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A Novel

by Paul Auster

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Book Summary

Mr. Bones, a canine companion to homeless man named Willy G. Christmas, accompanies his dying master on trip to Baltimore in search of an ex-high school teacher. Reprint.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Timbuktu


Picador USA

Copyright © 2000 Paul Auster
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0312263996

Chapter One

          Mr. Bones knew that Willy wasn'tlong for this world. The cough had been inside him for oversix months, and by now there wasn't a chance in hell that hewould ever get rid of it. Slowly and inexorably, without oncetaking a turn for the better, the thing had assumed a life of itsown, advancing from a faint, phlegm-filled rattle in the lungson February third to the wheezy sputum-jigs and gobby convulsionsof high summer. All that was bad enough, but in thepast two weeks a new tonality had crept into the bronchialmusic—something tight and flinty and percussive—and theattacks came so often now as to be almost constant. Everytime one of them started, Mr. Bones half expected Willy'sbody to explode from the rockets of pressure bursting againsthis rib cage. He figured that blood would be the next step,and when that fatal moment finally occurred on Saturdayafternoon, it was as if all the angels in heaven had openedtheir mouths and started to sing. Mr. Bones saw it happenwith his own eyes, standing by the edge of the road betweenWashington and Baltimore as Willy hawked up a few miserableclots of red matter into his handkerchief, and right thenand there he knew that every ounce of hope was gone. Thesmell of death had settled upon Willy G. Christmas, and assurely as the sun was a lamp in the clouds that went off andon every day, the end was drawing near.

    What was a poor dog to do? Mr. Bones had been with Willysince his earliest days as a pup, and by now it was next toimpossible for him to imagine a world that did not have hismaster in it. Every thought, every memory, every particle ofthe earth and air was saturated with Willy's presence. Habitsdie hard, and no doubt there's some truth to the adage aboutold dogs and new tricks, but it was more than just love ordevotion that caused Mr. Bones to dread what was coming. Itwas pure ontological terror. Subtract Willy from the world,and the odds were that the world itself would cease to exist.

    Such was the quandary Mr. Bones faced that August morningas he shuffled through the streets of Baltimore with hisailing master. A dog alone was no better than a dead dog, andonce Willy breathed his last, he'd have nothing to look forwardto but his own imminent demise. Willy had been cautioninghim about this for many days now, and Mr. Bonesknew the drill by heart: how to avoid the dogcatchers andconstables, the paddy wagons and unmarked cars, the hypocritesfrom the so-called humane societies. No matter howsweetly they talked to you, the word shelter meant trouble. Itwould begin with nets and tranquilizer guns, devolve into anightmare of cages and fluorescent lights, and end with alethal injection or a dose of poison gas. If Mr. Bones hadbelonged to some recognizable breed, he might have stood achance in the daily beauty contests for prospective owners,but Willy's sidekick was a hodgepodge of genetic strains—partcollie, part Labrador, part spaniel, part canine puzzle—andto make matters worse, there were burrs protruding fromhis ragged coat, bad smells emanating from his mouth, and aperpetual bloodshot sadness lurking in his eyes. No one wasgoing to want to rescue him. As the homeless bard was fond ofputting it, the outcome was written in stone. Unless Mr. Bonesfound another master in one quick hurry, he was a poochprimed for oblivion.

    "And if the stun guns don't get you," Willy continued,clinging to a lamppost that foggy morning in Baltimore to preventhimself from falling, "there's a thousand other things thatwill. I'm warning you, kemo sabe. You get yourself some newgig, or your days are numbered. Just look around this drearyburg. There's a Chinese restaurant on every block, and if youthink mouths won't water when you come strolling by, thenyou don't know squat about Oriental cuisine. They prize thetaste of dog, friend. The chefs round up strays and slaughterthem in the alley right behind the kitchen—ten, twenty, thirtydogs a week. They might pass them off as ducks and pigs onthe menu, but the in-crowd knows what's what, the gourmetsaren't fooled for a second. Unless you want to wind up in aplatter of moo goo gai pan, you'll think twice before you wagyour tail in front of one of those Chink beaneries. Do youcatch my drift, Mr. Bones? Know thine enemy—and thenkeep a wide berth."

