“The Ancient Egyptian god of creation, Amun, is believed to reside inside the sun. So is the Akan creator deity, Nyame and the Dogon deity of creation, Nommo. Also in Egypt, there was a religion that worshiped the sun directly, and was among the first monotheistic religions: Atenism.”
Whew, isn’t Google great. Okay, so you probably know where I am going with this. Yes, there was a total eclipse of the sun today. I hope all of you took the opportunity to look at it, via live streaming on CNN or, by poking a pinhole in a piece of cardboard and watching it magically appear on the sidewalk, or as most smart folks did; through those totally cool $2.00 glasses.
I chose the CNN route, because I had a very busy weekend, played golf this morning and am now rushing to get my blog to you dedicated readers.
But, I did have a thought. Let’s say we go way back in time, before the smarty pants Egyptians, with their cleverly named deities. I mean really, really far back, before all those cool religious books, like the Koran and the Torah and the Bible. I know, I said this blog was non-political and the last thing I want to do is discuss religion, but, please bear with me. I’m talking about:
This guy; Gronk the caveman.
Here’s a guy who had to learn everything on his own. No Google, or Siri or even a morning newspaper to read with his hot cup of joe. No, Gronk was the original self-sufficient “everyman”. I’m sure he had a lot of questions about, well, everything, and plenty of time on his hands to ponder them.
So, what did he think of that bright, sometimes hot yellow ball in the sky? And, why did it keep moving around and go away, turn into a million pieces in the darkness, and then come back again? Was that god?
I know some of you are saying, well duh, look it up. There are oodles of studies on early man from all those “sic” periods. But on a daily basis, I would think that Gronk would be pretty fond of “old sol”. It kept him warm. It grew his food. It even gave him a nice tan so he looked buff for Mrs. Gronk.
So, what would Gronk do if he experienced a total eclipse of the sun? There he is lounging around on his favorite rock, working on that tan, when everything goes dark. He looks up. There are no fluffy things covering it up, and the twinkles aren’t up there yet. Poor Gronk must have felt quite confused. But then, aren’t we all.
As a tribute to Gronk, here are a few of my favorite “Farside” caveman cartoons:
Here is Chapter 9 of Pinky’s Drive-In:
The shots and beers were really starting to take their toll, so I decided to order a cup of coffee to clear my head. We had been at it for several hours and no one left yet, even though the snow had changed to sleet.
It reminded me of the Big Snow, as my mind wandered briefly back to 1967, and the wild times we had back then. It’s unlikely that an event of that magnitude would reoccur, but it sure was coming down hard.
I stepped outside to check it out, and decided I better start heading for home now, or stay in town at my sisters for the night. The more I thought of driving 90 miles north the better staying sounded. It just wasn’t worth risking being stopped by the state police or getting into an accident, so I called home and arranged to spend the night in Chicago.
The brief shot of fresh air and feeling of relief that I wasn’t going to attempt vehicular suicide seemed to rejuvenate my senses.
“Hey, Ken, do you still have any contact with Marlene?” I asked.
“Sure, Woody, she actually still lives a few blocks from here. She hooked up with a guy a year or so after our divorce. Let’s see now, that must have been about 30 years ago,” he said as he glanced up, as if trying to remember way back when. “As a matter of fact, last week would have been our anniversary. I called her and asked for a little, you know what, for old times, but I got the same answer I get every year.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“She just laughed and said, ‘Now I remember why we got divorced!’” Ken chuckled.
“She would have been here tonight, but she was out of town, visiting our daughter.”
Marlene and Ken met during the winter of 1966 and got married way too fast and way too young. Ken was just 17 and Marlene was 19. They had a daughter together, but divorced after just a couple years. Marlene stood about 5’ 4” with a slender figure, had baby blue eyes, and usually wore her light blonde hair pulled back. I think her parents split up or something, so she moved in with her aunt Nancy. Even though she had it pretty rough, Marlene always seemed to have a warm smile.
“Did I ever thank you properly for hosting my wedding reception?” said Ken.
“Wow, I haven’t thought of that for years,” I said. “I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face when she realized we disassembled the pool table, luckily, she didn’t tell my dad.”
Ken and Marlene didn’t have much money when they got married, so I volunteered my folks’ basement for the after-wedding party. My basement was finished with paneling, and quite often, some of the boys came over and shot pool. My folks were off on a vacation, so I asked permission to hold the gala, and they agreed, if we cleaned up afterwards.
