Merry Christmas, Da’Quarius Sherman!

Tonight’s regularly scheduled programming will not be seen tonight so we can bring you this special presentation of Freedom Lane.

***

“I love this song!” Helen Masters said loudly as White Christmas played throughout the living room of the home she shared with her wife, Rose, and their adopted son, Da’Quarius, on Freedom Lane in New Haven. She waved her plastic cup of egg nog in the air as the song blasted from her old record player. “Every year it gets better!” Her wife, Rose, was in the kitchen, which meant that Helen was sneaking a bit of brandy into her egg nog.

“Dat’s cuz you too senile to remember how much it sucks,” Da’Quarius said.

“You shut your vulgar mouth, godammit!” Helen exclaimed. “That’s Bing fucking Crosby! They don’t make them like him anymore. I’ll take Bing over any of that trash they play on the radio nowadays.”

“Dey discontinued him cuz all his fans died from broken hips,” Da’Quarius said. “‘Sides, dis song racist as fuck.”

“Racist?!” Helen said, spilling her egg nog on her lap and not noticing. “This is a classic!”

“Classic white supremacy more like it!” Da’Quarius retorted. “He dreamin’ of a white christmas? Where his black friends at? Out at the stables, shovelin’ horse shit?”

“I told you to watch your vulgar mouth!” Helen repeated.

“Can you two please not argue?” Rose said, coming back in the room with her own egg nog. “It’s almost Christmas. Don’t spoil this time of year for me.”

“I’m sorry dear,” Helen said, patting Rose’s knee. “You know how passionate I am about Bing.”

“I know,” Rose said, putting her hand on top of Helen’s and smiling. “It’s not a racist song, Da’Quarius. It’s about having snow on Christmas morning.”

“Believe dat all you want,” Da’Quarius said. “I still say there’s still pro segregation subliminal messages in dis song.”

“Balderdash!” snapped Helen.

“Balderdash?” Da’Quarius asked. “Da fuck does that mean?”

“It means shutup and enjoy the damn song,” Helen said. Daquarius finally stopped and listened to the song with his elderly mothers.

“I’m dreaming of a white… white… white… white… white…”

“I told you!” Da’Quarius shouted, jumping out of his chair.

“The record’s just skipping,” Rose said.

“White… white… white…”

“Racist ass balderdash!” Da’Quarius said.

“Shut that damn hole in your face before I shove an ornament so far down your vulgar throat that you’ll be shitting out red and green glass on Christmas morning!” Helen shouted.

Rose quietly took Helen’s flask from her robe pocked as she argued with Da’Quarius. “Merry Christmas,” Rose said softly, adding a nip of brandy to her egg nog.

***

Freedom Lane

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

Merry Christmas, Da’Quarius Sherman!

***

“Can you believe this?” Paulie exclaimed, coming out of his bathroom with the newspaper still open. “Some mooks knocked over a Christmas tree vendor. It’s less than a week before Christmas! What’s this world coming to?!”

“I know that guy,” Tony, Paulie’s long time friend and associate, said. “That was Eli the Greek’s lot. Greedy bastard had it coming if you ask me. I wouldn’t shed much tears for that greasy stunad. He’s stiffed his share of people over the years.”

“Still, it’s Christmas,” Paulie said. “I don’t care if he’s a greasy Greek bastard that had it coming or not. It still ain’t right.”

“Listen to you,” Tony said. “Put some mistletoe up and you’re Mother Freakin’ Theresa all of a sudden!”

“Alright,” Paulie said, unlocking the door of his pizzeria, Paulie’s Pizza. “You ready for today?”

“I’m just making the pizza,” Tony said, putting his hands up. “You can handle all of this Christmas nonsense.”

Paulie always tried to put something together for Christmastime. This year, he hired a Santa Claus to sit at the end of the small pizzeria to talk to the kids while their parents took pictures and bought pizza.

“He’s here!” Paulie said, as the actor he hired from Craigslist came in, already dressed as Santa. “Madon!” Paulie exclaimed. “What’s that smell?”

The Santa grunted and shoved past Paulie. “I gotta set up.”

“That guy smells like piss,” Tony said, coming out from the kitchen area. “Is he a friggin’ hobo?! You hired a friggin’ hobo, Paulie! Nobody in their right mind would let their kids sit on his lap. Also, what’s that on his head?”

