Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, has been a focus of much adulation since his trials and tribulations as a young buck were first chronicled by Robert May in 1939. Now, on the verge of what will be his sixty-third trip as the leader of Santa's Christmas dash, Rudolph reflects on his life, his hopes, and his regrets, with Sand in the Gears.
Sand: So, Rudolph, your story has been chronicled in books, an all-time best-selling song by Gene Autry, and in a major animated motion picture. You've been going strong for sixty-three years, and you look tanned and rested. How do you do it?
Rudolph: I give a lot of credit to a good diet, you know, berries, leaves, an occasional elf-burger (chuckles). Just kidding, I love those little guys. Seriously, I just try to take care of myself. Pilate's is a big help, of course.
Sand: Tell me about the pain of being left out of the Reindeer Games.
Rudolph: It hurt; I can admit that now. I was in top form, you know? I could have taken silver, maybe even gold in the high jump. But they were all about the nose, the nose, the big red freakin' nose, and I . . . excuse me (covers face).
A few moments elapse.
Rudolph: I'm sorry.
Sand: It's alright (pats hoof).
Rudolph: Please don't touch me.
Sand: I was only trying to express sympathy.
Rudolph: I know, and I appreciate that, but it's cold and flu season.
Rudolph: Forget about it. Thinking about the old days still makes me a little tense. Please continue.
Rudolph: What about them?
Sand: Some people say you were a sell-out. You had a chance, when Santa came crawling to you that foggy Christmas Eve, to say, on behalf of creatures the world over who suffer from glowing nose deformities, "screw you, Santa." Instead you became part of the establishment. How do you respond to that?
Rudolph: You know, it's really ridiculous.
Sand: Right, here, for the record, let's hear your response.
Rudolph: Who told you that? Blitzen? Let me tell you about that punk -- he's a total junkie.
Sand: If we could just stick to the question . . .
Rudolph: Oh yeah, everybody knows about it. He gets hopped up on like a case of Coca-Cola before the ride -- says he needs a little "pep."
Sand: . . . don't know if this is the right venue for that kind of allegation . . .
Rudolph: Total Coke-head, that guy. I'm just glad I don't have to fly behind him, if you know what I'm saying.
Sand: So did it cross your mind, to tell Santa and the other reindeer to just take a hike?
Rudolph: I won't deny it; it entered my mind. I mean, I was a nobody to them. Persona non freakin' grata. None of them wanted anything to do with me until a little fog hit, and then suddenly I'm everybody's daddy! (Pauses.) I'm sorry.
Sand: It's okay. Nice Pacino impression, by the way.
Rudolph: You caught the "Sea of Love" reference, huh?
Sand: I'm no stranger to the VCR, my friend.
Rudolph: It's faithful when nobody else is, let me tell you.
Sand: But now you have loads of fans, every schoolchild knows your name -- life is much different today, right?
Rudolph: It is and it isn't. Sure, there's the fame, there's the young hottie reindeer slinging their bells up on stage when I do a performance, there's the sweet royalties. (Pauses.) But let me tell you . . . (he pauses again, and a tear comes down his snout). You never know when it will end, right? I mean, look at this nose.
Rudolph: What's it doing?
Sand: Um, it's glowing.
Rudolph: Uh-huh, and why's it doing that?
Sand: I . . . I don't know.
Rudolph: Exactly! This light could go out tomorrow. You think they'll still want me around if that happens? Hell no! I'd be just another freak with a bulbous and slightly incandescent red nose.
Sand: Like Boris Yeltsin.
Rudolph: Yeah, and you don't see the chicks lining up outside his dressing room, now do you?
Sand: Just the old fat ones.
Rudolph: Yeah, well once you've had caviar, you don't go back to borscht so easy, capeche?
Sand: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: polyglot.
Rudolph: Well, I get a lot of fan mail from foreign kids. Plus I've been taking some community college courses. This sled-leading gig may not last forever, you know.
Sand: Santa is always so coy; tell us, how do you deliver all of those toys in just one night? You must have seen some of the physics analysis of that feat -- it looks pretty darn impossible.
Rudolph: Well, I probably shouldn't say. . .
Sand: (Leans forward, smiles) It can just be our secret.
Rudolph: (Whispers) Most kids don't get presents.
Sand: Get out of town.
Rudolph: Have you been to the mall lately? Little beasts, most of them. They're not even worth a lump of coal, unless you could hit them in the head with it. I tell you, Christmas gets easier on us every year. Five years from now we probably won't even need as many reindeer. (Louder) You hear that Blitzen, you punk?
Sand: You mentioned a couple of years ago, to a reporter for the North Pole News, that you don't like the way some people mingle your statue -- and Santa's -- with the more traditional nativity figures. Talk about that.
Rudolph: I think it's just wrong.