We had the bachelor’s party the night before at Ken’s older brother’s apartment. What a blast that was. We were ages 17-19, and a little too young to hire strippers, but played poker, and of course it got drunk out. Mickey got a hold of Ken’s shoes and painted HELP! HELP! In bright white letters on the soles, for everyone to see when he knelt at the altar. It caused quite a stir for the congregation.
“I’m sure you did thank me,” I said to Ken. “Speaking of Marlene, whatever happened to her aunt with the two boys? I recall a time before you guys got hitched, that we helped them out around Christmas time,” I said.
“Yeah, we really had the spirit in us, didn’t we? Marlene still talks about it when I come over to see my daughter over the holidays,” said Ken. “I don’t know where the two boys ended up, but I’ll bet you they still remember that Christmas.”
A Special Christmas for the Boys
One Friday night in mid-December, as usual, the boys needed a place to hang out after Pinky’s closed for the evening. Ken suggested that we go over to Marlene’s place. She was alone with her two nephews while her aunt worked late as a waitress in a cocktail lounge. They lived in a 2-bedroom apartment just a block west of Pinky’s. It was small, but adequate for the four of them. The boys slept in bunk beds in the back bedroom near the kitchen, Aunt Nancy had the room off the dining area and Marlene used a day bed in the parlor.
When we arrived at the apartment, about 15 of us, we loaded the fridge with beer. One by one, we opened our first quart and claimed a spot on the sofa, grabbed a chair from the kitchen, or settled for an area on the living room floor against a wall. It became a ritual. The first one out of the kitchen got the choicest seats in the room.
Jeff wanted to catch the end of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey game, but to his dismay, it was preempted for a special showing of Gene Capra’s 1947 Christmas classic, “its A Wonderful Life”. It had a great cast. James Stewart was married to Dorothy Malone, Lionel Barrymore played Mr. Potter, Thomas Mitchell was the absent-minded Uncle Billy and Ward Bond played the policeman.
Everyone was quite pleased that the movie was showing, except for Jeff. He was a huge hockey fan and the Blackhawks were battling with the Montreal Canadians for 1st place. The Christmas special didn’t set to well with him.
“Goddammit, I hate this movie. What happened to the game? It was tied up in overtime!” whined Jeff.
The way he complained on and on, you would have thought that he had a grand bet on the game. Pat tried to shut him up by going into his famous James Stewart impersonation.
“Uh, uh, Jeff, oh, Jeff what’s the matter there, young fella? You, you seem to be a bit upset about, uh, something,” Pat stuttered with a crackling voice as he put his hands on his hips and looked at Jeff. “Did you misplace Zuzu’s rose petals? Would it make ya feel better if I lassoed the moon for ya? Or how ‘bout I kick old Mr. Potter In the nuts? Would that make ya feel better?” he said as he gestured with his foot. “Well now, don’t just sit their son. Tell old Uncle Jimmy what’s wrong.”
Jeff’s face became redder and redder with anger as Pat continued his teasing. Just as he was about to explode, the pizza guy rang the doorbell. He was right on cue. Jeff jumped up and pointed toward the door.
“Did ya here the bell ring, Pat?” He shouted. “That means Clarence the angel finally got his wings, and you’re about to meet him face to face, you stupid Mick!”
Pat didn’t appreciate the ethnic slur, but knowing Jeff’s quick temper, coupled with his ability to crush him like a bug, he decided to back off.
“Take it easy, Jeff! I’m just messing with you, man,” said Pat, holding up his hands in defense. “The game ended while you were in the kitchen. Bobby Hull slapped one in from the blue line, and the Hawks won 3 – 2.”
Jeff cooled down immediately as everyone breathed a deep sigh of relief.
“Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?” said Jeff.
“I dunno. Maybe it’s because I’m a stupid Mick?” Pat retorted.
This brought a sort of victory smirk to Jeff’s face as he finally laughed it off. Marlene paid for the pizza with the money we all chipped in and laid them open on the kitchen table. We all marched in behind her and helped ourselves. Some of us cracked another beer or can of soda pop as we returned to the living room and sat back down in our spots to watch the movie.
Her nephews, Jimmy and Andy, were about 8 and 6 years old. It was still early evening so they joined us for a while. We made room for them on the floor in front of the TV, so they could lie down with their pillows and blankets. They seemed to really enjoy having company over. I got the feeling the boys didn’t get much attention except for whatever time Marlene would spend with them. Their mom had to work a job and a half just to pay the bills, so they didn’t see too much of her.
Pat, Shawn, Jeff and a couple others set up in the kitchen and played poker. This worked out well because it was a little crowded in the TV area. The rest of us watched as George Bailey discovered the real meaning of Christmas for the umpteenth time. Most of the conversation was reserved for commercial breaks, that is, except for the occasional wisecrack during the sappy parts of the movie.
