Thursday, December 17, 2015

FOR GOODNESS SAKE

If you’ve got a few minutes, I’d like to tell you about my friend, Frankie. Frankie’s a good kid. He does as he’s told, he’s nice to his sister, he respects authority and he’s kind to other people. But he wasn’t always like that. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that Frankie was a real troublemaker. He goofed off at school, pulled pranks, talked back to teachers and parents, picked on his little sister and pretty much did whatever he felt like doing.
            
But all that changed last Christmas. The rest of the year he had been worse than ever, and his father told him that if he didn’t straighten up, Santa wouldn’t bring him any presents at all this year. Frankie pretended not to care, but secretly he was very worried. He’d gotten presents before, but what if this year was the year Santa finally gave up on him? He had been pretty naughty all year round, even by his standards. And there was one present he wanted more than anything: The new GameStation 4000. It was the coolest video game system ever and he knew all his friends at school were getting one, so he had to have one too so they could all play together. But would he get one after all the bad things he’d done?
            
Yes, Frankie was pretty sure he would be getting nothing for Christmas until he saw the flier hanging up on the school bulletin board:

ARE YOU ON THE NAUGHTY LIST?

I CAN HELP.

CALL 555-4646
(that’s 555-HO-HO)

Having nothing to lose, Frankie called the number.

"Hello?" said a weird, deep voice.

"Um, I saw your flier? The one about getting people of the Naughty List?"

"320 Sycamore. After school tomorrow. Ask for Dixon." Then they hung up.

The next day after school, Frankie went to 320 Sycamore and was greeted at the door by a woman who was, apparently, Dixon's mother. She showed Frankie to the basement, where Dixon was working on his very fancy and complex array of computers. Dixon was much younger than Frankie was expecting; about two years younger than Frankie himself, which put him in second grade.

"You're Dixon?" Frankie asked. "The one I spoke to on the phone?"

"Sorry about the voice modulator," said Dixon, without taking his eyes off the screen. "Can't be too careful."

"So you can get me off the Naughty List?"

"I can. For a price."

"What price?"

"Every single check and/or giftcard you receive this Christmas."

"That seems pretty steep."

"Not if you want something other than coal this year."

"How are you going to do it?"

"Easy. Over the past several years, Santa has been upgrading his Naughty/Nice list to a computer database of every kid in the world. It makes his job easier but, more importantly, it means that, for the first time in centuries, the List is accessible by outsiders."

"Wait, wait...you're going to hack into Santa's computer?"

"Of course. I got into the Pentagon's internal servers last week. The North Pole is nothing."

"And all I have to do is give you all the money I get as Christmas presents?"

"Don't worry. You don't have to pay until after the holiday."

"That's pretty trusting of you."

"Not really. If you don't pay me, I hack into the school's system and change all your grades for the semester to F's. Deal?"

Frankie only had to think about it for a moment. If it meant getting off the Naughty List, and getting his GameStation 4000, it was worth it. "Deal," Frankie said, and Dixon went to work. It took longer than Frankie had expected and he didn’t really understand what the kid was doing in the first place, but finally, two hours later, the deed was done.

"You're all set," said Dixon.

“That’s it?”

“Yes. School starts again on January 3rd. You can put my fee in an envelope and stick it in my locker then. In the meantime…Merry Christmas.”

Frankie went home confused and nervous. Had this really just happened? Had this little kid actually gotten him off the Naughty list and on to the Nice list? What would happen on Christmas morning? Well, that was still a whole week off, so Frankie had nothing to do but think and worry until then.

When Christmas morning finally did come, Frankie crept downstairs and…there were presents for him under the tree! It had worked! Frankie had been bad all year, but still got presents from Santa! He started to think of hiring Dixon to work his magic every year from now on, so he could misbehave and still get toys. But for now he was happy to just play with his GameStation 4000. Sure enough, it looked like all his friends were online playing with their new GameStations.

Well, almost all of them.

Frankie had one friend, Steven, who had been expecting a GS4K for Christmas but he wasn’t on the server. Frankie didn’t worry about it, because he figured Steven was probably spending time with his family or going to a Christmas party or something else lame like that. Steven was kind of a goody-two-shoes, but he never squealed on Frankie and let him copy off his test a few times, so he was all right as far as Frankie was concerned.

In the days following Christmas, Frankie still never saw Steven online. Finally he called him and asked why he wasn’t playing.

“Because I don’t have a GameStation,” said a very upset sounding Steven.

“What? You didn’t get one for Christmas?”

“I didn’t get anything for Christmas, Frankie! Santa didn’t come!”

This didn’t make any sense. Steven was a good kid. Why would he…just then a terrible thought came into Frankie’s mind. He said goodbye to Steven, hung up, then called Dixon and told him what he thought might have happened.

“Yes, I know,” said Dixon, carelessly. “You see, if there were suddenly dozens of names in the ‘Nice’ column, Santa would notice. That’s why my algorithm is so clever. It doesn’t just move you from ‘Naughty’ to ‘Nice,’ it changes someone else from ‘Nice’ to ‘Naughty.’ That way the number add up the same and Santa never gets wise.”

Frankie was horrified. It was his fault that Steven didn’t get any Christmas presents. Steven, who was always cool and deserved presents had nothing under his tree, just so that Frankie could have what he wanted. He felt awful. But he knew how to make it right.

That night, Frankie snuck out of bed, loaded up all his Christmas presents in his sister’s red wagon and carted them down the street to Steven’s house. Then, very quietly, so as not to wake anyone, he unloaded them all (including his GameStation 4000) on Steven’s front porch. He wrote a quick note and stuck it to the top of the pile then rang the doorbell and ran. The note he had written read:

Dear Steven,

Sorry these are late, some of my elves goofed up. Merry Christmas!

Love,
Santa

Frankie went back home, put his sister’s wagon away, then got into bed. He had done it. He had given away every single one of his Christmas presents. He had, really, gotten nothing for Christmas…but he was happy. Because he had done something nice for someone else. And he was smiling as he fell asleep.

When he woke up the next morning, there was a present on the foot of his bed. There was a note on it which read:

            Dear Frankie,

I guess you learned your lesson about what Christmas is really all about. Keep up the good work, and Merry Christmas!

Love,  
(The Real) Santa.

Frankie tore open the present and saw a brand new GameStation 4000. It was the only Christmas present he had that year, but it was more than enough.


Well, it  took a long time, but Santa's IT guys eventually traced the hack back to Dixon's IP address. First, they sent an email to Dixon's mother telling her what her son had done, and she was so angry she took all of Dixon's Christmas presents and gave them away. In addition, Santa's team sent him a computer worm which fried his system beyond all recognition. This meant, among other things, that he couldn't make good on his threat to give Frankie straight F's, which meant Frankie didn't have to give him all his Christmas money and giftcards.

Frankie put that money to good use, however, buying belated Christmas presents for his family and friends. And ever since then, he's been one of the best kids in town. So, this year, when Santa makes his list and checks it twice, Frankie will have earned his place on the Nice List...

How about you?