Ladies and Gentlemen. I must warn you, I’ve been drinking.
That may mean that I slur from time to time or use questionable grammar. I hope to edit this in the morning but if I don’t, this is your trigger warning.
There came time I was supposed to stop believing in Santa Claus because that’s what all the cool kids were doing. I got lucky, though, because I had a little sister. The year that should have come with the inevitable sad reveal instead ended with me getting all kinds of Rambo stuff on Christmas morning. And after that, I think my parents either just got into the habit or it was fun for them, but Santa has brought me presents every year of my life.
And I’m 39.
The problem, you see, is not whether or not Santa exists, or how he does all the magic, or who actually eats the cookies, but with whom he contracts to purchase, haul, and store gifts. Apparently there was some third-party contracting going on back in the eighties and apparently, my dad was in on it.
The people who lived in our house before us had built a darkroom into the garage. For the yunguns out there, a darkroom was a place where people used to develop photographs. The inside of it was all painted black and with the door closed it was completely dark, hence the name. My parents used it for storage and as a place to hide Christmas gifts on occasion. One day, totally by accident, I stumbled upon a bag full of G.I. Joe stuff that I knew was hidden Christmas presents and that I should ignore it and run away. So that’s what I did. And on Christmas, all the toys that had been in that bag came out of the wrapping paper in all its Hasbro-trademarked glory and I was so happy because, well, hell, I just got a metric shitload of G.I. Joe stuff. But also because I’d discovered my folks’ secret hiding place for presents.
So the year passed and as we got closer to Christmas, I kept reminding myself to check the darkroom on occasion to see if there was anything good. Mostly there wasn’t, but one day there was. On this day I was being hunted by the neighbor kids in a hide-and-seek meets Chuck Norris’ Missing in Action sort of game. As I crawled under and through Mom’s clothes, I came across something that didn’t make sense. It was large, wrapped in cardboard, and smelled of electronics.
I closed the door and pulled the light switch. There in the dark grey light was the coolest thing I could imagine. It was a shiny black shelf system with tower speakers! I had been getting really in to music recently and could really imagine some Bon Jovi cranking through those speakers. Dual tape decks. Equalizer. Record player on the top and album storage below. Santa Claus knew what I wanted without me having had to tell the weirdo at the mall. This was awesome!
It was also kind of shitty. Now that I knew, I couldn’t let on that I knew. I kept having to not drop hints and I had to start avoiding the darkroom altogether. Except when I’d sneak in to look at the wonderfulness that would be mine in just a few short weeks.
Then Christmas came and went and I didn’t get the stereo.
I waited and waded through family Christmas. I woke up Christmas day looking for my Santa gift. I said nothing as all events and ceremonies went by the way and the stereo never showed itself. The day ended and the next one began and no stereo arrived. I checked the darkroom but it was gone. No stereo for me.
Then a few days later we went over to my Aunt’s house and my cousin showed me his new stereo. It was the one that I’d fallen in love with over the past weeks and it sounded awesome. I was so jealous. His dad had been hiding his Santa presents in our darkroom. How unfair is that. I was bummed.
Later that afternoon my dad pulled me aside and asked if everything was ok. I confessed that it was not. I told him about finding the stereo and how much I wanted one and how excited I had been and how let down I’d been since. He just smiled at me as he listened to my story. He then said, “Son, that’s nothing. You want a stereo?”
I said that I did.
He then pulled all this vintage stuff out and began piecing it together. By the end I had a serious system with giant speakers to boot. He sat on the floor of my room playing me records.
“This is Jimi Hendrix. He’s from Seattle but moved to England to be part of the British Invasion.”
“The Beatles had this thing where Paul was supposed to be dead. Sergeant Pepper’s is supposed to have all the answers.” So we listened to “A Day in the Life” over and over again looking for clues.
“I went to high school with Billy Gibbons. When I was in college, I sold Dusty Hill my bass.”
“So one night I was working at the radio station and this guy called me and said he’d just gotten back from England and had the record that would be the next big thing. I told him to come on up and the record he had was a British promo copy of Black Sabbath. I just played it through on the air.”
We spent the whole day like that. He playing different records from his enormous collection, I listening to all kinds of strange and wonderful new tunes. He was so excited to share all this musical knowledge with me. I remember that same night, lying in my bed hearing my parents talk and him laughing about how I had found the stereo in the closet outside. “It may not be fancy,” he said, “But he’ll have that system till he gets out of college. And if he ever hooks some real speakers to it, then he’ll probably get arrested.”
My dad was awesome.