This is a true story. It was told to me by someone I can’t name who knew the late Bob Scratchett. If he hadn’t died during these events, have no
doubt that I would have told the authorities. As it stands, he lived, died and died again. He thought he’d been reborn and yet poetic justice and
the ghosts of Christmas came to claim him.
Bob Scratchett shivered with the cold as he lay in his tepid bath reading The Bronx News. The night was drawing in; making the candle-lit gloominess
of the bathroom seem more cold and depressing. Outside, the sound of voices occasionally broke through the steady thrum of the traffic and even the
sirens had no sense of urgency. Christmas, huh? As he sank deeper into the water, he carried on reading. ‘Strip Santa’ had struck again only this
time he’d been disturbed and had to run.
“Downtown Bronx became the last of the Five Boroughs to be visited by ‘Strip Santa’ yesterday, only this time he got more than he usually
gives! Wearing the well-known red outfit, he was in the middle of completing one of his notorious dances for his bewildered victim. Luckily for the
victim, Jenny Chuzzlewit, 82, her son, Abel, arrived unexpectedly and right in the middle of Jingle Bell Rock. Strip Santa is almost famed for this
part of the song as it signals his finale where he does the ‘Running Man’ whilst leaving with the stolen property.
Faced with amateur boxer, Abel, Strip Santa didn’t have time to get dressed and fled down the street in only the top half of his Santa costume. A
quick-witted passer-by took a snap as he passed by being pursued by the heroic Abel.
Mrs Chuzzlewit said, ‘I was scared and simply didn’t know where to look. This man is crazy to believe dancing is any way to make up for stealing
Christmas presents.’ She added, ‘It’s not like the guy can even dance. He’s terrible at it.’
Police admit to having no leads to go on apart from the Santa pants he left behind and the photo. Officer Nickleby warned, ‘How do you identify
‘Strip Santa’ at Christmas? They all look the same and all have the same lousy Christmas music. All we can say is that people should not open
their doors to Santa this Christmas. Men, women and children aren’t safe from this crazy guy.’
For an awkward moment, Scratchett recalled a Christmas Eve when his ideas of Santa were crushed by finding his dad doing a half-clothed limbo dance
for his undressed Mom. Pushing aside the image of Dad in a white beard and red hat, he threw the paper against the wall as angrily as possible, but
his knocking knees and chattering teeth undermined the effect. ‘Damn police and damn newspapers! How the heck can I make a living when they’re
scaring everyone from answering the doors? I hate Christmas!’
He climbed out the bath and began pulling on his clothes for the night. The grimy mirror reflected a fat, middle-aged guy struggling to pull on a red
pair of pants and grunting as he stuffed his round gut behind the white buttons of the red jacket. He looked at himself and practiced some
expressions. First was the ‘Fonzy cool,’ and then the ‘Big Smile’ followed by the ‘I Hear Ya Buddy.’ The biggest and best expression was
the ‘I Feel Your Pain’ with down-turned lip and wide-eyes; who can resist the mastery of that!?
With a loud ‘HA!’ he fixed the beard in place and headed down the dark hallway. Stopping only to grab the charity boxes and fix the ID badge to
his chest, he headed on out into the Arctic December evening.
Between the recession and the God-awful scare stories in the newspapers, it was getting hard for an honest man to do his job. It was even harder for a
decent guy to hustle up any cash. People didn’t have the money and fewer would even open the doors. ‘I hate Christmas!’ grimaced Bob as the car
heaters began to kick in.
It was so hard to find wealthy homeowners who would open their doors and give him money that tonight was going to be a little different. The plan was
to head on out to Staten and try out these couple of houses he’d noticed. One was right next to a church and had a nice, deep garden with tall trees
and overgrown bushes. The other was very-well looked after and had a 2006 BMW 5-series in the yard. From experience, these kinds of places had liquid
assets and all that sickening sentimentality for Christmas that made them actually want
to give their money away.
While driving towards Interstate 278, he warmed up and played the radio. John Lennon was singing about white Christmases and war being over; Bob’s
memories drifted away to Christmas 1971. He’d been a store Santa with his future ahead of him. It was a great time…until he got fired for throwing
a kid aside and trying to kiss her Mom. ‘Stuck up rich folk,’ he thought and changed the station. Bob wound down his window and shouted at a
bunch of brightly-dressed little children, ‘Santa is a lie told by your parents! He doesn’t exist, you gullible idiots. How can you be so stupid?
You are so, so, so dumb!’ Faced with Santa yelling abuse, the oldest kid began to cry and the others went straight to sobbing. This cheered him up
so much that he sparked a cigarette and cranked up the volume. The Beach Boys’ Little Saint Nick blared from his windows as he surged into the
On the way over to Staten, Scratchett shouted at another group of kids queuing to get in a Santa’s Grotto. ‘How can you be so ignorant? You make
us all look stupid with your gullible dumbness!’ His anger got the better of him and he stopped the car. The Beach Boys were doing their standard
‘repeat chorus and fade to finish’ as he berated the kids. Not one of them even blinked. Truth be told, they made him uncomfortable as they stared
blankly at him. What’s the point of shouting at children if they don’t get upset? As it stood, these kids were spoiling his night with their
stares and the way they made him feel…what? He couldn’t put a finger on it and yet it was enough to make him get back in the car and drive on.
In the rear view mirror, two of the oldest kids stood in the road and just watched him as he sped away into the night. ‘Stupid kids,’ he muttered
and turned the radio up even louder.
As Bob cruised up the I278, Mariah Carey was murdering ‘All I Want For Christmas is You.’ Damn, but her voice and daft happiness was bugging him.
She reminded him of the time Charity Pecksniff was dressed as a sexy Santa back in high school. She could dance! He’d hauled his cold-sweating ass
right up to her and asked her out. Chicken-swallowing, ‘Errr, Cherry, you dance like an angel. Will you be my girlfriend?’
He put his foot down, turned the station and roared up the exit ramp to the sound of Rhianna’s ‘Child is Born.’
With only a couple of incidents on the way, Scratchett pulled up at the big house and took a moment to get into character. It wasn’t as if he
hadn’t done this dozens of times over the years. Then again, those ignorant kids back in the Bronx had unsettled him. Moving the mirror, he
practised the smiles and expressions and still felt uncomfortable. Clambering out of the car, the Santa pants had bunched up his ass and his
middle-age spread was feeling the chill as it peered out from the gap between waistline and jacket.
He shivered, grabbed the charity box and swaggered up the drive to the door. Whoever lived here had made the effort and, wherever he looked, flashing
lights seemed to be fixed to every surface he could see. ‘I hate Christmas,’ he gasped under his breath whilst banging on the door.