Before I go any further here, I need to rewind my life thirteen years to provide background information about some of the people involved in the story. With varying degrees of success, I had four different teachers attempt to fill my brain with the theorems, concepts, and procedures of a standard high school mathematics curriculum. To the best of my knowledge, I have only seen one of them dressed up as Santa Claus.
After sprinkling references about Mr. Eggert (my ninth grade algebra teacher) throughout recent stories, it was really just a matter of time before I devoted an entire story to the man who derived enormous amounts of joy and happiness to making my life as a high school freshman a living hell. I sometimes feel guilty just mentioning his name. It’s not because he was a mean, smelly, cigar smoking, bitter man who went out of his way to telephone my parents during the middle of dinner to discuss my attitude problem. In reality, he is just too easy of a target. Not everyone who sponsors their school’s chess team has a room full of emotional baggage upstairs, but Mr. Eggert is not someone to disprove this popular notion. I somehow managed to survive my entire freshman year with Mr. Eggert. I learned a lot in his class, and most of it was only tangentially related to mathematics.
My situation started to look better during my sophomore year of high school. My previous mathematics teacher was replaced with a much less evil model. Looking back on the situation, I suspect Mr. Ridgely, my tenth grade geometry teacher, conspired to play “good cop” to Mr. Eggert’s “bad smelling cop”. He was a very enthusiastic and helpful teacher. To top it off, he never called my parents during dinner time. Despite the fact that a large percentage of the entire world was plotting against me during my years as a teenager, I can honestly say that he probably wasn’t conspiring to destroy my life. Or, if he was, he did a very nice job of concealing his intentions.
Fast forward twelve and a half years to last December. My mother and I were invited to a Christmas party hosted by some of our old neighbors. Well, they aren’t really all that old– they just aren’t our neighbors anymore. In addition to visiting with a lot of friends I haven’t seen in a while, someone brought a plate of frozen miniature chocolate eclairs I found to be quite tasty. I started seeing everything in a different perspective. I spent my entire life up to that moment in time thinking that eclairs could only be one size and temperature. Why not make the pastries smaller? Why not serve them below room temperature? Then I applied the same thinking to humanity in general. I unearthed some universal truths about humanity. However, this story is about Santa Claus. The truths about chocolate eclairs will be written at a later date.
Guess who comes knocking on the door after everyone finished eating? If you answered “Jehovah’s Witnesses” you would be absolutely wrong, even though that would make for an interesting plot twist. No, Santa Claus himself joined the party with his big sack of presents for everyone at the party. I guess that means nobody fell into the “naughty” category for the year. Either that or the newly implemented NaughtyOrNice.com web site was malfunctioning and reporting a “nice” status for all individuals.
Santa sat down in the middle of the living room and pulled presents out one at a time. Everyone, including myself, sat on Santa’s lap when their name was called. For some reason, my mom seemed especially entertained when it was my turn. He gave me a calendar, so I suppose I wasn’t quite as nice as I could have been. I was really hoping for something that exploded or in some way was designed to catch on fire.
Guess who Santa Claus turned out to be? “A Jehovah’s Witness” is still not the correct answer. You can also rule out Mr. Eggert since it involved being kind and generous to little kids. Also the smell of stale cigar smoke would have scared away many of the smaller children. Santa was my geometry teacher, Mr. Ridgely. Sitting on his lap without realizing it at the time embarrassed me at first. But after a few minutes I decided that it was, like many aspects of my life, too strange to be anything but funny.
No matter where you see him– at the mall with little kids on his lap, next to a Salvation Army donation bucket, or at the liquor store loading up on cigarettes and whisky- I think it is human nature to assume that you don’t personally know the true Santa Claus. So if “Santa” comes around next year and I’ve been nice enough to receive a present, I’ll at least know why his lap seems so familiar.