Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to Day Three of our Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration for 2022! Last time we brought you a twenty-three minute product promotion for a useless fad toy shaped like an octopus, which featured six sticky, tentacled space aliens on a two-thousand-year quest to discover the meaning of Christmas. Today we come back down to Earth with a mawkish and maudlin holiday drama from the early years of TV, which despite its syrupy sentimentalism still helped us scratch our jubilant Shitmas itch. Then we phoned our doctor and got some ointment, because we'd been scratching like that since Thanksgiving.

Shitmas is Magic.

We're posting a brand-new review of a holiday special every other day beginning December 3rd and culminating with what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas Morning, and we hope you're also enjoying the convivial challenge of this year's Crouching Elf, Hidden Santa treasure hunt, where you can find gilded glory in the form of a creepy, weird or sexy Santa photo and a similarly creepy, weird or sexy pic of one of his elves, each cleverly concealed in a random screenshot somewhere in this very review.

Because Shitmas is all about sharing, each review also features an exclusive bombshell Shitmas Bonus Tales from the Northside chronicle, exposing the decadent excesses and serial labor abuses of Jolly Old St. Nick's dubious North Pole empire. It's an anthology of tales so shocking your egg will lose its nog and your candy cane will lose its stripe.

Today's holiday special comes to us from an era when when the popularity of story-of-the-week American TV anthology programs was at its peak. Although there were only four major television networks in the US in the 1950's, there were 185 drama, adventure and comedy anthology programs featured during that time, which is 91 more than the nearest number for any decade since broadcast television began. For comparison, amongst the hundreds of channels and streaming services available between 2010 and 2019 there were only 75 anthology shows spread out among them.

Your Jeweler's Showcase aired on CBS from 1952-1953, broadcasting thirty-six episodes in a variety of genres, including both original teleplays and adaptations of classic and modern short literature. The program was co-sponsored by The Hamilton Watch Company, where coincidentally my wife's grandfather worked for thirty years, including as a quality control supervisor for the bomb timers they manufactured during World War II. The former headquarters is a local Lancaster, PA landmark, and is only six blocks from our home.

It now contains luxury apartments and a private charter school.

Christmas is Magic was the third to last episode shown before the series' cancellation. It's similar in tone and subject matter to last year's Day Eleven offering, Joe Santa Claus, with both narratives tapping into the collective trauma and loss of World War II. Each features a war veteran struggling to adjust to the changing culture of 1950's America, with its rigid gender roles and social expectations, each relies on family melodrama to explore its themes, and each resolves its central narrative conflict abruptly and with mixed results.

Although Joe Santa Claus featured more psychological depth and social realism, I found Christmas is Magic to be an overall more satisfying experience, mainly due to its central characters being more likable and sympathetic. Last year's "hero" was a believable mess of PTSD and broken dreams, but he was also frustratingly deluded and self-absorbed, making it hard to muster up much sympathy for his plight. Today's protagonists are perhaps just a bit too perfect to be true, but they were decent and relatable enough that I couldn't help but root for them to succeed.

It's Christmas Eve and closing time at a big department store on Main Street, USA. Last out and locking up the place are pretty sales clerk Julie and store manager Brad. It's made clear from their brief dialog here that they're a couple, that they're engaged to be married and that Brad is an insufferably smug and cynical killjoy, with all the charm and social appeal of a damp hyena.

Must be the name.

Julie is excited at the prospect of snow, but Brad hates snow and simply can't understand how anyone else could possibly like it. Julie explains that she thinks it's very pretty, and it'd be extra nice to have some snow tonight because a white Christmas is just the most magical thing you ever did see.

Brad hates both magic and Christmas and condescendingly explains that the only value the holidays hold for him is that they're good for the store's bottom line.

It's laid on extra thick, just so there will be no mistake in our perceptions of her character, that Julie is a sentimental dreamer, who despite suffering through homefront trauma, hard times and bitter loss has refused to abandon her sense of optimism, joy and wonder.

Julie, we soon discover, is a war-widow single mom of a little boy named Sonny. Relationships are hard enough for single moms even today, but in the era of the "nuclear family" I suppose Julie would have felt pressure to take whatever she could get in terms of a potential mate. Even so, it's abundantly clear that she and Brad are about as compatible as cheese and chalk, a diamond and a dungheap...

