One sleigh? The average capacity of a sleigh is only about two-hundred fifty cubic feet, but this particular sleigh would have to carry about 500,000 tons of cargo, many times the weight of the Queen Mary. The sleigh would carry about 100 million cubic feet of cargo, about equal to 4,500 homes.”
Larry in the back of the room raised his hand. “Mrs. Gramble.”
“What,” she said.
“That girl who went to the bathroom. She’s walking across the front lawn of the school. I think she’s going home.”
“I want to go home,” said Mrs. Gramble.
“Also, your honor, do I even need to examine the ludicrousness of flying reindeer?”
“I don’t give a reindeer shit,” said Mrs. Gramble.
“Might I also add that all legends indicate that the reindeer are male,” the boy continued. “However, did you know that reindeer are one of the few species of which it is in fact the female that has antlers, not the male? Therefore, all of Santa’s reindeer are female.”
“You calling Santa gay?” asked Billy.
“Of course not,” said Vivek. “I’m merely pointing out the inconsistencies in the story, thus contributing to the unlikelihood that any of it has any basis in reality.”
“Mrs. Gramble,” said Larry.
“That girl who went to the bathroom and was walking across the lawn. She’s hugging the flagpole.”
“So there’s lightning outside.” Larry added.
“Smart girl,” said Mrs. Gramble.
“Your honor, may I continue without interruption?” asked Vivek.
“If you call me ‘your honor’ one more time,” growled Mrs. Gramble, “I’ll punch you so hard that Ghandi will cry.”
Before Vivek could say another word, Billy approached with a book in both hands. Silently, he stood eye-to-eye with his shorter and darker classmate. Billy then looked to his left. Vivek turned his head and looked to his right. Billy wound up and smacked Vivek in the back of the head. Fade to black.
The first thing he saw was a dusty ceiling. The second thing was a small, table-top Christmas tree. The third thing was the back of someone large in a knee-length white uniform, white shoes, and a little white hat perched in a mass of gray hair.
“Are you the school nurse?” he asked, his own voice causing his head to throb.
“Do I look like the school nurse?” said a deep but happy voice.
“I’ve never seen the school nurse. Therefore, my frame of reference is rather lacking. Additionally, if my perceptions had suggested you were the school nurse, I likely would not have enquired. Context clues.”
“Well, then I guess I’m the nurse.” The chair spun to reveal a portly person wearing wire-framed glasses that sat on a round nose and rosy cheeks. The face was surrounded by a mane of hair that matched the white, knee-length dress. The buttons at the front were noticeably stressed by the barrel-like physique.
Vivek attempted to sit up until he realized his body was secured to the cot on which he lay.
“Hey,” the boy said, “what the hell is – ”
Before he could blink, he felt a shock through his body that left him temporarily numb, followed by a sharp pain in his skull.
“That’s a bad word, hell. You will not say it again,” said the nurse, sliding a chair closer.
“That depends on which hell you – oww!”
“You’re not a fast learner, young man. But we will fix that.”
“But there’s a difference between using – that word as an expletive or exclamation versus an actual location as depicted in text, such as The Divine Comedy.”
“Three cheers for you. Now,” the nurse produced a hypodermic needle from a small table, “let’s talk.”
It was then that Vivek noticed an intravenous connection in his right arm. He also felt something fitting snuggly around his head and above his ears.
“Hey. What’s the meaning of this? I didn’t authorize any personal invasion.”
“Shut up, kid. HIPAA laws are about twenty years away.” The nurse injected a clear solution into Vivek’s arm. “That might have pinched a little. Guess I should have said that beforehand. Let me know if you feel a little dizzy.”
“That was poorly worded,” said Vivek. “Any after effects now may just be psychosomatic. If you had said that I might feel warm, then chances are I might answer affirmatively only through the power of suggestion. You should have just asked me if I feel any differently, unless it’s a placebo and you’re just trying to see if you can fool me. Are you male or female? I can’t discern.”
