Once upon a time, there was an enchanted city called Los Angeles, California. It was a magical place with swimming pools, movie stars, and an abundance of fruit trucks on every residential street whose horns played a soothing rendition of “La Cucaracha” to announce their presence.

Everyone who lived there hated the dump. Because the state government refused to follow other states’ examples in giving tax benefits to businesses, large companies were pulling out of the area like crazy, leaving countless thousands of unemployed in their wake. It was tough for the locals, but great for the big charities that gave handouts for the area destitute, as they could approach their major donor with chilling statistics of needy people and cash in on beneficent tax write-offs. And with the busiest time of the charitable year – Christmas – approaching, the philanthropic enterprises looked forward to their most profitable year ever.

“This is going to be great,” exclaimed Boss Greedy, the CEO of HANDOUT (Hoggish Agency Needing Donations of Ungodly Treasures), the biggest charity in the state. “Between my multimillion dollar salary and my profit-sharing bonus, I’ll be rolling in cash by the time of our annual Christmas telethon fundraiser. This is going to be our best year since the September 11th windfall.”

But the accountants at HANDOUT were astonished to find that with the holidays approaching, donations had fallen off drastically from years past. Boss Greedy called in the Chief Accountant for answers.

Boss Greedy called in the Chief Accountant for answers.

“What the hell’s going on?” demanded the CEO of his head bean counter. “Profits are down by a landslide this year! How the hell am I supposed to finish the palace I’m building in Brunei with measly endowments like this?”

“It’s the unemployment numbers in California, Chief,” replied the haggard bookkeeper. “It’s so expensive to do business in the state that people who haven’t already lost their jobs are scared to death that they will. People aren’t contributing to homeless charities because they’re afraid they’ll be in the same boat themselves in a few months.”

“Well we’ve got to figure out something,” fired back the portly Greedy. “We make 90% of our yearly profits from our Christmas telethon, and I’m paying too much in alimony to cut back. Our problem is that people see the photos of the people we’re trying to help, and they don’t think that those hoboes look any worse off than they are. What we’ve got to do is find a homeless guy who’s so gross and pathetic that even a person in desperate financial straits is going to want to help him out. Where are we going to find someone that disgusting?”

At about this time, a young muse named Jonny M. was being fired from his job at a local sperm bank. The careless muse had accidentally depleted the depository’s supply of semen from Nobel prize-winners and sports stars when he mistook it for his daily application of Jergen’s Lotion. In desperation, Jonny had replaced the diminished spooge supply with his own seed, resulting in the birth of a coterie of grotesquely pasty-faced, mildly retarded babies.

“Not to worry,” exclaimed the muse cheerfully as he was thrown face-first into a neighboring dumpster by his former boss. “I always seem to be out of work this time of year, and I never have a problem getting a new job just in time for the holidays!”

But when Jonny logged on to jobs section on CraigsList.com, he was astonished at the microscopic number of openings that were available. And the few that he was able to apply for were snapped up by people who had been laid off by Countrywide Bank.

“You’re unemployable,” said the recruiter.

“Your problem is that you don’t have good references,” explained the recruiter at a Rent Boy registry that the muse had vainly tried to get placed on. “Your boss at the convenience store you worked at said it was overrun by terrorists on your shift. You were elected Pope, but you left the job after just a few months by faking your own death. You were the head of FEMA, but when disaster struck you spent most of your time hitting on a Bourbon Street stripper. Not only that, but I see from Jonny’s Prison Christmas that you have a criminal record!”

The muse hung his head in shame, wondering if the scandal of Jonny’s Prison Christmas would follow him to his grave.

“I just can’t help you,” said the recruiter as he motioned Jonny towards the door. “These are just too many problems on your résumé – and I haven’t even mentioned your smell yet. I’m afraid that you’re what we call in the industry ‘unemployable.’ Good day.”

The dejected muse made his way into the cold street. His unsightly gut was growling from not having eaten in days. He had been evicted from his flea-ridden studio apartment and had taken to living in a wooden box next to the freeway on-ramp, and when he funds sank even lower he was forced to vacate that and move into a cardboard box by the far less fashionable off-ramp. Now, the once-proud muse was forced to rip one of the walls of his dwelling away and stencil on it with his barely-legible scrawl:

“Will work for food.”

