Monday, February 8, 2016

BWAH-HA-HANNIVERSARY

According to the internet (which is unfailingly accurate), the first issue of the Giffen-DeMatteis-Maguire Justice League came out on Feb. 5, 1987.  In honor of this anniversary, I'd like to re-present a piece—written by world-famous (and wholly fictitious) entertainment journalist Army Parsons—that first appeared here back in 2008, detailing the events that led up to that mildly-legendary comic book run.  I hope the fact that everything you're about to read is a lie doesn't in any way hamper your enjoyment.




  
BIRTH OF THE JLI:
THE SHOCKING TRUE STORY

by
Army Parsons

    In January of 2008, at the Lou Costello Memorial Trailer Park in Patterson, New Jersey, the prestigious Academy of Comedy Arts and Sciences presented their 54th Annual Pie In The Face Awards.  The centerpiece of the evening was—as it has always been—the Lifetime Achievement Award.  Over the years, the greats of comedy—from Jack Benny, George Burns and Groucho Marx to Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Yahoo Serious—have taken the stage to be applauded by their peers and acknowledged for their groundbreaking contributions to the art and craft of comedy.
    2008 was a banner year for the PITFs as it was the first time in the Academy’s history that the LAA was presented not to comedic performers, but to writers:  in this case, the number one comedy writing team of the latter half of the twentieth century,  Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis.  (It’s true of course that Giffen & DeMatteis made two films together, the minor 1988 hit Bwah-ha-ha and the more recent, commercially disappointing, Bwah-ha-ha 2:  Aren’t We Too Old For This?—but it is their written work, far more than their amiable, albeit embarrassingly inept, movies, for which they are celebrated.) 
    It was nearly midnight when co-hosts William Shatner and Candice Bergen introduced comedy legend Shecky Hecky, who spoke at length about the Giffen/DeMatteis team and their profound influence on the landscape of modern humor.  “From the first time,” Hecky said, eyes misting over with tears, “I picked up a copy of Justice League and saw Batman take out Guy Gardner with one punch, I knew...I absolutely knew...that I was in the presence of genius.”   Forty minutes later, after two thirds of the audience, bored by Hecky’s tedious and self-aggrandizing introduction, had left the park, the “Bwah-ha-ha” boys themselves, Giffen & DeMatteis, took to the stage, accompanied by the man credited with rescuing them from a decade of hellish obscurity, publishing magnate Ross Richie.
    The remaining audience members jumped to their feet for a deafening twelve second standing ovation while Keith and J.M. mugged and clowned, DeMatteis hitting Giffen over the head with a rubber chicken, Giffen playfully shattering DeMatteis’s ribs with a baseball bat.   Their acceptance speech was short and sweet: “Thank you,” a weeping DeMatteis said, while Richie phoned for an ambulance.  “Go to hell, all of you bastards,” Giffen added, with customary charm.
    An incredible ending to an incredible night; but, how, I wondered, had it all begun?
***
  
