Little Frankenstein and Big Nick
By Neil…AKA…Neil (c) 2008
Every year around the holidays a bunch of guys I ride with do a “toy run." Each year it’s some place different. One year we gave all the toys to “Toys for Tots” the next year we gave the toys to a homeless shelter. Believe it or not three quarters of the homeless people in America aren’t even old enough to vote. On this particular year we decided to try and bring a little cheer to some kids who really had it rough. They are the kids at the Children’s Hospital. For whatever reason they were there, they had to spend their holidays in the hospital. I’ve been in the hospital while the holidays approached, it’s one of the most sky darkening experiences a person can go through. We not only brought toys, sometimes we brought a clown who made animals out of balloons and these little wooden strollers that looked like motorcycles. The kids could sit on them and we would push them up and down the hall and they could pretend to be in the wind. We needed a way to get the stuff to the hospital and nobody wanted to drive a cage despite the 35 degree temps outside. Only about eight or so people showed from the club but all of the members donated something for the kids so we had a ton of toys to bring.
I owned the only bike that could do the job; it was an old cantankerous WLA 45 “flathead” servi-car trike that I picked up for a song at a police auction back in the 70s. The bike is always hard to start and even harder to drive with a mouse trap clutch and suicide shifter but it did come in handy for beer and burger runs, if you can get it started that is. Adjust the choke, advance the spark, kick once to prime, turn the wick half way and give her another kick. If nothing happened that wasn’t all bad. It meant you at least had another try but more times then not the old pig would go off with a bang like an M-80 and then you had problems. Pull and clean the plugs, vent the gas from the jugs, put the plugs back in and do the whole starting procedure all over again. This bike was a rat bike even before there were rat bikes. I don’t mean them faux finished, asbestos cloth pipe wrapped, spray on rust wannabe rat bikes, I mean it just had what it needed to run and that was it. It did have a big black and white fiberglass trunk missing its lid; torn away years ago from its nickel plated hinges on a ride before I was old enough to ride a bicycle. You could still see the faded marking of the Philadelphia police department on it but they were barely visible through the heavy coating of years of abuse and neglect. I hated the bike and thought we should just bring the stuff to the hospital in the back of one of the ladies cars. It was my second bike and I only used it once in a while. My daily driver was squashed by some old guy so now the Flat Head was my ONLY bike. I missed almost the whole riding season recovering from the accident and I wasn’t even sure if the bike would start or if I could ride it.
Fritz, the VP met me at the club house. The Flat Head was usually parked in the bar and everyone used it for a coat rack or some place to sit when they were between shots at the pool table. I was just glad it wasn’t outside getting pounded further by the elements. I walked in and scanned the room.
“Hey, where’s the flat head?” I wanted to know.
“Come on Nick, we got Don over at the firehouse to work on it for you so it will be easier to start.”
“Oh, I’d like to see that.” I said..
Don was a full time paid firefighter and he had access to a lot of tools and resources the rest of us didn’t. The firehouse was on the way so I drove my truck with all the toys and stuff in it just in case. Don was outside waiting for us with a couple guys from the firehouse. They were looking at me with that kind of smile like they knew something I didn’t.
“Oh, what the hell is this now?”
We walked through the dispatcher’s office. Laid out on the table was the most complete Santa suite I’ve ever seen. The boots were real boots, not those ridiculous patent leather leggings most of the Santa’s wear. The belt was double grain split cowhide about three inches wide with a big silver (not chrome plated) belt buckle. There was even a leather pipe holster on the belt. The jacket was a real heavy coat that was brushed burgundy suede and not that cheesy red felt crap. The pants were an exact match. I was struck by the detail and the quality.
“Wow, you fire guys really go all out for this stuff, don’t you?”
They were all standing around still smirking, and laughing quietly, and it was then that I realized … they wanted ME to wear it, ”Oh No! No! No! I aint doin it! Get the hell outta here! I ain’t putting that stupid costume on.”
Don pleaded with me, pointing at my mid section, “Oh, come on Nick, the guy who used to do it is retired now, and you’re the only on
Don pleaded with me, pointing at my mid section, “Oh, come on Nick, the guy who used to do it is retired now, and you’re the only one we know with the …ah…shall we say….qualifications?”
