Christmas, in all its weirdness, is coming

You have to admit there's something strange about Santa Claus

Of course Christmas is weird — flying reindeer? Trees in living rooms? Legions of non-union elves toiling above the Arctic Circle for room and board and one day off a year … you think that’s normal?

And isn’t it just a tad weird to look forward to a Beard-o in a red suit slithering down the chimney in the middle of the night? To welcome a break and enter by a guy who’s entire vocabulary consists of three Hos? We Canucks are pretty happy-go-lucky about it.

The Dutch? Not so much.

Dutch folklore features an Old Testament Santa. In The Netherlands, Sinterklaas rewards good kids with candy.  Bad kids? Fuggedaboutit. They get a lump of coal. Personally, I’d go for the lump of coal. I  don’t have much of a sweet tooth, for starters. Besides, it’s been a long time since I held an actual chunk of anthracite.

When I was a kid our cellar was half full of the stuff every winter. I wasn’t that enamoured of coal then because I had to shovel the stuff into buckets and hump them upstairs to the fireplace.

So I can empathize with rebellious Dutch kids. Back when coal was the common source of domestic heat, getting a present of a chunk of the stuff was a bit like being slapped with a wet haddock.

Times change. Why just last month a chunk of coal about the size of your ear sold at Sotheby’s auction house in Geneva, Switzerland.

For a little over $12 million.

True, it was a rather special lump of coal — found in a mine in South Africa last year. And they don’t call it a lump of coal. They call it The Sun-Drop — the world’s largest pear-shaped yellow diamond (the buyer remains anonymous but I like to imagine he’s some faceless, filthy-rich Goldman-Sachs junk bond trader who parlayed some of his bailout money into a rock that he hopes will help him get lucky tonight).

It’s no secret expensive things come in small packages, but usually those small things are intrinsically valuable.

But tin? Whoever heard of paying a million dollars for a piece of tin?

New York cabbies, that’s who.

One million dollars is the going price for the medallion that must, by law, be affixed to the hood of every legal Yellow Cab in New York City. What’s more — it’s a bargain.

It would have been smarter to pick one back in 1937 when they first came out. The medallions sold for ten bucks a pop then. In the last three decades the price of a New York cab medallion has soared by a gob-smacking 1,900 per cent, making it more profitable than gold or oil.

The reason? Same as diamonds — scarcity. There are just over 14,000 medallions in circulation — a number that’s hardly changed in 75 years. The New York Taxi and Limousine Commission prefers to keep the medallions rare and treasured.  So treasured there’s a company called Medallion Financial Corporation that exists solely to provide loans to cabbies who want to purchase their own medallion.

And how does a guy, earning a hack’s wages, manage to do that? Simple, according to Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Financial.

“A guy comes to this country, drives a cab six days a week, 12 hours a day, after three years, takes his whole life savings and puts it down to buy a medallion,” Murstein said. “This is a way for him to get a piece of the American dream.”

Sounds more like a nightmare to me, but then so does living in New York. My pal Eddie says I’ve got it all wrong. He used to drive cab in the Big Apple.

“People say New Yorkers can’t get along,” says Eddie.  “Not true. Once I saw two New Yorkers — complete strangers — sharing a cab. One guy took the tires; the other guy took the radio.”

 

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