He shoved his backpack into his locker with a dull thud as the books settled into the back of the metal can. The door closed with a slam and he clopped his way down the hall at the end of another day.
The story Rudolph tells would have you believe he went out for the sleigh team in high school. That’s not entirely true. Or true at all, really. He knew he wasn’t an athlete, and he wasn’t much of anything else either, then. He just existed. One of the herd at North Pole North High School.
That story isn’t enough to sell a hit song or movie rights, and Rudolph is certainly not the first teenager to exaggerate the trials and tribulations of high school. He walked home alone from school that day, not because the other reindeer wouldn’t let him join in on the reindeer games, but because he wasn’t interested.
Games seemed meaningless to Rudolph against the backdrop of the Pole. The whole operation of the school did. He saw it as a factory for Santa’s Sleigh Team, with the rest just sort of hanging around to breed and create a fake economy amongst themselves. The future he saw for himself, to the extent he saw one, was as some part of that. He certainly couldn’t leave the North Pole. To do what? Join a zoo? A circus? Get hunted in Canada? None of these options were any more appealing than the ones he faced. Rudolph knew the North Pole was a joke, but he also knew better than to leave. “This place is a shithole,” he’d say, “but it’s better than a septic tank.” He’d read about indoor plumbing once. He was very proud of the fact.
RUDOLPH, THE RED NOSED REINDEER an elderly reindeer intoned from behind a podium. Just kidding. He just said “Rudolph.” Up Rudolph trotted, grabbed his diploma and walked down the stage. That was it.
Family and friends asked what he would do next. Would he go to the reindeer trials? Most reindeer at least went to see if they could make Santa’s Sleigh Team as a rite of passage, if nothing else. Rudolph snorted. No, no, no. Rudolph saw through that bullshit. He was thinking maybe he’d work in a restaurant or something.
But Rudolph went—not to try out, but to support his classmates and make sarcastic comments about the bourgeois nature of the whole thing. In came Santa, pulled by the head team. There are, naturally, multiple teams of reindeer that compete and train with Santa over the year. He rode in, resplendent, amid the thunderous stomping of hooves. The pomp of the whole thing made Rudolph roll his eyes.
The trials went on into darkness with Santa watching it all from the top of his sled, stroking his thick, white beard. As darkness set in, Rudolph felt something funny around the edges of his eyes. He tried to blink it away at first but it became clear it wasn’t going away. As with many of his peers, he’d been going through a number of dramatic physical changes recently. This was different, though. His nose was glowing?
Rudolph felt the gaze of the other reindeers, and then the steely blue eyes of Santa fixed upon him. Santa lept from atop the sleigh and landed with a thunderous crash on the ice. He didn’t walk so much as he glided towards Rudolph, then reached out a glove and said, “Come with me.”
There never was a storybook night like in the song—no blizzard, no crisis, no heroic moment. The technology and sophisticated telemetry in use at the Pole had long ago rendered the Christmas Eve delivery fairly mundane, something like the equivalent of a longish late-night car ride on a wide-open freeway. But Rudolph’s glowing red nose was useful all the same, and he was immediately conscripted onto Santa’s Sleigh Team. Apparently a certain class of Reindeer, “Seekers,” are born with noses that glow red upon maturity while in the presence of Santa. That makes them front runners for Team Leaders. Reindeer scouts look for it, now.
Rudolph had no choice, literally, but to join. He had become what he hated most. And then he became a part of Santa’s most famous propaganda tool. The song, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” tells the story of a useless, pathetic, picked-on reindeer who only finds redemption through labor.
You too can escape bullying if only you serve the master of capitalism, the song cries. Yes, serve Santa, and you will live forever in glory! It wasn’t quite like that, but Rudolph spent the rest of his working life leading the team. He fathered hundreds of reindeer before defecting to the Northwest Territories in Canada, where he was never found. He had always wanted to see Calgary.