Paulie’s eyes widened. “Santa’s wearing a friggin’ yamaka!” he said. “That’s it! This guy’s outta here!” Paulie went to his Santa and ushered him out the door.

“Da hell ya doin’?!” Hobo-Santa slurred as Paulie pushed him out of the door.

“Get lost, ya bum!” Paulie said, giving him a kick in the ass as he went out of the door. The yamaka fell from his head, and Paulie picked it up and tossed it at him.

“You owe me!” Hobo-Santa shouted just outside Paulie’s. People walking down State Street began to watch, and Paulie gave him a few dollars just to be rid of him.

“Get lost before I call the cops!” Paulie shouted. The bum observed the small wad of bills, nodded once, and left satisfied. Paulie closed the door and sat in one of the booths, putting his black and gray-haired head in his hands.

“What are you gonna do now?” Tony asked. “It’s too short notice to find another Santa, and you and I have to run this place. You want I should call Pimple Puss to help out or should we cancel?”

“I don’t know,” Paulie said. “I can’t cancel now, and neither of us could pull off being Santa. I’ve been advertising Christmas at Paulie’s since Thanksgiving. Something will come to me. It always does.”

“You should pray for a Christmas miracle,” Tony said.

Just then, the door to Paulie’s Pizza opened, and Helen, Rose, and Da’Quarius entered.

“I told you biddies that I’m too old to sit on Santa’s lap!” Da’Quarius said.

“Be quiet and do it!” Helen snapped. “Besides, I want to see what Paulie has done for Christmas this year. His place is always so festive!”

“It looks like we’re too early,” Rose said. “Santa isn’t here yet.”

“What smells like piss in here?” Da’Quarius asked.

“That was Santa,” Paulie said. “He’s already come and gone.”

“Paulie kicked him out because he was a Jew!” Tony said, behind a huge grin.

“I kicked him out because he was a bum that smelled like piss!” Paulie shouted. “The fact that a Jewish Santa showed up had very little to do with it.”

“I wouldn’t blame you either way,” Helen said. “If Santa’s a Jew, he’d steal his presents from the Toys For Tots bins and eat all of your candy canes for dinner.”

Paulie looked at Helen, and genius dawned on him. “Helen,” he said. “You can be my Santa.”

“What?” Helen said. “Are you nuts, you little stunad?”

“No,” Paulie said. “The suit will fit on you. We’ll stick a fake beard on you, and you’ll be fine! The kids won’t know the difference. They’ll just know that Santa Clause is here at Paulie’s. Can you be polite to these kids for a few a hours?”

“No,” Helen replied shortly.

“I don’t care,” Paulie said. “I’m desperate. Do this for me, Helen. It could be my Christmas present for this year and next year.”

Helen sighed. “I’m supposed to be spending Christmas with Rose and the kid,” she said.

“Come on,” Rose said. “I can take Da’Quarius Christmas shopping. Your son needs you.”

“Brother,” Helen corrected. She sighed in defeat. She rarely said no when Rose guilted her. “Fine. I’ll do it.”

“I’ll get the suit,” Tony said, running to the back room.

“It better not be the same suit that Jew Santa already pissed in!” Helen said, following Paulie.

***

“Looks like it’s just you and me,” Rose said, getting back into her car with Da’Quarius.

“Can’t we stay at Paulie’s?” Da’Quarius asked. “I wanna see Helen dressed like Santa. That shit is gonna be classic.”

“She doesn’t need us distracting her,” Rose said. “We’ll come back a little early so we can see her once she’s comfortable. Where do you want to go shopping?”

Da’Quarius thought for a moment. “You ever been to the flea market on Ella Grasso Boulevard?”

“What?” Rose asked. “No. I used to get calls about that place all the time when I was a police dispatcher. I couldn’t imagine actually going in there. Besides, didn’t they get shut down?”

“Dey back up an’ runnin’,” Da’Quarius said. “I can pick out my present dere. Prolly get it cheap. I can prolly find a nice gift for you and Helen too.”

Rose thought for a moment, conflicted. Finally, she gave in. “OK,” she said. “Let’s go the flea market.”