The rest of the room burst into laughter. I had put a considerable amount of weight in the past few years and the graying beard didn’t hurt either. At over six foot, and well above three hundred pounds, I had to admit, nobody else in the club could pull this off better.
“Nick….it’s for the kids bro…”
That was a cheap shot but he was right; “OK, I’ll do it, but it’s just for the kids. Too bad we didn’t have a sleigh huh?” I said trying to laugh it up a bit.
Don came over and said “Yeh, about that! You need to see something.”
I followed the guys into the maintenance area of the firehouse where they take care of everything from Scott air packs to high volume water pumps. It the middle of the room was a huge canvas tarp covering something with an irregular shape. “Oh, what the hell is this now?”
I half expected to see a real sled with reindeer or something equally ridiculous. The guys went over and yanked the cover off. “WOW!” was all I could say.
Don started talking before I could react, “You can change the color anytime you want; this is just for today.”
It was the Flat Head completely customized and restored. The tank and the fiberglass body were painted to match, fire engine red (what else?) with all the gold plate pin striping and filigree work you’d find on a fire truck. The chrome was all redone and the new heavy black leather tractor seat had the name “SANTA” embossed across it.
Don read off the new specs while I just soaked it up. “The engine’s been punched out to 80 cubic inches; it’s got a custom five speed transmission with reverse, new clutch and shifter mechanisms as well. We changed out the generator for a 12 volt alternator system to run the extra lights and accessories. The frame has been powder coated, the suspension’s been completely redone, new brakes and tires all around and we even fitted a new flat slide carburetor to it and….I know you are gonna love this…it’s even got an electric starter!. Me and the guys have been working on it for months, what do you think?”
I still was having some trouble finding the right words. “Just awesome” is all I could muster.”
“Let’s hear it run!” Don turned the key, and hit the starter button, and the nearly new bike roared to life. The engine quickly eased back into the familiar lope, side valve motors were famous for.
I had to admit it, if even just to myself, ‘I couldn’t wait to ride it.’ I started to put on the Santa suit. It wouldn’t fit over my clothes comfortably so I canned everything but my shorts and black HD shirt. The suit was surprisingly comfortable and the fit was smack on. Almost, like it was tailored. The boots were more comfortable then my own Red Wings. I still couldn’t get over the detail. The fur collar was real sheep’s wool and the white leather gauntlet gloves were insulated as well. The guys brought in the toys and loaded them into the back of the servicar/sled. The enormous burgundy suede bag just about fit, but we got it all in.
I threw a leg over the seat, restarted the bike, and gave the wick a couple of blips, “Now we’re having fun!”
Somebody handed me a helmet with a red Santa hat attached that almost completely disguised the bucket. The door to the firehouse bay opened, and everyone was lined up, and ready to putt over to the Children’s Hospital a few blocks away. I pulled out in front of the firehouse and hit the horn button, and a siren began blasting from under the bike.
Don yelled over the noise, “That’s one of them accessories I was telling you about...”
There were three toggle switches on the console. One said “Bells.” I hit the switch and sleigh bells began to ring. The next button said P.A. for Public Address. I flipped it, and unhooked the mike from the handle bar, and tried out my new “Ho! Ho! Ho!” routine. Everyone was just falling out. The last switch had a small label that said “flight” … “Oh boy the kids will just go crazy when they see that!”
Everybody got lined up, and we made our way down town to the Hospital. People doing their holiday shopping were all about, waving and yelling “Hi! Santa!”
I did the “Ho! Ho! Ho!” thing a couple times on the PA system, and hit the bells a few times, “This is great!”
I was just having a blast pretending to be Santa Claus. The hospital security had blocked out some parking for us around the circular patch of landscaping in front of the building. We made one slow loop around the island just to let everyone know we were there. Shortly after we arrived, we were met by the director who asked us to enter a conference room, and gave a quick what’s wha
I was doing the Santa Claus thing with the hat so she spoke right to me, “No promises of going home or getting better; just the ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ thing, and hand out the toys. Keep the physical contact to a minimum.”