    l986.  Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Heehee’s was the preeminent comedy club of the day.  Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Anthony Hopkins and innumerable other young comics got their start at this cramped, smoky bistro.   Owner Sleazo Marx, briefly the adopted son of Zeppo Marx (I say briefly, because the adoption didn’t turn out well:   Sleazo was returned to the orphanage, for a full refund, after six weeks), recalled those heady days in his autobiography Sultan of Sleaze:  “The place was always packed and I was always drunk and broke.  Tuesday night was Open Mike Night...a chance for any kid with a dream (and twenty bucks) to step up and try out his stuff.  That’s how I first met those two jackasses.”
    Giffen was a skinny kid from Queens with stars in his eyes and a chip on his shoulder.  His act consisted of foul-mouthed insults, machine-gunned at the audience with a rapid-fire delivery reminiscent of Bob Hope and Adolph Hitler.  He’d been coming to Open Mike Night for nearly a year...but his insult humor consistently failed to ignite the crowd.  “Every week,” Sleazo noted,  “the idiot would start a fist fight with somebody in the audience.   I remember this time six nuns visiting from Columbia beat the crap out of him.  He was a week away from being banned from Heehee’s forever when he and DeMatteis hooked up.”
    J.M. DeMatteis was a naive and idealistic kid from the slums of Flatbush.  Inspired by his heroes, Jack Benny, the Smothers Brothers and Huntz Hall, his was a style far more relaxed than his future partner’s.  J.M. would take to the stage and, accompanying himself on the electric banjo, sing Beatles songs in Esperanto.  Between numbers, he’d stand, with his mouth open (and occasionally drooling), staring blankly at the audience.  “I worked for years, in front of the bathroom mirror, perfecting that stare,” J.M. would later reminisce.  “I thought it was hilarious.”  Unfortunately, no one else did.
    Giffen and DeMatteis became friends during this time, often sitting out on the Brooklyn docks between sets, sharing their dreams, while Giffen indulged in his lifelong habit of chain-smoking french fries.  It was at this time that the two young men discovered their mutual love of comic books, specifically the work of innovator Stanley Myron Curbstone, creator of the classic, short-lived (it was canceled three weeks before he sold it to National Comics), 1940’s super-hero parody,  Super-Hero Parody.   “I’m tellin’ ya,” the young Giffen once observed, “if this comedy thing doesn’t work out...I might try writin’ comics.  I mean, how hard can it be puttin’ the words inside those little bubbles?”    
    “Never give up on your dreams,” DeMatteis (a long-time follower of Indian sailor-turned-guru Barnacle Baba) responded.  “You have to have faith, Keith—in yourself...and in the benevolence of the universe.  Close your eyes, go deep into your  soul.  Manifest your dreams in your mind first—and then you’ll be able to bring them into form on the material plane.”
     “I hate that spiritual crap,” Giffen replied, before kicking DeMatteis into the bay. 

***
    
    Entertainment lightning struck on the night of October 25, 1986.  Giffen had already done his set—the response had been even worse than usual and, in retaliation, Keith urinated on the crowd—and DeMatteis was halfway through his routine, strumming away on his banjo, wailing an off-key, Esperanto rendition of “Helter Skelter.”
    That’s when someone in the audience—several witnesses claim it was Sleazo Marx himself—threw the brick, straight at J.M.’s head.
    The brick missed its mark but hit the banjo—a fifty dollar Sears Silvertone with an amplifier built into the case—and completely shattered it.  Panicked and shaken, DeMatteis stood there, staring at the audience and drooling prodigiously.
    “I was watching him,” Giffen recalled, in the 2002 HBO documentary, How They Became Nobodies, “standing up there like a deer in the headlights.  The audience was jeering and calling him names even I wouldn’t use.  I knew I had to do something.”  Jumping up onto a table directly in front of the stage, Giffen scratched his armpits like a monkey and shouted the first words that came into his head:  “Bwah-ha-ha!” “I don’t know why I said it,” Giffen told HBO.  “It didn’t have any special meaning.  It just kinda popped out.”  DeMatteis stopped drooling for a moment, focused on his friend and, without thinking, replied:  “Bwah-ha-HA?”
    The audience laughed.
    “Bwah-HA-ha!” Giffen said in response.
    The audience howled.
    For the next forty-two minutes, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis kept repeating those three syllables, using every possible inflection, emphasis, and ersatz foreign accent they could think of:  “Bwah-ha-ha!” over and over again.
    The laughter was deafening—and a comedy legend was born.