***

“So what am I supposed to do?” Helen said, leaving Paulie’s office in his Santa Claus outfit. “Say ‘ho ho ho’ and tell these little snot factories that they’ve been good?”

“Something like that,” Paulie said, showing Helen to the big wooden chair she’d be sitting in for the afternoon. “Just ask them what they want for Christmas and give them a candy cane afterwards.”

“I can probably get some dirt on the parents,” Helen said. “Find out what they’ve been doing in the privacy of their disgusting homes.”

“No dirt,” Paulie said. “Just tell them to help their parents with some chores and shit. If any of them gives yo any kind of sob story about their parents divorce or something, just tell them that their parents love them no matter what.”

“Where the hell are you getting this crap?” Helen asked.

Paulie ignored Helen and looked out the window. “They’re coming,” he said. “Get in character, Helen!”

The door opened and the first family walked in. It was an middle-aged couple with a young boy. He clutched his teddy bear in his hand as he looked around at Paulie’s decorations. They stared at a silent Helen until she was nudged by Paulie.

“HO HO HO!” Helen shouted, trying to deepen her voice. “Merry Christmas, little boy!”

“Santa!” the boy shouted, running to Helen and jumping on her lap.

“My damn hip!” Helen yelled as the kid got comfortable.

“Is that Santa an old lady?” the husband asked Paulie.

“No,” Paulie said. “He’s a war vet. Took some shrapnel in the neck. Don’t worry though. He’s not one of those messed up war vets.”

“Oh,” the father replied. “Can we get a large mushroom pizza and a small cheese while we’re here?”

“Certainly,” Paulie said, smiling.

More people started to come into Paulie’s, and Paulie had to get busy behind the counter. As much as he wished he cold referee Helen with the kids, he was going to have to count on her not to offend anyone too much.

“And what do you want for Christmas, little boy?” Helen said, being very inconsistent with her Santa voice.

“I want a Disney Infinity game with a Captain America and Thor and Iron Man,” the boy said.

“Nonsense,” Helen said. “You want a firetruck and candy. All kids like candy.”

“But Daddy and Mommy said Santa would bring Disney Infinity with Captain America and Thor and Iron Man if I did all of my chores and got good grades!” the boy said loudly.

“Well maybe you should ask them to buy it for you,” Helen said. “Santa owns a wood shop with a bunch of slave elves. How the heck are they supposed to make whatever the heck it is that you’re asking for, kid?”

“Helen,” Paulie said, walking towards the edge of the counter. “I think Santa is more cheery.”

“I mean: HO HO HO,” Helen said, putting on a big, stupid grin while staring daggers at Paulie. “Santa will bring you Admiral America, the tin man,and all of their ridiculously named buddies. Do your chores and eat your vegetables! Merry Christmas! You good? Take a hike, kid.” She pushed the kid down and handed him a candy cane. He ran back to his parents, smiling. She looked and saw the crowd that was gathering inside and outside of Paulies.

“Oh shit,” she said to herself. “I knew I should have said no to this.”

A chubby little girl ran over and jumped on Helen’s lap. “Shit,” Helen muttered. “I hope your parents didn’t pay for you by the pound! What do you want for Christmas?”

“I dunno,” the girl said with a shrug.

“I’ll get you a Barbie doll,” Helen said. “One with a nice rack.”

“Excuse me,” the girl’s mother whispered in Helen’s other ear. “We don’t buy our daughter Barbie dolls. We don’t want her to have negative body issues when she’s older.”

“Negative body issues?!” Helen said. “Lady, you better pray that your daughter models herself after Barbie and not John Friggin’ Candy like you did.”

***

Rose followed Da’Quarius around the flea market, looking for presents around all of the folding tables and stands. Da’Quarius stopped and looked at a table full of electric meters. “Wow,” he breathed.

“Now what would you want with an electric meter?” Rose asked.

“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said. “It’s just cool.”

“Where did you get these?” Rose asked the vendor selling them.

“Are you a cop?” he asked.

“No,” Rose said. “Just a curious shopper.”

“Don’t worry about where I got these,” the vendor said. He was an old hispanic man with a gray goatee. He wore a light jacket despite the cold and bitter wind chill.

“What are they for?” Rose asked.