A lot of the kids had depleted immune systems, and anything we had on our hands, or clothes could compromise their already shaky situations. Next, we all were herded into a cargo elevator, the kind with packing blankets on the walls. I guess they used it for moving beds, and such, up and down through the hospital. Everybody sort of shoved me to the front so I would be the first person the kids would see when the doors opened.
The elevator stopped with a clunk and when the doors opened. I started with the big ‘Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!’ thing, but nobody was there. The halls were empty. They did know we were on our way up right? We tentatively stepped into the hall and started walking down to the nurse’s station. A couple Nurses came out to greet us with big smiles and as I passed a doorway, a girl about twelve or thirteen, wearing an ankle length pink robe, pushing an IV around, came out to see what all the ruckus was. She was too old for the Santa crap but not too old for the gift (Pink packages for girls, blue for boys). She took the gift and said “Thanks Santa,” playing along and maybe still hoping there really was a real Santa some place, and that she had just gotten the story wrong from whoever told her it wasn’t so.
We began to see some kids poking their heads out into the hall one by one. Some kids dragging medical gear behind them and other bloated beyond recognition from the steroids used to treat whatever disease they were there for. Then I see a kid about three feet tall come out of his room with his arms extended out in front of him and his hands hanging limply on the ends of his skinny wrists. He seemed to be staring off into the distance like we weren’t even there. Everybody stopped as he made his way towards us walking stiff legged like he couldn’t bend his knees. His skin was almost olive colored and his head was shaved. The most striking feature was the neat row of painful looking staples that made an almost perfect semi circle around his head. I was breathless. I couldn’t speak. I’m sure I was visibly shaking and I felt ridiculous in that stupid costume. He was making his way directly to me and honest to God, I felt like running.
I heard somebody snicker, and just as I was getting read to jack somebody up for it, the little guy yelled, “Oh I got you good.”
All the kids were laughing. The little girl in the pink robe said “That’s Little Frankenstein; he does that to everyone who visits.”
I was still shaken by the encounter and having some trouble recovering. “You certainly did, where’s the wolf man?” I asked, trying to get my legs to stop shaking.
He started down the hall yelling into rooms “Hey guys, I scared the crap outta Santa Claus,” followed by laughter.
I was the brunt of his joke but it was OK, he got a laugh out of me so it was mission accomplished. The rest of the guys and gals in the club went about passing out gifts to the bigger kids. I promised not to forget they were here. The bigger kids were all looking out the window at the bikes all lined up in the parking lot, saying things like, “If I could get out of here, I’d go for a ride.”
The little kids who could ride the little stroller bikes up and down the halls were having a blast. The guys from the club were making all the motor noises and telling the little kids when to shift and when to throttle up.
Little Frankenstein tugged on my pants leg, “Hey Santa, can I go for a ride on your bike?”
“Ho! Ho! Ho! I’d love to, but it’s so cold out; you’d probably freeze solid.”
“Could you bring your bike in so we could ride it?”
Now the bigger kids were whooping and yelling, “Yeh, yeh, yeh! Bring it in Santa!”
One of the nurses tried to quell the uprising of “the land of misfit toys” by saying, “The hospital has regulations about ANY motor vehicles in the building. You CANNOT have anything with gas or oil in it in the building … PERIOD!
Little Frankenstein tugged on my pants leg again; “Can’tcha just take the gas and oil out?”
“WOW! That’s a great idea!”
I looked at the nurse and she said “but there are also batteries and other things.”
I told her I would do whatever it took to bring a bike into the building safely. One of the girls drove a 250 CC Rebel. Her name was Gertrude but everyone called Rudy after the famous Notre Dam football player Rudy. He was too small to play the game but he had more heart then guys twice his size and that was true of our own Rudy. At just under five foot tall and maybe 90 lbs soaking wet she could easily be mistaken for a child and regularly was but she
would square you away in a second should you mistake her size as some kind of target for abuse. Rudy’s bike, like her, was small and light and she kept it clean as whistle so it was the perfect choice. We got some tools together and some buckets and removed as much oil and gas as we could drain from the crank case and tank. We removed the battery and wiped the whole bike down with surgical disinfectant. We pushed the bike onto the cargo elevator we had taken up earlier. This time when the doors opened, every kid on the floor was there applauding and yelling.