    Mr. Bones understood. He always understood what Willysaid to him. This had been the case for as long as he couldremember, and by now his grasp of Ingloosh was as good asany other immigrant who had spent seven years on Americansoil. It was his second language, of course, and quite differentfrom the one his mother had taught him, but even though hispronunciation left something to be desired, he had thoroughlymastered the ins and outs of its syntax and ,grammar. Noneof this should be seen as strange or unusual for an animal ofMr. Bones's intelligence. Most dogs acquire a good workingknowledge of two-legged speech, but in Mr. Bones's casethere was the advantage of being blessed with a master whodid not treat him as an inferior. They had been boon companionsfrom the start, and when you added in the fact that Mr.Bones was not just Willy's best friend but his only friend, andthen further considered that Willy was a man in love with thesound of his own voice, a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool logomaniacwho scarcely stopped talking from the instant he openedhis eyes in the morning until he passed out drunk at night, itmade perfect sense that Mr. Bones should have felt so athome in the native lingo. When all was said and done, theonly surprise was that he hadn't learned to talk better himself.It wasn't for lack of earnest effort, but biology was againsthim, and what with the configuration of muzzle, teeth, andtongue that fate had saddled him with, the best he could dowas emit a series of yaps and yawns and yowls, a mooning,muddled sort of discourse. He was painfully aware of how farfrom fluency these noises fell, but Willy always let him havehis say, and in the end that was all that mattered. Mr. Boneswas free to put in his two cents, and whenever he did so hismaster would give him his full attention, and to look at Willy'sface as he watched his friend struggle to make like a memberof the human tribe, you would have sworn that he was hangingon every word.

    That gloomy Sunday in Baltimore, however, Mr. Boneskept his mouth shut. They were down to their last daystogether, perhaps even their last hours, and this was no timeto indulge in long speeches and loopy contortions, no time forthe old shenanigans. Certain situations called for tact anddiscipline, and in their present dire straits it would be far betterto hold his tongue and behave like a good, loyal dog. Helet Willy snap the leash onto his collar without protest. Hedidn't whine about not having eaten in the past thirty-sixhours; he didn't sniff the air for female scents; he didn't stopto pee on every lamppost and fire hydrant. He simply ambledalong beside Willy, following his master as they searched theempty avenues for 316 Calvert Street.

    Mr. Bones had nothing against Baltimore per se. It smelledno worse than any other city they'd camped in over the years,but even though he understood the purpose of the trip, itgrieved him to think that a man could choose to spend his lastmoments on earth in a place he'd never been to before. Adog would never commit such a blunder. He would make hispeace with the world and then see to it that he gave up theghost on familiar ground. But Willy still had two things toaccomplish before he died, and with characteristic stubbornnesshe'd gotten it into his head that there was only one personwho could help him. The name of that person was BeaSwanson, and since said Bea Swanson was last known to beliving in Baltimore, they had come to Baltimore to find her.All well and good, but unless Willy's plan did what it wassupposed to do, Mr. Bones would be marooned in this city ofcrab cakes and marble steps, and what was he going to dothen? A phone call would have done the job in half a minute,but Willy had a philosophical aversion to using the telephonefor important business. He would rather walk for days on endthan pick up one of those contraptions and talk to someone hecouldn't see. So here they were two hundred miles later, wanderingaround the streets of Baltimore without a map, lookingfor an address that might or might not exist.

    Of the two things Willy still hoped to accomplish beforehe died, neither one took precedence over the other. Eachwas all-important to him, and since time had grown too shortto think of tackling them separately, he had come up withwhat he referred to as the Chesapeake Gambit: an eleventh-hourploy to kill both birds with one stone. The first hasalready been discussed in the previous paragraphs: to findnew digs for his furry companion. The second was to wrapup his own affairs and make sure that his manuscripts wereleft in good hands. At that moment, his life's work wascrammed into a rental locker at the Greyhound bus terminalon Fayette Street, two and a half blocks north of where he andMr. Bones were standing. The key was in his pocket, andunless he found someone worthy enough to entrust with thatkey, every word he had ever written would be destroyed, disposedof as so much unclaimed baggage.

