Monday, December 22, 1997

Week of 12/22/1997

A Christmastime chat with Saint Nick
You think YOU’VE got problems?
- by David Matthews 2

I usually feel depressed around Christmastime. Oh, sure, I get wrapped up in the preparations for the holiday season. I enjoy trimming the tree and setting up the displays, and the good will that is still there amidst all the shopping chaos. But the utter realization that I would spend Christmas relatively alone in a season of love and giving strikes like an icicle through my heart every Christmas eve and Christmas day.

So here I was at my favorite nightspot, spending the money most guys would spend on their girlfriends or wives. I had just bellied up to the bar when the bartender warned me about this old guy at the other end.

"Stay away from that guy," she said as she handed me my usual rum-and-Coke. "He’s been in a sour mood all night."

I thanked her and gave her the usual tip. I really didn’t think too much about the old guy. I guess I never really paid too much attention to him. But I overheard other folks who did, and he was rather blunt with them.

About an hour into my drink, I saw the old man walk towards me.

"Mind if I join you, David?" he said in a deep voice.

I really didn’t know what to say. This was the same guy who told three folks what to do with themselves in no uncertain terms. Not to mention this guy, whom I never saw before, just called me by name.

"Sure," I said. "How do you know my name?"

"I know everyone," he said as he sat down.

It was just then I noticed who he was. His white hair, the beard, the round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.

"Wait a minute!" I exclaimed. "Aren’t you…?"

He closed his eyes in annoyance. "YES! Yes, I’m him. Ho-ho-ho and all that garbage."

"What are you doing here, Sa-"

"Don’t say it!" he exclaimed. "It’s bad enough as is having people recognize me by sight!"

It was only then that I took a good look at him. This not-so-jolly elf had his hair slicked back and into a ponytail. He wore a red designer business suit, and his white beard was shaved close into a goatee like mine. His scalp was speckled with telltale signs of recent hair plugs, and there was a hint of a facelift on his rosy red cheeks, which I could only guess were red from booze, not the cold.

"Ok. Would you mind if I called you Nick?"

He waived his hand sloppily. "Yeah, sure. Haven’t been called that in a few years anyways."

"So why see me, Nick? I thought you wanted to be alone."

"Well.. I wanted to," he said. "But then I saw you come in. You know, you’ve got it made, David. You’re working, you’ve got talent that you’re able to express, you’ve got a family that loves you. And you’ve been on my good list for a long time. That’s not saying much these days, but you’ve done pretty well."

I snorted. "Yeah, that’s why I’m here in a bar when everyone else is out there having fun."

"Hey, you think you’ve got problems?" he said with fire in his eyes. "Try my job!"

I chuckled. "Yeah, having elves make toys, and you have all year to plan on delivering them!"

Then it was his turn to chuckle. "Ho-ho. Nice try ace. You think it’s a cakewalk to do my job nowadays? Let me tell you, it’s been nothing but aggravation these past few years!"

"Try me," I said.

He took a drink of his beer. "OK, let’s start with that naughty and nice list. I’ve had to amend that list so much that even Bill Clinton can be listed as nice. Do you know how much mail I get by irate kids who find out they’re on the naughty list? I’ve had to fend off fifty lawsuits this year alone! And that’s not even getting into the adults!"

"Ok," I said, "so they’re a little upset."

"Upset?" His eyes widened. "Ho-ho! Try livid! They think every kid should be in the nice column, especially theirs. Even when they’re horrible monsters and shoot people, they expect to be on that nice list. It’s worse now then when I had to substitute stockings full of coal with stockings full of reindeer droppings!"

I laughed. "When did you start doing that?"

"When I found out families were being put on the naughty list just so they can stock up on coal for the fireplace! Of course, you never noticed because you haven’t been on my naughty list recently. Now don’t make me loose track.

"Even when the kids make it to the nice list, they don’t understand the mechanics behind what we do. You know the number of kids who got upset last year because I didn’t get them a Tickle-me-Elmo doll? Or a Nintendo 64? You know, we don’t make those kind of things anymore. We tried, but we just couldn’t compete with the Asian markets. So we gotta order them from the factories just like the stores do. It’s not our fault the factories can’t keep up with the demand, even when I send some of the elves to help.