...or dysentery and clean underwear.

As the couple head over to the day care nursery to pick up Sonny, she announces her intention to bring the boy back to the town square to watch the annual Christmas tree lighting and listen to the carolers sing. Brad is predictably displeased. He tells her that anyone who'd waste their time looking at a dumb old tree is crazy and complains that Christmas makes everybody act like fools.

By the time they reach the day care the first flakes of snow are falling, so he leaves off ranting about stupid people at stupid Chritmas and starts bitching instead about how the stupid snow will ruin the stupid finish on his stupid and newly-waxed car.

Julie, in an attempt to turn Brad's cranky arrogance towards something more cheerful, compliments him on how dilligent he is in maintaining his vehicle. This appeal to his masculine pride pleases him. After all, is he not the very model of a modern American consumer? Does he not work hard and own many things? He does, indeed, and thus tumescently engorged with manly post-war prosperity he grabs Julie roughly by her shoulders and proclaims "Yes, I take care of everything that belongs to me," then reminds her ominously that she'll soon belong to him, too.

It's official. I fucking hate him.

Sonny, eight years old and just as sweet and perfect a little dumpling as you ever did see, comes out to enthusiastically hug his Mom. Not for nothing, but she has to remind him to say hello to Brad, which he does coldly and perfunctorily, by name, before turning back to her excitedly to enumerate all the wonderful things he wants Santa to bring him for Christmas.

"I want a fire truck and a puppy and a new daddy who isn't that asshole standing behind me."

As Brad heads off to go kick some orphans in the shins or whatever the hell it is he does to amuse himself during the holidays, Julie promises to call him later that evening. Mother and child then walk hand-in-hand and back to the square to enjoy the town's Christmas festivities without the relentless downward drag of Brad's toxic negativity.

No sooner have they found a nice open place on the sidewalk, not too crowded, but with a nice view of the tree and the choir, a tall, handsome stranger steps up to watch and listen alongside of them.

I think this is where the Christmas magic begins.

Sonny turns to the guy and asks him if he thinks the tree might be the biggest in the world. The Stranger says "I don't know, Sonny, but I hope so!"

Although the Stranger probably meant "Sonny" as a generic nickname, as one might refer to any young whippersnapper ome might come across in the course of one's travels, especially if one found oneself stuck inside a Ma and Pa Kettle movie or a "Fibber McGee and Molly" "old timer" skit, Sonny assumes the stranger knew his name by magic, and wonders what wondrous dark arts he used to divine it. The Stranger gives him a sly wink and says it was the Christmas tree itself that told him! He also claims it told him Sonny's mom would be wearing a sprig of holly on her coat that she might even be willing to part with it if some tall, handsome, stranger came along, pretended like he was some hot shit holiday necromancer and took a fancy to it.

Julie is hesitant at first but at Sonny's insistence she hands over the holly. The stranger humbly thanks her for his "first Christmas present," and as he pins it on his lapel Sonny notices scars on his hands. In the plain, straightforward innocence of youth he asks him "Did you hurt them in the war?"

As a matter of fact, he did hurt them in the war. "They're not pretty," he says, "but they work as well as ever."

"Is that a masturbation joke, mister?"

Sonny seems quite taken with the guy, and when the choir begins singing he asks him to pick him up so he can show him the big, shiny star atop the tree.

Meh. If you've seen one you've seen 'em all. Right, Brad?

Julie is slightly embarrassed by how forward her child has been, but she's also clearly intrigued by the man's melancholy aura and gentle disposition. Sonny asks him for his name, and he says "John Doe, or its equivalent," which only adds to his mystery. John wishes them both a very merry Christmas, and Julie turns to go, but Sonny looks up at his mother and insists they invite John to come home with them.

Today this would be a patently absurd proposition, and if some stranger had picked up somebody's kid in a crowd, however honest the intent might be there's a better than fifty-fifty chance the police would be involved. Even here Julie is naturally and quite prudently reluctant, but Sonny pleads, and when John makes it clear he has nothing else planned and nowhere else to go she throws her better judgement to the wind and agrees to take him along.