“You take your meter out and plug one of these in,” the vendor said. “The power company doesn’t know you switched them, and you get free power. It’s a loophole in the system. They can’t do shit about it.”

“Still sounds illegal,” Rose said.

“Come on,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen would love to get free power! She always said that the power company is run by a bunch of slimy Je-”

“We’re leaving,” Rose said, pulling Da’Quarius away from the table.

“I’ll be here if you change yo mind!” the vendor called.

“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Wha’chu do dat for?”

“Those are stolen,” Rose said. “We can get arrested for buying those meters. They are property of the electric company.”

“You can’t own electricity,” Da’Quarius said. “It’s a force of nature. Next they’ll bill you for the air an’ water.”

“You do get billed for water,” Rose said.

“See!” Da’Quarius said. “I can’t wait to see you opening yo checkbook to pay yo sunshine bill next month.”

Rose sighed. They had been at the flea marked for nearly an hour and Da’Quarius hadn’t found anything he wanted for himself or to to buy as a gift for anyone else. She adjusted her scarf and wondered how Helen was doing, playing at being Santa.

***

A little girl sat on Helen’s lap, babbling on and on about what she wanted for Christmas, and Helen was finding it very hard to pay the slightest bit of attention. “…and I wanna Barbie mermaid, and I wanna Frozen Elsa doll, and I wanna Dora Guitar, and I wanna….”

“You want an awful lot of stuff,” Helen interrupted. “I checked my list, and you’re not exactly curing cancer out there, kid.”

“What?” the little girl said, looking into Helen’s face.

“There’s kids in Ethiopia who don’t have two sticks to play with,” Helen said. “But they don’t have Christmas over there anyway.”

“Why not?” the little girl asked.

“They wouldn’t know Jesus Christ from Frank Sinatra,” Helen said. “I tell you what; you be good, eat all of your vegetables, and take out the garbage, and we’ll see about some of those toys.”

“OK,” the little girl said.

“Now get off my lap,” Helen said, lightly pushing the girl off of her. “Greed is a sin. Maybe tone it down a notch while you’re making these major life changes.”

“OK,” the confused little girl repeated, taking the candy cane from Helen. She shuffled off after her parents.

***

“Tony!” Paulie shouted. “Where’s those meatball grinders?!” He turned and saw that Tony wasn’t in the kitchen anymore. He was out mingling with the crowd. “Dammit, Tony,” he said under his breath.

“You wanna picture with Santa?” Tony asked the couple who were watching their daughter tell Santa what she wanted for Christmas.

“That’d be great!” the mother said.

“Forty bucks,” Tony said.

The mother reached in her purse and handed Tony two twenties. He put the money in his pock and started to walk away.

“Wait,” the mother said. “What about our picture?”

“What?” Tony said. “You don’t got a camera on your cell phone?”

“Tony!” Paulie called. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Get your ass back here!”

“I got it covered, boss,” Tony said. “I figured we’d be busy, so I called Pimple Puss in to help us out.”

“You did?” Paulie asked. “Where is he?”

“He’s taking orders!” Tony replied.

Paulie turned to see his normal delivery boy, who Tony had nicknamed Pimple Puss, running the register and taking orders. “It’s so busy I didn’t even see him show up. Come on, Tony. I’ll join you in the kitchen after I see how Helen’s holding up.”

Just then, someone gave Tony some kind of signal. “Hold that thought, boss,” Tony said. “I have to take a quick break. I’ll meet you in the kitchen in five.”

“What?!” Paulie shouted after Tony, who was leaving through the back door. “My sister is getting nailed over here!”

***

“Look at dis!” Da’Quarius exclaimed, running over to a table with video games and electronics. “An Xbox One! I know what I want for Christmas!”

Rose walked beside Da’Quarius and looked over the Xbox that Da’Quarius had found. It was in a yellow shopping bag and had the controls and wires jammed in the bag with it. “Do you have the box for this?” she asked.

“Nope,” the vendor said. He stood with his arms crossed as Rose looked over the bag. He had a tight green shirt that showed his fat rolls as if they were muscles. “It’s refurbished.”

“Oh,” Rose said. “Does it come with any games?”

“I don’t know,” the vendor said. “There might be one inside it.”