Jonny was used to people staring at his ghastly complexion, made even more appalling by his nonexistent hygiene. But he wasn’t prepared for the reaction of the motorists as they saw him pathetically holding his sign as they got off the freeway. The muse’s usual vacant stare was made even more vacuous by weeks of malnutrition, and he was surprised to find that when he approached the cars as they stopped to enter Burbank Avenue, they would throw a wad of whatever cash they had available just to get him to walk away.

The motorists were appalled at Jonny’s appearance.

Jonny was stunned. This was the best-paying Holiday gig he’d ever had. He’d just stand at the freeway off-ramp during rush hour and people would throw money at the revolting sight of him while vainly trying to choke back vomit. Jonny was accustomed to people being nauseated by his appearance, but this was the first time he could remember cashing in on his grotesquerie. Soon his financial situation improved, and he was able to replace the cardboard wall that he had torn away from his box with sturdy poster board he bought at Home Depot; and he was even considering moving upwind of the fecal pile that a family of possums had made by its makeshift door. And instead of desperately rooting for food in the dumpster by the local MacDonald’s, he was able to actually enter the restaurant and order the food fresh, although after tasting it he realized that it made little difference in its quality.

Jonny was delighted in the gradual upturn is his fortunes until one night when he was awoken by a loud pounding on the side of his box. He groggily awoke to be confronted by the entire local homeless community.

“What’s the big idea?’ asked the leader of the tramps, a diminutive fellow wearing a small mustache and a tattered derby. “We were all scraping by until you came in to the territory. Everybody bought our hard luck stories and kicked in a buck or two so’s we could get a warm bed for the night, buy a cup of coffee or, in Emmett’s case, get a fix for our heroin addiction. But you breeze in with your pitiable demeanor and grotesque face and suddenly we don’t seem so pathetic any more. No one will give us a dime.”

“What’s the big idea?’ asked the leader of the tramps.

Jonny was confounded when he heard of the men’s plight. He never meant for his unsightly appearance to give him an unfair advantage and rob them of their livelihoods. Without a word, he picked up the coffee can where he kept his daily take of panhandling and began distributing to the tramps.

“Hey, we aren’t trying to rob you,” said the leader. “At the worst, we were just going to cut off a thumb so you’d leave town.”

“You aren’t robbing me,” replied Jonny with a pompous smirk. “This is the holiday season, a time for sharing and helping each other. How can I enjoy my success knowing that my brothers are living in hunger? From now on, we will gather together and share our daily take. That way, none of us will go hungry. And if one of us does, then all of us will.”

The other tramps thought that Jonny sounded like a filthy Communist, but since he was making so much more money than anyone else they weren’t going to argue. Jonny became friends with these men, and found that instead of being the nameless spectres that he always turned his gaze from in more prosperous times, they were people just like him with dreams, skills, and a desire for their lives to matter and to make a difference in this world. Jonny sooned realized that his new friends were a priceless resource that society couldn’t do without, and it was up to him to find a way to raise the money that would get these good men back on their feet and feeling a part of the human family.

Every morning and late afternoon, Jonny would stand by the freeway off-ramp and accept offerings from revolted motorists, and every evening he would distribute his takings to the other unfortunates. But it was never enough to keep all of them fed. The noble muse was desperate to find a way to raise more money and even considered receiving presents of cash for his birthday on December 15 instead of the traditional gifts of alcohol, but rejected that plan as absurd.

It was early December as Jonny stood shivering at his off-ramp pondering the problem when a huge limousine exited the freeway and stopped by Jonny. The muse approached the car to make his usual entreaty for loose change and perhaps some Grey Poupon mustard when the car window came down and Jonny beheld the excited face of Boss Greedy staring at him.

“I’m the CEO of HANDOUT (Hoggish Agency Needing Donations of Ungodly Treasures), the biggest charity in the state,” said the fat cat for the benefit of anyone reading this idiotic story who had nodded off and forgotten the beginning. “You’re the most disgusting homeless person I’ve ever seen, and I just know that with you as the poster boy for our annual Christmas telethon that we’ll make more money than ever before…more to help the needy.”