Andy fell asleep about halfway through so Marlene put him to bed, and Jimmy lost interest after a while. A few of us took turns keeping him occupied. We got a deck of cards and played Go Fish and Crazy Eights, until he too became weary and went to bed.
The apartment seemed drab, considering the time of year. There were no decorations up at all. They didn’t even have a Christmas tree for the boys. Marlene said that they just couldn’t afford it and didn’t even know if her aunt would be able to buy any presents.
The movie ended at about 10 o’clock and we had to clean up before Marlene’s aunt came home. We collected all our trash, and threw it in the dumpster outside the building, as we left the apartment. Ken stayed behind, and some of the boys headed for home, but the rest of us found our way across Western Avenue to the bowling alley. The “Nazi” manager wasn’t on duty, so we could hang out in the lobby for a while.
Each of us found a spot along the wall and lit up a smoke. We sat quietly at first as we felt mellow from the beer, and a little nostalgic after watching that corny old movie. I thought back to the wonderful Christmases I had as a young boy.
My folks, two older sisters, one older brother and I lived on the second floor of our brick two-flat, and my grandma and grandpa lived on the lower level. We celebrated on Christmas Eve. That’s when Santa arrived at our house. Grandma had the best tree, as she always had Grandpa pick out a Scotch pine because she thought it looked fuller. It also cost a dollar more than the others.
Her ornaments were an eclectic collection of different sized and colored round balls, tiny snowmen, elves hanging from their pointy hats, bells, bows, glittered stars and an angel on top. She always used lots of tinsel and garland and the lights in those days were strands of single colored bulbs.
My favorite part was the village beneath the tree. There were about two dozen paper houses, a town hall, a church with a tall steeple up on a snowy hill and an ice skating pond made from a mirror and some cotton for snow. Each building had colored cellophane for windows and small holes in the back were Grandma placed an appropriately colored bulb.
The only gold bulb was used as the Star of Bethlehem and was placed over the manger that was exhibited center stage. The manger was surrounded with camels, dogs, a couple of cows and a small herd of sheep, complete with a family of shepherds. The Three Wise Men knelt just outside and, of course, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus were all aglow inside.
We four kids would lie on our stomachs and imagine that we were citizens of the wonderful miniature town, while Grandma prepared Christmas cookies and eggnog. We didn’t have a fireplace, but somehow Santa came down the chimney anyway. I always wondered how he survived our coal-burning furnace in the basement, but we left a few of the cookies and a small glass of nog for him next to Grandmas’ Christmas tree anyway….
I was the first to speak.
“Did any of you guys play with the kids?” I asked.
“Yea I found some toothpicks so the little one and I played a couple games of pickup sticks,” said Weaser. “They sure are poor, aren’t they,” he said. “I don’t know if they’ll have any presents at all. That’s too bad. They’re nice kids,” he continued.
We all seemed to be thinking the same thing. None of us came from wealthy families. We lived in a middle-class neighborhood and, for the most part, were raised to have solid moral values. Christmas was a special time for us and it didn’t seem right to ignore the fact that little Jimmy and Andy had it so rough. We started to formulate a plan.
Myrat spoke up next.
“I played Santa last year when the Boy’s Club Choir went around to the orphanage,” he said. “Maybe they would let me borrow the suit for a couple hours this year.”
That really set the wheels in motion. There were about ten of us, and we all started talking at once.
“We could have Marlene and Ken take the boys over to Weibolts Department Store to see Santa,” said Shawn. “They could tell us what the boys want for Christmas and we could chip in and get some toys and stuff. Then Myrat could dress up and deliver them on Christmas Eve.”
The planning continued. Jeff even wanted to get involved. He lost his dad several years earlier and felt that he understood what it would mean to them a little better than the rest of us.
“We should get a Christmas tree,” said Jeff. “I think I know how to get one real cheap, from Radke’s lot over on Addison, if you guys don’t mind helping out,” he said with a wink.
“Do you mean a five-finger discount?” I said. “We’ll need a car for that. Can you borrow your brother’s Dodge? I think we can fit a small one in the trunk, or we could strap it to the roof like my folks do.”
I worked part-time at an electrical supply store. During the Christmas season, they stocked twinkle lights and I was sure they wouldn’t miss a few strands from the back room, so I became part of the decoration committee. So much for those moral values I mentioned earlier.
It was already December 16th, so we had just over a week to pull it off. We had to get things moving quickly. The whole gang met the next night at Jeff’s house to figure out who was going to do what. We all wanted to be in on the surprise, so each one of us took a task as if we couldn’t wait to get it done. We even started to figure out how much money we would need to buy the gifts.