“What’s that red stuff on the top of it?” Rose asked. “Is that blood or spaghetti sauce?”

“Damn, you ask a lot of questions,” the vendor said. “You a cop?”

“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Rose asked. “I used to be a police dispatcher, but I retired years -”

“We closed,” the vendor said, pulling the Xbox off the table and into a large cardboard box under the table.

“But the Xbox!” Da’Quarius called.

“We outta stock,” the vendor said. “Try Best Buy, pigs.” The vendor stood cross armed, staring at them until they left.

“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “I really wanted dat Xbox.”

“You don’t care that it was probably stolen?” Rose asked.

“Look around,” Da’Quarius said. “Most of da stuff here is stolen. That Asian guy had movies on his table that ain’t even in theaters yet. I’m sorry, Rose. I really thought this was a good idea. I guess I messed up.”

Rose watched as Da’Quarius walked away, dejected. She had been annoyed with him and short with the vendors since the minute they stepped into the flea market, and she had forgotten that Da’Quarius had come from a different world than she did. Then, she saw something out of the corner of her eye that might just cheer him up.

“I see Santa over there, Da’Quarius,” she said. “You want to go tell him what you want for Christmas.”

“Dat’s not Santa,” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s just some guy trying to get enough money to keep his ass buzzed until New Years. ‘Sides, dat Santa’s black.”

“Who’s to say what color Santa is?” Rose asked. “As long as you believe, he can be black or white. He can be anything.”

“Except Jewish,” Da’Quarius added.

“Yes,” Rose said, laughing despite the comment. “Except Jewish.”

“OK,” Da’Quarius said. “I’ll go sit on that fat nigga’s lap.” Rose handed Da’Quarius a ten dollar bill, and he ran off to sit on Santa’s lap.

“HO HO HO!” Flea Market Santa yelled in a raspy as Da’Quarius approached. Da’Quarius put the ten in Santa’s donation bin, and sat on his lap. “What’s your name, little boy?”

“Da’Quarius.”

“Well now, Da’Quarium,” Santa said. “What do you want for Christmas this year?”

“Honestly,” Da’Quarius said. “I can’t think of a single thing I want.”

“Really?” Santa asked. “Nothing at all?”

“No,” Da’Quarius said, shrugging. “I have a good home with a loving family. That’s more than any of the other kids I was brought up with will have this Christmas. Rose and Helen are everything to me. I don’t want anything else.”

“Dat’s stupid,” Santa said, breaking character. “How about you ask Santa to fix dat hand of yours?”

Da’Quarius looked at his deformed hand that he called his lobsterclaw. “You really gonna take a shot at my hand?” he asked. “Yo face look like da ass end of a pitbull.”

“Why don’t you ask for an Xbox or something?” Santa asked, not seeming to hear Da’Quarius’ insult.

“Because that mo’ fucker up dere stole dat shit,” Da’Quarius said. “I’ll get one when I can earn it myself. Rose, Helen, and my Unca Paulie taught me dat much at least.”

“Bitch, get off my lap,” Santa said, shoving Da’Quarius off. “Come up in here talkin’ ’bout stolen shit. You a damn cop?”

“Fuck you,” Da’Quarius said. “Suck an elf’s dick!” Da’Quarius turned and quickly met up with Rose.

“All set?” Rose asked.

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “We better go. Dat Santa is pissed. I hope you didn’t hear how dat ended.”

“No,” Rose said, wiping a tear from her cheek once Da’Quarius was ahead of her. “I didn’t hear a word.”

“Pissing off that cranky Santa makes me miss Helen,” Da’Quarius said.

“Me too,” Rose said.

“Let’s go spend the rest of the day wit her at Paulie’s,” Da’Quarius said.

“That’s a wonderful idea,” Rose said, beaming.

***

“I’m sorry,” Helen said, no longer even trying ti sound like an authentic Santa Claus. “But I don’t share your enthusiasm over these Chinese fighting turtles.”

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the boy with thick glasses and curly hair said.

“Because that makes a difference,” Helen said. “Look, kid. Let me put it in perspective for you. You know what I got for Christmas when I was in prison?”

“No,” the boy replied.

“Why would you?” Helen asked. “I got a beating. If I complained about the beating, I’d get raped by the guards then beaten again for being a snitch. So you understand why I think these stupid turtles aren’t for you.”

