While listening to a local (read:New York) radio station, an idea tromped through my head again. Allow me to set the scene for you. The afternoon show thought it would be a hoot to have a homeless man act opposite the crazy guy-on-the-street character from the cast of deejays in a little piece they like to call "Sidewalk Cinema". Before the two men taped their scene, the homeless man asked the crazy guy-on-the-street, "Do you drink beer?" When the crazy guy-on-the-street assented, the homeless man said "You want a beer, man? 'Cause I got a bag full here. And it's cold outside, so they cold, you know what I'm sayin', they cold." Of course, the radio guy refused. In the same situation, I'd have accepted. I don't even drink beer.

I'd have accepted. Yes, I'd have accepted because Santa Claus eats the cookies and drinks the milk you leave out for him on Christmas Eve.

Perhaps I should back up a bit and make that connection more clear.

It makes sense, deep down, that Santa Claus is an old white man who lives in a cold, remote place with no one but his wife-and-helpmate, and hundreds of elves who cannot and will never be Santa's friend or equal. Santa might once have lived in Spain, or in Holland, or in the Cathedral House wherever he was Bishop so long ago, but quickly gave that up once he felt the crushing weight of the gratitude. Ducking his head with a deprecating wave when he met someone on the street would have become uncomfortable, then boring, and finally soul-killing. He would retreat to a place where no one but one intrepid letter carrier could go. But why?

Imagine having the means to be generous. Couple that with an intuition for giving wonderful gifts. Some people haven't the knack, but some have a positive genius for thinking of people and individual tastes and selecting just the thing that will light up eyes. Yes, once again the eyes will light up with that dreadful, sticky gratitude.

Now imagine returning to the place where your generosity has run rampant. Of course, the object of your generosity will want to show you the house, and point out every instance of your generosity. You've not been generous just once. No. Year after year, you've given thoughtfully. Not everything descends upon you at once, but the evidence of your generosity fills niches and gaps, clutters tables and shelves. The object sees you blink, or look twice, and feels compelled to tell you, "Yes, that's yours. You gave that to me." You repeat, and repeat, and repeat, "No, it's yours. It's yours. It isn't mine, it's yours."

After a few rounds of this, you might begin to think it's easier to send the gift and wait for the thank you by mail. A letter you can read or you can discard, unopened, is easier than the smiling thank you given with a squeeze of the arm. If, perhaps, your generosity has reached such a scale that it's cheaper to deliver it yourself, you'd rather come in the dead of night and drop the gifts in a designated spot that makes all else in the room look insignificant (a lighted tree would do nicely). That way, you can run in, drop the gifts, and run out. You can ignore the other objects you've given over the years, avoid the moist gratitude of the hits and the disappointment of the discarded misses.

On your way through, however, there might be a small token left for you. It's just a little tribute, a nod that couldn't possibly equal your generosity in absolute value but vastly surpasses it in intent. In biting into that cookie, sipping that milk, enjoying that flavor that you don't seem to get in the remote north, there is just enough contact. It is thank you without the dreadful sticky moist smile, without the contrived formality. Cookies and milk, or a cold beer, or cheese even, that passed through hands other than those you've touched a thousand times, is enough to make it all worth while.

You can go back north again, to enjoy the comfortable presence of your lifelong helpmate, the one who understands the urge to generosity and the backlash of awkwardness. You enjoy the distant respect of those elves, those who want nothing from you but employment. Content to let them exist in their own culture without you, you continue to assign them their daily tasks as you think of the next thing your gift-receivers might like. They all deserve it, after all. Those cookies are good.

So is a cold beer, sometimes. When you're paying a guy more than he's likely to see in a week to make a fool of himself, and he wants to give you the best thing he can think of out of gratitude, lord love you take the beer.

Just take the beer.

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