“Holy Christ,” said the nurse.
“Well that’s rather denominational,” said Vivek, struggling against his bonds. “Keep in mind this IS a public school. Oww! What was that for? I didn’t say ‘hell.’ Oww!”
“Yes you did. The first one was just for being a pain in the ass, but I’m sure you’re not new to that.”
“Now that we’ve established some order, it would be appropriate to discuss goals and objectives. I assume this is something more than administering pain through telepathic, low voltage current in a metal band around my head.”
“Objectives. Good idea,” said the manly nurse, leaning closer. “This is about you. You’re annoying. You don’t fit in. The other kids don’t like you, and we’re going to correct that.”
“They don’t like me because their lack of intelligence precludes them from doing so. That’s not my fault.”
“It’s not your fault, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay. Would you rather be liked, or would you rather be right all the time with an air of arrogant superiority?”
Vivek stared silently.
“I thought my silence would adequately delivery my obvious choice.”
The nurse inhaled deeply, nostrils flaring, and then exhaled. “You mentioned low voltage.”
“Ooowww!” said the annoying boy. “That wasn’t low.”
“Of course it wasn’t.” The round person in the tight, white dress stood.
“I think you’re a man,” said Vivek.
“No flies on you. Listen, kid. I’m not here to hurt you. I don’t like to hurt anyone. But I also don’t like for anyone to ignorantly hurt themselves. Sometimes we do things that seem good at the time, but we don’t realize how they’re going to come back and bite us in the ass.”
“Huh?” said the nurse. “You calling me fat?”
“Not directly,” said Vivek. “You mentioned ‘we’ and ‘they.’ They are plural. So it should be ‘asses’ instead of ‘ass.’ Comprendé?”
“Anyway,” the nurse continued, “you could be right one-hundred percent of the time. But if people don’t like you, they’re already going to disagree with anything you say, even if for spite.”
“It’s not my fault if people suffer from their own petty jealousies. We’re not living in a movie. There are no superheroes. This is reality, and if people can’t deal with reality, they can either learn how to improve their own reality or just cash out.”
“You don’t like movies?”
“No,” Vivek chirped. “Movies are just a fantasy we create for ourselves, an escape from dealing with the realities we can’t handle. Instead of staring at what we wish life were like, people need to get off the couch and create that life for themselves.”
“And you don’t like superheroes?”
“Hogwash. People who like superheroes are searching and hoping for someone else to save them, someone else to solve their problems. We live in a world full of wusses who just want to sit in bed with popcorn without getting their hands dirty or accomplishing anything. How about we just pretend there’s a circumferentially-challenged guy in a sleigh pulled by reindeer who delivers presents once a year by climbing down the chimney? How absurd. Unless you slap a Ronald Reagan bumper sticker on the back of the sleigh, it’s yet another farce that Americans use as a pacifier.”
The nurse drew a sharp stare at Vivek. “You have no idea who I am, do you?”
“I had assumed you were the school nurse suffering from either a glandular or hormonal imbalance, but your question suggests something more subversive.”
“Are there many other brown kids in your neighborhood?” asked the nurse.
“That’s a harsh, sweeping generalization that borders on racial profiling. I smell a civil rights violation,” said Vivek.
The nurse’s lips tightened. “We’re going to review some flashcards. All I want you to do is say ‘good’ or ‘bad’ when you see each one.”
The nurse held up a picture of Jimmy Stewart.
“Bad. Ooooowwwww!” Vivek’s eyes rolled up into his head as his teeth chattered.
Next picture, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
“Bad. Ooooowwwww!” Another teeth-chattering shock.
Next picture, Dan Quayle.
“Good.” No shock.
“Not good, but harmless,” said the nurse.
Next picture, a snowman.
“Good.” No shock.
Next picture, Jimmy Carter.
“Bad. Ooooowwwww!” Another teeth-chattering shock.
Next picture, John Wayne.
