Humbug meets a manchild from Santa land

Until Raven commented on my buffness, remarkable to him for someone in other respects to be obviously pushing well past 60, he was just another gym customer. His unsolicited compliment opened the door to a chat, scratching my pathology born of 40 years in journalism.

He and his wife, Christine, moved to our town from Texas six (or was that seven?) years ago. They’ve nudged their two kids through adolescence and off to college now. Raven works at a local mental health agency.

One of the first things he revealed was his love of reading. My ears perked up. A reader? In this day and age? Game on, buddy. We shared our love of literature and our favorite writers, of the ideal afternoon with nary a chore undone and no horizon on the landscape of time to read.

He loves speculative fiction. He told me I had to read XXXX. And then we went our separate ways, until I spied this couple attacking the machinery on a wintery Saturday evening. I caught his eye on the exercycle. We exchanged pleasantries, during which I said I was managing to keep the holiday schedule from going totally out of control.

Raven smiled, and in his Texas twang allowed as to how he was totally into Christmas. He and his bride had been that day to two different malls in the Portland area. Christine was less a fan of the holiday hubbub. I told him she sounded more like me, and said I would prefer a quiet walk with my dog in the woods.

The memory of the mall transformed him. He smiled, tilted his head back, returned to that place, the throngs, the atmospheric Christmas music, the decor and gaiety. It was like watching a drug addict recalling his last date with the needle.

Then he mentioned his encounter with Santa. He had gone up to our local Ace hardware store to get keys — “the kids are always losing keys, I need to get a bucket of them” — when he turned a corner and came face to face with Santa.

His face transformed, reliving that moment. “Oh, Santa, how are you?” he said. Santa had come down off his visitation stand, but stayed in character, and invited Raven to come get his picture taken with Santa.

“I know I’m psychotic,” Raven said, almost in apology for revealing his psychic tilts. “I love my wife, I love my kids, I love the mundane …”

“No, Raven, you are NOT psychotic,” I interjected. “That is so great. I love the mundane, too. Everyone can celebrate the mundane. Embrace grandiose dreams, and you set yourself up for failure.”

Raven is like a child besotted with childhood, simple things transformed into magic because that is likely all we’ll ever get. Complexity is the enemy of the simple, the innocent, the sweet and loving embrace of family.

We said our goodbyes. “God bless you, friend,” Raven said.

I have to slap myself. I never asked if he got his photo with Santa.