I Made a Sucker Out of Santa

Got a turnip? Some axle grease? A gift problem? Let Largo show how you too can whip that Christmas crisis. But you follow his system at your own risk!

JOHN LARGO December 15 1949

I Made a Sucker Out of Santa

Got a turnip? Some axle grease? A gift problem? Let Largo show how you too can whip that Christmas crisis. But you follow his system at your own risk!

JOHN LARGO December 15 1949

I Made a Sucker Out of Santa

Got a turnip? Some axle grease? A gift problem? Let Largo show how you too can whip that Christmas crisis. But you follow his system at your own risk!

JOHN LARGO

CHRISTMAS, as it does most years, was coming—and there I was with my pants at half-mast and nothing bought. I was tired of the usual routine anyway. You know, a carton of bubble gum for Grandma, and for Grandpop all the ice-cream sodas he can drink at one sitting. Another Persian lamb for Aunt Fanny—and what she doesn’t eat she can always pickle.

Flowers for mother. Did you know you could keep flowers for a whole year just by embalming them? I used to sneak the flowers out of the house on Boxing Day and rush them off to the undertaker. They were his flowers anyway. Some empty gin bottles for Aunt Maude; she’s under the impression that if she corrals all the gin bottles, people will have to stop drinking gin. A true Largo, she.

For father I usually get a box of blank cartridges for the souvenir pistol I brought back from overseas for him. He likes to stand at the window and blaze away at people he imagines are following him. The powder flashes burn holes in the curtains but it keeps him happy and, goodness knows, that’s something these days.

Well, you know what I mean—just the ordinary run of gifts for the usual grasping mob of loved ones. I was in a rut. My gifts, no matter how carefully selected, always seemed to be just what the folks expected. “Dear John,” my Uncle Turk used to say, opening his parcel, “he knows how I love old champagne corks. This one, if I’m not mistaken, is a Heidseck ’37—a rare vintage indeed.” This Christmas I wanted to be different.

But how? I’m not one of the brighter Largos. (The brighter Largos are descended from Sarah Brighter, who married old Soso Largo; they had no children.)

Finally, after racking my brains on a handy hatrack, I put on a pair of sneakers and went sneaking up and down some of the cheaper streets. I was trying to pick up inspiration and anything else that wasn’t padlocked.

Ten Cents—Six for a Dollar

I WAS IDLY thumbing through a five-year-old copy of the London Times outside a secondhand bookstore—just to see how the war was going —when the proprietor tossed a well-thumbed volume on a pile marked “Ten cents—six for a dollar.” My eyes fell on the title and my heart leaped—a form of anatomical gymnastics for which I was hardly prepared.

“Gifts You Can Make Yourself,” it said. “Illustrated.” The author’s name was suspiciously absent from the title page (or maybe it was just one of those books which make themselves) but it had been published (no date given) by Odhams Press, at Long Acre, London WC2.

The first illustration showed a housewife (female) beaming at a curly-haired girl child who was clutching what the caption described as a “cuddlesome doll and teddy.” In the left foreground, for no good reason, stood a “candy-striped wastepaper basket.”

That was enough for me.

Restoring my heart to normal with a sharp rap on the ventricle I took the volume in my hot little hands and strolled negligently into the store. After a bout of hard bargaining, which drove the price up to 15 cents, I made off with my treasure.

It was just what I needed. It would enable me to give my eagerly sought presents that personal touch which, I thought, had been lacking.

I had another reason but we’ll save that for later. I don’t want to look cheap.

Back home in the charming basement apartment which I share with a hot-air furnace, a hot-water tank and a washing machine I flipped thoughtfully through the book. Continued on page 26

I Made a Sucker Out of Santa

Continued from page 19

Some of the pages were upside down but, as it happens, I have a flexible neck.

There were so many splendid things in the book that, really, I didn’t know whether to try a “Fluffy Duckling” (“For the body, cut two cardboard circles, with holes in them. Stuff the holes with wool . . .”) or what the author referred to as “Jacko, the Revolving Acrobat.” Or, again, how about “A Jolly Little Circus Elephant”? (“Cut three elephants from ply and glue together with the legless elephant in the middle. Leave them in a cramp (sic) for a day . . .”)