    In the twenty-three years since he'd taken on the surnameof Christmas, Willy had filled the pages of seventy-fournotebooks with his writings. These included poems, stories,essays, diary entries, epigrams, autobiographical musings, andthe first eighteen hundred lines of an epic-in-progress, VagabondDays. The majority of these works had been composedat the kitchen table of his mother's apartment in Brooklyn,but since her death four years ago he'd been forced to write inthe open air, often battling the elements in public parks anddusty alleyways as he struggled to get his thoughts down onpaper. In his secret I heart of hearts, Willy had no delusionsabout himself. He knew that he was a troubled soul and not fitfor this world, but he also knew that much good work wasburied in those notebooks, and on that score at least he couldhold his head high. Maybe if he had been more scrupulousabout taking his medication, or maybe if his body had been abit stronger, or maybe if he hadn't been so fond of malts andspirits and the hubbub of bars, he might have done even moregood work. That was perfectly possible, but it was too late todwell on regrets and errors now. Willy had written the lastsentence he would ever write, and there were no more thana few ticks left in the clock. The words in the locker were allhe had to show for himself. If the words vanished, it would beas if he had never lived.

    That was where Bea Swanson entered the picture. Willyknew it was a stab in the dark, but if and when he managed tofind her, he was convinced that she would move heaven andearth to help him. Once upon a time, back when the worldwas still young, Mrs. Swanson had been his high schoolEnglish teacher, and if not for her it was doubtful that he everwould have found the courage to think of himself as a writer.He was still William Gurevitch in those days, a scrawnysixteen-year-old boy with a passion for books and beebopjazz, and she had taken him under her wing and lavished hisearly work with praise that was so excessive, so far out of proportionto its true merit, that he began to think of himself asthe next great hope of American literature. Whether she wasright or wrong to do so is not the question, for results are lessimportant at that stage than promise, and Mrs. Swanson hadrecognized his talent, she'd seen the spark in his fledglingsoul, and no one can ever amount to anything in this life withoutsomeone else to believe in him. That's a proven fact, andwhile the rest of the junior class at Midwood High saw Mrs.Swanson as a squat, fortyish woman with blubbery arms thatbounced and wiggled whenever she wrote on the blackboard,Willy thought she was beautiful, an angel who had comedown from heaven and taken on a human form.

    By the time school started again in the fall, however, Mrs.Swanson was gone. Her husband had been offered a new jobin Baltimore, and since Mrs. Swanson was not only a teacherbut a wife, what choice did she have but to leave Brooklynand go where Mr. Swanson went? It was a tough blow forWilly to absorb, but it could have been worse, for even thoughhis mentor was far away, she did not forget him. Over the nextseveral years, Mrs. Swanson kept up a lively correspondencewith her young friend, continuing to read and comment on themanuscripts he sent her, to remember his birthday with giftsof old Charlie Parker records, and to suggest little magazineswhere he could begin submitting his work. The gushing,rhapsodic letter of recommendation she wrote for him in hissenior year helped clinch a full scholarship for Willy atColumbia. Mrs. Swanson was his muse, his protector, andgood-luck charm all rolled into one, and at that point inWilly's life, the sky was definitely the limit. But then camethe schizo flip-out of 1968, the mad fandango of truth or consequenceson a high-voltage tension wire. They shut him upin a hospital, and after six months of shock treatment andpsychopharmacological therapy, he was never quite the sameagain. Willy had joined the ranks of the walking wounded,and even though he continued to churn out his poems andstories, to go on writing in both sickness and in health, herarely got around to answering Mrs. Swanson's letters. Thereasons were unimportant. Perhaps Willy was embarrassedto stay in touch with her. Perhaps he was distracted, pre-occupiedwith other business. Perhaps he had lost faith in theU.S. Postal Service and no longer trusted the mail carriersnot to snoop inside the letters they delivered. One way orthe other, his once voluminous exchanges with Mrs. Swansondwindled to almost nothing. For a year or two, they consistedof the odd, desultory postcard, then the store-boughtChristmas greeting, and then, by 1976, they had stopped altogether.Since that time, not one syllable of communicationhad passed between them.

    Mr. Bones knew all this, and that was precisely what worriedhim. Seventeen years had gone by. Gerald Ford had beenpresident back then, for Chrissakes, and he himself would notbe whelped for another decade. Who was Willy trying to kid?Think of all the things that can happen in that time. Think ofthe changes that can occur in seventeen hours or seventeenminutes—let alone in seventeen years. At the very least, Mrs.Swanson had probably moved to another address. The old girlwould be pushing seventy by now, and if she wasn't senile orliving in a trailer park in Florida, there was a better than evenchance that she was dead. Willy had admitted as much whenthey hit the streets of Baltimore that morning, but what thefuck, he'd said, it was their one and only shot, and since lifewas a gamble anyway, why not go for broke?

