County Lines by Bob
Mom took my brothers and me to see Santa Claus.
At first she said she wouldn't. But then Eric started whining,
"I wanna see Santa. I wanna see Santa."
Eric's the baby of the family. He's only 37. To get what he wants,
all he has to do is whine and Mom's putty in his hands.
Ricky's almost as old as I am. We grew up together when things
were tight. We've eaten potato soup without the potatoes. We've
painted tadpoles orange so we could have goldfish. We've ran through
the woods without shoes or clothes while Mom was chasing us. Ricky
and I know what hard times are.
Eric's a different story. He thinks his chosen place is riding
shotgun, like he was when Mom pulled out of the driveway on our
way to see Santa.
We hadn't gone a quarter mile before Ricky started flipping the
back of Eric's ears with his bird finger. The one next to his nose
picking finger. Dig for gold all you want. But you won't find it
I kept my hands to myself. I'm not a fool. I know when it's this
close to Christmas I better be good, or at least act like I am,
if I want Santa to bring the stuff on my list.
The redder Eric's ears got, the louder he whined, "Mom, they're
picking on me again."
"Cut it out," Mom said, "or I'll stop this car and
paddle you both."
"Never catch me," Ricky said.
"I'm an innocent bystander," I said.
Mom floored the accelerator. We were doing 85 when she swung into
the mall parking lot.
Mom slammed on the brakes. The front wheels hopped a curb and landed
on a sidewalk. "Get out," she said. "I'll pick you
up later. Maybe."
"But, Mom," Eric said, "I thought you were taking
us to see Santa."
"He's inside," Mom said. "You're my baby. But Judge
Judy's coming on soon. Gotta go. Bye."
As soon as we entered the mall, Eric said, "I wonder if they
serve beer in here. Not that third-rate American rat spit. But the
good kind, like Moosehead or Heineken." Ricky said, "I
don't care what kind it is. I'll drink Miller Lite or Busch if that's
all they have."
"I wouldn't let my dog drink that pig pus," Eric said.
"You don't have a dog," Ricky said.
"I used to," Eric said, "until your wife sat on
"Ex-wife," Ricky said.
"She was your wife when she killed my dog," Eric said.
"Want to make something of it?" Ricky said.
Eric said, "I'll make something of it. Come on. Throw the
"Hold it!" I yelled. "Remember the last time Mom
left us alone in a mall? Fists flying. Cops. Handcuffs. Jail. Court.
Probation. The way our probation officer's mustache twitched when
we told her we only work during months with a k or a w. You want
to go through all that again?"
"You're getting soft," Ricky said.
"Yeah," Eric said. "Soft."
Being the alpha male in a pack that includes my brothers isn't
easy. To maintain control, I have to continually regain control.
"I'll show you soft," I said. "Hit me in the head."
"Ouch," Ricky said. "I think you broke my knuckles."
"Mine too," Eric said.
"Unless you want more of the same," I said, "follow
me. We're going to see Santa."
"What for?" Ricky said. "He'll just be a guy with
a fake beard in a padded red suit."
"Until several years ago,Ó I said, "that might have been
true. But thanks to recent advances in cloning, every Santa in every
mall in every town and city in the world is the real Santa."
"Wow," Eric said.
"Are you telling the truth?" Ricky said.
"Have I ever made up a story that wasn't true?" I said.
The line waiting to see Santa was about two football fields in
length. "This shouldn't take longer than most of the day,"
Eric said, "Save our place in line." Ricky said, "We're
going to find some beer."
I'm not bragging. Beer is bad for those who can't handle it. But
my brothers can drink a 12-pack each in less than an hour and still
sing all the words to Honky Tonk Woman. Not necessarily in order.
But all the words.
Eric and Ricky returned in less than 10 minutes. Ricky butted in
front of me. Eric butted in front of Ricky.
"No beer in this place," Eric said.
"What a gyp," Ricky said.
When it was his turn to talk to Santa, Eric said, "I want
a tri-circuited multi-mega zircon chip with 517 trillion gegahertz
of framed galvasonic memory responders."
When it was Ricky's turn to talk to Santa, he said, "I want
"Watch it," Santa said. "Children are listening."
"Sorry," Ricky said. "I want six exotic dancers
and eight cases of Canadian Mist."
When it was my turn to talk to Santa, I said, "I want everyone
in the world to be happy."
"He's lying!" Ricky yelled.
Eric yelled, "He's buttering you up before he says what he
I'd had all I could stand. I jumped off the stage and landed on
my brothers. Santa yelled "Bonsai!" and leaped into the
As the cops were dragging my brothers, Santa, and me out of the
mall, I yelled back at the crowd, "Love is all around you!
Don't forget the true meaning of Christmas!"
Overton County News
415 West Main Street
P.O. Box 479
Livingston, Tennessee 38570