“I dunno,” the boy said, shrugging.

“Of course you don’t know,” Helen said. “Our wonderful education system fails another one. Now scram, and maybe you’ll get your pet gook turtle or whatever. Next year get some American role models.” Helen shoved a candy cane into his hand and pushed him towards his parents.

Helen swore as the bespectacled boy trotted away after mumbling some more nonsense about turtles. Never in her nearly eighty years on the planet Earth had she heard of anything as ridiculous as whatever that kid had wanted. Before she could complain about her hip, another kid, who was way too big, sat on her lap.

“Good god,” Helen said. “You sure you’re young enough to sit on Santa’s lap?”

“I don’t know,” the hispanic girl said. “I’m thirteen.”

“Thirteen?!” Helen exclaimed. “Why the hell would you even want to meet Santa?! When I was thirteen, I was already dating high school girls.”

“Those two made me do it,” the girl said, motioning to the two men smiling and taking pictures.

“You’re doing great, Esmerelda,” Lee Fuchs said. “Smile for the camera. Take the picture, Harold.”

“How do you work this damn camera?” Harold asked, hitting the side of the digital camera. “I told you this thing needed film.”

“Oh,” Helen said. “You’re the little girl those two peppermint patties adopted.”

“We’ve met before,” Esmerelda said.

“Yes,” Helen said. “We all have. Ho Ho Ho. What do you want for Christmas, little girl?”

“World peace,” Esmerelda said, straightening her back and smiling. Lee clapped his hands proudly and silently. Harold opened the camera to check for film, and the batteries fell to the floor.

Helen gave Lee the stink eye. “You trying out for Miss America?” she asked Esmerelda. “You better ask Santa for a set of D cups and a smoking hot ass then. How about you ask for an escape hatch to get out of that house of theirs?”

“I’d settle for a new phone or a blu-ray player,” Esmerelda said, smiling.

“That’s more like it,” Helen said, making the sign of the cross with her right hand in front of Esmerelda. “Bippity boppity boo. Merry Christmas.”

“Oh,” Esmerelda said. “Is that all? I’ve never done this before.”

“No,” Helen said, watching Lee argue with Harold over the camera. “Listen, Goya bean. If those two fruitcakes ever give you any shit, you come see me or Da’Quarius, OK?”

“OK,” Esmerelda said, nodding.

“Now run along,” Helen said. “My hip is killing me and that JLo perfume you’re drenched in is going to make me puke in a minute. Wait… I forgot your candy cane.”

“Thank you,” Esmerelda said, taking the candy cane from Helen.

“Keep that away from those two,” Helen said, motioning to Harold and Lee. Lee had taken taken the camera from a cranky Harold and was trying to get it to turn back on. “You won’t want to eat that after they’ve used it to tickle each other’s prostates.”

Esmerelda nodded once and trotted off to the two men that adopted her. Lee got the camera working just on time to get a picture of Helen dressed as Santa Claus, flipping them off.

“Send me a copy of that, Almond Joy,” Helen said. “I want it for next year’s Christmas card”

“Sure, Helen,” Lee said, rolling his eyes.

Harold squinted his eyes for a moment. “That’s Helen?!”

***

“Where the hell is that Tony?” Paulie said, leaving kitchen and looking thought the crowd in his pizzeria. “That Stunad is killing me!” Tony had been coming and going all day. Every time Paulie let Tony out of his sight, he disappeared. He’d return a minute later saying he felt ill or he had to take a short break. Finally, Paulie had enough.

“Dammit,” Paulie said, pushing through his crowd of customers. “This is the busiest we’ve ever been, and that Tony is off somewhere playing hopscotch or badminton. He better hope I don’t get my hands on him!”

Paulie was taking a trash bag full of burnt pizza and grinders out back when he finally found Tony. He was out in the alley behind Paulie’s, counting a large wad of bills in his hand. There were two men carrying a Christmas tree behind him.

“What the hell is this?!” Paulie shouted.

“Hey!” one of the men moving the tree said. “You said this wasn’t a problem.”

“It’s not,” Tony said. “Go back inside, Paulie.”

“Don’t tell me what to do in my own establishment!” Paulie said. “You stole all those trees from the Greek?!”