I can still recall the good feelings I carried around that next week. I think we all felt it. None of us talked about it, but it was definitely there. The Christmas spirit truly arrived in the hearts of Pinky’s Boys.
The Christmas surprise was foremost in all our minds. When any of us got together that week, the first topic of conversation was about the plan. When do we get the tree? Do we have enough decorations? Where can we get some ornaments? How about the presents? Etc.…
The most critical component was the timing. Everything had to stay in sync and come together at the same time. We all had our own families to consider as well. Christmas Eve was, of course the most important evening of the year. How do we coordinate everything? Who will be available on D-Day, or C-DAY, in this case, to help?
We decided to work backwards. We didn’t want Aunt Nancy to know about it. She deserved a nice Christmas surprise as well. Marlene would have to get the boys and her aunt out of the house for at least an hour on Friday, no later than 4 o’clock. That would give us enough time to trim the tree, string some twinkle lights around some of the windows, and set up some snacks.
Linda, Paulie’s girl, and some of her friends volunteered to make Christmas cookies and candy for the celebration. She even got her mom to lend a hand. It was also decided to include some soda pop and chocolate milk for the boys, and a couple bottles of Chianti for Marlene and her aunt. Things were moving along quite well up to this point. They were even predicting snow for Christmas Eve. It was going to be perfect.
Myrat was the most important person in the preparations. After all, what’s Christmas without Santa? We were in luck, as the Boy’s Club director was pleased to lend him the suit, as long as he returned it by 7 o’clock on Christmas Eve. The Men’s Club Choir was delivering groceries to some unfortunate families that night, and the last stop was the old folks home where Santa was going to hand out gifts. The time-frame was going to be tight, but we felt we could pull it off.
Marlene’s aunt was a little taken aback when she was asked if it was okay to take the boys to see Santa. She knew that she couldn’t afford much and didn’t want her boys to be disappointed. It took a little deception and fast-talking from Ken to get her to agree.
He said that he would like to give each of them one present. Ken said that he would discretely direct them to something they liked that he could afford and buy it on the sly. If they asked Santa for something else, at least Aunt Nancy could say that he was all out of their requested gift and had to substitute Ken’s gift. That way, they would still get something they wanted. Aunt Nancy was most appreciative, and of course agreed to Ken’s generous offer.
Monday night was Visit Santa night. Ken, Marlene and the boys rode the bus the two miles or so to Weibolts. Shawn, Pat and I met them there. We wanted to know firsthand what the boys were interested in. We also needed to do the pricing.
The store was fully decked out for the season. The display windows that faced the sidewalk featured everything to stimulate the mind of a young lad. There was Santa’s workshop with his elves, Rudolph leading the other reindeer over the rooftops, and an extravagant train layout depicting a mountainous village in the Swiss Alps. They also had interspersed the fashions of the day among the elaborate decorations.
The styles of the sixties were as radical as the era itself. The clothes were emerging out of the bobby sox and poodle skirt fashions of the fifties into a much bolder look. Saddle shoes and white bucks were replaced with pointy-toed flats and ‘Beatle boots.’ Blue jeans were now white or black levis, and shirts and sweaters were made of banlon and mohair.
The largest change during the holiday season of the sixties was the symbol of Christmas itself. “Oh Tannanbaum” was depicted as a bright gaudy aluminum monstrosity. It was capitalism at its worst. The aluminum tree sold like nothing before it. You could purchase them in all sizes and they were everywhere. There was even an entire line of accessories for the beast.
Pink balls replaced traditional ornaments. Tinsel wasn’t needed anymore. The whole damn thing was tinsel! You also had to have the red, blue, green, and orange color wheel, so all your envious friends and neighbors could watch your tree magically change colors over and over and over again.
A friend of mine even had two color wheels setup on either side of her tree. Her family always had trouble agreeing on whether to blend the hues, or have them remain constant as the wheel changed colors. What were we thinking? Yuck!
We all met up at Santa’s village. The boys were wide eyed with excitement. The line leading up to Santa was relatively short. There were only about five kids ahead of Jimmy and Andy. Jimmy was the oldest. He told Marlene that he was going to ask for Batman and Robin stuff. He wanted the whole deal, the Bat Mobile, Bat Copter, Batboat, Batman and Robin figures, and all of their archenemies. When Ken heard this, his eyes rolled back in his head. Batman was the hottest toy on the market and also the costliest.