***

    They’d been playing to packed houses at Heehee’s for six straight weeks when The Incident happened.  “Those morons were on the verge of incredible success,” Sleazo Marx wrote.  “They could’ve been the next Wayne and Shuster.”  Giffen & DeMatteis—that’s how they were now billed—were the hottest ticket in New York.  They’d acquired an eager young manager—pop culture maven and, ironically, future comic book editor Danny Fingeroth—and were two weeks away from a national tour of the nation’s foremost comedy clubs.  “Everywhere you went in New York,” Fingeroth told me, years later, the hurt and shock still evident in his eyes, “you could hear people on the street saying, ‘Bwah-ha-ha.’  I can’t believe that Giffen was dumb enough to throw it all away.”
    Accounts of the night’s events vary.  All that’s really known is that, halfway through the duo’s second set, at precisely eleven forty-five p.m., Keith Giffen did something so twisted, so unspeakable, so despicable and vile that nobody who was there will ever talk about it.  “Just you bringing it up,” Fingeroth told me, “makes me want to vomit repeatedly.”  Sleazo Marx, in his autobiography, would only write, “I’ve seen repulsive things in my life...but this was so sickening it nearly made me lose control of my bowels.”
    In the HBO documentary, Giffen merely grins devilishly when asked about The Incident.  DeMatteis, on the other hand, breaks down in tears.  “Sleazo Marx,” he whimpers, “was so mad at us he immediately picked up the phone and called The King of Comedy himself, Milton Berle.  When Sleazo told Milton what happened, it was all over.  We were banned from show business forever.  We were finished.”

***

    DeMatteis spent the next several months hidden away in the attic of his parents’ house.  “I seriously considered going to India,” he recalled, “and spending the rest of my life in Barnacle Baba’s ashram.  But no matter how much I begged, my father wouldn’t give me the money.”
    Giffen was living in a basement apartment in Queens, working nights at Burger King and smoking far too many french fries.  “I’d steal them from the freezer and hide them under my shirt when I left work,” he once told me, in a rare display of vulnerability.  “I think if I would have gone on that way, I would have died.  Or gotten very fat.  That’s when I got the comic book idea.”
    When DeMatteis’s phone rang in early 1987 and he heard Giffen’s voice on the other end, J.M. slammed the receiver down in anger.  But Giffen kept calling and calling and, finally, DeMatteis’s mother—who desperately wanted her son out of the house—forced him to talk to Keith.  “The comic book idea,” as Giffen called it, was simple.  Take their unique brand of humor—The Bwah-ha-ha—and transport it to the printed page, following in the footsteps of their mutual idol, Stanley Myron Curbstone.  DeMatteis thought the idea was idiotic until Giffen pointed out that, if they were very lucky, they might be able to split twelve bucks a page.
    With dollar signs dancing in his eyes, DeMatteis agreed.
***                        

    The team’s first stop was Marvel Comics, where Managing Editor Tom DeFalco listened to Giffen’s pitch for one of the company’s lowest selling titles, The Defenders.  “Imagine this,” Giffen said, enthusiastically.  “Doctor Strange is Jack Benny, the Hulk is Curly Howard and the Sub-Mariner is Paul Lynde.”
    “What about the Silver Surfer?” DeFalco asked.
    “That’s the best part!” DeMatteis erupted, leaping to his feet.  “He doesn’t do anything!  Just hangs out on the beach with a bunch of surfer-dudes!”
    Tom DeFalco was a gentle, saintly man with infinite patience, but, after listening, with mounting disgust, to Giffen and DeMatteis’s plans for desecrating four of Marvel’s most-beloved characters, he got up from behind his desk, rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to beat the team mercilessly.  Even Giffen, quite the scrapper himself, was helpless before DeFalco’s fury.  When the rampaging editor was done, bones were broken and copious blood had been spilled.  “Get these bums outta here!” DeFalco barked to his assistant—who then tossed the two unconscious comedians into the service elevator.
    When he regained consciousness, DeMatteis was, understandably, upset.  “Well,” he said to his partner, “here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”
    Giffen was undeterred.  “C’mon,” he said, grabbing DeMatteis by the bloody nose and out onto the street, “we’re going uptown to DC!”
  
