April 22: “Advent Santa” by Scott Garson

Happy Friday, Story366! Since I’m posting late again today and had posted earlier yesterday, a lot has happened in between. Firstly, Jake Arrieta threw a no-hitter for the Cubs last night, which was pretty freakin’ awesome. It’s his second no-hitter in eleven starts, which, for you non-baseball fans, has only happened like once or twice ever in 150 years of the sport. I also taught a bunch of classes, went to a tenure and promotion meeting, met with students, had a Moon City Review fiction meeting (and took a story!), and had our semesterly student invitational reading here at MSU, six of our finest selected to read their stories, poems, essays, and comics. Oh, and the Cubs won again tonight. An action-packed day for sure. Tomorrow, at 7 a.m.? Me and the oldest are headed off for an overnight camping trip with the Cub Scouts. Story366 persists, but I’ll be doing double duty tonight, making sure I have a post to put up tomorrow before I leave.

First up is Scott Garson, short expert extraordinaire. Scott runs one of the best lit journals out there, let alone short-short journals, Wigleaf, one of my favorites. Full disclosure, Scott took a story of mine a few years back, but I’ve been enjoying his work for far longer than that. Today’s entry, “Advent Santa,” hails from his second book, Is That You, John Wayne?out from Queen’s Ferry Press (which has definitely become one of my favorite presses).

Like with all short-short books, it wasn’t hard for me to start reading stories in Is That You, John Wayne?and just keep reading, as the stories are so good, plus, every time you finish one and think it’s time to get writing on your blog post, the next one—just a page or two long—is staring at you and you can’t resist. Since I’ll be doing another author/post right after this, I wrenched myself out of the book and hit the keyboard, set on writing about “Advent Santa.”

I could have picked any one of the stories I read in Garson’s book—”Starts,” “The Fake I.D.,” and “Say My Name” all stood out, but “Advent Santa” it is. Maybe it’s my favorite story, maybe I needed a little Christmas tonight, or maybe I see myself in the protagonist of “Advent Santa” more than I see myself in the others (I’ll explain that in a bit). In any case, this protagonist has to ask an uncomfortable favor of someone: His kid is getting out of school early so he has to ask his ex-girlfriend (not the kid’s mom) to pick the kid up and watch him for a couple of hours. The details of the breakup aren’t revealed, but it’s a short, and the prefix “ex” plays a big role. I’m not on speaking terms with any of my exes (not really), but I also know because I have kids when you need someone to watch your kid and you don’t have a choice, you do some strange shit you normally wouldn’t do. So, that’s the first way I was connecting to this unnamed dad hero.

When the dad comes home from work, he finds his kid and his ex all snuggled up under a blanket on the couch, watching A Christmas Carol, and immediately, he starts doing things I’m guessing aren’t his normal after-work behavior: He washes the dishes. My inference? Him, his ex-lady, coziness, the looming holiday, this guy’s thinking it’s time to rekindle the romance, plus, get a mom for his kid at the same time. His wheels are turning, and again, since this is a short and I know I had to read into things a bit more, so were mine.

Only, as this guy’s doing the dishes, a red Jeep pulls up, a guy hops out, and he steals the plug-in plastic lawn Santa that’s lit up on lawn. In broad daylight. It’s not like this is some great decoration, but his kid found it in the garage when they moved in, the guy and his kid cleaned it up and fixed it so it would stand, made it work. Together. Fuming, the guy bolts out of the house, gets in his truck, and takes off after the Jeep, doing everything in his power to reclaim the Santa—which looks exactly like the Santa on the kid’s Advent calendar—no matter what the cost.

That’s as far as I’ll go in terms of the plot, so back to me. Aside from the desperate father-needing-a-sitter-behavior, there’s this rash, irrational reaction to being slighted. I hate it. I’m a really easy-going guy. I like to laugh. I like to see the best in people. But because of some kind of tough-guy Chicago thing, or growing up poor in a big, grabby family, or some kind of mental defect, I don’t tolerate the most minor of wrongs done unto me. If I know that someone is taking something of mine, taking advantage of me, I take that as permission to lose my shit.

So back in college, in scenic Urbana, Illinois, I lived with my engineering/physics pals in this big house, eight of us cramped into every living space, every room, every sub-room. I was a writing major by then, but had stuck it out with my science dorm mates. Anyway, we were guys, and somebody brought home one of those life-sized cardboard cutouts of a woman in a bikini from a bar. I don’t remember her name—she had a name, though—and she wore a skimpy kelly green bikini because the cutout was some kind of St Patrick’s Day promotion, maybe for Coors Light. Me and my roommates had this thing sitting in our house for over a year, right by the door, in the foyer, so we saw her (it …) every day, and most likely, I said hi to her (it …) when I walked in, said bye when I left.

Once a month or so, we had parties, invited all the people we knew from classes, from high school, from our part-time jobs, and usually ended up with fifty people in our house, drinking from a keg of Natural Light and from the Jello shot batch I’d made earlier that day. For a bunch of nerds, we did okay. At one of these parties, however, some friends of a friend of a friend showed up, had a beer or two (at $3 a cup—we actually made money at these ), and when they thought none of us were looking, these scoundrels took the bikini-clad cutout woman from our foyer and headed to the street.

One of my roommates yelled to me, pointed at this injustice, and I ran out after them, only to see the guys getting into a car—our girl (cardboard thing) under their arms—a car that running, that was waiting for them. It was a setup. The guys got in, one of them waved bye-bye to me as they drove off, but I still chased. We had a gravel driveway, so I picked up two big handfuls of gravel, chased the car down to the stop sign (we lived on the corner, so that was like eight feet), and whipped the gravel at the car, denting the shit out of it. At that point, I thought the guys were going to get out of the car and beat my ass, and bad, but no, they sped off, haphazardly into traffic, as if I was the Terminator and the gravel was just an appetizer of the destruction about to be wrought on their asses.

One of my roommates caught up to me, kept me from chasing the car further, said it was going to be okay. “She’s gone, man,” he said, and we went back inside.

So, that’s probably why I chose “Advent Santa” out of all the great stories to write about. For all I know, Scott Garson was one of those fuckers in that car who stole our goddamn cutout and was just writing about what could possibly justify some lunatic to chase off after them, for stealing a shitty cardboard cutout of a girl in a green bikini.

Scott Garson is a tremendous writer and editor. You should check out Is That You, John Wayne? for sure, and Wigleaf, too. He’s a luminary in the field. We’re lucky he’s out there.

Scott Garson