I picked up Little Frankenstein, “Ho, Ho, Ho, you get the first ride my friend.” We pushed him once around the square ward. One by one we gave every kid a ride around the ward who wanted a ride. By the time we were done, we had stayed long past the time we were supposed to but nobody seemed to care except for the director who had just walked back onto the ward and had no idea what we just pulled off.
She was yelling at everyone, I was trying to calm her down. “You’re the boss right? It aint like you’re gonna lose your job or anything …”
“Lose my job? We could all go to jail for something like this.”
I tried to make light of it, “Not to worry, we’ll all be right there with you.”
She pointed a finger directly at me, “This NEVER happened!”
Little Frankenstein tugged at her skirt, “We can keep a secret!”
The director knew there was nothing she could do about it now, just slumped against the nurses desk and said “OK, ok, ok, just go, and never say another word of this to anyone, EVER!”
I smiled and watched her leaning against the nurse’s desk just shaking her head as we said our goodbyes. I bent down on one knee and to say goodbye to Little Frankenstein. “My little friend, you made something wonderful happen here today. You gave all the big kids a great Christmas gift, but you gave me a Christmas gift also. You showed me a pure and wonderful person, something I don’t get to see much anymore these days. Merry Christmas buddy and get well soon so we can go for a ride for real some day. I know your name isn’t really Little Frankenstein. What do your friends call you?”
“Frank but my real name is Frances.”
“That’s a great name Frank. I have to go now so we can bring toys to all the other kids everywhere.” I turned to enter the elevator.
“So, what’s your real name?” I heard him ask as I was leaving.
“Mine? I looked at the little man in front of me and said, “I have many names, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Old Saint Nick, but you … you can call me Nick … Big Nick … if you like.”
I backed into the elevator and let the door close in front of me. “Merry Christmas Frank, Ho! Ho! Ho!”
Outside everyone lined up on the bikes ready to go. A warm front had rolled in, and a heavy fog had fallen on the area that was going to make our ride home a little more of an adventure then in previous years. Everyone was standing around Rudy’s bike. At first I thought maybe they were having some trouble starting it after removing all the fluids and the battery. “What’s shakin Rudy?”
“Check this out Nick. I got the surgical solution off everything I thought would create a problem, except the head light” She backed away from the bike. The head light had warmed up, and burned the amber translucent surgical wash bright red, and that light was cutting a swath through the fog like a laser beam.
“WOW, that’s cool!” The fog was getting heavy now. I could no longer see the kids with their noses smushed against the windows on that side of the ward that faced the parking lot. I yelled for the guys to let Rudy up front.
Donny yelled “Who goes next?”
I yelled back, “Now Basher, now Hanson, now Manson and Nixon, then Grommet and Stupid, next Donny and Fritzen.”
I got a little chill up my back and I pulled my collar up tight and hit switches number one and two activating the bells of the PA system. I yelled: “Ho, Ho, Ho!” into the mike, hoping the kids could hear it all through the tempered windows of the hospital. I yelled at Donny: “I wish the kids could see us leave.”
“Hit the third switch, the flight button,” Donny yelled back laughing.
I was laughing too, and I hit the switch just playing along. Rudy started out slow and made the first turn out of the circular drive. At first I didn’t notice anything. It seemed like I could see the whole line of bikes in front of me, like when you are riding up a steep grade on a club ride. Then Rudy made a sharp turn to her left. I could see the whole side of her bike; it was above us, and climbing. I was having some trouble taking it all in. Then as I followed the line of bikes past the hospital again, I could swear we were off the ground, but the fog was so thick you couldn’t tell for sure. Then I looked to my
Then I looked to my right, and there in a line were all of the kids waving, and yelling at us from the fourth floor windows as we gained altitude.
“Oh! Ho! Ho! Ho!” I yelled again, “Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night!”
The fog disappeared below us and the night sky revealed itself with a million tiny stars turning the black sky into a sea of diamonds. The only noise I could hear was the hum of the bikes and the wind rushing past my head, and the “Ho, Ho, Ho’s” were coming easier, more natural.
“Now this is what I call Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho!”