Shawn oversaw the list, so he wrote it all down and priced it out. If we got everything, it would be more than $40.00. We could only afford $25 per kid so we had to scale it back just a bit. Jimmy would have to settle for Batman, Robin and the Bat Mobile. That totaled about $21. He could make the villains out of pipe cleaners. They would probably last longer anyway. We also threw in a baseball to bring it to just under $26.
Andy was next. He was a sweet 6-year old who loved to be read to, and seemed to be more creative than his big brother. Marlene tried to push him toward the artsy crafty stuff. He must have opened every Golden Book in the store, and finally decided to ask for a Spirograph set. Ken was ecstatic. It only cost $10.00. That would allow us to load up on coloring books, crayons, and puzzles for the rest of his gifts. This was great!
By the time the boys were off Santa’s lap, Shawn, Pat and I bought all their presents. We decided to separate from them so they wouldn’t get too curious. You know how nosy kids can be when it comes to shopping bags at Christmas time.
Linda was in charge of wrapping, so we gave the gifts to Paulie who delivered them for us. The shopping trip was a huge success. Next up was the tree!
Tuesday night was tree night. Jeff, Weaser, Arnie, Ski and I made up the tree committee. Our job was to acquire a five to six-foot tree, store it until Friday and covertly deliver and set it up at the apartment. Parts two and three of this plan, storing and delivering, were by far the easy parts. Acquiring it was going to be a bit trickier.
I suppose we could have simply gone to Radke’s tree lot, picked out the perfect fur tree, blue spruce or scotch pine, paid for it, tied it to the roof of Jeff’s brother’s Dodge and stored it in someone’s backyard for a couple of days. No way, Jose! Jeff had a much better idea. He devised a more economically sound plan, that took a little more effort and a lot more risk.
A heavy snowstorm was predicted for Tuesday. Jeff viewed this as a great opportunity. Every Christmas, about half of Radke’s used car lot was converted into a Christmas tree lot. The trees were all stacked up, just waiting to be plucked. What could be easier? All Jeff needed was a diversion for a few minutes so he could grab a tree and make off with it. A blinding snowstorm was just an added bonus.
Tuesday December 21st at about 4P.M. a strong front howled into Chicago from the north. It brought high winds with 40 mile an hour gusts and lots of light powdery snow. It wasn’t the wet stuff that packed well, but the fine pebbly kind that stung your face when it hit, and produced whiteouts when it blew across the roads. It was perfect. We five ‘tree boys’ met up at Pinky’s at six o’clock to put the caper together.
Weaser, Ski, Arnie and I were already sitting in the back room of Pinky’s when Jeff arrived. He came stomping in with snow plastered all over him from head to toe. He shook off, wiped his face with a napkin and joined his crew at the table.
“Hey, Scrubby,” he shouted. “You have any hot cocoa back there. I’m freezing my balls off,” he shivered.
“Coming right, up pal,” responded Scrubby from behind the pickup window.
There was something very, very wrong. We four apprentices sensed an immediate problem. Why was Jeff covered with Snow? Perhaps he couldn’t find a parking spot near Pinky’s and had to walk a block or two in the storm. That would surely explain the state he was in, we thought.
“How ya doing Jeff?” said Weaser.
“No car,” mumbled Jeff.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I said I don’t have a car. My fucking brother’s home on leave and didn’t trust me driving in this shit so I had to walk a mile through two parks to get here.”
Jeff was beside himself. He not only felt cold and wet, but he also felt that he had let his friends down. Without a car, there was no way to pull off the tree caper. Or was there?
“What are we going to do?” asked Ski. “Maybe we should wait until tomorrow, or Thursday?” he said.
“Maybe we’ll have to buy a tree,” added Weaser.
“No way,” Jeff retorted. “I said we were getting the tree tonight and that’s what we’re going to do! I had plenty of time to think about it on my way over here, now listen up.
Radke’s lot is fenced in with a temporary chain-link fence. It’s only about six feet high in the back of the lot. The original plan was to have Woody, Weaser and Ski pretend to be tree shopping to distract old man Radke and his stupid ass son while Arnie snuck past them and heaved a tree over the back fence,” Jeff continued.
“If my brother wasn’t such an ass, I would have the car, and would be waiting with the engine running. Then I’d drag the tree next to me, with my door open, and drop it in front of Moose’s garage. Then Moose would take it from there and hide it in his yard until Friday. Piece of cake, right?” Jeff finished as he gestured with his hands.
“Yeah, right.” answered the crew.
“So now, I’ll just have to carry the tree instead of dragging it with the car,” said Jeff. “Sounds good to me.” I said.
We all agreed to Jeff’s alternate plan.
