I never tried to wait up for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve when I was a kid, because my parents told me that if Santa came by and I was still awake, he would skip our house. This filled me with a terror unlike any I’d ever known, except for the time I saw those photographs of Larry King posing nude on the hood of a ’57 Studebaker. The idea of Santa skipping my house on Christmas Eve was the worst thing imaginable. So, I dutifully trundled off to bed and lay awake for hours, listening for sleigh bells even though it was 68 degrees outside.

After I found out there wasn’t any Santa Claus, I realized that my parents had told me that just so they’d have time to set up all my toys in the livingroom for Christmas morning. It dawned on me that parents tell their kids all sorts of lies during the holiday season. I guess they aren’t really sinister lies or anything, but they’re enough to warp a kid’s mind.

For one thing, there’s that “naughty or nice” crap. I used to go around being good as much as possible because I was convinced Santa was watching my every move, judging my behavior and rating my toy-worthiness. Every time I did something bad, images of coal in my stocking or a bundle of switches under the Christmas tree instead of toys filled me with a dark, paralyzing dread. One which, needless to say, my parents were quick to capitalize upon.

“You’d better straighten up,” they’d warn, “or Santa Claus will bring you a bundle of switches this Christmas.” I could imagine all the other kids playing with their cool toys on Christmas day, like pedal cars you could ride in or a machine that made real snow cones, and me sitting there like a leper with my bundle of switches, wailing and gnashing my teeth in Old Testament despair.

And then there were the lies your parents told just to mess with your head. Once I leapt out of bed on Christmas morning and my mom was standing at the door to the livingroom, peering through the crack. “Santa Claus is in there!” she whispered hoarsely. I ran to look in, but then she said, “Too late, he just left.” I kicked myself for years over that one, devastated that I’d missed out on an actual Santa sighting by mere seconds. The psychological torment was almost unbearable.

Nowadays, Christmas comes and goes and I barely even give a rat’s ass. I’m not a drinker anymore, but every once in a while I’ll buy a bottle of booze and a six-pack of Bud and get loaded on Christmas Eve just so I can simulate the old Christmas spirit in kind of a vague, melancholy way. I stay up as late as I jolly well please now because Santa has been skipping my house since I was a kid anyway, so who the hell cares. So I get bombed and pass out, and the only sleigh bells I hear are the ones clanging inside my skull the next morning.

I really did think Santa Claus had come to visit me one Christmas Eve a few years ago, but it was just Wilford Brimley asking if he could use my phone. I told him he could come in if he acted like Santa Claus and said “Ho ho ho” and stuff, and maybe left me a present or two. I thought he was going to pull a gun on me or something. He did eat all my cookies and drink up all my milk while he was on the phone, which was kind of Santa-like. “I left you a present in the john,” he said on his way out. “Ho ho ho.” When I found out what it was, that bundle of switches started looking pretty good.

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