The surest foretokening of Christmas has arrived: the first showing this season of the 1964 Bass/Rankin stop-animation classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. You know, the one about the misfit, cerise-schnozzed ungulate who teams up with Hermey, the bucally ambitious elf, and Yukon Cornelius, a not-too-bright prospector, to save Christmas. Weve all seen it a thousand times. And heard the song, recorded in 1949 by Gene Autry, even more. That tinkling melody, the herky-jerky kinetics of the figures somehow theyre invested with the beginning of the Joyous Season. The anticipation, the naked greed, the no-reason smiles to strangers. But why would we feel this way about that song/story? After all, it starts out with an ostracized, troubled-loner reindeer, who, because of a nasally phosphoric anomaly, is shunned by other junior deer, and even by his parents. As I recall, um, lessee . . . dum de dum, te dum . . . they never let poor Rudolph/ join in any reindeer games. Yes, and just what kind of games are these other rotten bastard reindeer up to, anyway? Maybe its something like this: 1. Dipping their feet in paint, prancing out an abstract painting, ballyhooing it as hoof arted, then waiting to see if Santa will catch on. 2. Trying to spy on Santa and Mrs. Claus doing it. 3. Thinking up cruel jokes about the elves mandatory gay apparel. 4. Dollar-a-guess lottery about the size of Burl Ives butt. 5. Informing the FBI on whos been naughty and whos been nice. 6. Starting rumor that Santas nose is redder than Rudolphs because of a long-term fondness for egg nog. 7. Painting their snoots different primary hues and threatening to call the ACLU if Rudolph gets to lead the sleigh again this year. 8. Slipping unwanted ads for ***** enlargement and hair-restorer into presents, pre-delivery. 9. Fomenting union agitation among elves. 10. Petition for regular guy first names Jim, Ned, Bob, etc.* 11. Word of mouth campaign that caribou (hated rivals) tastes just like chicken. 12. Santas own reindeer game, played when he wants to thin the herd - hides-and-go-seek. Anyone know any others? * Im aware of the argument that all of Santas reindeer are female, because male reindeer shed their antlers before December, and female reindeer dont and traditional depictions of those sleigh-pullers show them with horns. But Im talking fantasy here, for petes sake. Lighten up, already.