Once at the house John and Sonny are becoming busom pals, and Julie can't help but notice how tender, patient and paternal the sad stranger is towards him. He helps Sonny write out a Christmas list, and when it's done, Sonny walks over to the fireplace and puts it in his stocking so Santa might easily find it.

On the mantle there's a picture of a man in an Air Force uniform, and Sonny tells John in a matter-of-fact tone "That's my daddy. He went to war, but he's not coming back."

"He's shacked up with a dancer named Fifi, somewhere near Provence, I believe."

It comes time for Sonny to go to bed, and John, fearing he's likely outstayed his welcome, says he should probably be going. Julie has softened to him, however, and insists she only has to put Sonny to bed and make a quick phone call, so he might as well at least stay and have some coffee.

Before his mom takes him up to bed Sonny impulsively kisses John on the cheek and gives him a hug goodnight. John is plainly moved by this simple gesture of acceptance and he tells Sonny it was just about the best Christmas present he could ever get.

Upstairs Sonny is puzzled as to why John was so impressed by a little hug, which he describes as "not a real gift at all." He says he really likes him, though, and would like to give him something better. He looks around at the various toys he has in his room, but none of them seem appropriate. Eventually his eyes come to rest on an old, floppy, beat up little Santa doll, a favorite item he sleeps with every night. He decides this is the perfect gift for his new friend and entrusts his mother to deliver it for him.

"Remember my list...and don't fuck this up for us, okay?"

As she tucks him in for the night, Julie asks Sonny why he likes Mr. Doe so much, and he replies inscrutably, "Because I know him."

Back downstairs Julie makes the barest pretense of calling Brad, letting it ring only twice before hanging up. She turns to find John walking out of the kitchen with the coffee already made.

Julie gives him Sonny's Santa doll, and seemingly out of all proportion to the quaint gesture, he's genuinely moved by it. He feels a little foolish being so unreservedly emotional and sheepishly suggests that it may be time he left. Julie asks him where he'd go, and he admits he doesn't even know.

She apologizes for prying into his personal business, saying that a man who gives his name as John Doe probably has reasons to remain anonymous, but John says it isn't that way at's just that he has no clear idea who he is.

It seems he was found in a ditch somewhere in Europe, most of clothes blown off, his dog tags missing, his hands burned and his face wounded. The doctors were able to repair his hands, and a plastic surgeon was able to give him a whole new face, but he has no memory of his previous life, has no fingerprints to trace and would be unrecognizable to anyone who had known him before the war.

After years of rehabilitation he'd finally been discharged from the hospital and sent out to forge a new identity with only the clothes on his back and a few paltry bucks to his generic, assumed name.

Sounds like a sure-fire formula for personal success.

Having regailed her with all the things he can't remember, John asks one more boon of his pretty benefactor: he'd like to help trim the Christmas tree. Julie happily hands him the lights and ornaments then leaves to answer a sudden knock at the door.

It turns out to be sourpuss, grumpy-ass Brad. When he sees that Julie has a gentleman caller that isn't him, he gets pretty pissy about it, and who could blame him? It sure would seem suspicious to visit your fiancee on Christmas Eve and find some other dude who's better looking and far more personable than you are hanging lights on her tree and seeming to feel right at home doing it.

Julie tries to explain, but it's an exercise in futility to try to explain anything to Brad. He testily dismisses her protestations and leaves in a huff, never to soil her towels again.

There's only room for one Brad around here and I'm needed to finish the review.

It doesn't take Julie long to realize she isn't exactly heartsick over losing him. She admits to John that the only reason she was going to marry him was because she didn't think anyone else would want her. Being burdened with another man's child, she saw Brad as her only hope for a "normal" life. She was grateful to him for offering that opportunity, but she never really loved him.

"I mean, let's face it...the guy's a dick."

All of this talk of home and marriage reminds Julie of her late husband Bob, and she proceeds to give John, and the audience, a capsule history of their life together. She was nineteen when they married and twenty when Sonny was born, which is pretty quick work, I'd say. Bob got his Air Force wings when she was twenty-three, and she was not yet twenty-four when she learned that his plane had been shot down.

