GEORGE’S FATHER WAS studying the Berghoff menu in his
floppy hat and long coat, looking more like a bag person than a man
who had retired after forty years working for the railroad. The menu
framed inside the front door of Berghoff’s was from 1931.
“Look at this! This is how much things used to cost! This was
when a man could afford to eat! Look, a dinner for a quarter! Shrimp
for fifteen cents! None of this bullshit now where you can spend a
hundred bucks and still get a shitty meal!”
His father turned.
“Can you believe how good things used to be?”
“Yes, I can,” George replied dully, brushing off the snow.
“How did everything get so screwed up,” his father muttered.
“You want to get a table, Dad?”
His father shrugged wearily. “Yeah, let’s get a table.”
They sat down, and his father started looking for a waiter.
“So, you get a job yet?” he asked, dropping his floppy hat on the
table. The shiny dome of Kronenfeldt Sr. caught the light.
“No, Dad. I didn’t get a job,” George muttered.
“Well, coming down to have dinner with me won’t get you one.”
“I know, Dad.” George paused and brought up his notes from the
night before. “I wanted you to go over some drawings I made and tell
me what you think about my calculations.”
His father pulled on his glasses.
“What the hell is this?”
“It’s calculations I did on the load-bearing capabilities of the roof
of my house.”
“Santa Claus . . .” His father squinted. “What the hell?”
“I’m doing a project at home, and I’ve been working out the numbers,
but I wanted to get your thoughts on some of my calculations—”
“What, you’re building a bridge over your home? What is this
George leaned over and tapped the drawing. “That’s a ramp.”
“A ramp? A ramp for what? You driving a car onto your roof?”
“Not exactly. I’m going to be driving nine reindeer on my roof. I
figure at about three thousand pounds . . .”
His father looked up.
“Son, have you lost your mind?”
George sat back as the waitress approached.
“What can I get you gentlemen?”
“Double order of sauerbraten extra cabbage, extra spinach, coffee,
and a big piece of apple pie.”
“And you, sir?”
“I’ll take an iced tea and the same,” George replied, handing the
waitress the menus.
She left, and he stared at his father.
“Seriously, son. I think you should talk to someone.”
“I’m doing a project for Megan, Dad.”
His father frowned. “What kind of project—a zoo on your roof?”
George clasped his hands and breathed heavily.
“No, I’m going to be Santa Claus. The Real Santa Claus.”
His dad leaned back against the upholstered booth.
“Oh, good. I thought you might have gone nuts. You’re going to
just be the Real Santa Claus. That’s a relief.”
George stared down at his plate. “Dad, do you remember what
you said to me when I asked you if there was a Santa Claus?”
George paused. “You said that the only way there could really
be a Santa Claus was if he went the speed of light. And that if he
went the speed of light, the g-forces would tear him to pieces, and
he would be fried like an egg. You said he would combust and splat
all over the place.”
His father shook his head. “I never said that.”
“Yes you did, Dad. You were working and in one of your moods,
and I asked you at the wrong time. That’s what Mom said.”
“Nope. I don’t remember that.”
George paused. “It doesn’t matter, because I said the same thing
to my son, Jeremy.”
His father shrugged. “He’s a grown man now.”
“I know that. But I still screwed him by telling him that when he
was just a kid.”
His father waved his hand. “Ahhh, kids find out sooner or later.”
“I never did, Dad.”
“Well, you’re different. You’ve always been a little off, son.”
“Thanks. Anyway, Megan is starting to question Santa Claus,
and I almost told her the same thing. I almost did it again! She is
starting to now believe in Santa and won’t believe unless she sees
the Real Santa Claus.”
Kronenfeldt Sr. shrugged. “So that’s it. There is no real Santa.
Just tell her that.”
“I can’t do that. I want her to believe in Santa, Dad.”
“But why?” his father cried out.
“Because you only have a short time before life turns to shit.”
“Yeah … so?”
“And I want to extend the magical part for her.”
“Son, you can’t stop life. That’s just reality.”
George looked at his father. “Dad, I am going to do this thing. I’m
going to be the Real Santa. I’m going to land a sled on the roof, go
up the chimney, go down it, deliver the gifts, and then I’m going to
get back in the sled and take off into the sky. I would like your help,
but I will do it with or without you.”
“I think this last job fried your brain, son.”
George smiled and looked down at the table. “I need your help,
Dad. I need someone who can tell me what will work and won’t. I’m
good on bridges, but this is everything. You were a civil engineer and
a mechanical engineer. I need someone I can trust. But if you don’t
want to help me, that is fine.”
“What in the hell are you talking about?”
“Dad, I have it all laid out. Here.” George pointed to the drawing.
“I’m going to have nine reindeer go up this ramp, but I think the pitch
might be too steep. Anyway, they will go onto the roof here. Then
they will line up and be attached to a sled and go a few feet on the
roof. The sled will never really take off or land. That will be done with
digital projectors and smoke machines. So the real physical part I need
your help on is reinforcing the roof for the extra load, maybe three
thousand to thirty-five hundred pounds. There will be two ramps,
one for the reindeer to get on and one for them to get off, here and
here. They will have to be fairly long and not too steep.”
George’s father stared at him. “You’re going to put reindeer on
“Son.” He shook his head. “You have really lost your marbles.”
“Dad, I’m doing this. I am going to let Megan keep her childhood.”
His father chewed on his lower lip then shook his head. “I knew
you should have never gone to that summer camp. You never were
the same when you came back.” He put on his glasses and looked at
the drawing. “How are you going to go down the chimney?
“Same way mountaineers climb—with a rope-and-pulley system.”
His father looked up. “There’s not enough room in the chimney.”
“There are two chimneys. I’m going to have the adjoining wall
knocked out, and I will have a ladder or rungs on one side that will
allow me to climb up and down the chimney.”
His father closed his eyes then held his hands over his face.
“You’re going to kill yourself, son.”
“Not if I’m careful.”
“Son, this is nuts.”
George leaned in. “Dad. I have spent my life working and not
being with my family. I screwed up Jeremy and Jamie. I’m not going
to mess up Megan.”
His father leaned back against the booth.
“Son, give her a trip or a car or something, but this, this is a
“Then you won’t help me?”
His father rubbed his forehead and didn’t speak. He took off his
glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Jesus!” He shook his head again. “Where
will you get the reindeer?” he asked through his hands.
“I have a man I am going to see tomorrow.”
His father put back on his glasses and stared at the drawing again.
“Your ramp is all wrong. It has to be a lot longer than this if you
want these animals to go on a roof. Do you have a calculator?”
George handed him his calculator. “Thanks, Dad.”
“Just don’t tell your mother,” he muttered.
George looked at his father. His mother had died five years before.
Order Real Santa