“I didn’t steal nothin’,” Tony said. “I just let some buddies store them in the alley.”

“Hey,” the other man carrying the tree said. “You sure we should be talkin’ business in front of this guy?”

“He’s cool,” Tony said. “Paulie ain’t no snitch.”

“You’re right,” Paulie said. “But I don’t want this shady shit goin’ on back here! Get these trees outta here! You and I are gonna have some words tonight, Tony. You don’t treat my place of business like this. Not now. Not ever. You got me.”

“I got you,” Tony said. “I just needed a bit of extra money for Christmas. It gets tough around the holidays.”

“Tony,” Paulie said. “If you ever need any money, you know you can come see me.”

“I know,” Tony said. “But you do enough. You let me live here rent free, you pay me well to make pizza, and you forgive my thick headedness when I do something like let my pals store stolen Christmas trees behind your alley.”

“What are friends for?” Paulie asked. “I know you’d do the same for me.”

“I hate to spoil the moment,” one of Tony’s friends said. “But these trees ain’t gonna move themselves.”

“Then why hell are you standing there like a six foot pile of shit?” Paulie asked. “Move your ass and get those trees off my freakin’ property. Tony, you’re coming back inside. I can’t keep up on my own, Pimple Puss is about to pass out, and I haven’t been able to check on my sister all day!”

“Shit,” Tony said. “What’s that commotion in there?”

“I don’t know,” Paulie said. “We better get back in there.” He raced back in with Tony right behind him.

***

“I can’t wait to see Helen,” Da’Quarius said. “I bet she made like fifty kids cry today.”

“Helen’s sweet when she needs to be,” Rose said. “I’m sure the kids loved her.”

Rose and Da’Quarius were nearly bowled over as the crowed quickly exited Paulies. Nearly all of the kids were crying hysterically. “Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “What’s going on in there?”

“Excuse me,” Rose said, trying not to be knocked down. “What’s happening?”

“It’s awful,” a woman said, carrying a loudly sobbing toddler. “Santa’s dead!” The child started screaming louder as the mother started assuring her that Santa was not actually dead.

Rose and Da’Quarius fought with ferocity to get into Paulie’s. They got in as the last of the customers were leaving. Paulie and Tony got in from the back at the same time. They all slowly approached a motionless Helen, dressed as Santa and slouched in the big, red chair.

“Oh my God,” Rose said, putting one hand to her mouth and the other on Paulie’s arm.

“Helen,” Paulie breathed. Da’Quarius stood on his other side, saying nothing.

“This is my fault,” Tony said. “If I hadn’t been hoarding those trees and blowing you off, you could have….”

“Shutup, Tony,” Paulie said. “It’s not your fault. Don’t you go thinking that for a friggin’ second.”

Seconds passed as if they were minutes and then hours. Finally, Paulie reached out and grasped Helen’s shoulder. She didn’t move. “Helen,” he repeated, just louder than a whisper. “She was my mother, and I never got to tell her that I -”

“HO HO HO!” Helen shouted, waking up and scaring Paulie half to death. “Merry Christmas and a happy Easter!” Her head fell to her chest once more, and she began snoring loudly. A loud fart emanated from her bottom.

“Oh dear,” Rose said, grasping her chest and sitting down in the nearest booth. She began to laugh with the other’s as they sat down too. “I think we better get her home.”

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Bitty Claus needs her nap!”

They all laughed once again in the emptied pizzeria.

***

Bing Crosby crooned on about a white Christmas as Helen, Rose, Da’Quarius, Paulie, and Tony enjoyed Christmas Eve on Freedom Lane. Helen was sneaking brandy in her egg nog when she thought Rose wasn’t looking, Da’Quarius and Paulie were laughing about their respective days, and Tony was happy that Rose had invited him over and he didn’t have to spend Christmas Eve alone in his small apartment above the pizzeria.

“I love this song,” Helen said, closing her eyes.

Rose gave Da’Quarius a look that told him not to bring up the racial stuff.

“This is a good one,” Paulie said. “Always put a lump in my throat.”

“I always thought it was racist,” Helen said. “Seriously. White Christmas? Where’s all of Bing’s black friends? Shoveling the snow in front of the horse stables?”