She sheepishly confides, as we've been suspecting all along, that when she met John, she had the wild, nonsensical feeling that he was Bob somehow come back to her.

Now I know what you're thinking, and frankly I was thinking it, too, but the writers had other, possibly even less plausible plans. John tells her he's quite sure he isn't her Bob, that despite all the other stuff he doesn't know, he'd surely know for certain if he was. Julie acknowledges the patent impossibility of it, too, but goes on to list all the odd little coincidences that raised her hopes, the tenderness of his interactions with Sonny, how Sonny even said he felt like he knew him. "It's Christmas Eve," she sighs, "and I wanted to believe in a miracle."

I want to believe she can afford that house on a sales clerk's salary.

John now goes through his own litany of odd little coincidences that led him to her, how he got off the train there on a whim, only because he saw the Christmas tree standing in the square and felt drawn to it. He only wanted the sprig of holly because she had worn it, because she seemed kind and he was lonely. He was moved by the gift of the Santa doll because it stirred some flickering firefly of memory he couldn't quite grasp hold of, something that had moved him once before in another life and another time.

As he's speaking she idly picks up a music box and it begins to play "Jingle Bells."

"Good King Wenceslas comes next, I think," he mumbles, but Julie insists it only plays one tune. He tries to follow the winding path of muddled recollections the music box began to reveal, but he loses his way and gives up in frustration.

John realizes it's now or never to recover some semblance of his identity. He can feel the growing bond between he and Julie, but suppose he has a wife of his own somewhere? Or a little boy like Sonny who's still pining for the father he lost in the war? Or perhaps he really is her Bob come back to her through some quirk of fate and coincidence...

Julie proposes a test. Surely she would know Bob's knob if she bobbed on it, even after eight years' separation. There are some things a dutiful wife never forgets. So if he could just drop his trousers, then she could bob on his knob, and then they'd know whether it was John's knob or Bob's knob she was bobbing on. Mystery solved!

"It's so crazy it just might work!"

Alright, so maybe I made that up because I'm a dirty old fuck, but dammit, that's how I would have handled it, and it would have been slightly more belivable than what happens next.

Julie instead insists that John's memories can't truly be lost because memories live in your soul, and surely no one took away his soul, right? It was just a simple, run-of-the-mill traumatic brain injury. It's not like he walked widdershins around an open grave at midnight crying "Lord Satan I am you servant, give me thy contract and I shall sign!"

"Well, not that I recall, but I do have amnesia."

Common sense and neuroscience be damned, Julie insists she's going to help John recover his memories and his identity this very night, because she's not getting any younger and that knob ain't gonna bob itself.

She realizes that if a Christmas tree drew him here to town, maybe something about Christmas is the key to restoring his identity. She starts grilling him about what he recalls of Christmastimes past. Were there big trees trimmed with popcorn and cranberries strung on twine? Were there mountains of wrapped gifts? Were stockings hung on a mantlepiece or were they placed at the foot of the bed? On a personal note, we split the difference when I was a kid, hanging them on the mantle in the evening, then finding them on the bed in the morning where "Santa" had left them after filling them up with goodies.

When Julie starts describing a big, long dinner table, loaded with jellies and jams and turkey and stuffing and all kinds of succulent side dishes, something clicks, and he suddenly recalls working on a cruise ship, with wealthy business people and celebrities and other folks, too, some of whom ate in their state rooms because they were depressed or lonely. He adds the peculiar detail that there was always at least one suicide or attempted suicide aboard the ship during every Christmas crossing.

"Usually some bitter, disgruntled asshole named Brad."

Only rarely were there any children on the Christmas voyages, but one year there was a little boy Sonny's age who spent all of his time with a governess. He had a music box that played "Jingle Bells" and "Good King Wenceslas," and at the end of the trip the boy gave John a tattered old Santa doll as a present, just like the one Sonny gave him.

When the war came, John took the doll with him as a good luck mascot, became a pilot, tacked it over the instrument board an nicknamed his plane "The Merry Christmas," but the "good luck" part didn't pan out, so he ended up naked in a ditch with no hands, face or memories.

He furthermore recalls that his name really is John. It's John Porter, and he was a pre-war purser on an American luxury liner that ran between New York and Cherbourg, France.

