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Twas the Night Before Christmas and the fix was in

I have a good, good friend, let’s call him Joey, not to protect his privacy, but because that’s his name.

He is the kind of fellow other fellows admire - a man’s man.

He’s smart in a funny kind of way, loyal like your best retreiver and has one of the biggest hearts I have ever known. He is the kind of person who, once he’s made up his mind, a boat load of money cannot dissuade him from his mission, well maybe not a boat load of money, but at least ten bucks. And he’s got a thing for certain holidays, Halloween, Super Bowl Sunday and in particular, Christmas.

Once upon a time, more years ago than I can actually remember, Joey bought a house in a suburb of Chicago so far northwest it was practically in Wisconsin. He loved that house. It’s where his middle son, Little Joey, was born, eventually learned how to parachute off of the top of the swing set, and wear the paper towel rack as a hat.

Good times!

Maybe it was because Joey grew up much closer to the madness called Chicago in a house with a lawn you could have cut with a scissors that he became “very fond” of his lawn and all of the equipment it took to manicure it.

If he’d had the right accent, he could have done the Scott’s commercials. He was never a big gardener, he left those details up to his wife, Saint Katherine.

However anything else connected to the lawn like trees and shrubs, weeding, even the invisible dog fence, those fell under his domain. He spent a lot of time out there perfecting his sod because he enjoyed it, he was good at it, and because inside belonged to the Saint and the kids, but mostly because he enjoyed it.

It’s not a large leap to imagine that he also cared about how the house looked on the outside, that it was maintained to somewhat compliment his green acre. Were you to drive around Joey’s neighborhood, you couldn’t help but notice, based strictly on the condition of lawns, there might have been a few other “Joey’s” living nearby.

For the most part, I remember them as being friendly maybe even sharing a few tips amongst themselves, though nothing that might give a competitor a leg up when it came to grooming the green.

Joey and company had lived out there for a number of years before I began to notice his alarming fascination with electricity, specifically when it came to decorating the confines for Christmas.

Apparently there was a casual competition amongst neighbors to see who could out-decorate who when it came to lighting and other seasonal lawn accessories. I’m not sure exactly when Joey’s needle flew past involved to insane, but I distinctly remember the Christmas it crashed.

Joey was famous within his circle of friends for his holiday glogg party. Glogg is a high octane Swedish concoction often served in wooden cups black with seasoning consisting of some variation of red wine combined with rum and port and spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves to help flavor the alcohol and often containing orange peels, raisins and currants or even plums.

It was at one of these parties that the subject of the competition was raised in the context of how much electricity would it might take to accidentally ignite someone who has had too much glogg.

With each cup of glogg, the discussion grew more honest until Joey revealed that he believed the “fix” was indeed in and that despite his creative and costly investment each year, he had failed to curry favor with the judges and the first place trophy had continued to elude his grasp. Even through the fog of glogg I knew this was trouble. I could feel the pitbull’s jaws tightening on Santa’s leg.

By the time I recognized the trouble, it was too late. It had started innocently enough years before.

In keeping with the pride he felt for his green kingdom and expertly maintained abode, he had purchased a few lights here and there and strung them about creatively to further accentuate his landscaping acumen.

Over the course of just a few short years that expenditure had ballooned into thousands of colored lights, some that sang carols, a team of blow up reindeer, assorted life-sized elves and a giant hot-air snowman that took a half day alone to inflate.

Despite all that and even lavishing completely transparent compliments on his competitor’s efforts, the best he’d been able to capture was a third place finish.

Bah Humbug, the fix was surely in!

Every year, Joey had outdone himself adding some new gadget, embracing the latest technology in an effort to finally secure his place amongst the decorating dignitaries. But until that fateful Christmas back in ‘91, he had never prevailed upon the Saint or any of his offspring to participate.

That Christmas was the turning point. Initially there might have been a napkin or two with a roughly drawn plan of what to expect, how many bulbs needed to be replaced, which reindeer needed a patch, but in 91 there was not just a plan, but a bargain, a bargain with the Saint.

I should have seen it coming. He was desperate for a win, nothing was beyond consideration. The plan was brilliant and it’s hard to believe he came up with it on his own, but regardless. If I’d been a betting man, my money would most certainly have been on Joey that Christmas.

The secret weapon, a deal with the Saint to dress up as a somewhat provocative Mrs. Claus to appear along with three living elves named Colleen, Little Joey and Nick all to inhabit Santa’s North Pole office, cleverly disguised as an old camper dry docked for years in the driveway.

There was no stopping this Polar Express headed for decorating glory.

The Saint, God bless her, fully embraced her role, sewing her own costume all the way from the red and green slippers with bells on the toes right on up past the exceptionally short merry skirt all the way to the headband suspending mistletoe.

The elves were no less impressive, albeit less invested, with their own pointed ears, rouged red cheeks and brightly colored stocking caps.

With the “ho ho” hum from thousands of volts subtly warming my bones and vibrating the sunglasses on the tip of my nose while holding a cup of highly volatile  glogg in my mitted hands, I was never more proud to say I knew that jolly, insane Santa propositioning strangers for their votes at the end of the driveway that night.

Tired from working overtime to pay for the triple-sized electric bill and beholding to the Saint for a debt he’d never be able to repay, he had nonetheless composed his masterpiece for the whole world to envy. It was a man, a genius enveloped in full holiday glory, brazenly shaming his competitors into submission with the sheer power of theater.

To this day I still believe it would have been impossible for any judge to have walked into the north pole that night, lured by the aroma of freshly baked cookies and charm of Santa’s own kin and not awarded this production first place … unless the fix was in.