It was on page 94, which happened to be right-side up, that I began to strike pay dirt. Under Gifts for Women I found “Making a String Dog Collar.” Well, I know comparatively few women who own string dogs (it’s a vanishing breed I’m afraid) but old Maude does have a Mexican Hairless. I figured it was pretty much the same thing.

Something for Uncle Turk

Before tackling String Dog Collar, however, it was recommended as a good idea to do Knotted Dog Lead; the two went together. Dazed by this glimpse into a world where string dogs cavorted with knotted dogs I copied the list of ingredients:

One dog lead swivel.

Odd pieces of rug wool for core, 94 inches.

Thin glacé cord or macramé twine No. 5, 28 yards.

A canine haberdasher, or doggery, supplied the swivel and, luckily, I had a rug which I ripped up for the wool. But when I slipped furtively into the local Hobby Shoppe and demanded 28

yards of macramé twine No. 5, all I got was a queer look and a suggestion to try Blank’s* Department Store.

There I accosted a handsome female guarding a counter loaded with an array of fancy cords that would have made a hangman’s fingers itch.

“Got any macramé twine No. 5?” I whispered.

“No,” doubtfully. “Have you tried the book department?”

“Should I? What does the stuff look like?”

“I don’t know. I never heard of it.”

I staggered around to Books. Books told me to try Notions. Notions sent me to Rugs. Rugs banished me to the basement. The basement sold me 100 yards of clothesline and I only escaped, finally, by climbing out a window in the men’s washroom.

A day later I took delivery of a set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, two small throw rugs which I promptly threw in my living-room furnace and a nice asvsortment of Notions, which I hid in the filing cabinet under “N.”

So it was with an ill-concealed snarl of rage that I ripped String Dog Collar and Knitted Dog Lead out of the book and turned to the index for further study. I could always stick gin labels on some empty pop bottles and Autit Maude wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Avoiding Gifts For Women as if it were infected I concentrated on something for my Uncle Turk Largo. He’ll go for almost anything.

I turned to Gifts For Men. It was an impressive list. As an ardent devotee of the sliced drive and the muffed putt I looked up something called Golf Club Covers. These turned out to be things like knitted wool socks with tassels at the toes, which you were supposed to stuff over the heads of the clubs. The illustration showed a golf bag apparently packed full of midgets, head down, with only their feet showing

•An alias. Blank went out of business years ago.

Continued on page 28

Continued from page 26 at various unlikely angles. I decided this was a bit gruesome even for an uncle of mine so I went back to the beginning of the list.

Smoking Cap. Pyjama Case. Sponge Bag. Well, old Turk chews plug, never wears pyjamas, and when he bathes he rubs himself down with a handful of loose gravel—a trick he picked up from the Indians.

Indoor Flower Garden. Indoor Flower Garden. I looked at my eyes in the mirror. Sure enough, there was a mad light in them. Feverishly I turned to page 100.

The illustration showed a papiermâché affair like the bottom half of a roasting pan filled with dirt in which sprouted what appeared to he stalks of celery mingled with Brussels sprouts. “For the Flat Dweller,” the caption said. The materials list, called for a bale of old newspapers, glue, plaster of Paris, and some axle grease.

I scratched my armpits thoughtfully. Uncle Turk could probably he described more accurately as a cave dweller than as a flat dweller. At the moment he occupies a broom closet (along with a vacuum cleaner and some old phonograph records) in Aunt Maude’s place. Still, I decided, something like this might be just what he needed and as luck would have it the ingredients were all at hand. My apartment was full of old newspapers, dumped by the people upstairs. I had some plaster of Paris—having made some casts of the footprints of a mysterious intruder only the day before. Axle grease—well, what house doesn’t have some axle grease kicking around somewhere?

Eagerly I set to work. First you whipped up some papier-mâché. Then you plastered this around a mold of some sort. The plaster of Paris stiffened tinmixture and the grease kept it from sticking to the mold, as in baking a cake.

Flower Gardens for All

Following directions to the letter I ripped up the old newspapers (rejecting some that didn’t seem quite old enough) into small pieces, soaked them in water for a day, poured off most of the water, added two pounds of Scotch glue, and brought the whole revolting mess to a rapid boil in my dish pan.

