Rudolph: the nose
20 Dec 2009
"Being Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is like being the Pope", the drunken reindeer told me in the dinkiest bar of the Thule Air Force Base.
I kept my mouth shut and nodded, since he looked like trouble: matted splotchy fur, shaking forelegs holding a pint quite a few beyond too many, and eyes more red in their bloodshotness than his bruise-purple lump of a nose.
"Like", he went on, "there's one Pope, and when he can't cut it anymore, they throw him away. Boom. One day the most beloved man in all of Christendom, the next --- boom! --- he's a monk somewhere in fucking Cambria and the abbot doesn't give him a leave. No nothing."
I couldn't help myself. "I thought the Papal office was for life?"
He laughed --- and you know, reindeer should never laugh. Uncanny valley and all that. That neighing is bloody scary even if they're sober, sane and more than two feet from you. Break those three and it's something that'll give you nightmares every which day to Christmas come.
"Life! Yeah, that's what they tell people! It's the same fucking thing with us --- do you seriously think the same reindeer would be up to the flying for decades and decades? The fat guy, sure; he's nothing to do except wolfing down cookies and milk and the occasional drink; but it's death being the lead reindeer all over the world. The temperature differentials alone are poison on your bones!"
He took another gulp, and then looked into his pint as if expecting to find something of great value there. "I really thought I would be it for good. I was the best navigator in a century, I was. I could turn the sled around in half a second on a dime. But, you know, it's merciless business. You get the flu the twenty-third of December one year, you get a sub, a young thing that's good but not as good as you, and the next thing you know you're just not wanted anymore. I was the best Rudolph there ever was, you know? If he had kept me he wouldn't have needed this bloody GPS nonsense."
"And it's all about the nose, you know. The nose's just sham. It's the nose all day long so no-one thinks to look if it's the same reindeer. You know?"