When Jeff was finished with his cocoa and dried out a little, we five gangsters bundled up and walked out the side door of Pinky’s. The storm worsened. The snow was blowing sideways and we had to cover our faces, as we trudged up the avenue to Radke’s. The lot was only a block down, so we arrived in just a couple minutes.
Jeff cut through the used car portion of the lot and was crouched behind a dumpster adjacent to the cyclone fence. He went completely unnoticed and kept out of sight.
We other four were standing in front of Radke’s, but something was wrong.
The eight-foot-high front gate was locked with a padlock. Old man Radke closed due to the storm. We couldn’t even get in. We looked at each other like lost sheep, cold, wet lost sheep. Jeff was unaware that it was closed, so he was expecting to see some sort of pine tree come flying over the fence at any moment.
“What do we do now?” shouted Weaser as he sheltered his face with his hands.
“I’ll go around the back and tell Jeff to call it off,” said Ski.
Ski ran down the street and disappeared around the corner. He found Jeff still crouched down behind the dumpster, so he approached Jeff from behind and patted him on the back to get his attention. Jeff jumped up from his bent over position and banged his head on the rusted metal hinge on the dumpster.
“Ouch! What the fuck are you doing here? You scared the shit out of me, you moron!” Jeff barked in a loud whisper as he rubbed the back of his head.
“Sorry, man. No need to whisper, the place is closed down,” said Ski. “Woody, Arnie and Weaser want to call it off.”
“No way,” Jeff persisted. “I am not leaving here without a tree! I’ll just climb the fence and throw one over. Give me a boost!”
Ski cupped his hands to form a stirrup as Jeff stepped in and hoisted himself into a vertical pushup position on the fence. As he grabbed the top of the fence, Jeff realized that the temporary structure was too flimsy to hold him steady, but it was too late. He had already lifted his leg over the side, and was committed to the inevitable.
Jeff was forced to straddle the fence as it swayed back and forth beneath him. To make things worse, there was no top bar on the fence. Jeff toppled forward into the tree lot as the top row of links jammed into his crotch! His sleeve got caught as he tried to brace for the fall and ripped a large tear in his jacket, as he landed upside down on top of a perfect 6-foot scotch pine. Ta Da!
Jeff lay there for a moment, holding his family jewels with both hands. When he finally got to his feet, he let out a stream of obscenities that I’m sure rivaled a drunken sailor in a hurricane. The more he cursed and danced around to ease his pain, the louder the laughter rose from the front gate.
Weaser, Arnie and I saw the whole thing. The lot was only about thirty feet long, so we had a perfect view of Jeff’s balancing act, topple and Irish jig. We could also clearly hear his expletives, even above the howling north wind. It was quite a show. Luckily, Jeff wasn’t hurt too badly and recovered quickly.
“Throw me the tree!” Hollered Ski. “The one that broke your fall looks perfect,” he said, motioning toward the Scotch pine.
“Okay, here it comes.” Jeff replied as he hoisted the tree up, and threw it over the fence. “Take it down to Moose’s house and put it in his backyard between the fence and garage!” he said.
Ski obeyed immediately. He caught the tree in mid-air and lifted it onto his shoulder. He took off running down the alley toward Moose’s place. In their haste to hide the tree, however, Jeff forgot that he was stuck inside the lot. There was no way he was going to try his circus act again, so he had to find another way to break out, hopefully without further bodily harm or damage to his clothing. The trees were stacked, leaning on an angle against the brick wall adjacent to the fence. Each tree was bound with twine, so they were easy to handle. If Jeff could pile a few of them against the wobbly fence, he could climb out.
As he started stacking trees, Jeff heard Arnie, Weaser and I shouting at him to hurry. “What’s wrong?” Jeff shouted back.
He thought the ruckus must have alerted old man Radke, or maybe the cops were coming. As he turned to face the front gate, he quickly realized that his latter concern was validated. It was the cops!
Officer Mike was a retired Chicago police officer employed by Mr. Radke to keep an eye on the lot. Mike could only see out of one eye and couldn’t hear too well, which probably explained why he was so late to appear on the seen. He also kind of hobbled, due to being shot in the right hip some years back during a raid on a drug house.
He did, however, still possess a keen sense of duty, not to mention a full set of jagged yellow teeth that glistened in the floodlight as he snarled at Jeff! Officer Mike, a 110-pound German shepherd, was a former member of the Chicago Police Canine squad! Yikes!!
Jeff was frozen in place as he faced the beast. Arnie, Weaser and I started shouting and throwing snowballs at the dog to get his attention. I climbed to the top of the gate.
