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When was the low point? Harold Neumeister can't remember anymore. Mental illness and durg addiction have robbed his mind, leaving blank spaces where the hurt used to be. What he knows is this: he was born in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1947, the son of a man consumed by alcohol and rage, a man who terrorized him and abused his mother.

The family moved continually as the father switched from job to job, and Harold attended 44 different schools. But each new home - in housing progjects, motels and shanties - echoed with the same cacophony: screaming and profanity. There were no dreams in Harold's house.

Maybe that's why Christmas was so hard. Other kids sat on Santa's lap and asked for ponies or race cars. They had brightly lit tress in their homes. "In school, they'd talk about their Christmas, their presents." Harold got no Christmas, not even a visit to Santa. And that makes his strange odyssey from a cheerles child to a jolly St. Nick all the more surprising.

His mom eventually left his dad and moved to Cincinnati, where Harold finished high school and enlisted in the Army. After serving in Vietnam, he got a job as an insurance salesman and married. But the next 20 years were a sage of booze and drugs, of exhilarating highs and suicidals lows. He lost it all - job, wife, children, home. For four years, he lived under overpasses and in cardboard boxes, in and out of jail for shoplifting. Once, he climbed to the roof of the 50-story Carew Tower, planning to jump. Security men hauled him away.