The noble muse didn’t know what to think. He was taken aback by Greedy’s lack of tact about his revolting appearance, but he was excited at the prospect of raising money for the homeless and unemployed at Christmas time. He took a hard look at the fat cat and didn’t like what he saw, for the CEO’s air of superiority reminded him of the bastard supervisor at the sperm bank who kicked Jonny out on the street in the first place. But then the muse pondered that by writing off this man simply because of his appearance, Jonny was no better than those who dismissed his destitute friends without even trying to get to know them.

“I’ll do it!” exclaimed the muse. “For in this special time of times, it behooves us…”

Greedy whisked Jonny into the limousine before the bombastic muse could start on one of his long, boring speeches. Jonny was taken to photography studios, television sound stages, and ad agencies to appear in advertising for HANDOUT’s Christmas telethon. Within days, the muse’s appalling face was plastered all over the city – and to good effect. One look at Jonny’s deformed and grotesque image gave people a renewed sensitivity to the plights of the unemployed, and the number of generous souls who pledged to contribute to the telethon swelled higher than they ever had before.

“This is fantastic!” enthused Boss Greedy to himself as he beheld the promissory notes that started piling in. “We’ll have our best year ever because of our poster boy! And look at the pledges we’ve gotten from corporations. Why, the janitor’s union alone has pledged over a million dollars, all because they had to hire so many new members to clean up the vomit spewed by people who saw Jonny’s picture. My bonus will be bigger than ever!”

The janitor’s union had pledged over a million dollars
because they had to hire so many new members to clean up vomit.

But Jonny’s head wasn’t swelled by the attention. He continued standing at his freeway off-ramp to collect money for his friends on Skid Row. And every night, they would surround him to collect a paltry few dollars and be filled with hope at the prospect of financial aid that would be rushing in after Jonny’s appearance on the telethon. As Christmas Day approached, Jonny’s heart was filled with a newfound optimism. The colored lights and joyful carols always filled his heart with love for his fellow man, and the abundance of gifts of alcohol that he received for his birthday on December 15 kept him nicely toasted.

The muse could barely contain his excitement when Christmas Eve arrived. Soon, he would be making an impassioned plea on behalf of the needy for millions of people who only wanted to rejoin society as a productive citizen. And Jonny’s hope for the most magical Christmas ever seemed vindicated at midnight when Santa Claus came to his cardboard box and granted Jonny’s wish for a little sexual experimentation (although it turned out not exactly to be what the muse had in mind - he was almost certain that he had specified “with a woman” in his letter - especially after Jonny later realized that it probably wasn’t Santa but one of the homeless guys who tended to drool a lot whenever the muse bent over). On Christmas morning, after sharing a breakfast of barbequed shoe leather with his unemployed friends, a limousine arrived to whisk Jonny to the television studio.

“Don’t worry, friends!” chimed Jonny as he got into the car. “My appearance tonight will mean a better life for all of us!”

Boss Greedy was frantic when Jonny arrived. “The first ten hours of the telethon have been a fiasco! Regis Philbin has just been going through the motions as the host, and Britney Spears’ musical number was a joke. We haven’t made a dime. Our only chance is to throw your hideous mug on the screen and hope enough people will pledge money so that we’ll take it off again.”

The muse knew it was his time to shine. Greedy pushed him onto the stage during a commercial break next to host Regis Philbin, who took a look at Jonny and promptly threw up.

“Excellent!” exclaimed Greedy. “You’re on a roll, boy! Just keep it up, and we’ll make lots of money to help the unemployed!”

Jonny cleared his throat in anticipation of making the heartfelt speech he’d been rehearsing for days, when his concentration was broken by a loud voice entering the studio.

“Where the hell is Greedy?” demanded a dangerous looking man who looked like he’d just stepped out of a Soprano’s episode. “The check for the solid gold toilet fixtures my boys is installing in his palace in Brunei bounced, and there’s going to be hell to pay!”