Da’Quarius gave Rose a look and the two started laughing. Helen opened her eyes and started laughing as well.

“I almost forgot,” Tony said, pulling a large black bag from next to the couch. “These were done right on time for Christmas Eve, Paulie.”

“Your buddy got them done?!” Paulie said, getting out of the chair and taking the bag from Tony. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Christmas surprise,” Tony said. “I took care of the bill, so you’re square with Carl too. Merry Christmas.”

“You didn’t have to,” Paulie said. “But thanks. There’s one here for you.” Paulie took one of the small boxes out and handed it to Tony. “Don’t open it until everyone has one.”

Paulie passed out the small, white boxes until everyone had one, including himself. “Ready everyone?” he asked. “Open them up!”

The gang all tore open their boxes and looked inside. They were all surprised. Paulie reached in his own box first and pulled out the coonskin cap and placed it on his head. “Merry Christmas, everyone!” he shouted.

“Just like Davy Crockett,” Helen said, putting her cap on and pushing the tail off to the back. “They’re wonderful!”

Rose held hers in her hand and stared at it. “Did these raccoons have to die to make these hats?” she asked.

“No,” Paulie said. “These raccoons died in the woods, right here in Connecticut. They were not killed for their skin.”

“OK,” Rose said, placing her own hat on her head. “That makes me feel better.”

“Paulie,” Da’Quarius said, his own coonskin cap atop his dreadlocks. “Did dese coons die because they stole a certain someone’s backpack?”

“I dunno, kid,” Paulie said. “The ways of nature are a mystery to even me.” He gave Da’Quarius a wink as he poured himself another egg nog from the large punch bowl on the cocktail table.

“Merry Christmas everyone!” Da’Quarius shouted.

Rose sat next to Helen and put her head on her shoulder. Helen kissed her gently on her forehead. Tony and Paulie joyfully argued about their day and the what the look on Eli the Greek’s face was when he woke up to find his tree lot cleared out. Da’Quarius shook the boxes under the tree while Helen told him to cut the racket out so she could listen to Bing.

“I’m dreaming of a white… white… white… white… white…”

“Dere goes dat racist bitch again!” Da’Quarius said.

“You shut your vulgar trap!” Helen shouted. “I’m going to stretch you out, use your asshole as a stocking, and fill you full of coal!”

“Good God!” Paulie exclaimed.

“Helen!” Rose said.

Da’Quarius laughed. “I’m just playin’, bitty,” he said. “This song is startin’ to grow on me. I bought you an MP3 player and put Bing and all those old racists on it.”

“Really?” Helen asked. “That’s sweet of you. Why don’t you pick a present out. I bought you the one that’s wrapped in the bright orange wrapper.”

Da’Quarius turned and went under the tree, looking for the present.

“You sly girl,” Rose said. “I didn’t know you bought him something on your own.”

Helen laughed. “I’m full of surprised,” she said. “It’s just a little something from me to him.”

Da’Quarius found the box that Helen described. “This is heavy,” he said. “I wonder what’s inside!” Da’Quarius started to shake the box next to his head.

“Don’t do that!” Helen said, getting up and spilling her egg nog to the floor. “It’s loaded!”

“It’s what?!” Rose exclaimed.

A loud bang emanated from the box, and a hole appeared in the ceiling above Da’Quarius. Another hole on the top of the box began smoking.

“You gave him a loaded gun?!” Paulie yelled, taking the box away from Da’Quarius. “Are you off your friggin’ rocker?!”

“I had my first gun when I was his age!” Helen shouted.

“The kid could have blown his head off!” Paulie retorted. “What’s the matter with you?! Madon!”

Rose joined in the shouting as Da’Quarius sat back down. Tony was laughing hysterically on the other side of the room while Helen argued with both Paulie and Rose at the same time. Da’Quarius smiled. It wasn’t the family bonding most kids would get on Christmas Eve, but he wouldn’t have traded it for anything on the planet.

“Merry Christmas, Da’Quarius Sherman,” he said to himself. “Merry Christmas.”

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2 thoughts on “Merry Christmas, Da’Quarius Sherman!

  1. Pingback: Table of Contents | Budgie Bigelow's Blog

  2. Pingback: Freedom Lane | Budgie Bigelow's Blog

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