Monthly Archives: December 2021

Rudolph In The Vieux Carré

When I learned that deer could contract the covid-19 virus, I figured my buddy, Rudolph, wouldn’t be stopping in Chicago to visit on his way north this year, so I was pleasantly surprised when he called and offered to meet me on the lakefront. As usual, I brought along a little something to warm us as we strolled. This year it was a thermos of wassail, which is a hot spiced apple cider. I was feeling the need for some holiday cheer after a less-than-stellar 2021. We walked and sipped. I told Rudolph about the friends I’d lost during the year, how difficult the pandemic was for everyone, and how discouraged I am that the country is so divided. I also told him about our new puppy, who’s like a cute little wrecking ball. He told me about the big elf strike last summer when the toymakers finally put their tiny feet down and demanded Santa meet their demands for more vacation time and better working conditions. A lot of them had developed repetitive motion injuries.
“There’s strength in numbers,” Rudolph said. “They voted, and it was almost unanimous. There was only one holdout elf, a greedy little jerk who’s in the pocket of big coal.”
“Big coal?”
“Yeah. Santa pretty much ignored the naughty list last year. He thought the children had suffered enough during the pandemic, so he filled every kid’s stocking with toys. The Acme Lump O’ Coal Company was pissed.”
The night air was crisp, and the sky was clear. I had added extra rum to the wassail, so we didn’t really feel the cold. We took a seat on one of the big lakeshore boulders, looked at the lights of my city, and listened to the rolling waves for a while. It was a beautiful evening, and I was happy just to spend a little time with my pal and his famous proboscis. After a few minutes, though, I sensed that Rudolph had something on his mind. He sighed, and his nose flickered, and he launched into this story:

“I stopped in New Orleans on my way back from Cancun this year. Frenchman Street was pretty festive, with colored lights and tinsel strung across the street, and everyone was nice and mellow. I was standing outside a bar, listening to jazz and grooving on the scene, when I noticed a food takeout container abandoned on the curb. I waited a few minutes to see if anyone would claim it, then picked it up and took it to Washington Square park. Don’t judge me, man. Restaurants don’t serve reindeer. Except as a menu item.”
He chuckled at his morbid little joke.
“Anyway, it was a full dinner of étoufée, greens, and cornbread, and I was one hungry reindeer. Just as I was about to dig in, I noticed a man lying on a park bench watching me. He didn’t seem to be drunk, and his clothes weren’t especially ragged, just dirty. I guessed maybe he was homeless. The tip off, though, was that he didn’t seem as interested in a red-nosed reindeer in the Vieux Carré as in my dinner. I’m partial to cornbread, so I polished that off, then invited him to share the rest. He ate like it was the first food he’d had in quite a while, but he was polite and left me most of the greens. He didn’t say a word until the last grain of rice and drop of roux was gone.”
“That,” he said, sitting back and loosening his belt, “was as good a meal as I’ve had in weeks. Thank you, my friend.”
“Name’s Rudolph.”
“I thought so.” He pointed to his nose. “Kind of a giveaway. You know, I saw your boss once when I was a kid. My sister told me it was our father in a rented suit, but Dad wasn’t short and fat.”
“He’s not my boss. I prefer to think of myself as a contract employee. Can I ask you something, Mister—?”
“Langford. Call me Vince.”
“Okay, Vince. Why are you sleeping in a park at Christmastime?”
“Ah, you don’t want to hear my sob story.”
“I asked didn’t I?”
“I can’t hold a job,” he said. “I have this anxiety thing. Sometimes I just freak out, even when I was getting meds. Right in the middle of the workday I’d feel like my chest was being crushed in a vice, and I’d panic and walk out. I must have lost a dozen jobs that way.”
He paused while a trumpet and trombone duo, followed by a line of caroling revelers, wound their way through the park.
“Anyway, when the bank took our house in San Diego, Lori took our daughter, Kayla, and moved here to stay with her folks. I hitchhiked across four states with my present for Kayla, but I can’t get up the nerve to deliver it. I panic. I’ve tried, but I cant even walk on their street without—”
Just thinking about it caused him to shake all over. He started to hyperventilate and hugged his knees to his chest.
“It’s all right. Take it easy,” I said. Then I lit my nose, making it glow softly. An instinctual response, I guess. Maybe I thought it would have a calming affect. I don’t know if it actually helped, but his breathing slowed. He unfolded himself and took a few deep breaths. He wouldn’t look at me after that. I guess he was embarrassed.
“Where’s this sister you mentioned?”
“St. Louis,” he said. “We used to talk on the phone all the time, but I haven’t seen her in a couple of years.”
“Maybe she’d like to have you visit for Christmas. I could drop you off on my way north. Whatta ya say?”
“No. I can’t impose like that. Besides, I’ve got to give Kayla her present.” He pulled a small box from his jacket pocket. It was wrapped in gold foil and white ribbon. “I managed to scrape together enough money to get her a locket. It’s a little heart that opens up. It’s got a picture inside of her mother and me holding her when she was a baby. When things were good between us. I want her to know I love her. I don’t want—” He started to shake again. “I don’t want her to forget me.”
“Let me have it,” I said. “Delivering Christmas presents is kind of my thing.”
He handed me the package and told me the address. Grandma and Grandpa had a posh place in the Garden District, and, luckily, it had an unlit fireplace. I always carry a good supply of magic dust when I travel, so I shrunk myself, flew down the chimney, left the locket under the tree, and zipped back to the park. Vince was waiting for me.
“Done and done,” I said. “She’ll find it on Christmas morning. Now, how about that ride to St. Louis.”
“Thanks, but no. I’m too messed up. I don’t want anyone to see me like this.”
“Up to you, but maybe your sister would appreciate the opportunity to help you. Why don’t you give her a call? Let her decide.”
“I’ll think about it. Hey, thanks for delivering Kayla’s gift and sharing your dinner with me.”
I could tell I was getting the brush off, so I sprinkled myself with a little more magic dust and took off. We’ve got a saying up at the pole: You can lead a reindeer to water, but you can’t make him drink.

We had polished off the last of the wassail and a chilly lake breeze was blowing in. Rudolph stood up to go.
“I’m sorry, man, but I better take off. The time I spent in New Orleans put me behind schedule. It was worth it, though.”
“Thanks for stopping in,” I said. “I always look forward to your visits.”
“Me too,” he said. “As far as humans go, you’re a pretty good guy.”
He trotted off a little ways, then turned and came back.
“I know you and the other humans are dealing with a lot of anger and sadness,” he said. “Sometimes life might seem hopeless, but remember, Christmas is all about hope. Hope isn’t a wish, though. It isn’t merely the desire for something good to happen. It’s a promise you make to yourself to try. To take action. To be better. If Vince has hope, he’ll contact his sister. He’ll ask for help, because some things are too difficult to do alone. Don’t be discouraged. Try having hope.”
He touched my chest, gently, with his hoof.
“Check this out,” he said. “A standing take off.”
He reared back on his hind legs, shot up into the air, and shouted, “Yipee ki-yay!”
I watched him sail across the city skyline and stood there, looking, long after he was out of sight.

Litbop Is In The Newberry

One of our amazing poets, Lani Montreal, recently received this email from Chicago’s prestigious Newberry library. “Thank you very much for your donation of your book Fanboys as well as the first issue of Litbop, which includes your poetry. We will be happy to add these volumes to the Newberry’s rich collections of materials on the history and cultures of the Philippines and by Filipinx-Americans, especially those in Chicago and the Midwest.”