“Bad. Ooooowwww!” Another teeth-chattering shock.
“Why bad?” asked the portly nurse.
“His real first name is Marion. I don’t like phonies.”
Next picture, The Grinch.
“I don’t watch much television, except Charlie Rose and the MacNeil Lehrer Report. I don’t know who that green fellow is. Ooooowwwww!” Another teeth-chattering shock. “Why did you shock me?”
“For not knowing who that is.”
Next picture, Bill Bellichek.
“I’m not familiar with him,” said Vivek.
“Sorry. Got too far ahead of myself.”
Next picture, Quentin Tarrantino.
“Don’t know him either,” said Vivek.
“Sorry. I must have the wrong flash drive.”
“What’s a flash drive? Ooooowwwww!”
“That’s for asking too many questions. Here’s another one.”
Next picture, Osama bin Laden.
“Good. Ooooowwwww!” Vivek cried. “What’s that for? We funded his ragtag army to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. Why is that bad?”
“You’ll find out.”
“Are we finished yet?” asked the boy.
“Only a few more, but they’re the most important. Now, focus. Have you ever had a desire to take flying lessons?”
“Though it is a preferred method of transportation with a far greater success rate than ground transportation, being a pilot is not in my future.”
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’,” said the nurse.
The nurse stepped away from the cot on which Vivek was held and picked up a large book from a nearby table. Then the manly figure walked back and stood directly next to the boy. Vivek looked up to see an ancient, thick book with the words “Naughty and Nice” inscribed in gold lettering.
“Nurse,” he called. “How long ago might it have been when that dress actually fit you?”
The nurse closed the book with a loud clap, raised it, and dropped it on Vivek’s head. Fade to black.
Vivek first heard fuzzy noises made by fuzzy people who eventually came into focus.
“He’s awake,” said a voice. “Hello, son. How are you feeling?”
“Dad? What happened? Where am I?”
“Apparently you annoyed a boy in your class, and he smacked you in the head with a book. You hit the floor hard, and you’ve been here in the nurse’s office for about an hour.”
Vivek looked at the nurse, now far more shapely and female than the one he remembered from a short time before.
“But you were a fat old man,” he said to the nurse.
“I beg your pardon?” she squeaked.
“Vivek,” said his father, “that wasn’t very nice.”
The boy raised his arms and then sat up. “I’m not tied to the bed anymore. I was tied to the bed earlier.”
“What are you talking about?” asked the nurse.
“And there’s no needles in my arms,” he said. “Or wires on my head.”
“Needles?” Her curly, red hair bounced as she turned quickly to Vivek’s father. “I can assure you that we don’t use needles or wires here.”
“Of course not, but you might want to consider it,” said the father. “Can I take my brat, I mean son home?”
“As soon as possible. Please. Oh, and the principal suggested you keep him home the remaining days from now until Christmas, just so he has more time to recover.”
“But it’s only December 10,” whined Vivek. “I’ll miss more than a week of school. Unacceptable!”
“That’s okay. His teacher said she’ll be happy to send work home.”
It was Christmas morning. As Vivek’s little brother ripped open present after present like a puppy on crack, Vivek sat in the kitchen sipping hot chocolate and watching a special holiday edition of Meet the Press. He rolled his eyes for a second time as his family’s happy cheers were drowning out the commentary.
“Vivek!” called his mother. “Your dad is having trouble with one of the packages. Can you get him something to help?”
“Sure, sure.” He pulled open that typical kitchen “junk” drawer, full of extra keys, thumbtacks, paper clips, and other assorted items. He reached in for something before heading to the living room where his father knelt next to the Christmas tree. The man held a well-taped package he couldn’t open. Vivek was about to hand something to his father when his mother asked.
“How’s the hot chocolate, son?”
“Good. Ooooowww!” Vivek’s eyes rolled up into his head as his teeth chattered from what felt like an electrical shock. His fingers fell open involuntarily. Falling to the floor with a metallic clang was a box cutter.