FRESH YARN presents:

Stalking Santa
By Tamara Becher

A Christmas fable based on true events. Sort of.

If anyone had ever told me that by the time I was twenty-six I'd be locked up in a women's federal correctional facility, I probably would've said, "I wish!" The very idea of all of those women living and, more importantly, showering together all on the government's dime sounded like my own private Amazon Island, where I would be Wonder Woman and the others my adoring "sisters." When I finally did arrive at the big house I was rudely awakened to the fact that I'd be spending the next ten to fifteen with women who looked more like Amy Carter than Lynda Carter.

"What's my story?" you might ask. "Eat me," is what I used to reply, but here in the clink a gal learns real quick-like not to throw such phrases around. My road to ruin began back when I was in kindergarten. That's right, kindergarten. It was December, which meant it was time to work on our holiday projects. The teacher distributed bright red, green, and silver construction paper to everyone in the class except for Hymie Rosen and me. Instead we were given faded and lifeless sheets of blue and yellow. While the other children joyously constructed ornaments and trees, unlimited in the range of shapes and colors, Hymie and I were confined to the oppressive right angles of the Menorah. This seemingly innocuous event in my short life made me aware for the first time that there was more that separated me from my classmates than just my chronic head lice. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Billy Johnson, the WASPiest kid in the class, drawing this jolly old fat dude, with rosy red cheeks and a fluffy white beard. He was fascinating and frightening all at once. It was a mystical, magical sensation I had never experienced before, and would not experience again until years later when I first laid eyes on my cellmate's back hair. I tried to avert my eyes from Billy's drawing, but it had a hypnotic power that I was impotent against. Kinda like my cellmate's back hair.

"Hey Kid," I said, "who is that mysterious creature?"

"My name's not Kid," he said, brimming with genetic superiority, "it's Billy and it's not a creature, it's Santa Claus."

"Santa Claus?" I rolled the words around in my mouth like a gator rolling its prey under water. It was dangerous, yet delicious. It tasted like chicken. Which can also be dangerous and delicious if not cooked properly. Up until this point in my short life I was ignorant to the differences between Jews and Gentiles, except for the fact that while Christian mothers instilled the fear of God into their children, Jewish mothers instilled the fear of botulism.

"Every December," Billy continued, "you write him a letter asking for stuff you want and on Christmas Eve he brings it while you sleep."

Even at the naive age of six, I knew enough to declare shenanigans on this steaming pile.

"You're a lying crapface. If this Santa deal's for real, how come I never heard of it?"

"Because you're a Jew and Santa hates you."

"But how does he know that I'm a Jew?" I asked.

The blood suddenly drained from Billy's face and his left eye began to twitch. Some would call it a look of terror; Mama would call it time for another High Ball. He cautiously looked over both shoulders, making sure no one would overhear what he was about to say. He leaned in close to my face, and whispered, "He knows everything." Chills ran down my spine.

Although I was grateful for the info, grade school gender politics dictated that I split Billy's lip. Had to keep them boys in line. What I didn't realize at the time was little Billy Johnson just crammed a sugarplum from the tree of knowledge down my innocent, Semitic throat. From then on, my life as a happy, law-abiding Dradle-spinner was over.

That night I composed the most eloquent "Dear Santa" letter that a six-year-old could: DEAR SANTA, GIMME. YOUR PAL, TAMARA "I SWEAR I'M NOT A FILTHY JEW" BECHER. Come Christmas Eve I could barely sleep I was so excited. Words cannot describe my devastation the next morning when all I found in the living room was my Uncle Morrie in his underpants eating lox from a can. I don't get it. What did I do wrong? I wrote the crummy letter, so where was my stuff? Right then and there I decided I would never be snubbed by Santa again.

I began to research and read everything I possibly could about the fat fuck. Every year I'd try to alter a variable in the equation to dupe Santa into stopping by my house. I tried setting up a Christmas tree, but my father had a heart attack. Literally. I tried decorating the house with festive red and green lights, but my father had a stroke. Literally. The year I constructed a nativity scene out of chopped liver and matzo, my mother decided it was time for me to go on the pill. Lithium that is. I started seeing a shrink who tried to convince me that Santa Claus didn't exist. But I could see a glint of deceit behind those well-meaning, shiksa eyes. She was just another cog in the global Christmas conspiracy, and I was determined to be the monkey wrench.

I realized these juvenile methods were getting me nowhere. Not only would I have to be stealthier about my work, I'd have to become more scientific. Through the years my bedroom became a monument to my obsession. I had intensive charts, diagrams, and statistics all relating to the enigma that is Kris Kringle. I even developed a crude tracking system that became the basis for the Global Positioning System now used by the United States Military. And don't think I ever saw a dime from that one. But, no matter what I did, the results were always the same: no presents on Christmas.

I became overwhelmed by my years of failure, and resorted to pelting Salvation Army Santas with gefilte fish just to relieve the tension. Luckily none of these assaults were ever documented by the authorities because no one was really sure how to spell "gefilte." If I were any closer to rock bottom I'd be giving friction dances to the lapless veterans at Jumbo's Clown Room.

Then one day lady luck tripped over my drunken, crumpled body. I was 25, about two Carpenters songs away from killing myself, and sipping Manischewitz from a paper sack in an alley when I saw a little man walk by.

