Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013
Roll: 6,5. Result: Feelings, Avoid.
Gemma knew I liked to play things close to the chest, but she said this was pushing it, even for me. I told her she didn’t know what she was talking about.
It was 4:30pm on Christmas Eve; I knew because the voice on the train said so. I stripped out of my Santa outfit and began stuffing it into the backpack. I was relieved to find no sweat stains in the collared shirt I’d been wearing all day under the costume. I fished out my tie, wrapping it hurriedly around my neck and donning the suit jacket. Almost immediately the train came to a halt and dinged as the doors opened. This was my stop. I rushed outside and tossed the backpack to Donnie, who gave me the thumbs up and turned quickly to go.
Melissa met me at the top of the escalator, holding a briefcase and a cell phone. She mouthed the words, “It’s Lucky,” and handed off the phone, ushering me into the waiting car. I sat down, hearing two thumps on the roof, and we sped off.
“Mr. Greenwald,” I said, “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you until sundown. What can I do for you?”
“James, I’m afraid this might not work. I’ve got a lot of investors, and most of them are all over me about this. I can’t go anywhere, I can’t do anything, without facing one of these cretins, and I’m running out of assurances to send their way.”
“It’s going to work, Mr. Greenwald, I assure you. I’m pulling up now.”
“I know what you think, James, but I need proof. I need something I can show them.”
“Then all you have to do is wait. It’s time. I’ve got to go, just keep being lucky.”
I tucked the phone into my jacket and opened the door as we rounded the loop at the entrance. I stepped out in full stride as the car continued around and exited behind me, door closing on its own. Two men by the entry swung the doors open and showed me in.
Flashbulbs started going off, and I unleashed the great smile I’d been saving for them. As I walked up the wide red staircase, a pretty man with a headset came over and started prodding my head with powders and brushes. I rounded a corner to find Gemma staring from behind her clipboard. She rolled her eyes as I blew past her at a hurried pace, my cheesy smile on full blast. We sped down the hall, into a small, dark, and unimpressive room filled with wires and lights. Another man with a headset stood by a door at the far side with one finger up, the other over his ear. As I approached he dropped the one hand and waved me through, pushing open the door. A great clamor arose, growing as I approached the threshold and consuming me as I stepped beyond.
I pushed aside a red curtain as deafening applause erupted from the auditorium. My smile never failed; I waved, floating over to the podium where I shook Mr. Harding’s hand and thanked him. He turned and left the stage, leaving me to sooth the audience with a couple of good-natured laughs and quieting gestures.
“First of all, thank you,” I began. The applause sprang back to full volume, for only a moment this time. I calmed them down. “Thank you for the opportunity to be here, everyone.”
“We love you, James!” someone shouted from the audience. A bunch of woo-ing and laughter rolled across the auditorium.
“I love you too, whoever you are.” More laughter.
“That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? Love?” I smiled. I could practically hear the entire company groaning, bracing themselves. “I set up this face-to-face meeting because this year is quite unlike any of those previous. I know what you’ve come to expect: from me, from my company, from all of us who work so hard to provide the goods and services you’ve come to know and love, and even depend on. We reinforce that ideal with a grand gesture each year, from our hearts… to you.” I could feel my eyes twinkling. I let the smile fall.
“Unfortunately, like I said, this year is quite unlike any of those previous.” The temperature in the room seemed to plummet. “As many of you know, our sales have dwindled, our growth has almost frozen. At Kenga, we’ve been doing our best to be able to do something great for all of you, to wow you as we strive to do each year. But this one has been an exceptional year, and not for the better.” A dramatic pause.
“As such, this year, my company will be unable to pay back the community with anything of value.” I heard whispers flutter throughout the crowd before me. Looks of shock and disappointment were rampant.
“I’m sorry for this. We tried our best, but success just wasn’t in the cards for us this year. We’re putting together a special committee to look into the changing economic landscape and redeploy our company with a new strategy for the new year. Our mission statement remains the same: to push the human race forward into unbounded prosperity and technological development, while catering to its needs with smarter, more efficient products and services.” Some boos started to sally forth. They were rude, but not unexpected. Someone shouted “Corporate douchebag!”
I looked towards the voice, bringing back the smile. A voice in my ear said, “Get out of there. Apologize and get out.” I took the headset I didn’t realize I’d had and threw it on the ground. The crowd was getting restless.
“You didn’t let me finish, audience participant.” The crowd fell silent again. “My company won’t be able to pay back our community, because my company is low on funds. I just spent six hours down at the Central Mall playing Santa for hundreds of children. They came and sat on my lap and told me all about the things they wanted for Christmas this year. All the things Santa hopefully already packed onto his sleigh.” I looked at my watch. “It’s getting late, after all.”
“Some children asked for things their parents couldn’t possibly give to them: physically impossible toys, new dads, new houses, new siblings, super powers, islands, ponies, an infinitely reusable dismissal note for school… and some children asked for more reasonable things. To those parents, I say you keep an ear out tomorrow for the doorbell.” Some clapping.
“But, I know buying gifts for four hundred children isn’t quite the gift our community needs. Unless, of course, you know what one particular girl asked for.” My smile shrank, and I scanned the audience, suddenly honest before me. I could feel the eyes of a thousand people searching for hope. “After a boy had asked for a telescope and an Xbox, but before a girl had asked for an acoustic guitar and a pet shark, 9 year-old Elizabeth asked me for only one thing. She said, ‘Santa, I know you’re not real, but I don’t know who else to ask.’ I gave her my best ‘Ho ho ho,’ and asked her to wish away, because Santa was listening. She went on, ‘Well, like I said, I know you’re not real, but… I only want… I want to be able to go to school.” Some ahh’s rose up from the crowd. I got serious.
“I went down to the mall today to make a few kids happy tomorrow, but I never expected what Elizabeth said. That she should have to ask for something so vital, something that should be guaranteed, for our children…” I started to tear up. The audience was mine. “It’s a request that should be unheard of in this day and age, with what my company does, and with what I have. And that’s why… this year… I will be donating $500 million, the majority of my life savings, to public education budgets in major metropolitan areas throughout the United States.”
A low rumble rose to a deafening roar. Everything was cheers. So many shouting, awestruck people. Flashbulbs all around. I could neither see nor hear. I felt a tug on my shoulder. Gemma was there, shocked and happy, so happy. We hugged. More people came to share in the moment, and soon a large group had surrounded me on stage, and I knew then that I had done right.