Julie asks hopefully whether there was a wife involved in this suddenly recovered surfeit of personal backstory, and he conveniently replies that there was not.

"Though I have just remembered that I'm gay!"

Just then Sonny calls down from upstairs, wondering if Santa has been there and left his presents, and if so can he get up and open them, and maybe get some hot cocoa and a slice of fruit cake all up in this bitch?

"Also, did you finally dump that loser Brad? I never liked that guy."

Julie and John go upstairs to Sonny's room, holding hands and mooning at each other, and the kid butts in to declare that he hopes Santa brought him a puppy. John says even if Santa didn't leave one at the house he surely put in an order at the pet shop for the best puppy he ever saw.

John tucks him in, and tells him to go back to sleep cause he and his mother have some grown folk shit to discuss. He came to them a stranger, they took him in and gave him back his life and his memory, and now he and Julie must decide what the next step in their journey will be.

They decide that Santa Claus surely did visit their house this year, and he left them the very best present either of them could ever ask for...each other!

"Lets go see if he also brought some condoms."

The End.

I know, I know, I know...this was hokey, shallow, sentimental claptrap, but sometimes hokey, shallow, sentimental claptrap is just what you need, regardless of its inherent flaws or Grand Canyonesque lapses in narrative logic.

If I were to make a complaint about anything, and it's a small one, it would be that in leading the viewer to believe John might really be Julie's husband it laid a trap for itself it couldn't escape. Athough avoiding the obvious resolution may have seemed an admirable choice in theory, it required so many far-fetched coincidences it might have been better to simply let it play out to the audience's expectations, suspension of disbelief be damned.

Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed Christmas is Magic for the schmaltzy bit of melodramatic fluff it was intended to be. What I didn't enjoy was that jackass Brad. He gives my name a bad name and I don't cotton to that at all. If anybody's gonna give my name a bad name it's gonna be me.

Shitmas Bonus!

Tales from the Northside:
Double-Down Dick:
The Elf with a Gambling Problem

At my third meeting with Dongle the Elf he shared with me what he called his "favorite anecdote" about working at the North Pole. He was not directly involved in it, he said, though he was a direct witness to the events he would recount.

As he sipped his second Guinness of the evening he declared that the protagonist of the tale, a mischievous, wizened old Elf who had worked for Santa as long as anyone could remember, had since become something of a legend and a hero among the Elf-kind for what he had done over forty years before.

At the end of my first year working for Santa, I applied for a transfer from the power plant to one of the toy factories, hoping it might be easier work and less punishing hours. As it turns out the work was physically harder but the schedule was such that you could get some decent rest and have some semblance of a social life in your off-hours. All things considered it was a distinct improvement.

I was assigned to Toy Factory 487, and from the moment I got there I heard whispers here and there concerning the exploits and misadventures of old Elf named Dick. Whenever anyone spoke of him, they called him Double Down Dick, because there was absolutely nothing about which he would not propose a wager, and if he lost the first time around he would inevitably double down and risk an even greater amount of money to try to make a return on his loss.

If a machine broke down, he'd make a bet with the supervisors as to how long it would take to get it fixed. If we were given a quota on a certain item, say a toy airplane, he'd bet day shift against night shift over which would reach the quota first. He'd make bets in the factory cafeteria over how much he or a particular coworker could eat or drink, how many peas were in a spoonful, even over what he thought was being served for lunch a week from a given day, and inevitably he lost far more often than he won.

In the off-season, when the Pole was mostly shut down and the factory folk were either laid off or put on furlough, he'd gather what little he had left of his salary and head to Reno or Vegas to lose the rest, always returning to work the following season utterly destitute and ready to begin the cycle anew.

When I'd been at F487 about six months, my pal Jangle Jim confided to me that word of Double Down Dick's punting antics had reached the ubiquitous, spying ears of Santa Claus himself. I figured he was just pulling my tinsel, but sure enough, about a week later and only an hour into our shift, the stop-work whistle blew, and one of the senior supervisors announced that Santa was about to make an unprecedented visit to the factory floor.