Rudolph: Yeah, that's part of it. I mean, I'm Episcopalian, right, so it's not like I'm a big literal Bible guy or anything, but still, this is Jesus we're talking about here.
Sand: And Mary.
Rudolph: Right, right. Got a lot of Catholic fans out there. Love you guys. Jesus and Mary.
Sand: So it bothers you.
Rudolph: Heck yeah it bothers me. Remember the name -- Christmas. Christmas. This is the big guy's show. I'm just glad I can contribute.
Sand: Some people would correct you, and point out that the holiday was here before the Christians appropriated it. They'd tell you that the term Christmas is offensive, and that you should say "Holiday Season." They'd say mingling you guys in with the wise men is a good way to make such displays less offensive.
Rudolph: Yeah, let 'em say that when they're sucking on a hot coal in Hell.
Sand: Sounds like you've got some strong opinions on this.
Rudolph: I just hate the whining. "Oh, my feelings are hurt because I have to drive past that little plastic Jesus in a fake manger." Give me a break.
Sand: So, for the record, you oppose having your statue on display too close to Jesus and Mary.
Rudolph: I know my place, alright? Holiday Season. Season's Greetings. Yeah, God took on human form and got crucified as His own special way of telling everyone, "Happy Holidays." Give me a freaking break.
Sand: What about your Jewish friends?
Rudolph: I want to give a big shout out to my Jewish friends. Happy Hanukah, God bless.
Sand: So your criticisms of the non-Christmas types don't apply to them?
Rudolph: Heck no. They're God's chosen people, my friend. That deal is between Him and them, and I ain't one to get in the middle of it.
Sand: How does that work, anyway? Is it only the Christian kids who get gifts from Santa?
Rudolph: Well, the first screen is good kids, which narrows it down to about five percent right off the bat.
Sand: No way.
Rudolph: Yes way. Why do you think Toys "R" Us got so big? Parents need junk for their brats because we've cut them off.
Sand: So tell us, that five percent, are they only Christian kids?
Rudolph: Our attorneys have advised us not to discuss the specifics of how the decisions are made, other than to say that both God and Santa love many children of all faiths.
Sand: Well said.
Rudolph: Thanks. I love this job.
Sand: But there are regrets. Tell us about them.
Rudolph: My biggest regret is that I haven't taken more time to enjoy things. It's always busy busy busy, what with training, and hoofgraphs, and now I've got this motivational speaking program I'm putting together with Tony Robbins.
Sand: Follow Your Nose. Right, I've seen that.
Rudolph: Look for us in a major city near you starting Spring '03.
Sand: You mentioned being busy, but critics might say look, this guy works one night a year. His income per work ratio has to be right up there with Donald Trump and Peter Angelos. How do you respond to that?
Rudolph: Unbelievable how people who don't know anything can't keep their cakeholes shut.
Sand: Right here, on Sand in the Gears, set the record straight.
Rudolph: Look, I have one night a year to complete one of the biggest jobs in human history. You'd think, with the advent of UPS, that Santa would slow it down a bit. I mean it's not like we couldn't start mailing this crap out in June, you know? But the old man wants to stick to tradition, so every December 24th, after all the kids have gone to bed -- and believe me, with rotten parents letting their brats stay up later and later, this ain't easy -- and then we're out there, dashing from house to house, dropping presents down chimneys, creeping in windows, and in general trying to spread Christmas cheer worldwide in about eight hours.
Sand: True, that is hard, but eight hours of work versus . . .
Rudolph: I know, I know, versus poor Erma slinging coffee at Denny's twelve hours a day, yada yada. Spare me the working class hero crap, alright? I'm in training every day, 364 days a year, all so I can deliver under pressure that other professional athletes never feel. I mean, it's not like (points at nose) this thing is some great search beam or something. It's like, twenty watts, and I'm supposed to find our way to every house through a snowstorm with it? It ain't luck that gets the job done, it's training. I know from busy, my friend. I'm talking weights, aerobics, running and flying laps . . .
Sand: Pilate's . . .
Rudolph: You got that right -- you try keeping up with Denise with cloven hooves.
Sand: I hear you.
Rudolph: All I'm saying is, people only see the tip of the iceberg. I've always said, if somebody thinks he can do this job better, he can just bring it, any time, 24/7. Just bring it, and we'll see who's got the real snowballs.
Sand: Thank you for being with us today (extends hand).
Rudolph: Thank you, T. I thought I told you not to touch me.
Yesterday a large man rushed onto my train just as we were leaving, and found his way to a seat on the other side of my table. It was apparent that he ran to catch the train, and it was apparent that he did not often run. He sat slouched in his seat, eyes closed, breathing heavily.