***
   


    The pair, having stopped to purchase crutches along the way, hobbled into the lobby of DC Comics at 3:45 on a Monday afternoon.  As fate would have it, this was exactly when editor Andy Helfer (a shrewd and dapper young playboy perhaps best known as the man who hired artist/writer Frank Miller for the wildly-successful revival of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen) was arriving for work, accompanied by his valet, Kevin Maguire.  (Maguire, born to humble farmers in Iowa, was an extraordinarily gifted young artist with dreams of becoming a comic book illustrator.  He hoped that working for the wealthy and influential Helfer would pave the way for a career in the business.)  The four stepped into an elevator together, unaware that Destiny had entered with them.
    Helfer, it turns out, was raised in Brooklyn and occasionally returned to his old stomping grounds.  He’d spent many a Saturday night at Heehee’s in Sheepshead Bay and, unknown to Keith and J.M., was a passionate and dedicated Giffen & DeMatteis fan.  Andy had been heartbroken when the team split and could hardly control his excitement when he realized that he was actually meeting his idols.
    The two aspiring comic book writers were equally excited when Helfer invited them into his office.  While Maguire dutifully tended to their wounds and set their broken bones, the editor explained that he’d recently been asked to revive DC’s flagship super-team book, Justice League of America—and he thought that the Giffen/DeMatteis touch was just what the series needed.
    DeMatteis, who had his heart set on a revival of Curbstone’s Super Hero Parody, refused at first (a reluctance that never fully abated.  He would, in fact, quit Justice League sixty-two times over the next five years), but Giffen, who sensed an opportunity for the pair to reinvent themselves, immediately agreed.  “Don’t you get it?” Giffen whispered to his partner.  “We can take our Defenders ideas, mix ‘em up a little, and use ‘em  here!  If the book’s a hit, they’ll let us do anything we want!
    DeMatteis was still uncertain; but, when he noticed Helfer’s valet doodling on the wall (an impressive series of drawings that depicted Superman and Captain Marvel having a lengthy conversation), he was struck by an idea that was truly inspired.  “I’ll do it,” DeMatteis announced,  “but only if Kevin Maguire draws the book!” 

***

And the rest, as they say, is history!  At least it would be if it was true

Maybe one day I'll write about how the JLI actually came about—but, really, isn't fiction far superior to reality?  And, in the end, isn't reality itself just a work of Cosmic Fiction, dreamed into being by a Divine Storyteller?  Which means that—in some parallel universe somewhere—this might be true after all. 

Or maybe not.

©copyright 2016 J.M. DeMatteis  

Thursday, February 4, 2016

SPEAKING OF MEHER BABA...

Some years ago in India, after I'd spent a part of the morning sitting in Avatar Meher Baba's Samhadi, imbibing His Presence and Love, I walked down the hill to the Pilgrim Center where many visitors to Meherabad stayed, picked up a guitar and wrote this song.  Well it might be more accurate to say that the song wrote itself, taking shape quickly and easily—and fully expressing not just how I felt that day, but how I continue to feel about Life, the Universe and Everything.  It's called "Time For Love."  Enjoy! 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

AMARTITHI 2016



My spiritual master, Avatar Meher Baba, dropped His body on January 31, 1969. Every year on this date, thousands gather at Baba's Tomb-Shrine (also known as the Samadhi) on Meherabad Hill in India for a celebration—not just to remember Baba, but to experience His presence and His love.  The Amartithi (meaning "eternal date") festivities climax with fifteen minutes of silence outside the Samadhi, beginning at 12:15 in the afternoon, the exact time Avatar Meher Baba shed his physical form.  

The one time I attended Amartithi, in January of 1990, I was lucky enough to spend those fifteen minutes just outside the Tomb, sitting on the ground with my head pressed against the cool stone.  The power of that silence, of Meher Baba within that silence, was so profound, so sacred and magical, that words could never capture it. It bypassed the mind and ran straight to the deeps of the soul.

It runs there still.



