Alias Santa Claus

Damon Runyon

When I am a young squirt nutting around my old home town out West, this Christmas business is considered quite a thing, and people make it a point to go about wishing one another a very Merry Christmas and drinking hot Tom and Jerry.

Of course, in nine cases out of ten, what people in my home town really wish other people is a broken leg, but it does not cost anybody a dime to go about saying Merry Christmas, and a guy who does not do it is considered a sourball, especially if he is full of hot Tom and Jerrys.

This Tom and Jerry is quite a drink in those days, and at Christmas time every joint always has a big bowl of it out on the bar, where it will be handy for the citizens to drink. Everybody in my home town is fond of Tom and Jerrys, as they are considered very nourishing, but nobody is as fond of them as my Grandpap Mugg, who uses them as chasers for his liquor.

Furthermore, nobody in my home town is any greater hand for Christmas than my Grandpap Mugg. He is a little old pappy guy with a goatee, and he has a tough time of it in the early days, what with fighting the Indians, and getting himself married up two or three times hand running, but he just naturally loves to get up early on Christmas Day and go about wishing everybody a Merry Christmas and drinking his hot Tom and Jerrys as chasers.

The way my Grandpap Mugg generally does is to start in at the first joint he comes to on Santa Fe Avenue and work on down the street. As there is a joint nearly every other door on Santa Fe Avenue in those days, it is a long, hard trip for an old pappy guy, but my Grandpap Mugg had wonderful endurance, and he misses very few people with his Merry Christmases in my home town on Christmas Day.

Well, this Christmas I am talking about, the First Methodist Church, South, gets up a big Christmas celebration for the kids in my home town. They are going to have a big Christmas tree, and they give it out that Santa Claus himself is going to drop in with presents for one and all, if they belong to the Sunday school. Naturally, all the kids in my home town are much smoked up, especially about the presents.

Things are going along great, and the Sunday school is getting a nice play, but the night before Christmas the pastor of the First Methodist Church comes around to our joint pulling a long puss, which is a way of saying he has a sad face, and he says the guy who is to act as Santa Claus comes down suddenly with pneumonia, or some such, and there is danger of the celebration being a plumb bust.

He wants to know will my Grandpap Mugg act as Santa Claus, and my Grandpap Mugg not only says he will, but furthermore he is much pleasured up by the idea, although my old man weighs in with a strong knock for the proposition as soon as he hears about it. He says it is all a lot of dam foolishness, but all the dames around the joint say they think it will be lovely, so the pastor leaves the Santa Claus rig, with a red suit of clothes and false whiskers, and all such as that, with my Grandpap Mugg and tells him he can practice putting it on.

My Grandpap Mugg is so steamed up that he spends the rest of the night practicing, and bright and early the next morning he ducks out of the joint with the rig in a sack under his arm without saying a word to anybody. He is not to appear as Santa Claus at the church until that night, but it seems my Grandpap Mugg wants to show the outfit to the lads around town.

Well, the next anybody hears of my Grandpap Mugg, it is along toward noon of Christmas Day, and it seems he is drinking many hot Tom and Jerrys as chasers and is putting on the clothes and whiskers to show the lads just how he will look as Santa Claus.

He puts them on in the back room of one joint, and then after he has a few hot Tom and Jerrys at the bar as chasers, and all the folks say he looks great, he takes them off and goes to another joint. After he changes clothes about fifteen times, my Grandpap Mugg decides that it is too much bother to be putting on and taking off the rig, so he just leaves it on, and is going from one joint to another in the make-up.

Naturally, when some kids see old Santa Claus himself walking down the street in broad daylight, they take to following him with cries of what you might call childish glee, and all such as that. It causes some talk among them when Santa goes into a saloon, of course, but they figure maybe he is going to leave a jumping jack or a train of cars for the saloonkeeper and they wait outside the door with great patience until Santa comes out. Then they follow him again.

By and by, several thousand kids are trailing my Grandpap Mugg whenever he stirs hand or foot out of a joint, and there is much excitement, and among grown folks as well, because very few of them ever see Santa Claus rambling in and out of joints before, and drinking hot Tom and Jerrys, especially as chasers.

Of course, my Grandpap Mugg is much pleasured up about the kids following him, because he is always very fond of children, but finally it occurs to him that a regular Santa Claus ought to have some presents to give them. There are no stores open on Christmas Day in my home town, so my Grandpap Mugg buys a lot of half-pint flasks of whiskey as he goes along, and starts distributing them among what you might call the little toddlers who are following him.

Afterwards this makes talk among the parents in my home town, what with some of the toddlers taking a swig or two out of the flasks, but my Grandpap Mugg never pays much attention to criticism in this respect. He always says the parents are only sore because he does not give the kids quarts.

Well, anyway, for an hour or so there is a great time, but finally my Grandpap Mugg begins getting a little fretful, which is always the way be does after a few dozen hot Tom and Jerrys as chasers. My Grandpap Mugg is an old pappy guy and can stand children only just so long. By and by the kids who are following him get on his nerves, because they are so thick they keep him from getting into the joints as fast as he likes, so he takes to shoving them out of the way, and to clouting them if they do not move quick enough.

Well, of course kids do not expect to got clouted by Santa Claus, who is supposed to be a kind old man with a smile for one and all, and pretty soon half of them are crying, and the other half are slinging alley apples, which is a way of saying rocks, at my Grandpap Mugg, for nobody can clout little children in my old home town in those days, and not get slung at.

So my Grandpap Mugg goes into the Opera House bar, and after he has a couple more hot Tom and Jerrys for chasers, he gets himself a billiard cue out of the rack in the back room and busts it across his knee, and then he takes the butt end and starts out after the kids.

Well, no one knows what will happen if my Aunt Margaret does not come along about this time and corral my Grandpap Mugg, but the chances are if he is let alone there will be a great many crippled little children in my old home town, for my Grandpap Mugg is considered very handy with the butt end of a billiard cue.

For many years afterwards a lot of people are very sore at my Grandpap Mugg, because it seems they have to start in raising a new generation of children to believe in Santa Claus. There is little or no Christmas celebrating in my old home town until the new crop comes along, because the kids who see my Grandpap Mugg that day never have any other notion of Santa Claus than that of an old pappy guy chasing them with a big club, and naturally they do not want to have much truck with such a person.

But the toughest part of the whole thing is they will not let my Grandpap Mugg act as Santa Claus at the church affair, after all, and that almost breaks the poor old guy’s heart.