“Relax,” responded the fat cat in a hushed voice, hoping that the muse wouldn’t hear. “With the freak I’m about to put on the airways, you’ll have all your cash by tomorrow morning. Once the suckers watching get a load of his ‘this special time of year’ baloney, they’ll throw so much cash at us that I’ll be able to retire on my bonus this year!”

But Greedy hasn’t counted on Jonny ultra-refined sense of hearing, developed from years of pushing his ear to the wall of various tenement buildings he lived in in a desperate attempt to listen in on his neighbors’ animal-like love-making.

“I’m appalled!” announced the muse. “I thought that you were trying to make a difference in the lives of the unfortunate. I see now that you’re only interested in making a buck for yourself. But in this special time of year, we need to think of others and cast our own selfish wants aside. Why I haven’t eaten anything but shoe leather and a Big Mac in days, yet I’m here not to plead for myself, but to ask for help for others whose voices can’t be heard. That’s what this joyous season is about, and that’s why you should hang your head in shame!”

“And we’re out!” interrupted an assistant director from the side of the stage. The muse suddenly realized that his entire diatribe had been broadcast live and could immediately tell its effectiveness from the donation board, which was now spinning wildly out of control.

The donation board was spinning wildly out of control.

It dawned on Jonny that he had ignored tradition by failing to get drunk during the course of this idiotic story, so he grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels from out of the gift basket intended for Amy Grant and began pouring it down his throat.

“Well you got what you wanted,” slurred Jonny grimly. “I hope that you enjoy your massive paychecks and bonuses while the people who that money is meant for continue to live in squalor. But I’ll keep working and fighting to get assistance for those down on their luck, even though the vast majority of those I have to go to are like you and only want to take advantage of them. And I won’t only commit myself to that ideal on Christmas, because this most special time of year is only to serve as a reminder of the kind of people that we want to be for all of our lives. I pledge to continue giving and working to make this world a better place for others all the year long!”

With that, Jonny swallowed the last of the Jack Daniels and promptly passed out. He woke up hours later in a pool of his own filfth and vomit, and felt a sense of security in the familiar soundings. But suddenly, the muse was aware that something was different. Instead of waking up in a typical gutter, Jonny realized that he was now in a lavish feather bed inside Greedy’s stately home. The muse was even more surprised to find his host standing over him with tears running down his puffy face.

“I never heard the plight of the needy put to me like that before,” said the CEO. “I’ve been blind. This is a special time of year, and if a twisted freak like you can think of others at Christmas, it would be a sin for a guy who doesn’t have any real problems to be so self-obsessed.”

“That’s great,” responded Jonny, shaking some of his puke fom off his wrist.. “But couldn’t your household staff have cleaned me up a little when they realized that I was sleeping in a pool of my own vomit?”

“From now on,” continued Greedy, ignoring Jonny so as not to break the mood of the moment, “I pledge not to only work for personal gain, but to try and fulfill our mission to make things better for the poor and unfortunate!”

So all was better in the Los Angeles charitable world. Greedy made good on his promise to shun personal riches and work only to help the needy until his many creditors orchestrated his brutal murder as a warning to anyone else who got behind on their payments. The recruiter at the Rent Boy agency acquired a sixteen year old Chubby Chaser girlfriend and was in such a good mood all the time that he found a position for anyone who walked into his office, even if they weren’t looking for a job. The Hobos of Skid Row became rich from releasing a series of popular “Bum Fight” videos. And everyone in the city, rich and poor, young and old, had the most wonderful Christmas ever.

But happiest of all was Jonny M. As he looked around at his friends finding new hope and prosperity, his heart lifted in knowing that he had made a small contribution to making it happen. So, with a nod of good cheer to his companions, he made his way to the local wig shop to see how much money they would give him for his hair.

And happiness to you, dear friend. Whether you are celebrating Christmas with friends, Hanukkah with family, or commemorating the season by sending gifts of alcohol to Jonny for his birthday on December 15, know that you, too, are an indispensable member of the human family who has an inexhaustible supply of opportunities to make the world a better and safer place each and every day of the year. And know that you always have a loving friend in Jonny M.

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