Wayne laid on his bed, eyes squeezed tight to fight back the tears. He needed to believe. He had to believe. He tried to shut out his parents’ voices that sounded loud and clear through the paper thin walls of their apartment.
“For God’s sake Charlie, the boy is 11, almost 12, not five. Why’d you go off on that Santa Claus garbage?”
“Everyone needs a reason to hope. I want to keep the belief alive. I don’t care if most of the year life here ain’t worth beans, tonight should be magic.”
“Well, you better pray there is some magic ‘cause neither of us can afford any toys for the boy.”
Wayne blocked his ears. He did believe. He did. He would always believe. And this year the impossible might happen. Johnson had introduced the Great Society, so perhaps life would get better. And who could improve life more than Santa?
In the morning he cautiously opened the door. There was something under that sprig of evergreen his dad had found in a trash pile, obviously the leftovers from someone trimming their tree. It didn’t matter if they had a castoff, misfit tree, he had a real present! He ran over in anticipation.
Wayne sat on the front steps of their apartment building. He barely noticed his best friend Johnny come and sit down beside him.
“Hi Wayne. What’s up?” Johnny asked.
“Ah nottin,” Wayne said. “Got a Christmas present.”
“Yeah, me too,” Johnny said. “Stupid Charlie-in-the-box.”
“What’s that?” Wayne said, lifting his head.
“Oh, it’s like that baby’s toy, a Jack-in-the-box,” Johnny said, “but when the music stops this creepy guy with wild, insane eyes comes out. Charlie looks like one of those addicts mom says to stay away from. You know, the one’s that’d kill you if it meant getting their fix? What’d you get?”
“I got a toy train,” Wayne said.
“Not so great. It’s this little wooden thing that a toddler might play with. Only it has square wheels. Square wheels! Get it? It can’t roll. Even if I was two instead of 12…”
“Eleven,” Johnny said.
“…I still wouldn’t be able to play with the stupid train.”
The boys stared at the steps, kicking imaginary dirt off them.
Sarah walked up. Sarah didn’t know who her father was and it was rumored her mother sold tricks to keep food on the table. The adults didn’t talk about it, or to Sarah’s mother for that matter.
“Hey Sarah, what’s up?” Johnny called down to her.
“Santa brought me a stupid doll,” Sarah said. “She’s severely depressed. Just looking at her makes me sad. Thinking about her. Everything about her is just sad.” Sarah started to cry.
“Stupid misfit toys. Looks like factory reject night at the North Pole,” Wayne said.
The others nodded.
Wayne wondered what the rich kids got.
I’m sorry about this story, but haven’t you ever wondered about the poor kids who received the misfit toys on the TV special Rudolph? I’ve always imagined that the rich kids got all of the nice toys and Santa just threw the broken, misfit toys off his sleigh, not even bothering to land on the rooftops to deliver them, not caring if they reached their destinations. I mean, can’t park the sleigh in that neighborhood, can you? You never know, someone might steal the hubcaps. I know: sleigh = no hubcaps.
Actually, a lot of that show bothered me. Santa was a total jerk until he found a way to exploit Rudolph’s nose. He was as big of a jerk as the mean reindeer. As a kid that really bugged me. Wasn’t Santa supposed to be wise and Saintly? After all, “Santa” was short for “Saint”, as in Saint Nicholas.
I used to watch all of the specials, but the only ones I really liked were the Charlie Brown Christmas and the Grinch. Rudolph was by far my very least favorite. As a 10 or 12 year old I liked to watch it to make fun of it, talking back, saying wisecracks, etc.
BTW, the Rudolph TV special came out in 1964, the same year President Johnson started the “Great Society” stuff. Just wanted to put that in there to give my story a little temporal context.
BTW 2, I originally had the parents use a little stronger, more realistic, language, but decided to make the story more family friendly…..