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Sleeping is out on Christmas morning.

The last kid having left the nest Mom and Pop were hoping to languish in bed until, oh, maybe as late as daylight

I don't argue that for 364 days of the year Santa's little round belly shakes like a bowlful of jelly because he's such a jolly old soul. But come Christmas Eve, I argue that his little round belly could very well use a roll of Tums. After all, he's up all night, he's covered with soot, all he gets to eat are some lousy cookies and maybe a glass of warm milk, and in spite of his fancy red coat with the furtrimmed collar, he's probably colder than an iced catfish.

And take it ftom this poor surrogate Santa, I know what I'm talking about-thanks to what happened this Christmas Eve at my "castle," as some hopped-up bachelor poet once dignified a man's home.

Why is it that appliances that are "ours" when they are functioning properly suddenly become "yours" when they go on the blink-as in "Your furnace is on the blink"?

For this to happen during daylight hours is unheard of. Or you could turn our furnace on in mid-August and it would run like a charm. But wait till the coldest night of the year, and what better time to unsnuggle old Santa from his bed.

"Let's give it another two hours," I moaned.

"By that time we'll be stiffer than boards," my dear wife argued, terminating the discussion. "The flashlight is in the junk drawer."

Over my p.j.'s I pulled on an old fleece-lined corduroy coat trimmed in fuel oil, gashed my finger rummaging through the junk drawer for the flashlight, and stepped outside to fill my slippers with snow on my way around the house to the furnace pit.

Removing the homemade sheetmetal cover, I eased myself into the pit, lay on my back to squeeze beneath the furnace pipe, got stuck, backed out, removed the coat, and in my bare pajamas wormed my way up to the front of the furnace, from where I could reach through the cobwebs and hit the red reset button.

The furnace started, belched a cloud of smoke and a shower of soot in my face, and quit. After regaining partial vision, I tried again. With the same results. Scrunching back beneath the pipe, I stumbled into the house, which I now found a pleasant five degrees warmer than the outside. The crunching sound when I climbed back into bed was not the mattress, but rather, I discovered, the soot in my pajamas.

Trying to go back to sleep with soot in your p.j.'s is by no means easy, and letting your mind drift to some of the other predicaments caused by softly snoring Mrs. Santa certainly doesn't help.

My mind drifted to the kitchen's dripping faucets into which she had decided to install new washers all by her little self, the primary object being to show me up as a sluggard. When the faucets wouldn't unscrew by hand, she took the pipe wrench to them. This failing, she then tried to pry them off with a screwdriver. After bending the screwdriver until we now use it only for going around corners, she finally succeeded by using a crowbar. At Hanlon Bros. Hardware, one of the Hanlon Bros. showed her how to pop the top of the faucet with a fingernail file to get at the screw securing the faucet. The whole new outfit came to $37.85.

What stopped me from getting a few winks after my mind had closed on that episode was the soot beginningto prickle, which reminded me of my dear wife's mowing the lawn underneath the overhanging honeylocust trees with their six-inch spines that have no trouble penetrating the corrugated sole of a rubber boot. If I'm mowing, I always gather up these spines so they won't puncture the pneumatic tires on our new Murray mower. Dear wife prefers to save all that stooping by letting the tires gather the spines. After the last time she mowed, the left rear in particular looked as if she might have run over a porcupine.

"Didn't you notice that the tire was flat?" I casually inquired.

"Of course I did," she responded. "But when I saw that the mower was gouging on that side, I let the air out of the other tire." You know something, folks, I never would have thought of that.

In spite of these disturbing mind drifts, I must have dozed off just before my dear wife's one-woman cat, Lump, began her usual antics to wake us up for her 5:00 a.m. feeding. Wife thinks these antics are cute. I contend the cat missed her calling-as violin strings. Anyway, wherever Lump wants to sleep, Lump sleeps. During the night she prefers sleeping across my legs to shut off their blood supply. To hone her claws, she sits in the middle of my back, for my back is usually covered by no more than a sheet and she can test her talons on human flesh. Her cutest trick, however, is the way she has of turning our bed into a trampoline.