Friday, January 29, 2016

BALLOON RIDE

The other day I had a long conversation with John Siuntres for his wonderful Word Balloon podcast.  We covered Batman: Bad Blood, the new Augusta Wind series, Justice League 3001 and lots of other things.  It was, as always, a genuine pleasure talking with John.  Click here to listen.  Hope you enjoy it!



Sunday, January 24, 2016

TURN OFF YOUR MIND, RELAX AND FLOAT DOWNSTREAM

With the ballyhoo (there's a word you don't hear very often) surrounding The Beatles' recent, wildly-successful, debut on various streaming services, I thought this would be a good opportunity (perhaps excuse is a better word) to indulge my Beatles-obsession and revisit my list of top twenty Beatles tracks, originally presented here back in 2009.

A word of warning: these are my top twenty selections today (the numerical order is almost irrelevant.  Any one of these songs could be number one).  The Beatles treasure chest is so deep, and filled with so many musical jewels, that I could probably compile another list, with twenty different songs, tomorrow. 

20. “Please Please Me”
Their first number one single. As fresh, as exciting, as filled with humor and energy, as anything that followed. Right out of the gate John Lennon proved he had one of the greatest voices in rock and roll.  And he kept getting better.

19. “Don’t Let Me Down”
As honest, and emotionally naked, a song as the Beatles ever recorded. No surprise that the wounded, desperate voice at the center of the song is Lennon’s. “Don’t Let Me Down” provides the blueprint for much of John’s solo career: autobiography, straight from the heart.

18. “Come Together”
“Come Together” isn’t the greatest Beatles song, but it’s one of the most brilliant recordings the band ever made.  Abbey Road may have been the group’s last album—with tensions high and everyone pretty much desperate to get out—but you’d never know it from the way they played together on this track.  McCartney’s bass and Ringo’s drums alone are worth the price of admission, with Harrison’s guitar work not far behind—and it’s all topped with a snaky Lennon vocal that manages to be as inspiring as it is sinister.  But the real hero here may be producer George Martin, who gives the track an incredible polish, without ever obscuring the song’s down and dirty roots. 

17. “If I Fell”
According to myth, John was the acerbic rocker and Paul was the melodic, tender-hearted balladeer. In reality, McCartney was one of rock’s great screamers and Lennon’s hard shell masked an incredibly soft center. Here John offers up one of his most beautiful, and honest, love songs—with Paul'’s harmony offering perfect support.

16. “We Can Work It Out”
I still remember hearing this come over the radio in 1965. It didn’t sound like any other Beatles song I’d ever heard—especially the middle section, with that funereal harmonium pumping away and Lennon and McCartney—sounding more desperate and anxious than two rich, happy rock stars should—telling us all that life was very short and there was no time for fussing and fighting. The Beatles were clearly changing and that fact was as thrilling as it was disturbing.

15. “Tomorrow Never Knows”
Psychedelia went into labor with “Rain,” but it was born with this extraordinary track: Lennon channeling Timothy Leary channeling The Tibetan Book of the Dead. “Lay down all thought, surrender to the void...it is shining, it is shining...” Still great advice, if you ask me.

14. “A Hard Day’s Night”
The essence of Beatlemania—all the joy and wit, euphoria and lunacy—boiled down to two minutes and thirty-three seconds. Once again Lennon and McCartney are in perfect balance—you could write an entire book about the blending of those two incredible voices—and it all kicks off with a glorious opening chord that musicologists are still dissecting.

13. “All You Need Is Love”
There are some who dismiss this song as so much hippie claptrap. Me, I’m of the opinion that it’s one of the wisest, truest songs ever written. The message is so clear a three year old could understand it, but listen to the lyrics and they open up a whole universe of meaning. Not a hint of claptrap to be found.

12. “Here, There and Everywhere”
As perfect a love song as has ever been written. If McCartney had retired immediately after recording this, his place in the songwriter’s hall of fame would still be secure.

11. “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”
John Lennon saw this strange, tortuous collision of imagery, angst and varying musical styles as a mini-history of rock and roll—and it certainly is that. It’s also one of the oddest, most disturbing and exhilarating songs in the Beatles catalogue. A journey down the rabbit hole that was the Mind of Lennon, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” is, even after forty seven years, a continual revelation.

