Now that’s the Spirit of Giving


Christmas is traditionally the season of giving, but at the age of twenty-two I was more into receiving. That is until the day a girlfriend of mine asked me to play Santa Claus for her brother, Glenn. Gayle told me that he was “beginning to ask questions” about the existence of Santa Claus and she and her family wanted just one more Christmas that Glenn was a “believer.”

“Would you mind dressing up as Santa Claus and convince him otherwise?” she asked me.

I didn’t think it was such a great idea. I was no actor. I was thin as a rail at six-feet-one-inch and 170 pounds, and I had realized by age seven that Santa did not exist. Hey, deal with reality, kid.

But when you are only five weeks into dating someone and you want to keep it going, you tend to bend your principles.

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “But I need some girth.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Gayle said. “We’ve got a great costume and plenty of padding, and the beard is guaranteed to stick if he tries to yank it off.”

Later that night Gayle sneaked the costume to my car and I returned the next day – Christmas Eve – with every intention of putting on a grand performance.

Just after 6 p.m. I pulled up to her house but several cars were parked in front, so I drove a hundred feet or so past her house, parked and got out.

As I cut across a neighbor’s property, owned by the Mays, I saw their family of four – one dad, a mom, two sons, and two grandparents – seated at table in their dining room celebrating Chanukah. That’s when I got a magical idea: Why not sneak up alongside the dining room window and let the boys get a glimpse of Santa during a Jewish celebration. How often has that happened?

As they ate, they faced the window and I figured only they would see me. I was correct. When one kid looked up from his plate I gave him a quick wave and tugged on my bushy white beard. His eyes widened and he nudged his brother. I waved to him too and when I did both boys yelled, “SANTA.” The parents seemed puzzled, but they were not looking in my direction so I ducked out of sight and scampered through the yards to Gayle’s house. There I put on a first-rate act for her brother and I was told that Glenn remained a “believer” for one more year.

It felt good having done Gayle and her family a big favor, but I always wondered about the two Jewish boys I had spoofed. Years later my sister was going out with Gayle’s brother, Billy, and though Gayle and I no longer saw each other, I’d go over from time to time to see the family.

One December afternoon I pulled up to Gayle’s house and I saw the two brothers tossing a football on their front lawn and I decided to make conversation. They were about eight and nine at the time and I told them that they had pretty good throwing arms.

“But you need a better football,” I said. “This one’s pretty ratty and it’s low on air.” Then I added the setup line: “Make sure you tell Santa to bring you a new NFL football.”

“We’re Jewish,” the older boy said.

“Oh, then I guess you don’t believe in Santa?”

“We do, we do,” he replied. “We saw him a few years ago right over there.”

He pointed to the dining room window.

I was touched that they had remembered that night long ago, so a couple of weeks later I had a brand-new football gift wrapped and sent to their house a few days before Christmas. It was signed, “Santa.”

I never saw the boys after that. They have long grown up. But I’m sure somewhere there are two Jewish men in their fifties who still believe in Santa, no matter what the naysayers might have told them.


Comedy’s B(j)orn Loser


Some of my friends wondered where I was during the last week of June and now I’m here to explain.

My wife, Kathy, and I wanted to do something very different this year, so a day after school closed we boarded a flight bound for Iceland with the intention of checking out the burgeoning comedy scene in Reykjavik.

We arrived 5 ½ hours later, booked a room, got some sleep, then went off to find a night club that advertised, “The funniest comedians just south of the Arctic Circle.” We figured it was a can’t-miss getaway for three days. After all, the city had elected a standup comic named John Gnarr as its mayor in 2010. So off we went for an evening of laughs at the Goldengang Comedy Club.

Icelandic comedians have good intentions, but they do not have well-thought out routines. There is always a kernel of humor in their jokes, of course, but they need to work on their setups to those jokes.

The “best” comedian of the evening, Bjorn Hanssen, walked out to rousing cheers and then quieted the audience by saying, “You wouldn’t tip a waiter before dinner, would you?”

The audience chuckled.

Then, out of nowhere, he admitted that he doesn’t like to read much and he attributed it to the fact that current book titles don’t intrigue him. If they did, he said, he might take up reading. He then suggested titles that he believed would capture his attention: Twenty Reasons Why You Must Never Give Yourself a Vasectomy, Let’s Give Satan a Second Chance, and Suicide: What’s All the Fuss About? The last one got big laughs because suicide is rampant in Iceland. Hanssen mentioned that 10.4 people out of 100,000 Icelanders commit suicide every year. To put it in perspective, he stated that South Korea has the highest rate (24.7) per 100,000. “But we’re catching up,” Hanssen added gleefully.

Okay, not bad, but then he meandered for a while muttering about how he got caught in traffic that afternoon, and how a piece of meat he had ordered for lunch had a price tag underneath it. Again, the audience was going nuts, but my wife and I looked at each other like we hadn’t received the memo that his material was funny.

Then, out of nowhere, he shouted, “CANCER, BRING IT ON.”

Everyone howled.

Bjorn then announced that he was going to tell a joke for any Americans who might be in the audience. “The nearest lake to Three-Mile Island has the best nuclear fishin’ ” (PAUSE) My favorite Rock ‘n’ Roll song is by Steppenwolf. You know, “Bjorn to be Wild.”

The audience moaned at that one.

But he kept going.

“Have you ever seen an Eskimo beauty contestant?”

“Do midgets have short life spans?”

“And who retrieves the discuss after the athlete tosses it?”

That, believe it or not, was his big finish. The place went crazy. Afterward, I asked the bartender if there were any big-name comedians in Iceland.

“You just saw him,” he said.

“My wife and I would like two more drinks,” I said. “And make them doubles.”

Points Worth Considering After Graduating High School


Recently high school seniors across America took part in their graduation ceremonies. But if I had the chance to pull them aside, I would have made three points before they moved on with their lives.

POINT ONE: If you want to experience a wonderful life start right now and look out for others. Believe it or not, it’s not all about you; it’s about the other guy. And while some of you are already on that path, a good deal of you need to consider this suggestion. So how can you begin?

Start small:

Hold a door for someone, anyone.

Say hello to a stranger.

Help anyone in need.


Be kind.

Do what your parents and guardians ask without an argument.

Wake up every morning and say to yourself, “Who can I help today?”

Then act.


Become curious about life. Find areas of interest and learn more about them. Not only will you become more knowledgeable, you will become richer in spirit because you will have something to share in discussion with others.

Don’t read just to bolster your test scores, read to bolster your life. After all, no matter what line of work you eventually pursue you will be dealing with people of all ages, various levels of education and experience. You want to be part of that conversation rather than wishing for that conversation to be over because you have no clue what others are talking about.

So subscribe to a reputable newspaper, read books, and look up words you don’t know. Reading will pay dividends in the future.

POINT THREE: Work hard and do your best.

Work is a four-letter word to some of you, but you might want to consider the advice of President Theodore Roosevelt who once said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

How many of you are satisfied with just getting by? That’s okay for now. You are still maturing. But the day will come when you realize what your purpose is in life and you will grab it. Only then will you be inspired to give your best effort. You will show up to work on time, all the time. You will stay after hours to smooth out the edges of a project. And you will go home feeling you truly accomplished something that day.

But would it hurt to start doing your best in everything now? Think about it.

And so Class of 2015, find what you would love to do in life and then have a torrid love affair with it for the rest of your days.