Merry Christmas, 2017



It’s Christmas time! Those that know me would be surprised to know it is my favorite time of year. I don’t outwardly embrace the traditions and have nobody to pass Christmas memories on to, so no Kodak moments. Unfortunately, I tend to dwell in the past. If I was more forward looking I guess I could use the season as a jumping off point for all sorts of new  improvements.

Working Narcotics you meet all sorts of people, some of them you don’t want to admit you know. Others you are proud to admit your association. I worked with Santa Claus for almost fifteen years.  He rode a Harley. So began a post I wrote two years ago:

A recent e-mail and a memory of Christmas past brought Johnny, Santa Claus, hope, and  cynicism to mind. I recently completed my  first novel and received praise for the effort from friends and family. You can find it on Amazon The UNIT. If I don’t promote it who will? I am proud of my work , but realize it suffers for the lack of adult supervision. I found an editor an we are reediting it and will have a print version ready by Easter.

The publication of the book gave me the opportunity to connect with people I had not talked to in years. My high school buddy Joe, who appears in this narrative, send along his congratulations. I even heard from my ex-wife. She appeared concerned that I may have said something negative about her, in the book. I reassured her that she didn’t make the cut and would have to be satisfied with the fact that the book was dedicated to her and all other narcs. This conversation, conducted via e-mail concluded with her observation that based on my latest photo, if the writing gig fell through I could always get a job as Santa Claus. I don’t think she was being sincere.

I don’t object to being favorably compared to Santa Claus. I thought I was doomed because I look at that photo and see automatic entry to any Kennedy party in the country, as a family member. I could pass as the stereotypical drunken Irishman and begin a whole new career as Grand Marshall of Saint Paddy’s day parades. If only I could remember the words to “Danny Boy.”

Then I recall Johnny Gray. I’m no Johnny Gray. Johnny was willing to wade into the mud and slop because the job occasionally called for it, but in the end, he was going home to his family. I was happy to wallow in the same mud and slop and enter into competitions with other agents as to who could stay the longest. My partners and I were fueled by equal parts rage, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and adrenaline. You know you’ve been places the family will never hear about when you undress in the barn, burn your clothes and shower under the hose, before going in the house.

I don’t know how long Johnny did his Santa Gig before we found out about it. Come the season , we immediately tried to co-opt Johnny/Santa into a wide variety of undercover scenarios where Santa Clause would either buy dope or lead the raid team to bust down a door on a search warrant. None of these scenarios required a Santa Claus, but there were the bragging rights to consider. Johnny wasn’t having any of it.

He wouldn’t discuss the possibility. He never admitted to seeing the humor of the situation. We couldn’t even get him into a tittie bar as Santa. Santa’s alter ego, Johnny was not normally adverse to having a sweet young, nearly naked, thing sitting in his lap. We won one concession from Johnny. He showed up at the office in full Santa Regalia and riding his Harley. He strapped on a shoulder holster and populated it with  an 8″, S&W, stainless steel, .44 Magnum. He made three passes up and down the street as we took pictures. He pulled back to the office gave up the gun and related paraphernalia and went off to his next Santa gig. Guess the Santa union must be pretty tough.

This leads me back forty-five years. I was out of high school but not by much. My buddy Joe and I were driving taxi cabs while going to community college during the day. The shift ended at midnight. It wasn’t uncommon that we would buy a six pack and cruise the drag or listen to the police scanner and chase police calls.

I don’t know if towns have a drag anymore. The drag, back then, was a select route usually anchored at both ends by a drive in restaurant. Situated along the route were points of interest to high school boys, the ball fields where the adult league played at night, a bowling alley, and the local theater. The route also had to have off street parking, right along the curb. On the drag you would find the motor heads. With them it was all about the cars, showing off, building and racing. Two motor heads in a parking lot brought the police. Next there were the boys and girls looking for one another. Two or three passes and they were gone. Next were the guys. Two guys together usually meant they would be out most the night. Four guys would be gone in no time, because everybody knew four guys were never going to pick up four chicks. A single guy was trying to make a previously missed connection. All of these combinations could be seen up and down the drag, both moving and parked.

We came into the supermarket parking lot from a side street and passed a patrol car heading for the same side street. Cops were in two man units and we recognized the team as a pair of shit magnets. The passenger officer actually gave us a flick of the wrist wave. This team had a reputation for being fair and pretty reasonable, until they weren’t. They were active officers that led the shift in arrests. They didn’t avoid confrontations and usually won those that they were in without help. Joe and I found that if you did what you said you were going to do, didn’t get caught in an insulting lie and fully acknowledged  their godlike presence on the street, they were easy to get along with and civil. To characterize them as almost friendly was carrying familiarity too far.

As we pulled up to a proper drag parking position, we saw somebody wearing a Santa Claus outfit waving and dancing and shouting at cars while sucking on a bottle of peach schnapps. To those passersby that he knew he shouted obscenities. To passing strangers he shouted Merry Christmas.  By this time it was after midnight, everything but the Dunkin Donuts was closed and traffic was reduced to next to nothing.

Santa Claus turned out to be a guy, George. He was a couple of years ahead of us in school. George worked in one of the factories and he was just killing time until he got drafted, his girlfriend got pregnant or he didn’t make the turn driving home drunk one night. He wasn’t a bad guy. He had limited prospects and nothing that resembled an imagination that was likely to change things.

George let out another Merry Christmas as a car passed. Only this car turned around and pulled into the parking lot. George didn’t really notice. The driver watched him for a couple minutes and started to drive towards George. At this point the shit magnets returned. They pulled right up to George and got out of the patrol car. George saw them, knew what was coming and put his bottle down, hoping it wouldn’t get broken. They had him cuffed in under ten seconds. George overstayed his welcome and didn’t do what he promised the shit magnets he would do, go home.

The driver of the other car and made a tentative approach to the shit magnets. He was in his early thirties and by dress and manner not a normal member of the drag fraternity. He engaged the officers in conversation. It became obvious from head turns and hand motions that George was the topic of discussion. Initially there was a lot of head shaking on the part of the cops. Then one opened the back door of the patrol car, grabbed a handfull of shirt and nose to nose began to have a sincere and open discussion with George. What ever the topic was George was in agreement.

Next, the cops got in their car, the other guy got in his car and began to follow. This was too good to pass up, we fell in behind them. We all ended up at the Dunkin Donuts. During the next twenty minutes the cops poured four cups of coffee in George, took him back to the bathroom and cleaned him up and brushed his Santa uniform. They wished the other guy good luck, gave George the evil eye that promised so much and left the Dunkin Donuts. We were sitting outside. Apparently the shit magnets had a little evil eye left over, because we got it. There was not going to be any explanation from that quarter.

George went off with his new found friend. We went back to cruising, making George’s car the pivot point in our travels. About an hour later we caught him as he was getting out of the other guy’s car. George was thanking him and refusing to take money. We intercepted him at his car. George had a bad case of the snuffles which didn’t take much to turn into tears.

The other guy had a sick five year old in the hospital. She didn’t get to see Santa Claus. Dad promised her Santa Claus would come. He set out to make it happen and the best he could do was a drunk in a supermarket parking lot. The drunk didn’t set out to be Santa Claus, but he answered when called. When he got to the hospital he found out there was more than one little girl that needed to see Santa Claus and the nurses made sure he saw every single child. They also made sure that he had a gift to give to each one.

Was this a life changing event for George? Don’t know, I never saw him on the drag any more. I braced one of the shit magnets. His reply,” there’s more than one way to do the job.”