10. “Let It Be” (single version)
McCartney at his most soulful and introspective. The album version, produced by Phil Spector, is a bad mix, with the drums clomping all over the place, the lead guitar noisily intruding and poor Paul stranded in the middle. The single version, produced by the impeccable and brilliant George Martin, is in perfect balance.

9. “Blackbird”
A gorgeous melody, a flawless lyric, and a performance as honest as any McCartney—who sometimes hides his art behind artifice—has ever given. This is the song “Yesterday” wishes it could be.

8. “In My Life”
For years McCartney claimed that Lennon wrote all the lyrics while he supplied the melody. Then Paul changed his story, claiming that he actually co-wrote the lyrics with Lennon. Lennon insisted that he wrote all the lyrics and most of the music, with Paul helping out with the melody. I tend to believe Lennon, who spoke about this song with great passion, and in great detail, during his last interviews; but, however “In My Life” was composed, this Rubber Soul track remains one of the Beatles’ greatest achievements. It’s not surprising that a Mojo magazine panel of professional songwriters selected it as the greatest pop song of the twentieth century.

7. “Across The Universe” (Let It Be...Naked version)
One of the (many) wonderful thing about the Beatles is the fact that their songs evolve in the listening, the tracks continually revealing new layers and levels, and, because of that, “Across The Universe”—a cosmic cry from John Lennon’s heart—grows closer to my heart every year. There have been several different versions released, but the version on the otherwise unnecessary Let It Be...Naked brings out all the song’s magic and transcendence. No wonder NASA beamed it into space.

6. “I Am The Walrus”
A surreal, psychedelic masterpiece—with a fierce Lennon vocal (there’s some raw anger beneath the druggy haze) and insanely brilliant George Martin orchestration that perfectly matches John’s equally insane, and equally brilliant, lyrics.

5. “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End”
Paul McCartney at the peak of his powers, leading his band-mates through a memorable finale that manages to wrap up not just one of the Beatles finest albums—Abbey Road—but their entire astonishing career.

4. “Here Comes The Sun”
Optimism, cosmic consciousness, shimmering guitars and gorgeous harmonies entwine in George Harrison’s greatest Beatles-era composition: the best Lennon-McCartney song that John and Paul never wrote.

3. “Strawberry Fields Forever”
The first song recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, this is Lennon at his most dreamy and introspective and the Beatles at their most brilliantly experimental. “Strawberry Fields” was yanked from Pepper—along with the wonderful “Penny Lane”—to be the Beatles first single of 1967. Had both those songs been included on Pepper, the album might have lived up to its hype. (Note:  the video below does not include the entire song.)

2. “A Day In The Life”
Lennon’s vocal is one of the most magnificent in the history of popular music—so cold, it’s hot; so emotionally removed that it becomes extraordinarily intimate—and the collision of John’s cosmic alienation with Paul’s down-to-earth everyman persona detonates an ending that Lennon, accurately, described to producer George Martin as “a tremendous build-up from nothing up to something absolutely like the end of the world.” Yes, Sgt. Pepper is brilliant, a work of genius and blahblahblah—but it’s also the most over-rated album in the Beatles catalogue. (For my money, Rubber Soul, A Hard Day’s Night, Abbey Road and The White Album are all superior efforts.) “A Day In The Life” is the place where 60’s mythology and musical reality meet.

1. “Hey Jude”
When I was a teenager, lost in adolescent angst and misery, I’d sit for hours feeding my dour mood, listening to the most depressing music in my collection. Then, when I was ready to get over myself, I’d put on “Hey Jude” and, instantly, hope was back. The song is honest, heartfelt and, by the end, downright majestic. A brilliant, moving—and utterly unpretentious—work of art.



