"Gather 'round, you little lovelies -- how'd you like your Grampa to tell you a bit of a Christmas story?"
"Tell us, Grampa! Tell us!"
"Well, I think I just might then. Have you ever heard the tale of Nelson the Hard-Nosed Reindeer?"
"You mean Rudolph!"
"And his nose wasn't hard, Grampa -- it was red!"
"Not so fast, my lovelies -- you can't know what you haven't been told, can you? Now, Rudolph's a perfectly fine reindeer. And you're certainly right about his wonderful old nose -- quite the piece of work it was!"
"That's why the reindeer loved him, Grampa!"
"Well, if that's the way you heard it, I won't quibble with you. But come settle down, and I'll tell you a story I'll bet you've never heard, not a one of you. This is the story of a different reindeer, name of Nelson."
"There wasn't any Nelson reindeer, Grampa! We said all their names in school! It was Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and...and..."
"And Vixen! And Comet!"
"Exactly the one I was talking about -- Blitzen! But they had nicknames, you know, same as children do. And Blitzen's nickname was -- "
"Precisely! Which is what all his friends called him. So anyway -- "
"Did he have a lot of friends, Grampa?"
"Well, you see, that's kind of the story. Because there they all were, up at Santa's workshop at the North Pole, with Christmastime coming closer and closer. Now, all the presents had been wrapped and boxed and tied up in the brightest of ribbons."
"Red, and gold, and even a silver ribbon that looked just like snowflakes. Anyway, come Christmas Eve, and those reindeer were getting ready to take Santa's sleigh straight to the rooftops of every good girl and boy all over the world."
"But it was foggy!"
"Exactly. It was foggy. There was a mist as thick as pea soup rising from the snow, and -- "
"Was it global warming, Grampa? Were the ice caps melting?"
"You know, global warming could have been precisely what it was! Anyway...where was I?"
"Right. Because of the pea-soup mist, Santa had already gone to see Rudolph -- "
"With his nose so bright!"
" -- and Rudolph, being a lovely little reindeer, signed on quick as a flash. But what you haven't heard is what happened next. And what happened next is -- "
"Exactly. Just as the reindeer were all in their harnesses and ready to go, with Rudolph in the lead -- just at that precise moment, Nelson the Hard-Nosed Reindeer said, 'Not so fast!'"
"But they'll be late!"
"Didn't matter -- not to Nelson. He said he wasn't going anywhere until he got a few 'adjustments.'"
"What are 'adjustments,' Grampa?"
"Well, they're kind of like special favors. For instance, when you -- "
"That's not fair!"
"They should go without him!"
"See, that's where the problem was: They couldn't go without him. They needed exactly eight reindeer lined up behind Rudolph. Any less than eight, and the sleigh wouldn't budge."
"Like horsepower! Only with reindeer!"
"Exactly! Only with reindeer. And Nelson wasn't pulling that sleigh until Santa agreed to give him a nicer stall, and fancy feed, and even a special collar with all sorts of bells and whistles on it."
"That's not fair!"
"It certainly wasn't. But Nelson the Hard-Nosed Reindeer knew how to count."
"Did they stop being his friend?"
"Well, first things first. First they had to deliver all the presents, which they finally did -- and just in time, too. And then Santa gave Nelson everything he'd promised him. But then none of the other reindeer wanted to be Nelson's friend anymore."
"He was mean to them!"
"Yes he was. And he was taking advantage. In fact, in the whole North Pole, the only one who would be his friend anymore was Lieberman."
"Lieberman?! Lieberman the Reindeer?!!"
"Actually, Lieberman the Weasel -- but that's a story for another day."
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.