None of us workers had ever seen Santa Claus in person and much of what I'd heard about him during the past year and a half had made me hope we never would. Some of the Elves were visibly trembling as a gilt-edged crimson carpet unrolled from the number twelve freight door. I was as fearful and anxious as the rest of them, and it didn't help my nerves any when I noticed a dark stain spreading at the crotch of Jangle Jim's leotard.

As a troop of unseen trumpeters played a heraldic fanfare, an enormous polar bear in a lush green velvet robe marched in, full of pomp and pride, his snout in the air and his eyes cast down disapprovingly at the worker-peasants he must needs deign to address. I would later learn that this was the much-feared Rasputin, Santa's bodyguard, enforcer, confidante and closest advisor.

He unspooled a parchment scroll and declared: "Stand and behold! Master of all Elves, Sovereign of the Ice Bergs, Lord Protector of the North Pole and Emperor of Christmas Eve: Santa Claus!"

As the rotund shadow of our jolly overlord shuffled in along the carpeted path it was all I could do the keep myself from mirroring Jangle's incontinent indignity. Santa reached our assembled group and asked in his low, resonant and terrifying voice: 'Which of you is the one they call Double Down Dick?'

Dick stepped forward boldly, his chin held high and a wry smile upon his face. He gave Santa an amused, appraising look and replied cheerfully: 'I am Double Down Dick. What can I do for your portly worship?'

Rasputin growled, but Santa seemed beguiled by the old gambler's insolence. He smiled merrily and gave Dick and appraising look of his own.

Dick was a very old elf, somewhere between three and five hundred years of age, or so I'd heard, about three foot tall, his face etched with a dense topography of wrinkles and his skin as tough as saddle leather. Despite his advanced years, his mind was still sharp as cut glass, and his body was strong, hard and lean from his long, strenuous life of manual labor. His most noticeable feature, however, was his mighty right arm, finely sculpted and hard as iron from his many years of pulling down slot machine handles, with its biceps brachii nearly three times the circumference of that on his left.

After sizing each other up for a moment, Santa made his opening gambit.

"I understand you enjoy a good wager."

"I've been known to indulge in a wee venture here and there."

"Well, I have one for you now, if it's not too rich for your kidney. It may make or break you, but it will certainly tell us all how well-deserved is your reputation."

Dick's beady eyes sparkled, and his smile broadened to an affable grin.

"Whatever wager you propose, sir, I'm your man!"

"Excellent! I had hoped for nothing less!" Santa chortled, slapping his thigh in approval, "The stakes will be thus: every penny of your salary for this season's work against a one-percent stake in my entire operation. It may not sound like much, but I assure you: should you win you'll have enough to bet and lose every day and still never have to work another hour of your life. Do you accept?"

"Certainly! One wager is as good as another, and I've never come across one I wouldn't make. What must I do?"

Santa's smile turned ever-so-slightly sinister, and his eyes became dark and cold.

"You will have three minutes in which to make me laugh. Even the tiniest of titters, whether whispered through my nose or under my breath, will be enough for you to win and for me to lose. You may choose anyone you trust to observe me as your judge."

"Well, then...I choose that little puppy dog you brought with you," he said, motioning to Rasputin the polar bear, "He seems a likely little cur."

Rasputin was livid at this and looked fit to make a meal of the old Elf's saucy tongue, but Santa laughed heartily, and I figure Dick probably saw that laugh as a good omen for his prospects of winning the bet. Santa turned to Rasputin and said playfully "What do you say, puppy dog? Come and watch my face, and whatever you see or hear I command you to tell us all the honest truth."

Rasputin gave Dick a sneer as he took up his post, but he knew well who gave him his meat and buttered his bread. He dutifully began watching his boss and benefactor intently for any sign of mirth.

The clock on the shift whistle was set to three minutes and the contest began.

Dick started off with a string of insults aimed at Rasputin. He called him a walking hearth-rug, a meek, toothless chihuahua and a primped-up, preening lackey, but through all the quips and barbs Santa's face remained as still and stern as a graven image carved in stone.

"Two minutes left!" the foreman cried.

