The Santa/Jesus Variations
by: Max Burbank
Santa is visiting Jesus in Heaven. They are watching a Christmas special on TV. It is "Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew: The Christmas Episode." Dr. Drew is explaining to Gary Busey that he is not a Christmas Elf. Like all the other celebrities, he has been asked to participate in this Christmas Special because he has substance abuse issues. The guy who played Kenickie in "Grease" shares that the holidays can be very hard on addicts, especially Christmas, because of the childhood memories it inevitably arouses. Dr. Drew says he believes Gary Busey has issues from his childhood and that they must be addressed before any meaningful recovery can begin. For a few minutes, it seems Gary Busey is on board, but then he interrupts Chyna's story about being abused by her uncle on Christmas Eve. He asks her for a screwdriver. Dr. Drew asks Gary Busey why he needs a screwdriver. "The wheel has come off this train," Gary Busey replies. "I need to repair it so some good little boy or girl won't be disappointed Christmas Morning." Jesus cannot stop laughing. Santa asks him what the hell is so funny. "This," says Jesus, pointing at the TV, "Is why I love mankind." Santa begins to weep. Soon he is wracked with sobbing. Jesus tries really hard to stop laughing, but he can't.
Santa and Jesus are sitting at a seedy bar across the street from the Port Authority building. It's late, or very early. There are only a couple of other customers. The Bartender is counting his drawer.
JESUS: You know it's hard.
SANTA: What is?
JESUS: Living with it.
SANTA: Living with what?
JESUS: How much I hate you. The weight of it. The totality. It's a heavy burden sometimes.
(Pause. Santa laughs, but it's a dry, dispirited.)
SANTA: Like you hate anybody.
JESUS: I hate you. I do.
SANTA: No you don't. You don't hate anybody. You don't have the stones for it. You're too damn holy for anything like that.
JESUS: I hate you.
JESUS: I hate you... Bastard. Damn fat bastard.
JESUS: I mean, whose birthday is it, right? What do I get under the tree? What do I get? I got crucified. I've been dead more than two thousand Goddamn years-
JESUS: I gotta listen to every God Damn prayer, I gotta hear people thanking me for getting a Golden Globe, people living through some horrendous tragedy and saying I must have a purpose for them, like I personally decided NOT to need all those dead people who got torn to bits by a car crash or a bomb or whatever, like I just LET people turn into hamburger on account of their not part of my friggin' PLAN-
SANTA: Okay, Jesus, okay-
JESUS: And it's you, you know it? It's you, you, you, I blame you, your red suit, your reindeer, "Ho Ho Ho!" yeah, HO HO HO SHIT, because-
JESUS: Because morons focusing all their belief on some damn fat ass magic elf in a flying slay because it's NICE, right? It SELLS shit better than a baby being born the Prince of Peace and growing up to DIE on a damn CROSS!
SANTA: Okay, now, enough-
JESUS: Think I liked that? Think I like it? Take away a man's birthday, turn it into all this... lights... and, and... Rudolph and shit?
SANTA: Come on man. Settle down. Turn the other cheek, right?
JESUS: Yeah... Yeah, I know. Okay.
SANTA: Relax. Relax. Lemme getcha another boilermaker.
JESUS: I know.
SANTA: Yeah you do. Who better?
JESUS: I just... sometimes... this time of year, I hate this time of year, right? Dark all the time. What is that? I hate it.
SANTA: Who are you talking too? Try living at the North Pole sometime. It's dark, like, six months. You don't gotta tell me.
JESUS: Just... shit... you know?
SANTA: Oh, I do know, my friend. I sure do know.
In this variation, we see Santa standing on the stage of a nightclub. Somehow we know that while he is Santa, he is also a washed up professional magician killing time while aging strippers pull up laddered nylons and glue pasties on their boobs in the green room. He is reaching into his magic sack of toys the way a magician reaches into a top hat, and praying, actively praying the trick works. Sweat leaks through his bushy eyebrows, stings his eyes, he grins at the audience as he gropes around in his sack, where is it, where is it? The audience isn't with him at all. They don't want any damn toys. They are broken lonely men waiting to watch women who won't touch them take off their clothes. Santa is bombing and Ricco has told him if he can't get a little more zazz in his act he's gotta go, and wait, wait, there it is, there's the lip of the secret pocket in the sack, and he can feel it, he's got it, with a flourish he pulls out the Baby Jesus by his Halo, oh thank God, oh thank God, but no one is clapping. It's so quiet in the house. Santa catches a glimpse of Dolores in the wings, the nice stripper who talks to him sometimes and reads tattered paperback books while she's waiting to go on, the one who does that thing with the big fan made of feathers and she looks so sad now, like everything has gone out of her, and then she turns away. And Santa turns his head. And looks at what he is holding. It is not a Baby Jesus. It is as small as a baby, but the figure he is holding is a grown man. Dirty, bruised, painfully thin. The miniature crown of thorns upon his tiny head is rimmed by pin-sized beads of sparkling blood. The stage lights are fading to black, or maybe everything is going away, which is what Santa hopes. He'd like to put Jesus back in the bag, but his arm won't do it. Darker, darker until at last, mercifully, no one can see.
