In Providence: A Reindeer on Blackstone Boulevard
“He knows it’s my reindeer. Let him say whatever he wants, but he knows damn well that reindeer is mine.”
I got a tip that there was a custody battle brewing on Blackstone Boulevard between two septuagenarians over a decorative subarctic mammal.
Like something out of Dickens, the story begins in two houses, both facing each other, over 20 years ago at Christmastime.
“I put out the reindeer,” says the resident of one house, who we’ll call Kris. “I always did the big display for the holidays with the lights and the manger and Santa. That year I wanted to have all the reindeer — Vixen, Dasher, Sleepy. I go to Benny’s, and they have this one reindeer — so beautiful. Hand-painted. I say, ‘I’m buying that reindeer.’ My wife wanted to kill me. I don’t want to tell you what that one reindeer cost, but I was supposed to spend that much on 20 of the reindeer, not on just one. I had to make that one reindeer count as 20. He was the centerpiece of the whole yard.”
He shows me photos of that first Christmas with his reindeer.
“What a hit. People would stop their cars.”
It didn’t hurt that the reindeer was the size of a small car.
“You could get on it and ride it like it was real. People used to put their kids on it and take pictures. You couldn’t get my son off at that thing when it was time for dinner. My wife wanted to kill me for bringing it home, but everybody loved it.”
For two years, the reindeer was a point of pride.
Then one year, it went missing.
“You never think something like that is going to happen,” says Kris, still shaking his head at the memory of going downstairs one day to get the morning paper, only to find an empty patch in his front yard where the reindeer used to be. “That somebody would just steal a reindeer right out in front of your house in broad daylight.”
He’s talking to me on the phone, and I hear his wife correct him that they would have stolen it during the night, and then he tells her that she doesn’t know that and they could have taken it in the early hours of the morning, and she points out that, it being winter, it would not have been light outside in the early morning, and he tells her she’s not a weatherman, and she says neither is he, and then I think he forgets I’m still on the phone, because they start talking about cleaning out their fridge, and so I hang up, and call “Nick.”
“Nick” is what I’m calling the neighbor who lives across the street from Kris. The same year the prized reindeer disappeared, another one magically appeared in front of Nick’s house.
Nick disputes this.
“I had my reindeer from the very beginning. Long before he had his. Mine was at the back of Santa’s sleigh. That’s why nobody saw it. But it was there. He had his reindeer in front of the Nativity, which I disagree with for religious reasons. The point is, we both had the same reindeer, except I got mine at Job Lot and he got his at Benny’s, but it was the same reindeer. I don’t know who took his, but that night, he’s over at my house accusing me of being a thief. I didn’t like that very much.”
It’s true that Nick’s yard has a more Keep-the-Christ-in-Christmas angle, but unlike Kris, he can’t produce any photos to prove that the two reindeer existed at the same time.
“Who takes photos of plastic reindeer? You’d have to be a sicko.”
Kris acknowledges that he went over to Nick’s house when another neighbor tipped him off that there was a reindeer just like his at the back of Santa’s entourage over at Nick’s house.
“He used to do his house up the same way I did mine, and I figured it was jealousy or a prank or something, so I went over there and told him, ‘Very funny, give me back the reindeer.’”
But Nick insisted that he didn’t steal the reindeer.
“Why would I steal a reindeer I could go get at Job Lot? Is his head screwed on straight?”
Kris handled this rebuttal the way any man would.
He stole the reindeer back.
“My wife tells me the reindeer’s gone. The one in the back. I say, ‘Did that #$%# steal my #$%-ing reindeer? You gotta be kidding me.”
When asked if either man thought about calling the police, I was given a look that would chill the sun. People don’t call the police to deal with things like this. They take matters into their own hands.
“I didn’t say one word about it,” says Nick, “I just waited.”
Nick felt justified in his course of action.
“An eye for eye,” Kris tells me over the phone, as his wife wraps Christmas gifts in the background and yells to ask him where he put the Scotch tape, “You take my reindeer, I’m taking him back.”
I’m not sure that’s how “an eye for an eye” works, but I’m also not a biblical scholar, so what do I know?
Nick made good on his word, and didn’t say anything about the missing reindeer. Christmas that year came and went, and the following year, when Kris put out his reindeer again, it was only in front of his yard for a day before it went missing.
“I look across the street and there it is. Front and center in that @#$%’s yard.”
Nick admits to taking back the reindeer and he even adjusted his views on holiday displays that reflect the joy and compassion of Christ’s birth in favor of one that highlights comeuppance and petty vengeance.
“You don’t mess with a man’s yard,” he tells me. “Everybody knows that.”
What followed was a game of cat-and-mouse, if both the cat and mouse were obsessed with festive lawn ornaments and passive aggressive feuding.
One man would display the reindeer, then the other man would walk across the street, pick it up, and take it back to their yard.
During the year, this was never spoken of, and the men seemed to get along just fine otherwise.
“He’s not a bad guy,” says Nick. “He’s stupid, but he wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Kris feels a great affection for Nick as well.
“Aside from the fact that he’s a lying crook, I don’t have any problem with him. He comes to our cookout every year that we do with the shrimp and the clams. Our kids went to school together. We’re neighbors. That doesn’t mean anything to most people anymore, but it means something to us.”
That way of thinking doesn’t stop them from petty theft every so often though.
“Personally, I’m getting tired of it,” says Kris, as his wife screams at him to go in the garage and find the box of nutcrackers. “One day I’m going to say ‘To hell with it’ and let him keep the damn thing. Last year, I got stuck with it on Christmas and that meant I had to store it for the rest of the year, and that’s a pain in the @#$. It’s like hot potato — that reindeer. Plus, they have these new reindeer now that light up and the heads move? I’m going to buy a few of those. Just don’t tell my wife.”
Nick is also getting weary of the chase.
“I don’t even go all out like I used to,” he says. “It’s just too much work. My son used to help me put everything up, but now he does his own house, so I just go over there.”
This year, the reindeer has remained on Nick’s lawn so far, and Kris says he’s not sure if he’ll get a chance to go steal it back.
“But hey,” he says, laughing a little. “At least I know it has a good home.”
Nick says this might be his last Christmas in Rhode Island before he and his wife move down south, but he hasn’t told Kris that yet.
“If I see him outside getting the paper, I make this face like I’ve got my eye on him in case he tries to pull a fast one on me. I do the DeNiro thing from that movie with my fingers and my eyes, like ‘I’m watching you. I’m watching you.’ He likes it, I can tell. Means a lot to him. I’m going to miss this neighborhood. A lot of nice people. We had some real good Christmases here over the years.”
Kris still does up his front yard with all the bells and whistles, but he hasn’t gotten his wife to agree to those new, expensive reindeer yet.
“She keeps saying maybe Santa will get you a few of them for Christmas,” he tells me, as she yells in the background because he didn’t get the car washed like she asked him to. “I ask her what’s the point of that? A reindeer’s no good after Christmas.”
It’s hard to argue with that.