This feat requires her to walk up my back to my head, which she uses as a springboard to leap up on the window sill. From this vantage point, after a final fine-tuning of her claws on the screen if the window is open, or on the curtain if it isn't, she catapults, stiff-legged, onto the bed. Thanks to her tipping the scales at around 40 pounds, we might as well be lying on a vibrating mattress out of control.

Picking herself up off the floor, where I have carelessly sent her sprawling, she's back to the sill for an encore, again via my head. This time she attempts-although I've always been too groggy to catch her at it-what must be the difficult back one-and-a-half with full twist.

If the vibrations from this maneuver fail to get us up, the effort is by no means wasted: it alerts Brutus, my best friend, as legend has it, that daylight is approaching. Ordinarily, Lump and Brutus are sworn enemies. But when it comes to getting master-and how they'd laugh at that title if they could read-up and at 'em in the dark of morn, no cat or dog were ever more buddy-buddy.

Brutus begins his routine with a single whine of distress, which we ignore. After three more whines of increasing decibels, dear wife removes the pillow from over my head and murmurs in my naked ear, "Your dog wants out."

It's no use faking a snore, no use trying a convulsion, as she by now can read me as well as Brutus can. So I try rigor mortis. It works so well that she sees no harm in shattering my eardrum with the command, "You lie down and be quiet!"

Brutus, perhaps thinking she is yelling at me, now puts his Shetlandpony size to good use by sticking his big wet muzzle affectionately on the back of my neck. If it's still slobbery from a recent drink, so much the better. And if this fails to get the appropriate response, he likes nothing better than to wedge his big slobbery muzzle under my arm and happily try to dislocate my shoulder.

What really gets my hackles up is to finally wrench myself out of bed and stagger to the door to let him out, only to find he doesn't want to go out. Nor does he want breakfast. What he wants is love. I could kill him. And if you've ever gone back to bed with your hackles up, you know that the arms of Morpheus aren't exactly waiting to welcome you.

Breakfast. How I envy the "real" Santa's lousy cookies and warm milk. I usually eat a bowl of cereal. Since all the boxes on the cereal shelf contain cereal high in fiber, with multiple vitamins, no sugar or preservatives added, I pay little attention to which box I select. But why in the world would a man's mate decide to stick a box of Minute Rice on the same shelf?

Having poured the stuff in my bowl, however, poured on the skim milk, sprinkled on the sugar and a handful of raisins, I certainly wasn't going to waste it. Boy, oh, boy, nothing can set a man up for the day like a hearty breakfast of Minute Rice. My dear wife ate whole-wheat toast.

I could go on . . . and on . . . and on. But trying to operate this typewriter with a blown-glass unicorn's head glued to the index finger of my best hand is rather time-consuming.

I'm referring to having been aroused with the strange feeling that I was no longer being kicked by my bed companion. Upon checking, I found my bed companion sitting at the kitchen table, awash in tears, trying to reassemble a blown-glass unicorn she had dropped while wrapping it as a Christmas gift to add to my collection.

"My hands were too cold," she whimpered. (The furnace had already quit running.)

The surprise element by now pretty well shot, I volunteered to apply the airplane glue and hold the head in place until the glue dried. "It dries in only a minute," my dear wife sniffled on her way to hit the sack.

And for once, by golly, she was right. A minute later the head was solidly cemented to my finger. And finding no directions on the glue tube for the removal of a glass unicorn's head from a human finger, I went back to bed so adorned. I suppose it will come off in time, but until then I'm not as handy as usual.

One good thing. it doesn't interfere with my pushing that reset button. "My" furnace has just quit again.*
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Dec 1, 1988
Previous Article:The Warmhearted Polar Bear.
Next Article:The stars come out for Christmas ... and recall for Post readers their brightest memories of the holiday season.

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