Breathing his foul, onion-laden, germ-ridden breath all over me. To make things worse, he had some sort of crust-type item clinging to the inside of his nose. To make things much worse, he began alternately breathing through his mouth and through his nostrils -- big, heavy puffs of air. I was worried he was having a heart attack. I was more worried that one of his nose exhalations was going to send that aerodynamic-looking crust onto my laptop, or worse, my person. I'm sure I looked, as I physically recoiled in the face of this potential offense, much like the debutante who discovers a turd in her punch bowl.
As for the breath, it bears repeating: sharp, stinging halitosis. This only accentuated what I normally try to forget: that every day, strangers with poor hygiene are getting their germs all over my personal space.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I need the personal perimeter of a psychopath. I don't want people touching, nearing, or looking at me without a personal invitation. But I think I have a fairly healthy attitude about germs. They are an inevitable feature of our planet, and people spread them inadvertently. Hey, I wrestled in high school, which, if you haven't heard, basically involves rolling around on a mat with another barely clothed guy, in the height of cold and flu season. (You homo- and hetero-phobes can make your wisecracks in the Comments section below.)
So I know from germs. If the situation calls for it, I'll expose myself to them. Had the guy across from me gone into full cardiac arrest, I would have been the first to provide CPR, including mouth-to-mouth (though, I confess, only after spritzing a few healthy doses of breath spray into his gaping maw).
What I don't appreciate, however, are the unintentional exposures caused by sloppy, unthinking people who haven't heard of germ theory. If you are wondering what I mean by this, you are probably one of these people. You invariably get sick four or five times per winter (mistakenly calling these "the flu"), and give yourself food poisoning two or three times a year as well (you mistakenly call this "stomach flu"). Your grubby hands are frequently on or near your face, and you rarely wash them before meals. You have the ridiculous belief that coughing or sneezing directly into your open palm is a means of disease prevention, despite the fact that you use your still-moist hand to hold onto the rail on the Metro, open an office door, or give money to the store clerk.
You make me sick, literally. You also make a lot of other people sick. So on behalf of all of us conscientious people who take care to maintain good hygiene, but who get sick as a result of your appalling negligence, let me just give you a big sneeze of thanks. I hope you die of typhoid.
Not really, but I hope you get a really bad rash exactly where I did after hiking Pike's Peak. But that's a story for another time.
Right now, I want to share with my fellow germ aficionados some of the methods I use to avoid contact with the personal filth of the unkempt horde. I won't spend much time on the obvious: keep your hands off your face unless they are recently washed, wash them after handling money, the mail, your private parts, the private parts of others, and pretty much anything else lots of people have been groping (doorknobs, keyboards, handrails, etc.). Sneeze into the crook of your elbow, not your hand. Cook your food thoroughly, and don't let it sit out for hours on end. And so on.
What I will focus on here is one critical piece of the clean-living chain, which I call Bathroom Survival. This is to be distinguished from my advice on Prison Survival, to be written at a later date. What I mean in the current context is surviving the public restroom, which is the Union Station of germs.
First, know your restroom. There are some key things you should note as you enter. Which way does the door open? Do you need to turn a handle to get out? Are there paper towels, or worse blow "dryers", or worse still, those dingy cloth towel things that hang down like so much rancid meat in a freezer? Is there soap? For the love of God, is there soap?
Let's go with the worst-case scenario. You are in a public restroom, and the door opens inward. (For those of you who don't get it, this means you will have to handle the same doorknob gripped by the utility guy who doesn't wash his hands after crapping.) There are only blow dryers. The toilets have flush handles. (Note: not flushing is not an option. We are the last bastions of civilization -- let's not behave like cretins.) You need to use the stall, which has a handle practically crawling with disease.
Assume, however, that there is soap. If there is not, go outside and do your business in the lobby, or on the counter, or on the manager, if you can find him. Very few juries will convict you.
So what do you do? Lesser people would turn themselves over to the germ gods, and end up with stomach cramps and uncontrollable flatulence tinged with diarrhea. Take charge of your fate.
First, understand that what matters most is keeping your hands off your face until they have been washed. With that said, there is no need to expose yourself to every germ. Flush the toilet with your foot. Wash your hands well.
You have two options to make a clean exit. The first requires a little timing -- stand with your hands under the dryer until someone else gets to the door, and then follow him out, catching the door with your elbow. You are out clean, and he's the one who suffers unbearable gassiness during his evening TV time.
The second option requires planning, and gets back to my original point -- know your terrain. You can see before you enter the bathroom whether it requires touching a handle to get out. If it does, then grab something -- a handful of napkins, office stationary, a big leaf off the ficus -- to serve as your shield. Keep it in your pocket until your hands are clean, and then step out safely.
Some people would call this behavior obsessive-compulsive. I don't deny that I need therapy, for a lot of things. But what good is mental health if you are sneezing, wheezing, and oozing from multiple orifices? Trust me, combating the germ, and its witless carrier, requires extreme vigilance. Only the paranoid survive, especially in a metropolis.
So for the love of all that is holy and clean, let's be careful out there.