Louie was a shithead. He knew he was a shithead. In his mind, he was just doing what had to happen for him to survive. Being a shithead was instinctual for Louie. He never wanted to harm a life physically, or any other way for that matter. But he felt kind of like he had to, to get by. Crime was kind of the card that had been dealt to him for survival. Some people got to drive cars and work in offices, some people picked up garbage, and others sat around thinking up rules for everyone else, and tried to convince those people that the rules were a good idea. Louie, he was a thief.
On good nights he would finish off a 5th of liquor and sing the just the chorus of Brother Louie by Hot Chocolate in loud jubilant rounds. “Louie Louie Louieeee” On bad nights, or night filled with loneliness or guilt, he would wonder how long it would be until he met his death and hum the song low to himself “Louie Louie Louieee, Louiee, Louie Louie your gonna cry.” He had always felt like the song was kind of his anthem.
It’s not what he set out to be, but around the age of 17 he figured it out. Theft was a non-violent crime that only hurt the people who had money to spare. Still, he hated to do it. He knew it was impossible for everyone or every business to have extra money. He tried to use discretion. Every night before he went to sleep he would dream up ways to get out. Ways to move to a better life. Maybe he would meet a nice girl with money? Or Someone would offer him a good job as a butler instead of a buck. He would fantasize about seemingly absurd situations at night, becoming a lord of the street, then working his way up. Catching a giraffe escaped from the zoo, and getting a job as an animal trainer, an accidentally big score.
One night it came to him finally. A way to get him at least through the winter with ease and a smile. Of course, it was immoral as hell. It went against everything he wished the rest of the world was, but this would be a hit and quit shot. No one would get hurt, and he would be able to provide for himself and maybe even buy a girl a drink.
All he needed was one of those red buckets the Salvation Army put out for people to donate cash into. When winter came around he kept his eyes peeled, always keeping the plan in the back of his mind.
One day, as he knew it would, the opportunity presented itself. Some volunteer had abandoned his post. Louie did not hesitate or panic. He simply picked up the stand and walked away calm as 5 am. He walked all the way back to his place, the whole 20 blocks. There was no need to panic unless someone tried to chase him, or if a cop pulled over. Louie was shocked and delighted that none of that happened. He had even passed a cop on the street, but the police officer either had not noticed, or thought nothing abnormal of his actions.
There was $267.00 in the bucket. Louie was shocked. He thought he would have to find a Santa costume at a thrift store, or ironically, at the Salvation Army. But with all that cash he could now afford a new one. Which he bought the next day, beard included.
He wanted to go to the liquor store, but not wanting to leave his good fortne abandon, he gave another person the change to go get him a 5th.
While drinking, singing, and planning, he thought. “Of course I couldn’t do it on the same block. I will need to hop the train, or a catch a ride to a less familiar location. Somewhere unsuspecting. Somewhere where people have money too, not the dollar store. As he drifted off to sleep he thought of the perfect place: a department store near 6th ave.
Soon people were giving him money willingly instead of him having to take it, and wishing him a merry Christmas while they did! It felt so good, he even sang some Christmas Carrols, though he didn’t know the words. “ooh Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells jingle jingle bells.” Or “Oh Christmas tree, I’ve gotta pee, make sweet love to me.” People didn’t seem to care for this one.
At first he caught rides, paranoid that people would see him and rat his fraud out. Then one day the cabbie said that the fare would be triple the normal rate due to traffic. Louie was not usually a risk taker, but he also was not someone who threw is money away either.
He knew it was stupid, but he decided to take the subway over. It had been a while since he first acquired the bucket and stand, there was probably no one looking for him or the stand by this point.
The day went as planned, happy people giving a little here, a little there, until he noticed an officer across the street talking into his radio and looking at him. His nerves started jittering, his gut dropped a little, but he maintained his calm.
He decided it was time to close-up shop, so he grabbed the stand, and trudged off, slow and normal. There was an alley not too far away; he could go there to count his earnings before figuring out where he would stay the night.
“67, 68,” He was counting out loud. “60…” as he looked over he noticed a police officer at the end of the alley walking directly toward him. Louie knew the gig was up. Maybe counting money in an alley wasn’t the least suspicious plan after all. Louie shoved all the money into his pockets and took off as fast as he could, leaving the bucket next to the dumpster. The police officer followed, and for a moment Louie thought “Damn, its over man,” but Louie knew the area pretty well now, and before he knew it, he was on the roof of a nearby building looking down at the confused officer.
As he spanned his view he could see more police officers in the area than before. Three maybe four. He would have to wait until they changed shifts, or gave up. It was dusk now. It wasn’t a motel, but he’d be safe for the night. He moved between the machinery poking up from the roofline and lay down, folding the tip of the Santa cap under his head to form a small pillow.
When did the police change shifts? 2 AM, he thought. Maybe he would give some of the money to the Salvation Army? That would justify his efforts. With nothing to do but think, he let out a relieved, yet sad “Louie Louie Louie Louieeee” to himself, and went to sleep. At least the Santa costume was kind of warm.
He awoke the next morning, ready to leave, ready to move on. The sleep had not been great. Sure, he had lost the bucket, but the days had been kind to him. He now had enough money to buy some nice clothes even if they were second hand, and maybe enough to edge in on a life most people considered honest.
As he began to walk away he couldn’t resist the urge. He would get rid of the Santa outfit in the dumpster he had abandon the bucket next to. Trade it in for a real winter coat at Goodwill with his earnings. However, when he arrived at the dumpster, telling himself through the whole journey that he would get rid of the Santa outfit, put it in the dumpster, and take up something more accepted, but also driven by a subconscious urge to check on the pail. He knew it was absurd, but the thought kept creeping in the coridors of his mind.
He was stunned when the pail was right where he’d left it. It seemed to shine in the morning light, though it had been knocked over by the wind or a cop. His face gave an irresistible grin and his stomach gave an excited jumped in his belly.
Grabbing the bucket and walking out to the street he began to hum lowly “Louie Louie Louie Louieeee” He hailed a cab, still dressed up like Santa, and headed across town. Maybe this year Christmas would come after all.