    Ah, Willy. He had told so many stories, had talked in somany different voices, had spoken out of so many sides of hismouth at once, that Mr. Bones had no idea what to believeanymore. What was true, what was false? It was difficult toknow when dealing with a character as complex and fancifulas Willy G. Christmas. Mr. Bones could vouch for the thingshe'd seen with his own eyes, the events he'd experienced inhis own flesh, but he and Willy had been together for onlyseven years, and the facts concerning the previous thirty-eightwere more or less up for grabs. If Mr. Bones hadn't spenthis puppyhood living under the same roof with Willy's mother,the whole story would have been shrouded in darkness, butby listening to Mrs. Gurevitch and measuring her statementsagainst her son's, Mr. Bones had managed to stitch together areasonably coherent portrait of what Willy's world had lookedlike before he came into it. A thousand details were lacking.A thousand others were muddled in confusion, but Mr. Boneshad a sense of the drift, a feeling for what its shape both wasand wasn't.

    It wasn't rich, for example, and it wasn't cheerful, andmore often than not the air in the apartment had been tingedwith sourness and desperation. Considering what the familyhad been through before it landed in America, it was probablya miracle that David Gurevitch and Ida Perlmutter managedto produce a son in the first place. Of the seven childrenborn to Willy's grandparents in Warsaw and Lodz between1910 and 1921, they were the only two to survive the war.They alone did not have numbers tattooed on their forearms,they alone were granted the luck to escape. But that didn'tmean they had an easy time of it, and. Mr. Bones had heardenough stories to make his fur tingle. There were the ten daysthey spent hiding in an attic crawl space in Warsaw. Therewas the monthlong walk from Paris to the Free Zone in thesouth, sleeping in haylofts and stealing eggs to stay alive.There was the refugee internment camp in Mende, the moneyspent on bribes for safe conducts, the four months of bureaucratichell in Marseille as they waited for their Spanishtransit visas. Then came the long coma of immobility inLisbon, the stillborn son Ida delivered in 1944, the two yearsof looking out at the Atlantic as the war dragged on and theirmoney ebbed away. By the time Willy's parents arrived inBrooklyn in 1946, it wasn't a new life they were starting somuch as a posthumous life, an interval between two deaths.Willy's father, once a clever young lawyer in Poland, begged ajob from a distant cousin and spent the next thirteen yearsriding the Seventh Avenue IRT to a button-manufacturingfirm on West Twenty-eighth Street. For the first year, Willy'smother supplemented their income by giving piano lessons toyoung Jewish brats in the apartment, but that ended onemorning in November of 1947 when Willy poked his littleface out from between her legs and unexpectedly refused tostop breathing.

    He grew up American, a Brooklyn boy who played stickballin the streets, read Mad magazine under the covers atnight, and listened to Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. Neitherone of his parents could fathom such things, but that wasjust as well as far as Willy was concerned, since his great goalin life at that stage was to convince himself that his motherand father were not his real parents. He found them alien,wholly embarrassing creatures, a pair of sore thumbs withtheir Polish accents and stilted foreign ways, and withoutreally having to think about it he understood that his onlyhope of survival lay in resisting them at every turn. When hisfather dropped dead from a heart attack at forty-nine, Willy'ssorrow was mitigated by a secret sense of relief. Already attwelve, just barely on the brink of adolescence, he had formulatedhis lifelong philosophy of embracing trouble whereverhe could find it. The more wretched your life was, the closeryou were to the truth, to the gritty nub of existence, and whatcould be more terrible than losing your old man six weeksafter your twelfth birthday? It marked you as a tragic figure,disqualified you from the rat race of vain hopes and sentimentalillusions, bestowed on you an aura of legitimate suffering.But the fact was that Willy didn't suffer much. His fatherhad always been a riddle to him, a man prone to weeklongsilences and sudden outbursts of rage, and more than once hehad slapped down Willy for the smallest, most trifling infraction.No, it wasn't hard to adjust to life without that bag ofexplosives. It didn't take any effort at all:

    Or so reckoned the good Herr Doktor Bones. Ignore hisopinion it you will, but who else are you prepared to trust?After listening to these stories for the past seven years, had henot earned the right to be called the world's leading authorityon the subject?