"Fucking Santa," he muttered angrily.

This foul-mouthed half-pint turned out to be one of Santa's disgruntled elves. He told me his name was Vinnie C., but he needed no introduction. I was quite familiar with his work in the yuletide classic Merry XXXmas. In exchange for the rest of my wine, a carton of smokes, and a naughty foot message, Vinnie gave me a list of all the houses Santa would visit this year. As I scanned down the list, a name from my past jumped out: Gwen Williams. She once gave me a gift that I would never forget. Herpes. Further down the list yet another name from my past grabbed my attention: Billy Johnson. This was almost too perfect. Ever since the Homeowner's Association caught Billy's dad corn-holing the Baby Jesus on their front lawn nativity scene, the family had been spending the holidays visiting him at the "rest home." I knew exactly what I needed to do without even thinking about it. I never thought I would sink so low, but I no longer had my dignity. I had already traded it for a pair of socks and some back issues of US Weekly.

I was going to kidnap Santa Claus.

On Christmas Eve I broke into the Johnsons' house, set up a trap, then waited anxiously in the shadows. Around eleven I got bored and flipped on the tube. That classic Christmas film Cocoon was on. Before Wilfred Brimley could describe the first boner he'd had in almost twenty years, I was fast asleep. At three a.m. I was awakened by the telltale sounds of jingle bells. My left eye began to twitch with anticipation. Or possibly the bottle of Robitussin I drank. Then there was the sound of hooves landing effortlessly on the roof. A puff of soot shot from the fireplace, and in a flash Santa was standing right there, mocking me with his large sack of presents. I waited until he was in the perfect position, then WHAM! I dropped the net on him. I ran over and hogged tied him faster than you could say shalom aleichem. If you could say it at all, that is. I flipped on the lights, giddy with triumph. Santa took one good look at me and said, "Ho, ho -- holy shit!"

"Zip it tubby," I commanded, "I'll be doing all the talking, see. Now make with the presents or Rudolph gets it where his nose don't shine!"

"Oh little boy, why would you want to do such a terrible to thing to Santa?"

"I'm not a little boy! I'm a Jew, I'm angry, and I want answers!"

Santa sat himself up. "Why would you be so upset with me? I only spread joy and good cheer to all the children of the world."

"What about Jewish kids?"

A panicked look sprang onto Santa's face. This was it. I was finally going to hear it from the fat fuck himself.

"Yes it's true. I don't bring presents to little Jewish boys and girls."

"Aha!" I shouted, as I performed the sacred Polish jig of righteousness.

"I can't because I must honor the wishes and traditions of their parents. But for those Jewish boys and girls who choose to believe in me, I bring them a different sort of present. The kind that cannot be placed in a box with a bow on it."

It looked like bullshit and it sure stank like the stuff, but I decided to hear the old man out.

"Do you remember that fateful Christmas morning you found your Uncle Morrie eating lox in the living room?" he asked, like he was asking a three-year-old if they remembered to flush.

"Christ, who could forget that unsavory image. That was the same year my father had an aneurysm after I tried to build a chimney in the living room and knocked down a wall with his Buick. Boy, I'll never hear the end of that one."

"Do you remember what else happened that day?"

"Sure. Uncle Morrie got a rare strain of botulism and died."

"That's right," he said. "What you don't know is that your mother was planning on serving you that lox for breakfast. If you had eaten it, you yourself wouldn't be standing here today."

"You really did that? You caused my Uncle Morrie to have an early morning smoked salmon craving, which in turn saved my life?"

"You bet your bad breath I did. But you were so wrapped up in the gifts you didn't receive, you couldn't appreciate the one precious one you did."

I fell back into the rocking chair, completely in awe of the lesson Santa just taught me. I felt sorry for all the years I wasted searching for fool's gold. Suddenly I heard a siren. Blue and red flashing lights filled the room. I grabbed Santa threateningly by the coat and said, "What gives?"

"I've got an STD."

I let go of him immediately.

"Santa anti-Tamper Device. Automatically alerts the police in the event that someone tries to F with my S."

The rest of the evening is kind of a blur. I was cuffed and read my rights. As they walked me towards the squad car, Santa came over to get in one last lick. I gave him a good kick in the chestnuts before he could open his jolly pie hole.

Although the official charge was kidnapping, with intent to ruin a national holiday, I maintain that my only real crime was seeking the truth. The trial was long and bitter. My lawyer said my fate was sealed when Mrs. Claus gave a tearful testimony about how Santa could no longer perform his "husbandly duties" after the assault. The newspapers called me every unoriginal name in the book from "Scrooge" to "Grinch" to "Christ-killing whore of Sodom." But it didn't bother me too much. In fact, it was kinda cool to become a new chapter in the Santa Claus story, though I never imagined my life would become a cautionary tale to others.

So now here I am in prison and I'm learning lots of new things everyday, like cornrows aren't as fun as they look, and "shiv" is not a Yiddish word. But of all the things I've learned, thanks to Santa, I take time each day to appreciate the small miracles. When the trial was over, reporters asked me if I thought Santa would ever forgive me. At the time I said I didn't think so. But year after year, on Christmas Day, I know that he does. Whether I find an extra slice of turkey on my tray, another smoke in the pack I thought was empty, or my latest herpes outbreak suddenly clears up, I know he forgives me.

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