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When Christ Came to Chicago

Image: PV Bella

For those of you old enough to remember, this is a take on a poem Win Stracke recorded, whose title escapes me.

Santa was gearing up for his midnight run through Chicago on Christmas Eve. As the elves loaded the last packages and retired to raid the liquor cabinet, Santa kissed Mrs. Claus, gave her a hearty swat on the ass, and prepared to depart.

Out of the swirling snow, a long-haired, bearded, robed figure appeared. There was a golden aura surrounding him. It was Jesus Christ.

Jesus asked Santa if he could accompany him on his trip to Chicago. The big man in red knew that when the Son of God asks for something, the request should be considered a Commandment, willfully and cheerfully obeyed.

Chicago style, St. Nick, put his hand’s palms up, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Yeah. Sure.”

The sleigh’s flight path took it into Chicago over the lake from the Northwest. The first stop was Uptown. It was not a home but a homeless shelter. Jesus noted the men, women, and children, especially the children. There would be no sugar plums dancing in their heads this eve. By morning they would be on the cold streets again. Santa left packages with toys, gloves, scarves, toiletries, and other items.

The next stop was the Gold Coast. Lights twinkled along Michigan Avenue. The streets were adorned with decorations. Santa and Jesus went from home to home, high rises, townhomes, and single-family homes to drop off gifts. Christ noted the finery of the houses, the best that money can buy. He also noted excess of every kind, the gluttony of riches.

They traveled into the city, circling the Loop. The streets and stores were decorated to celebrate “The Holiday.” Jesus took note of that too. Nowhere was Christmas to be found. Not even a sign proclaiming “Peace on Earth. Goodwill towards Men”. Nothing except something called “Holiday.”

Then, Santa did something unusual. He went underground. Not literally under the earth, but through the underground Wacker and Michigan Avenues. He knew every nook and cranny where homeless street denizens of the underground slept. He left packages for them. These were people who gave up all hope except the will to live, at least another day.

Jesus took in the sight of people sleeping in cardboard boxes, wrapped in layers of clothing, with all their possessions stacked on the ground or loaded into shopping carts. He noticed the pungent odor of the unwashed. Santa saw a look of profound sadness on Christ’s face.

The sleigh alit atop City Hall. Jesus noticed a peculiar smell, the perfume of graft and corruption, the smell of money. Santa delivered the fat envelopes stuffed with cash to each alderman’s desk. He knew about pay-to-play, the Chicago Way.

Santa wanted no trouble from city officials next year.

The next stop was Stroger Hospital, where the poor seek treatment for their ills, and the seriously injured or wounded are brought. The waiting area for the emergency room was packed to overflowing. In various states of illness and injury, men, women, and especially children are all waiting patiently and not so patiently to be treated. 

Sirens blared as ambulances delivered more charges. Triage personnel tried to sort out the most serious—the decision of who would get treated and who would wait all night and into the next day.

In the Trauma Unit, heroic doctors and nurses, battled to stabilize, patch up, or valiantly save the lives of people who were shot, stabbed, beaten, or victims of other violence and mayhem. Their movements were energetic, but their eyes relayed weariness. Santa left the staff presents in their break room.

The night was wearing on. There was still much work to do.

They flew through the westside, the Lawndale neighborhood, where hope goes to die, and dreams are stolen. They entered the homes of the poor. Santa left parcels at each one, taking special care to arrange the children’s just right. Jesus noted the lack these people suffered. He saw children sleeping, sometimes two, three, or more, in a single bed. Stoves and ovens provided extra heat.

There was racket coming through the walls of various buildings and homes, yelling and screaming. The noise of domestic disturbances and arguments by people whose desperation makes them so angry, they lash out at the ones they love.

While flying to another block, Jesus noticed blue lights swirling through the snow. Santa flew the sled lower. A police car was parked in an alley, the doors open, and blue Mars lights twirling. Two burly cops were standing over the latest victim of mayhem in Chicago. A teenager whose crimson blood was staining the pure white snow. His dead eyes were staring at the sky. The screams of an ambulance pierced the night air.

Off they flew until Jesus saw red blinking lights and a flurry of activity. There was a huge orange glow lighting up the night sky. The smell of thick black smoke was strong. There were cold, huddled masses on the street watching firefighters try to put out a blaze and rescue the inhabitants of a large apartment building. Icicles hung from several firefighters’ helmets.

They entered the parts of the city where the working classes live. As they went house to house, Jesus noted piles of stuff filling every nook and cranny of the homes. Every child and adult toy or gadget imaginable. Santa lamented that easy credit and rampant consumerism were making his job harder and harder.

Then it was off to the south side. As the sled approached the Englewood neighborhood, Santa started taking evasive action. Jesus asked why. Santa replied that for the Son of God, he sure did not know much. Santa patiently explained he was dodging bullets. Jesus just shook his head.

When they hit the Southside neighborhood known as the “Hundreds,” Santa put the sleigh down. He guided it through the streets, as it was worse than Englewood to fly through. Then, out of nowhere, an armed group surrounded the sleigh. They interrogated the fat man, ensuring he was not from an outside gang or drug operation poaching on their turf. Once assured he was harmless, they grabbed several packages and let him go on his merry way.

The sleigh detoured to the Southwest and Northwest sides, the outer neighborhoods. As Santa made his deliveries, Jesus noticed some family members missing, the police, firefighters, and other emergency responders working on this night.

There was something else He noticed it in some homes. It did not escape His attention during all the other stops. Pictures. Pictures of men and women in dun-colored uniforms, some looked like they were armed to the teeth. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen, from across the social, racial, and economic demographic spectrum deployed far from home.

After they landed back at the North Pole, Jesus noticed a single package left in the corner of the sleigh. He pointed it out to the fat man. Santa sighed, grabbed the package, and gave it to Him.

“This one is for you.”

Jesus opened the package. Inside was a can of WD-40, a roll of duct tape, a baseball bat, and a card with various vulgar, obscene words and phrases on it. He shot Santa a questioning look.

Santa kindly said, “This is my gift to you. Those are the four items Chicagoans use to fix everything. You have a lot of work to do.” 

Jesus walked off, shaking His head, and disappearing into the swirl of Arctic snow.

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