    That left Willy alone with his mother. She was hardly anyone'sidea of a good time, but at least she kept her hands toherself and showed him considerable amounts of affection,enough warmth of heart to counterbalance the periods whenshe nagged him and harangued him and got on his nerves. Byand large, Willy tried to be a good son. At those rare momentswhen he was able to stop thinking about himself, he evenmade a conscious effort to be nice to her. If they had theirdifferences, they were less a result of personal animosity thanof starkly opposing world views. From hard-won experience,Mrs. Gurevitch knew that the world was out to get her, andshe lived her life accordingly, doing everything in her powerto stay clear of harm's way. Willy also knew that the worldwas out to get him, but unlike his mother he had no qualmsabout fighting back. The difference was not that one wasa pessimist and the other an optimist, it was that one's pessimismhad led to an ethos of fear, and the other's pessimismhad led to a noisy, fractious disdain for Everything-That-Was.One shrank, the other flailed. One toed the line, the othercrossed it out. Much of the time they were at loggerheads, andbecause Willy found it so easy to shock his mother, he rarelywasted an opportunity to provoke an argument. If only she'dhad the wit to back off a little, he probably wouldn't havebeen so insistent about making his points. Her antagonisminspired him, pushed him into ever more extreme positions,and by the time he was ready to leave the house, and go off tocollege, he had indelibly east himself in his chosen role: asmalcontent, as rebel, as outlaw poet prowling the gutters of aruined world.

    Lord knows how many drugs that boy ingested in the twoand a half years he spent on Morningside Heights. Namean illegal substance, and Willy either smoked it or snortedit or shot it into his veins. It's one thing to walk around pretendingyou're the second coming of François Villon, but feedan unstable young man enough toxic confections to fill adump site in the Jersey Meadowlands, and his body chemistryis bound to be altered. Sooner or later, Willy might havecracked up anyway, but who would argue that the psychedelicfree-for-all of his student days didn't accelerate theprocess? When his roommate walked in on him one afternoonin the middle of his junior year and found Willy bucknaked on the floor—chanting names from the Manhattanphone book and eating a bowl of his own excrement—theacademic career of Mr. Bones's future master came to anabrupt and permanent end.

    The loony bin followed, and then Willy returned to hismother's apartment on Glenwood Avenue. It wasn't the idealplace for him to live, perhaps, but where else could a burnoutlike poor Willy go? For the first six months, not much goodcame of the arrangement. Other than Willy's switch fromdrugs to alcohol, things were essentially the same as they hadbeen. The same tensions, the same conflicts, the same misunderstandings.Then, out of the blue, in late December 1969,Willy had the vision that changed everything, the mysticalencounter with blessedness that turned him inside out and sethis life on an entirely different course.

    It was two-thirty in the morning. His mother had gone tobed several hours before, and Willy was parked on the livingroom sofa with a pack of Luckies and a bottle of bourbon,watching television out of the corner of one eye. Televisionwas a new habit for him, a by-product of his recent stay in thehospital. He wasn't particularly interested in the images onthe screen, but he enjoyed having the hum and glow of thetube in the background and found comfort in the gray-blueshadows it cast on the walls. The Late Late Show was on justthen (something to do with gigantic grasshoppers devouringthe citizens of Sacramento, California), but most of the airtimehad been given over to chintzy exhortations on behalf ofmiracle breakthrough products: knives that never went dull,lightbulbs that never burned out, secret-formula lotions thatremoved the curse of baldness. Yak yak yak, Willy mutteredto himself, it's the same old suds and blather. Just as he wasabout to stand up and turn off the television, however, a newcommercial came on, and there was Santa Claus popping outof someone's fireplace in what looked like a suburban livingroom in Massapequa, Long Island. Given that Christmas wasjust around the corner, Willy had grown used to commercialsthat featured actors dressed up as Santa Claus. But this onewas better than most—a roly-poly guy with rosy cheeks andan honest-to-goodness white beard. Willy paused to watch thebeginning of the spiel, fully expecting to hear somethingabout rug shampoos or burglar alarms, when all of a suddenSanta uttered the words that would change his destiny.

    "William Gurevitch," Santa said. "Yes, William Gurevitchof Brooklyn, New York, I'm talking to you."

    Willy had drunk only half a bottle that night, and it hadbeen eight months since his last full-blown hallucination. Nobodywas going to trick him into swallowing this garbage. Heknew the difference between reality and make-believe, andif Santa Claus was talking to him from his mother's televisionset, that could only mean he was a lot drunker than hesupposed.

