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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Well, I hope you're happy. Do you know how much weight I put on for this job, purposefully and exclusively for your pleasure? How many years I feasted on ice cream, steak, fudge, eggs, raw sugar, hamburger, those Easter eggs filled with cream, meatloaf, et cetera, et cetera, all so I could work the Twin Oaks Mall once a year, put on the Red Suit and plop you on my lap? Well, merry fucking Christmas, because guess what Santa got for Christmas this year? That's right, a triple fucking bypass. Well, fuck me.

Listen, I can't blame you. This gig runs in the family. Some families cling to the military tradition, from the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli. Others oversee the used car business. Our family, we got Santa. My great-grandad Pepi Diamond was Santa, my grandad Ted was Santa, my father Joe was Santa, and now me, old Lou Diamond, I'm Santa. It's the way things go in life. You get born with a certain set of prescribed conditions. I got no beef with that.

The problem is, I was born skinny as a crack whore. You could shine a light on me and see yourself in sixty years. Every Christmas, my dad would don the Red Suit, take one look at me and say, "I guess I'm the last of the Diamond Santas. It's the cold, wet death of tradition, kid."

And I stayed skinny. When my dad died one hot August night, he wouldn't look at me. He just smiled and said, "At least it's not Christmas. That I couldn't bear."

And that's when I really started eating. It was no picnic. I didn't eat for my sake; I ate for Pepi Diamond, Ted Diamond, Joe Diamond and, most of all, for you. I could not be the cold, wet death of tradition.

It took years, but eventually my girth expanded until, glory be, in 1997 I was finally forced to shop at the big man's store. That, my little friends, was the greatest achievement of my life.

Now, it's all being taken away. Santa, you see, must go on a strict diet and lose over 100 pounds, or Santa will die. You don't want Santa to die, do you?

Don't worry about me. It was fun while it lasted and I'm sure you'll never notice my absence. Still, I like to think I put a twinkle in your eye and that, at least for a moment, my dad knew the pride of a father whose son wears the uniform of family tradition, even if he was dead when it happened.


Paul A. Toth continues to while away his time somewhere in surely snowy (at this time of year) Michigan. He wants you to know that he did write this one himself, boys and girls. Didn't your parents tell you?...by the fire, over at least three fingers of whiskey for themselves, I'm sure, that Santa did indeed not come from the North Pole?...didn' they say that, yes, the man is from Michigan? Merry Christmas, everybody.