© copyright 2016 J.M. DeMatteis

Sunday, January 17, 2016

BAD BLOOD

My latest animation project, Batman: Bad Blood—the sequel to last year's Batman vs. Robin—will be available for digital download this week (the 19th to be precise). The DVD will follow on February 2nd.  Here's a new clip to whet your appetite. Enjoy!

 

The movie was directed by Jay Olivia and once again stars Jason O'Mara as Batman, Stuart Allan as Robin and Sean Maher as Nightwing.  So ends today's shameless plug!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS

On television they’re trotting out Miracle on 34th Street, The Grinch, It's a Wonderful Life and seemingly-infinite variations on A Christmas Carol.  Here at Creation Point we have our own Yuletide tradition, a short Christmas tale of mine called The Truth About Santa Claus:  offered annually as a kind of cyber Christmas present.  My way of wishing all of you who visit this site the happiest of holidays and the most magical of Christmases.  I offer it again this year—along with a trio of wonderful illustrations by my friend and collaborator Vassilis Gogtzilas.  So grab a plate of Christmas cookies, pull a chair up close to the fireplace and enjoy.

THE TRUTH ABOUT
SANTA CLAUS

“THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS!”

He’d been thinking about it for days—ever since he heard Big Mouth Jenny Rizzo announce it on the school bus—and he didn’t believe a word of it, not one word.  (Well, maybe ONE.)  But Cody had to be sure, absolutely, positively sure—

—and that’s why he was hiding behind the couch at midnight on Christmas Eve.



His mother was there, asleep in his dad’s old easy chair, the reds and blues of the Christmas tree lights making her look peaceful and happy and impossibly young.

The tree, by the way, had not ONE SINGLE PRESENT underneath it.

That didn’t make sense.  If there WAS no Santa Claus, if his mother was the one who bought the presents, wrapped the presents, stacked them under the tree, then how come she hadn’t done it?  How come she wasn’t awake RIGHT NOW arranging them all?

He got scared.  Maybe there wasn’t going to BE a Christmas this year.  Maybe Mom had lost her job and they didn’t have any money and so she COULDN’T buy him any presents and—

And then Cody glanced over at the windows and noticed that it was snowing.

Or was it?

If that was snow, it was the WHITEST snow he’d ever seen.  It was snow as bright as moonbeams, as bright as sunlight, as bright as...

Stardust.

Quickly, but quietly (he didn’t want to wake his mother), he scurried to the window and looked out.

It was coming down and coming down and COMING DOWN all across town, whirling and whipping, spinning and gyrating, out of the night sky.  Glowing so brightly that it almost hurt his eyes to look at it.  And Cody saw that it certainly wasn’t snow, and it absolutely wasn’t rain, it wasn’t ANYTHING he’d ever seen before.  But each drop, no...each flake, no... each BALL of glowing WHATEVER IT WAS, seemed to pulse and spin, soar and vibrate, as if it were alive.

And the stuff, the magical WHATEVER IT WAS (and he knew now that it was magic.  He just KNEW), wasn’t collecting on the streets, wasn’t piling up on the rooftops.  It was MELTING INTO (that’s the only way he could put it:  MELTING INTO) every house (no matter how small) and apartment building (no matter how big).




EVERY house and apartment building.

EVERY.

He looked up.

And there it was:  coming RIGHT THROUGH THE CEILING of Apartment 3F, HIS apartment, swirling, like a tornado of light, around the chandelier and then down, down, down—

—STRAIGHT FOR HIS MOTHER.

At first he almost yelled out a warning, “Mom!  Wake up!  MOM!”  But something made him stop.

Instead of yelling he ducked back behind the couch and watched, eyes peering over the top.

Watched as the light-tornado wheeled around his mother, so fast, so bright, that he could hardly even SEE her.  But he COULD see her.  Most of her, anyway.

And what he SAW...