“Here doggie, nice doggie, doggie want a treat!” I whistled.
Arnie had a direct hit to the side of Mike’s snout that got his attention, causing him to turn and let out a series of the deepest, most frightening barks you’ve ever heard.
The blowing snow was starting to cover Mike’s scruffy fur. He took on the look of a timber wolf as he lumbered toward the gate! Weaser and Arnie jumped back as he attacked. Mike slammed into the gate as he leaped forward on his haunches, and snarled and barked at us as he clawed at the lock and chain! The gate was holding fast.
“Get out of there, Jeff!” shouted Arnie.
Jeff had only one tree piled against the back fence when the dog turned away. That’s all he needed. With three steps and a leap, Jeff was over the fence.
“I’m out,” he yelled. “I’ll meet you back at Pinky’s.”
Arnie, Weaser and I were more than happy to oblige, as we made a left face and ran back up the block to the diner and heard Mike barking as we ran. Jeff got to Pinky’s just a few seconds after us. It was over. The tree caper was a success.
Jeff, Ski, Arnie, Weaser and I sat back in our chairs and took a deep breath. Our hearts were still pounding a mile a minute, as we shook off the snow.
“We made it!” said Ski. “I left the tree in Moose’s yard next to his garage. Now we just have to deliver it and set it up on Friday, right?” he asked as he brushed the snow off his sleeve.
“Right!” answered us other four burglars with a sigh of relief.
By 2:00 on Friday, Christmas Eve, everything and everyone was ready to go. Linda and Paulie wrapped all the presents and packed up the snacks and drinks. We boys collected all the decorations we could from our parents, and I was able to supply several strings of twinkle lights for around the windows.
Moose and Jeff moved the tree to behind Pinky’s parking lot, just about a block away from Marlene’s apartment. The only thing missing was Santa. Where was Myrat? No one heard from him all day.
Santa was to arrive at about 5:30 or 6:00, almost immediately after Marlene, Aunt Nancy and the boys arrived back home. His timing had to be just right. We figured that they would see the tree, decorations, and all the goodies to eat and drink right away. Then, while they were still in a mild state of shock, the “Big Guy” would show up for the ‘piece de resistance’!
Ken’s mom invited Marlene’s family over for a short visit. The apartment was finally vacated at about 4:15, and the well-oiled Pinky’s machine sprang into action. Within five minutes, there were ten of us outside on the sidewalk in front of the apartment complex. Ken had the key and opened up for us. We had to be finished and get out of there in an hour!
Jeff and Arnie went in right behind Ken with the tree. The stairwell was quite narrow, but luckily, the tree was still bound with twine. The rest of us followed carrying the lights, ornaments and food. I started right in, scotch taping my ill-gotten twinkle lights to the picture window, and two side double-hungs that faced the street. They fit just about right, and the multi-colors threw off thousands of facets as they melded with the frosted ice on the panes.
The tree was about six inches too tall for the room, and of course, no one thought to bring a saw. We also forgot a tree stand. Jeff blamed Weaser for the mishap because he was closest to him at the time, and he didn’t feel like taking the hit for this one.
“What do you want me to do?” asked Weaser. “I can’t just shit a saw and Christmas tree stand! Why didn’t you or someone else think of it?” he said, flapping his arms.
“Cool it, guys,” said Shawn. “I have a saw at home and can be back in ten minutes. See if you can find a pot or something that will hold water. I’ll be right back,” he shouted as he ran down the stairs.
Arnie got a stew pot from under the sink. When Shawn returned with the saw, he also had a ball of twine. They filled the pot with water and cut the required length from the trunk, but it wouldn’t stand up in the pot without falling over. Shawn’s brilliant idea was to wrap the twine around the trunk in two places, top and the bottom. He then tied the ends to the drapery rods and the window handles. It worked. The tree stood fine, if we didn’t push on it.
The tree trimmers were next. The lights were put on first. Jeff took charge of holding the tree in place as three of the boys strung the bulbs. Then came the ornaments, garland and finally the tinsel. Within fifteen minutes, the tree was completely trimmed. It was a beautiful sight.
Linda already set out the food, wine and soda pop on the coffee table in the parlor. She put a decorative wreath and two red candles in the center. Everything looked perfect.
“We did it. Let’s go!” said Ken. “They could be back at any time.”
We cleaned up any mess we made, and beat it down the steps into the brisk December evening. We all felt like Santa himself. Most of the boys headed for home to celebrate Christmas with their families, but, Jeff, Shawn and I ducked into an adjacent gangway and hid in wait for Myrat to show up.
