Sometime this summer I was seized with the inexplicable urge to write
a parody of "A Visit From Saint Nicholas" (more commonly known as "The
Night Before Christmas") set in a trailer park (or as we full-timers call
them, to distinguish ourselves from the tattooed, no-neck parolees and Paula
Jones clones you usually associate with trailer parks, an "RV Resort.") When
this happens it's best just to go with it, so I wrote it and decided to save
it until December, when I would send it out as my annual Xmas
Then, two days ago, my computer crashed. First time for me. And I
have been lax in the past, neglecting to back things up for weeks, or at all.
Among the things I lost (not a lot of stuff, I'm happy to say) was that
little bit of doggerel. It seems no other copy exists, anywhere.
I plunged into the depths of despair. I walked down to the beach,
pensively, trying to decide if I should try to recreate the poem (I recall a
few delicious rhymes), or try to come up with another idea for the 2002
Suddenly, as if in answer to a writer's prayer, somebody
fell from a great height, apparently from a passing cloud, and splashed into
"Help me! Help me! I'm drowning!" the dude cried. I watched
with interest, and it looked like he was right, he was drowning. But he
proved both of us wrong by struggling through the waves and coming to stand
before me, drenched and pissed off.
"Why didn't you come rescue me?"
he whined, wringing sea water from the hem of his long white robe. "George
Bailey jumped in the river to save me."
"George Bailey could swim," I
"Oh. Well. Okay, my name is Clarence, and I'm an angel, sent
here to stop you from throwing your life away by hurling yourself into the
"I wasn't going to hurl myself into the sea," I told him. "Plunge
into the depths of despair, yes, but that water is cold."
ass it is," Clarence said, shivering. He reached into the pocket of his robe
and unfolded a soggy sheet of paper. He shook two bewildered sardines and an
angry fiddler crab from his sleeve as he read. The paper was headed "Heavenly
Work Order" on the top. He showed it to me. "Says right here, "John Varley
Suicide Intervention," and as I'm sure you know, He is never wrong. So lets
get going, shall we? I've got plenty of folks to rescue, this time of
"Get going where?" I said.
"Why, into the world where you
were never born, of course. To see what a depressing place it would have
become if you hadn't been around to write your peculiar type of science
fiction. I've never read any of it, I'm sorry to say, but I'm sure it must be
quite good. Now, hold on and I'll say the magic words. JULIE
ANDREWS!" Suddenly we were whirled into the sky, willy-nilly, like a cheap
special effect. Dancing around with me in the maelstrom I glimpsed a Kansas
farmhouse and a sour-faced woman on a bicycle and an old gent in his
nightshirt and nightcap holding on to the hand of what might have been a
Christmas Spirit. We plunged through a blinding blizzard of calendar pages, I
got beaned by a spinning clock that was running backwards. Then we settled
down on a street that looked vaguely familiar.
"Why. why it's."
"Nederland, Texas, your home town," Clarence said, smugly. And
indeed it was. And though Nederland had never been as nice as Bedford Falls,
it hadn't turned into Pottersville, either. Looking around, I saw the old
streetside storm drainage ditches (translation: open storm sewers) had
finally been put in underground pipes. The streets had curbs and sidewalks.
The air was clear, without the perpetual petrochemical fog I remember from my
youth. I didn't hear any mosquitoes buzzing. And there were people of African
heritage walking the streets, something you would not have seen in 1965, when
we would have called them Negroes.
"Doesn't look so bad," I told
"No, it doesn't, does it?" He was frowning. "Let's go over to
your old high school." We did, and found it wasn't a high school anymore, it
was a junior high. But Clarence was looking triumphant. "There. See? It's
"Why, the new wing. The John Varley Library
and Institute for Science Fiction and Screenwriting Studies. Surely you
remember returning here for the dedication."
"Are you nuts?"
glowered at me, and grabbed my sleeve and pulled me down the main street of
town, and pointed to a vacant lot. "Don't try to tell me you don't remember
the Varley Center. It was right here, next to the Tex Ritter Memorial
"No such thing," I said, laughing. "What are you smoking up
there in Heaven? There's a Steinbeck Center in Salinas. Maybe you've got me
"You're beginning to piss me off," Clarence said.