Dick changed tack now and began roasting the worker Elves, who stood frightened yet fascinated by what was occurring before them. He travelled down the line of us and gleefully pointed out hideous warts, bulbous noses, club feet and lazy eyes. He even pointed out how Jangle Jim had wet himself in fear of Santa's arrival. The Elves, floor managers and supervisors were all in stitches, laughing breathlessly and clutching their sides, and even Jangle Jim forgot his embarrassment and guffawed along with the lot of them, but Santa remained as cold and impassive as ever.

"One Minute!"

Dick was putting on a brave face, but you could see the sweat trickling down his forehead, and it was plain he knew he was in trouble. He moved from verbal jibes to physical buffoonery, dancing and leaping and gamboling like a court jester, juggling toys and contorting his face as if it was made of India-rubber.

Even Rasputin let out a a brief snicker before regaining his stern composure, but through all of it Santa sat silent and still and utterly expressionless.

"Thirty seconds!"

Dick was clearly desperate now and leapt at Santa, frantically poking and tickling his famous fat belly, tugging at his beard, pinching his nose and pulling at his ears, but in due course of time the whistle blew, and the wager was over.

"Well, Dick, you've been an worthy chap, and I hate to see you suffer, but a bet is a bet and you lost. It seems you'll be working for me for free this year!" and suddenly all the mirth he'd stored up over the course of Dick's heroic efforts to amuse him burst forth, and for three full minutes he laughed and roared and paced and pointed at the unfortunate gambler who had just lost an entire year of his livelihood to him.

All this time Dick stood perfectly still, save for his crafty, dark eyes, diligently following his erstwhile rival's every movement.

When Santa's high spirits finally subsided, Dick smiled, cool as a popsicle, and asked "Are you quite finished? You've gotten me fair and square and had your fun, sir. Though I'm not one to default on my debts I'm also every inch as good as my name, so I'd like to propose to you a double-down counter-wager of my own."

Santa's face turned suddenly serious. He scrutinized the old fellow with a hard, suspicious gaze and a furrowed brow.

"Listen here, Dick. I like you. I wish you no further harm than your own poor judgement has already brought upon you. You've given me a good laugh and lined my pockets a little, though heaven knows they're pretty well-lined already. I don't wish to take any advantage of you, but I'll hear what you have to say and we'll see what's to be done."

"What I propose, your jolly rotundity, is a ten per-cent stake in your entire operation against my free labor for the rest of my natural life, and a promise to give you every bit of my strength in performing it, after which you may have me stuffed and mounted on your mantle if you wish, to remind you of the crazy old wager-mad fool who let himself in for becoming your slave. All I ask for my part is one minute of your time in which to make you cry."

At this every soul in the entire factory gasped, for everyone, from the lowliest worker-elf to the floor managers and shipping clerks, to the head foreman to Rasputin himself knew as sure as the noses on their astonished faces that in all the hundreds of years Santa Claus had been operating his business empire at the North Pole he had never once been known to shed a tear.

Santa was incredulous at first, and claimed an inclination to refuse the wager out of hand. He tried to talk Dick out of his folly, but Rasputin tapped him gently on the shoulder, smiled sardonically and whispered something in his ear. Santa nodded, then turned and walked slowly up to Dick, who was still smirking and peering confidently into his eyes.

"Very well, Dick. Though I think you've lost your senses I'll agree to your wager. When shall we begin?"

"Right now!" shouted Dick, and he used his powerful right arm to punch Santa as hard as he could right in his merry old balls.

Santa doubled over and fell to his knees, and Rasputin came running to his side, glaring daggers at Dick, who stood triumphantly with his arms folded and his head held high. Santa's face turned red as an apple. He groaned, gritted his teeth and pursed his lips. He held his breath and shut his eyes as tightly as he could, but slowly, inexorably, a single tear appeared from his clenched right eye. It rolled slowly down his cheek, and disappeared into his long, white, bushy beard, leaving a glittering trail behind it.

It was the costliest tear in the history of weeping.

Double Down Dick used his first dividend payment to move abroad, where he built the largest hotel and casino Monte Carlo had ever seen. He lives there in luxury to this day, eating the finest food, drinking the finest drink and gambling day and night to his heart's content, and whether he wins, loses or breaks even, it never really matters, because however many times the money changes hands it's all still his very own.

All "Tales from the Northside" stories
copyright 2022 Bradley Lyndon

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 9th!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2022.

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