    "Fuck you, mister," Willy said, and without giving thematter another thought, he clicked off the machine.

    Unfortunately, he wasn't able to leave things as they were.Because he was curious, or because he wanted to make surehe wasn't having another breakdown, Willy decided it wouldbe all right if he turned the television back on—just fora peek, a last little peek. It wasn't going to hurt anyone, wasit? Better to learn the truth now than to walk around withthat sack of Yuletide shit preying on his mind for the nextforty years.

    And lo and behold, there he was again. There was Santabloody Claus, wagging his finger at Willy and shaking hishead with a sad, disappointed look in his eyes. When heopened his mouth and started to talk (picking up preciselywhere he had left off ten seconds earlier), Willy didn't knowwhether he should burst out laughing or jump through thewindow. It was happening, folks. What could not happen washappening, and right then and there Willy knew that nothingin the world would ever look the same to him again.

    "That wasn't nice, William," Santa said. "I'm here to helpyou, but we're never going to get anywhere if you don't giveme a chance to talk. Do you follow me, son?"

    The question seemed to call for a response, but Willy hesitated.Listening to this clown was bad enough. Did he reallywant to make things worse by talking back to him?

    "William!" Santa said. His voice was stern and reproachful,and it contained the power of a personality that was not tobe trifled with. If Willy was ever going to squirm out of thisnightmare, his only hope would be to play along.

    "Yeah, boss," he mumbled, "I read you loud and clear."

    The fat man smiled. Then, very slowly, the camera movedin on him for a close-up. For the next several seconds Santastood there stroking his beard, apparently lost in thought.

    "Do you know who I am?" he finally said.

    "I know who you look like," Willy said, "but that doesn'tmean I know who you are. At first I thought you were someasshole actor. Then I thought maybe you were that genie inthe bottle. Now I don't have a clue."

    "The thing I look like is the thing I am."

    "Sure, pal, and I'm Haile Selassie's brother-in-law."

    "Santa Claus, William. A.k.a. Saint Nick. Father Christmashimself. The only force for good left in the world."

    "Santa, huh? And you wouldn't happen to spell thatS-A-N-T-A, would you?"

    "Yes, I would. That's exactly how I'd spell it."

    "That's what I figured. Now rearrange the letters a littlebit, and what do you have? S-A-T-A-N, that's what. You're thegoddamn devil, grandpa, and the only place you exist is inmy mind."

    Notice how Willy struggled against the apparition, howdetermined he was to thwart its charms. He wasn't some pea-brainedpsycho who let figments and specters push himaround. He wanted no part of this one, and the disgust he felt,the downright hostility he expressed whenever he recalled thefirst moments of the encounter, was precisely what convincedMr. Bones that it was true, that Willy had experienced anauthentic vision and was not making the story up. To hear himtell it, the situation was a scandal, an insult to his intelligence,and merely having to look at that bovine lump ofclichés brought his blood to a boil. Let someone else makewith the ho-ho stuff. Christmas was a fraud, a season forquick bucks and ringing cash registers, and as the symbol ofthat season, as the very essence of the whole consumerist shebang,Santa was the biggest fake of them all.

    But this Santa was no fake, and he was no devil indisguise. He was the true Father Christmas, the one and onlyLord of the Elves and Spirits, and the message he'd come topreach was one of goodness, generosity, and self-sacrifice.This unlikeliest of fictions, this contradiction of everythingWilly stood for, this absurd display of hokum in the red jacketand the fur-fringed boots—yes, Santa Claus in all his MadisonAvenue glory—had sprung forth from the depths of TelevisionLand to debunk the certitudes of Willy's skepticismand put his soul back together again. It was as simple as that.If anyone was a fraud, Santa said, it was Willy, and then he lethim have it in no uncertain terms, lecturing the frightenedand bewildered boy for the better part of an hour. He calledhim a sham, a poseur, and a no-talent hack. Then he uppedthe ante and called him a zero, a douche bag, a dunderhead,and little by little he broke down the wall of Willy's defensesand made him see the light. Willy was on the floor by then,weeping his eyes out as he begged for mercy and promisedto mend his ways. Christmas was real, he learned, and therewould be no truth or happiness for him until he began toembrace its spirit. That would be his mission in life from nowon: to embody the message of Christmas every, day of theyear, to ask nothing from the world and give it only love inreturn.

    In other words, Willy decided to turn himself into a saint.