Greeley's Rancho Arcana
Part 3 of 6
EDITORIAL COMMENT: There are many excellent websites out there dedicated to the toys of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, so it's pointless to try to recreate one here. For your enjoyment, I've added a few links to these sites at the end of this essay. One site that really stands out is found over at Wes Clark's Avocado Memories. Wes and I had essentially the same toy chest, so if you want to see the toys I had, we can go over and play at his house when we're done with this story. He'll share. (You'll really like his mom and dad, too; they're neat people). Thanks for your patience.
Toys and Holiday Justice: Reward & Punishment
Reward of the Innocent?...
There's one thing about toys and Christmas that deeply puzzled me when I was a child. Perhaps you, like I, spent at least one December night sleeplessly pondering the truth.
We all know that Santa Claus only visits good boys and girls on Christmas Eve. Our parents were always reminding us of this iron-clad fact after our birthdays had passed and before we did whatever they thought we'd do next. Santa's big on lists, Honey. He knows what you've been doing. He knows if you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good...
So why was it the worst kids in the neighborhood always had the best toys?
You know exactly who I'm talking about. The kid you weren't allowed to play with. The kid who runs with scissors. The kid who stole your bike once, made your sister eat a dirt clod, and was always peeing in some place he shouldn't, like your neighbor's sporty new convertible car. He's the kid on the block who dished it out in broad daylight to anyone and everything. The one who terrified even the adults. Remember him? Every neighborhood had at least one.
So how was it, come Christmas day, you're outside with your brand new chrome Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat, sissy bar, and ape-hangers, and he goes tooling by on his new candy apple Bultaco mini-bike? The one with a REAL gasoline engine? You've got playing cards in your spokes and this kid's got three horses between his legs. What gives?
I wrestled with this one for a while. My Grandma wouldn't lie to me, and I never knew her to be wrong. I even met Santa Claus once and the first thing he asked me was if I had been a good boy all year, just to test my truthfulness since he already knew. Yet, there it was. These kids were getting up on Christmas day and not only were they not finding lumps of coal, they were getting nickel-plated scale model steam engines imported from Germany that used real fire brickettes to work.
|...or Festival of Mayhem!
There was only one possible explanation left.
There was another Santa Claus. A secret Santa Claus, just for the bad kids!
~ <> ~ ~ <> ~ ~ <> ~
I'd begun dwelling on the possibility of a secret Santa Claus in 1966, when I first noticed this inconsistency between what I was told and what I saw. The evidence started coming together the following year, on Christmas Day 1967.
Attila (not his real name), a new kid in the neighborhood, came riding down the street on the aforementioned mini-bike. This was the same kid who, just weeks before Christmas, snatched my pencil box from me before class, threw it on the ground, stomped it to bits, and kicked the pieces at me. He had a big head, funny looking teeth, and he smelled odd. He was also two grades ahead of me.
"You like my new minibike?" "Yeah. Who gave you that?" "Santa Claus, you dope." He spit on the ground at my feet and slowly putted off, smiling at me over his shoulder as he rode off.
The second clue I had came later that day when Attila's younger brother Hitler (not his real name) rode by on a brand new sting-ray, the third one I'd seen him on since their family moved in last summer. He liked to ride around on his bike very fast, heading straight for you and swerving at the last second to scare you into a run. He was effective.
One morning, as we walked to school, Hitler raced up behind us. I decided to stand my ground as the other children fled. When he saw I wasn't going to budge, he jumped off his bike in a "fly-away" maneuver, flinging the bike into me. I didn't know much about him, but I could see that he was the kind of kid who probably shouldn't have a pet. I don't think they let him go to school.
|My new bike: 1967|
I have to admit it; I was an easy target for the likes of Attila, Hitler, and Stalin.
The third clue I had came the following afternoon when I saw Stalin (his real name), the oldest one, playing down by the railroad tracks with his brothers Attila and Hitler. I was with my Grandma in the old DeSoto on the way to the market. As we passed the trio, I could see them setting up model rockets--the kind that used solid fuel and battery ignition to really fly off a launch pad--except that they weren't setting them up to fly vertically, but horizontally, in the direction of the train tracks. When they saw us drive by, all three stood up and yelled "Santa Claus," waiving their trophies aloft.
"Grandma, did Santa Claus really give those boys all those things?" "No Honey, Santa doesn't visit boys like that." This was all the evidence I needed.
A secret Santa Claus explains a lot about all the bad things in this world, the inconsistences between behavior and reward, and the source of the goods needed to carry out terrible designs on those who would live peacefully.
I was satisfied with my analysis. Troubled, but satisfied. The devil you know is better than the devil you don't. I had no idea, however, that shortly I would almost come face-to-face with this nemesis of good children everywhere.
One afternoon, while riding my bike down near the commercial street, I saw Attila's father quickly and quietly unloading the back of a truck behind a toy store and pitching the goods into the trunk of his car. Occasionally he paused just long enough to look around, then he quickly returned to his task. When he filled his trunk, he hopped off the back of the truck, jumped in his car, and roared off down the alley, not even bothering to close the trunk. Several of the boxes that he'd loaded into his car contained Wham-O Air Blasters.
The following Saturday, I saw Attila roaming in his front yard with two new Wham-O Air Blasters, one for each hand, both loaded with plastic toy rockets whose tips he'd sharpened on the sidewalk. He saw me, laughed, took aim, and fired away, yelling that Santa came again last night.
I was a pretty bright boy. I finally figured it out. I put two and two together.
Attila's father was the secret Santa Claus. I should have known all along. It's so obvious to me now.
But how did Attila's father get around on Christmas Eve? I still haven't figured that one out.
ANOTHER EDITORIAL COMMENT: Originally, I had a slightly different approach in mind for exploring the whole topic of the bad child/good child Christmas reward relationship. I thought it would be enlightening to commission an interview with a former 'bad boy' to gain their perspective on the matter. Unfortunately, the interview went south pretty quickly.
I was going to toss the whole thing, but then I thought, well, I've got it in the can...so maybe I should share it. On the other hand, it's pretty disturbing, so...
Whatever. You decide. Please note, you don't have to read it to enjoy this essay. Really, you don't. Maybe you should forget I even mentioned it. Yes. Forget about it. Don't click on this link. Just move on to the next section.
On Comet! On Cupid! On Donner! On Blitzen!
Onward now, to Part 4 of 6.
Dinner is on the table!