Myrat was still incommunicado, so we had to hope that he shows up with the gifts soon. Shawn called his house just before we left the apartment, and his parents said he went over to the Boy’s Club for something. This was good news. He must be getting the Santa suit because he said that he was going to borrow it from the men’s club choir.
Marlene, her aunt and the boys arrived back at the apartment at about 5:45. Marlene saw the twinkle lights and tree in the window, so she placed herself in the way to block the view, as she ushered the family up the stairs. When Aunt Nancy opened the door, she was speechless. She turned to Marlene with a confused look on her face, and tears started to well up in her eyes as she glanced down at the two boys.
“Merry Christmas!” shouted Marlene. She hugged her aunt tightly as she also started to cry.
The boys jumped for joy.
“Look at the Christmas tree!” shouted Jimmy.
“Did Santa come?” added Andy.
“I don’t know?” said Marlene. “Are there any presents under the tree?”
Aunt Nancy quickly went to her bedroom closet and pulled down a couple small gifts from the shelf, but just as she was about to return to the parlor, the doorbell rang. Marlene asked the boys to see who it was.
I’m sure that Jimmy and Andy will never forget the sight they saw as they opened the door. I knew I never would. Shawn, Jeff and I could see the whole thing from our hiding place.
The first thing heard was the sound of a pitch pipe.
“We wish you a merry Christmas. We wish you a merry Christmas. We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”
The entire men’s choir stood on the sidewalk, dressed in their traditional holiday garb. They wore long colorful striped scarves, caped coats and top hats. Some of them even wore knickers with long wool socks and black shoes with large buckles.
As the snow lightly swirled around them, they waved and smiled at the two wide-eyed boys. Aunt Nancy and Marlene rushed to the door. They too were astonished as the men performed a heart-warming rendition of Silent Night and then beckoned everyone to join them in Jingle Bells.
The Choir Director asked permission from Aunt Nancy to present her and the boys with some Christmas gifts. She was overwhelmed. All she could do was nod her head and mouth thank you over and over, as she accepted several bags of groceries, including a turkey and canned ham.
Jimmy and Andy were given baseball caps and wool jackets with the official Neighborhood Boys Club emblem on them. They also got a football, basketball, baseball and bat and fielders gloves. They invited Jimmy to become a member of the Boys Club. The minimum age to join was eight years old, so they told Andy he was guaranteed a membership in a couple of years. The boys accepted their gifts gleefully and thanked the gentlemen politely.
There was one last surprise. The choir members parted the way up to their bus that was parked along the curb. The door swung open as a jolly ho-ho-ho came bellowing from within! Myrat arrived. He was the perfect Santa. He didn’t even need any extra stomach padding and the cold weather reddened up his cheeks and nose just as Santa was described in the infamous Christmas poem. He was truly magnificent!
Everyone shouted at once, “Santa! Santa! Santa!” as the boys ran to meet him.
“Please come inside, Santa for some cookies and milk,” said Marlene.
“Well, that sounds wonderful, answered Santa.” but I can’t stay too long. I’ve got a lot of work to do tonight.”
The boys ran up the stairs in front of Myrat, barely touching the ground. They quickly poured a glass of chocolate milk and presented it to Santa with some Christmas cookies as he entered the parlor. He downed the treat and set the glass on the coffee table.
“Why, that was splendid. Ho-Ho-Ho, and now I have something for you two lads,” he said as he bent over and started to empty his sack.
The boys couldn’t wait to see what Santa brought for them. When Jimmy opened all his Batman stuff, he was elated.
“I told you he was for real!” shouted Jimmy. “Thank you, Santa.”
Andy was just as surprised. He loved his Spirograph and all the coloring books, crayolas, colored pencils and storybooks. He ran up to Santa and gave him a bear hug.
“I love you, Santa,” he whispered as he nuzzled his face in Myrat’s fake beard.
It was time for Santa to go, but Myrat didn’t need to return the suit just yet. We found out that the reason we couldn’t find him earlier was because he was with the men’s choir all day. When Myrat told them why he wanted to borrow the suit, they decided to make him Santa. He had the esteemed honor of joining them as they shed their kindness and generosity to houses, hospitals, orphanages and old folk’s homes throughout the city’s north side. It was the best Christmas he ever had.
Marlene filled us in on everything that happened, a few days later, and we Pinky’s Boys agreed that none of us would take credit for the surprise. It was Marlene’s idea to keep it anonymous. She felt that it would be more meaningful to all of us because, as she put it, a true act of generosity becomes tainted if tribute is made due to the giver. Marlene was right. We all felt darn good about ourselves that night.