I felt, somehow, that something was lacking, so 1 threw in two cakes of yeast and a double handful of seedless raisins. After a moment’s thought I added some pink cake coloring. The stinking mass now resembled pink porridge and while I stared, fascinated, the level in the dishpan started to rise like a hungry amoeba.

Hastily 1 grabbed a saucepan and scooped out a large dollop, not wanting to lose any of it. After all, if this were successful, 1 could send Indoor Flower Gardens to all my eager relatives. Very quickly, however, I saw that l was going to need another saucepan. The stuff was dividing like a houseful of bacteria. Probably one cake of yeast would have been enough, hut I do like a light mixture.

A few minutes later, breathing hard, 1 ran upstairs for more saucepans. Less than two dozen kicks on her door brought forth my landlady—-an amiable woman with a hatchet face and a streak of Siwash blood. Although she didn’t call me a liar outright she affected to disbelieve my story that I was cooking up a mess of Indoor Gardens.

I couldn’t waste time arguing so I snatched up a couple of fire buckets and returned hastily to my cellar salon.

As I had feared, I was too late. A

red tide was seeping down the sides of the stove and the gas burners had been choked to death. I turned off the gas and poked gloomily at the contents of my saucepans. The stuff was already taking on some of the firmness of well-cured cement—if you can imagine pink cement with raisins in it—and 1 spent a happy two hours chipping holes in my pots and pans and scraping the paint off the stove.

Luckily, the Largo motto is: “Nil

nisi haggis est,” which—if you don’t mind a rather free translation—means: “Don’t give up the ship until you see the whites of their eyes.” Besides, Christmas, that happy, carefree time, was fast approaching—in fact faster. And where was I? To ask the question was to answer it.

Spurn Not the Lowly Spud

The other reason—at which I only hinted earlier—why I found myself in this predicament was that just after last Christmas a slight but disastrous illness confined me to bed for a week or so. I had a touch of ptomaine poisoning—probably due to eating overripe ptomaines sent by my Uncle Bingo from India. This prevented me from attending the after-Christmas bargain sales where I usually acquire a good stock of cut-rate gifts and hold them for a" year.

In sheer desperation I was forced to turn again to “Gifts You Can Make Yourself.” What would it be? Lavender sachets? Hot-water bottle covers? Ribbon blouse fronts, knitted bed jackets, patchwork bed jackets, tattered bed jackets? Toddler’s reins, bootbrush boxes, crochet luncheon sets?

Unfortunately none of these splendid items lent themselves to mass production. I was just about to give up when three words suddenly spelled themselves out in italics: Potato-Patterned

Covers. How had I overlooked it?

You just needed some covers (easily contrived from old wrapping paper), some poster paint, and a few potatoes. You cut a potato in half, hacked out the flat surface in some mad ornamental pattern, and dabbled the potato in the poster paint. Then you used the potato like a rubber stamp to plaster the gay, messy pattern all over the covers. As the book said on page 144: “A favorite music score bound with a potato-patterned cover will prove a happy gift for music lovers.”

In fact, it would be just the thing for Uncle Bingo (he hates music). I was reaching under the kitchen table for the old crate where I keep my vegetables when another thought occurred to what remained of my mind. If potatoes, why not some other vegetable? How about cucumbers? Or tomatoes? Carrots? Beetroot? Squash? String beans?

Well, with me to think is to act, and vice versa. Before you could say “Turnip-Patterned Covers” I had the kitchen table strewn with an array of sliced vegetables that would have made a market gardener sob with envy. I was fresh out of poster paint (haven’t painted a poster since I swore off) but I did have a nice juicy can of red lead. Soon I was happily patterning some old filing folders into covers even the author of “Gifts You Can Make Yourself” never dreamed of.

One cover—which I intend to wrap around an old copy of “The Campfire Girls Go Hog-Wild” for my Uncle Bingo— is, I think, unique. It looks like a sunset with a bad case of the hives. I got this effect simply by glueing a fried egg (sunny side up) on an old piece of cardboard and sprinkling liberally with red paint.

Now, (here’s a gift you can get your teeth into! ★