Once more we were off. As I dodged hourglasses with the
sand running upwards and other Hollywood backward-in-time cliches, I told
him, "You know, that 'Julie Andrews' bit is from another movie entirely. I
believe it was 'Bedazzled.'"
"You work with what they give you. Ah,
here we are." That happened to be the local Blockbuster Video store. He led
me down the science fiction aisle and pointed triumphantly to the shelves.
"Here you are. Search, if you will, for the movies scripted by John Varley.
You'll search in vain! Where, I ask you, is 'Galaxy'? Where is 'Have
Spacesuit, Will Travel'? Where is 'Space Pirates'?"
"In development hell," I said.
"No, I was on a skiing vacation in Hell just last week,
"I mean they never got out of development," I said.
about those huge hits, 'Steel Beach,' "The Phantom of Kansas,' and most of
all, the biggest trilogy of all time, bigger than 'Lord of the Rings.' . what
about 'Titan!' Wizard!' and 'Demon!'"
"Never even sold the movie rights,"
I said, sadly.
"Didn't you write 'Titanic II' and 'Return of the Princess
Bride'?" Weren't you the genius behind 'Son of Citizen Kane"?
even heard of them." But I did spot a ragged VHS copy of 'Millennium,' so I
took it off the shelf and handed it to him. "This is the only movie I wrote
that got made."
"Oh, sure," he laughed. "WONDERFUL movie, starring Paul
Newman and Jane Fonda . he was staring at the box. "Kris Kristopherson and .
Cheryl LADD? Jeez, I'm a big fan of 'Me and Bobby McGee,'. But can he
act?" "Newman and Fonda were our original casting choices," I told him.
"Look, Clarence, I'm a science fiction writer, I think I've figured out
what's going on here. You've come from an alternate universe, one where John
Varley seems to have got rich and famous from his writing. You got your wires
crossed somehow and ended up here, where I live in an RV on the beach, like
Jim Rockford, and can't find my manuscript for this year's Christmas card
which is why I imagined you in the first place. I think you'd better shove
off now, before you start ranting about the Nobel Prize I never won and the
cure for cancer I never found. Besides, somewhere in an alternate universe
there is a rich and famous John Varley who's going to kill himself, probably
by flinging himself from the balcony of his Park Avenue penthouse, the idiot.
Bring him here, that'll straighten him out."
"I guess you're right.
You're not going to hurl yourself into the sea, are you?"
"Okay. Take care." And without even a Jennifer Lopez, much less
a Julie Andrews, he was gone.
I was left to walk alone on the beach,
contemplating my life. And you know what? Things aren't so bad. We all have a
lot to be thankful for this holiday season, we all have our blessings to
count, don't we? We should spend our time thinking about those things instead
of what might have been. So maybe all the dreams we had did NOT come true.
There have been good times, haven't there? Maybe you ARE short of money once
again this year, maybe you DON'T have enough to buy your loved ones the
things you'd like to get them. It's the love that counts, isn't it? And how
many people get to live on the beach like Jim Rockford? So what if I'm not
rich and famous? Many of the people who seem to have everything, really have
nothing if they don't have peace of mind, love in their hearts, and. Jeez!
What am saying? What is this, Charles Dickens? Sunday school?
The movie of the friggin' week with a sappy ending? Shall we all get together
now and hold hands and sing "Silent Night"?
Gag me! I WANT all that
money and that Nobel Prize! I deserve them!
Merry Christmas. Try to enjoy
it. I'm going to go chew on some mistletoe and
holly leaves and get plotzed
John Varley is the author of seven novels and three volumes of short
stories, and the recipient of numerous awards, including (at last count)
three Hugos, two Nebulas, and the Prometheus Award. He and his
partner Lee now live a peripatetic life, moving slowly down the Pacific
Coast towards LA and Tierra del Fuego. His new novel, the long-anticipated
is due in Spring, 2003. This is his second cheery Christmas story for
The Infinite Matrix.