The light poured in through the top of her head, through her eyes, through her chest, through her toes.  It lifted her up—still sleeping!—and carried her out of her chair and across the room.  And as she floated—

—she started to change:

Her hair became white, her nose became red, her belly ballooned like the most pregnant woman in the history of the world.  Her feet grew boots, her head grew a hat, her nightgown grew fur.  An overstuffed sack sprouted, like a lumpy angel’s wing, from her shoulder.  And then—

AndthenandthenandTHEN, it wasn’t his mother there at all, it was him, it was SANTA CLAUS!  STANDING RIGHT THERE IN CODY’S LIVING ROOM!  Santa Claus who, with a laugh (exactly like the laugh Cody always knew he had, only better) and a twinkle in his eyes (exactly like the twinkle he’d always imagined, ONLY BETTER) reached into his sack and pulled out package after package, present after present, and placed them, carefully, like some  Great Artist contemplating his masterpiece, under the tree.

When he was done, Santa Claus stood there, grinning and shaking his head, as if he couldn’t BELIEVE what a beautiful tree this was, how wonderful the presents looked beneath it.  As if this moment was the greatest moment in the history of Christmas, as if this apartment was the only place in all the universes that such a Christmas could ever POSSIBLY happen.

And then the MOST amazing thing happened:

Santa Claus turned.

He turned slowly.  So slowly Cody couldn’t even tell at first that he was moving at all.  And—slowly, SLOWLY—those twinkling eyes, that Smile of smiles, fixed itself on the two boy-eyes peering, in wonder, over the top of the couch.


And what Cody felt then he could never really say:  only that it was better than any present anyone could ever get.  Only that it made his heart so warm it melted like magical WHATEVER IT WAS, trickling down through his whole body.  Only that it made him want to reach out his arms and hug Santa Claus, hug his mother, hug his father (and FORGIVE him too, for running out on them) and his aunts and uncles and cousins (even his Cousin Erskine who was SUCH a pain) and Big Mouth Jenny Rizzo (who really wasn’t so bad most of the time) and all his  friends and teachers and the kid in his karate class who always smelled SO BAD and, embarrassing as it sounds, it made him want to hug everyone and everything in the whole world including rabbits and snakes and trees and lizards and grass and lions and mountains and, yes, the EARTH HERSELF.

Cody wanted to hold that gaze, to keep his eyes locked on Santa’s, forever. (Or longer, if he could.)  Wanted to swim in that incredible feeling, drown in it, till GOD HIMSELF came down to say:  “Enough!”

Except that he blinked.  Just once.  But in that wink of an eye, Santa was gone.  Cody’s mother was asleep in the chair again and, for one terrible moment, the boy thought that the whole thing must have been a dream.

Except, under the tree:  THERE WERE THE PRESENTS.

Except, out the window:  THERE WAS THE SNOW, the rain, the magical WHATEVER IT WAS, shooting up, like a blizzard in reverse, from every house, every apartment building.  Shooting up into the heavens, gathering together like a fireball, like a white-hot comet—

—and fading away into the night:  going, going...

Gone.

Without so much as a tinkling sleigh-bell or a “Ho-ho-ho.”

Not that it mattered.

Cody looked at his mom.

Cody kissed her.

“I love you,” he said.  And he was crying.  Happy tears.  Christmas tears.  Like moonbeams, like sunlight.  Like stardust.

Mom stirred in the chair, smiled the softest sweetest smile Cody had ever seen. “I love you, too,” she said.

And then she drifted back to sleep.

Cody sat at her feet, warming himself, warming his SOUL, by the lights of the tree.

And soon, he, too, was drifting off to sleep.  And as he drifted, a wonderful thought rose up, like a balloon, inside him.  Rose, then POPPED—spreading the thought to every corner of his mind.  Giving him great comfort.  Great delight:

“One day,” the thought whispered, “when you’re all grown-up, when you have children of your own.  ONE DAY,” the thought went on...

“It will be YOUR TURN.”

Merry Christmas.

Story ©copyright 2015 J.M. DeMatteis
Art ©copyright 2015 Vassilis Gogtzilas