"Then there’s the elves. A few years ago they unionized. When UPS went on strike this year, so did they. You ever try to build ten thousand toys per week with just yourself and the missus? Make matters worse, some lawyer filed suit that my hiring elves violates the civil rights of non-elves. And I’ve got some talk show airhead claiming that the workshop is really a sweatshop."

"Ok," I said, "some folks are taking it too far.."

"Oh, that’s just the tip of the iceberg! I’ve got the FCC claiming I’m using a magic snowball without a broadcasting license, and the FBI want me to provide THEM with magic snowballs so they can peer into peoples’ homes at any time! The IRS is saying I have to count milk and cookies as taxable income. The post office is threatening to stop delivering my mail because of the amount of mail I get every year. I have to file a flight plan with the FAA every year that is so tight that I can’t deviate one degree without getting hit by a 747. And just today I found out that Janet Reno has filed suit that my operation violates antitrust laws!"

"Wait a minute!" I said. "Don’t you still live in the North Pole? I thought the US Government can’t touch you up there."

"Moved to Alaska a few years back," he said with a sigh. "The missus complained that she was sick of seeing nothing but snow, snow, and the occasional explorer on a dare. Besides, satellite reception is louse up there. Can only get a handful of Canadian stations and CNN. I got a great deal back in the Bush Administration for a shut down top secret military base. They even threw in a cable package. But let me tell you, if I knew what it would cost in taxes and social security withholdings, I’d tell them what to do with that base!"

"Oh," I said. "So how does the missus like things now?"

"Don’t know," he said sadly. "She left me after talking to some radio shrink. I understand that she’s going to be on the talk shows, hyping some tell-all book she wrote before leaving me."

"Sorry," I offered. "Didn’t know."

He waived his hand. "Ach! You know, I used to enjoy my job. It was a labor of love. The elves made the toys, and I used to have fun delivering them to every child around the world in various outfits and under different names. It was like.. like being a humanitarian James Bond! Now I feel like fat Ted Bundy."

"Well I wouldn’t go that far," I said.

"Oh no? I’ve got to elude burglar alarms and guard dogs. Some folks have chimneys that haven’t been cleaned since they bought the house, and THAT is a pain and a half to climb down, let me tell you! I’ve got police who think that I’m just a pervert impersonating myself, and preachers who are condemning me for supposedly taking away Christmas from them.. How lame is that? Instead of milk and cookies, the kids are leaving me threatening letters signed by lawyers about ‘breach of contract’ if I don’t get them what they ask for."

"So why come here?" I asked.

He finished his beer before replying. "Had the animal rights protesters show up outside the workshop, claiming that I abuse the reindeer to make them fly. Whenever those nutcases arrive I try to get as far away as possible. Besides, I had to speak with my lawyer anyways. He suggested that it might be time for me to retire. He lined up a sweet deal for me. Just subcontract the shop to the toy companies, the list to some PI firms, and run the whole operation from two web servers in the Cayman islands."

I gave a sour look. Santa wanting to pack it in? Have the brutally honest antics of this society finally ruined Christmas for everybody?


He gave a big grin. "And I say SCREW EM! Why give them the satisfaction? They’re stupid, shallow, self-centered people anyways. I plan on giving out a lot of reindeer droppings this year!"

I breathed a sigh of relief. "That’s the spirit, Nick!" I said as I slapped him on the arm.

From his waistcoat, he pulled out an antique watch. "Well, I guess it’s time to head back to the shop in Alaska. Still have to make sure those protesters haven’t tried to steal Rudolph like they tried to last year. Maybe I’ll even stop by Redmond on the way and see if I can get Bill Gates to give me some pointers on how to handle this antitrust suit as well!"

He got up and extended his hand. I shook it.

"You’re a good man, David," he said with a grin. "You’ve got more going for you than you know. Don’t dwell on your own problems too much. Who knows? I might even leave a special present for you this year."

My eyes widened. "Really? You mean you’ll get me my date with a Playboy Playmate?"

Then I head him exclaim as he walked out the door: "Ho-ho! Don’t press your luck, ace."

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