In this variation, you consider the title of the piece you are reading. You assume it is a reference to Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet's "The Duck Variations", first staged in 1972, which New York Magazine called, "a gorgeously written, wonderfully observant piece whose timing and atmosphere are close to flawless." Perhaps, though, this piece refers to the same piece Mamet was referencing, "The Goldberg Variations", J.S. Bach's 1741 masterwork, arguably the finest music ever written for Harpsichord. You find yourself relaxing into multiple mental associations spurred by these twin references. They echo back and forth, the experience becomes rich and layered, the intellectual equivalent of single malt whiskey, the embrace of a deep leather chair before a fire. Rhythm, tone, timing, memory. This moment is why art exists, and is my Christmas gift to you.
On a desert atoll, a shipwrecked sailor, stripped to the waist, badly burned by the sun, half mad with thirst, has an elderly monkey by the throat. Brutally, he slaps the monkey, again and again, his knuckled, leathery hand rough as a file from years in the rigging. "Damn you," The sailor rasps, "All your fault. All your fault."
The sailor is Santa. The Monkey is Jesus.
You are looking at a large oil painting in a gilded frame, a crucifixion. Seventeenth century, probably Spanish. A Velasquez? The lighting, the brush strokes, suggest his work. But of course it can't be. Because the pale figure broken on the cross is not Jesus. It is Berger Meister Meister Berger.
Arm in arm, Jesus and Santa skip down a city street in Milwaukee. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!" they chant. "Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!"
Santa lying face down in the snow. Through sheets of wind driven ice, you can just make out his shattered sleigh, the mounded heaps and hillocks where the dead reindeer are already buried by the storm. On desperate, shaking arms, Santa forces himself up, and thinks he sees a glowing figure.
"Jesus..." Santa whispers, "Help me."
"You will go to the Dagobah System," the Lamb of God replies.
Jesus is visiting Santa at the North Pole. They are watching a Christmas special on TV. It is "Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew: The Christmas Episode." Dr. Drew is explaining to Gary Busey that he is not the Magi Melkior. Like all the other celebrities, he has been asked to participate in this Christmas Special because he has substance abuse issues. Former Whitesnake video Vixen Tawny Kitaen shares that the holidays can be very hard on addicts, especially Christmas, because of the childhood memories it inevitably arouses. Dr. Drew says he believes Gary Busey has issues from his childhood and that they must be addressed before any meaningful recovery can begin. For a few minutes, it seems Gary Busey is on board, but then he interrupts Gary Coleman's story about being abused by his uncle on Christmas Eve. He asks to borrow Gary Coleman's Bible. Dr. Drew asks Gary Busey why he needs Gary Coleman's Bible. "I'm trying to figure out my name," Gary Busey replies. "As near as I can tell, there is no reference to it in the book of Matthew, the only gospel in which I even appear. So how did Greek scholars six centuries later decide my name was Melkior? And why has that name stuck?" Santa cannot stop laughing. Jesus asks him what the hell is so funny. "Gary Busey," says Santa, pointing at the TV, "Ever since the motorcycle accident, you don't know what the hell kind of weird ass shit is going to tumble out of his mouth!" Jesus begins to weep. Soon he is wracked with sobbing. Santa, knowing there is nothing actually amusing about head trauma, and that if anything, the exploitation of a man so clearly deranged is tragic, tries to stop laughing, but he can't. He really can't.
In this variation, you are forced to confront your lies regarding variation IV. While you have certainly heard of J.S. Bach, you know shit all about "The Goldberg Variations", in fact could not name or specifically recognize any piece by Bach who you think may have written the Pachabel Cannon. The name 'David Mamet' sounds familiar, but so do lots of names. Why did you have to pretend you understand or even like the piece you are reading? Can you even be sure the author knows anything about these references beyond the use of the word 'Variations' in this context? Couldn't any reasonably intelligent third grader have found the rest using Google? Why must you always pretend to be someone you are not, even, maybe especially around those you love? Are you afraid that if they knew who you really were they could not love you in return? Do they know what these references meant? Maybe, maybe not, but they sure as hell don't need to pretend they do to feel okay with themselves. What the hell is wrong with you?
Nothing. You are human, and experiencing the human condition, something that unites us all, and is a form of God's grace.
In this variation you are thinking God's Grace is a pretty shitty Christmas present. Especially a long-winded, theologically questionable explanation of God's Grace. You would much rather have gotten a GPS system for the car.
We are back in the bar across from the Port Authority. Jesus and Santa are just sitting there, staring into their drinks. All the other customers are gone. Only the bartender remains, and he looks like he'd like to go home. After a while, Jesus laughs.
SANTA: No, seriously, what are you laughing at.
JESUS: Just a word. It's stupid.
SANTA: What word?
JESUS: Just this word that a lot of people end up saying a lot of times around Christmas. I don't know, it just makes me laugh when I hear it. It's pretty stupid.
SANTA: What word?
Jesus looks at Santa. Looks down into his drink. Smiles.
Long pause. Then Jesus starts to giggle a little. Then Santa starts to giggle a little.
Now they are both laughing. It dies down. Jesus takes a sip of his drink.
Santa starts to laugh. Now both men are laughing loudly.
SANTA: NUTCRACKER! JESUS!
They laugh and laugh. Santa pounds his huge fists on the bar. Even the bartender starts laughing. Jesus isn't even making sounds anymore. His mouth is just wide, wide open, he's laughing a silent laugh and tears are streaming down his face, that's how hard he's laughing. Jesus, Santa and the bartender laugh and laugh and every time they think they've stopped laughing somebody starts to say "Nutcracker" and they can't even get through it before they're all laughing again. Lets backs away and leave them like that. Back away slowly, letting their laughter get quieter, quieter, until it's just a whisper and we can turn around and walk off on our own into the dark with the sunrise coming but not here yet.
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