|Santa Claus is coming around|
By Graham Hays
Page 2 staff
Santa Claus was having a rough afternoon.
He was already five minutes late for a three o'clock meeting with the arbitrator set to resolve the dispute with Local 1225 of the North Pole Sleigh Mechanics Union, which wouldn't have been so bad if he wasn't also 65 minutes late for a two o'clock counseling session with Mrs. Claus.
But here he sat, listening to one of the elves from marketing drone on about sponsorship opportunities for the next fiscal year. The marketing department never seemed able to grasp the immovable object of logic that a company wasn't going to sponsor an operation whose very existence depended on a zero-visibility presence.
Years ago it had been simple. Just a family operation with a couple of sleighs, a small herd of reindeer and a limited health-care plan. But now with the planet's population skyrocketing and toy demands necessitating a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, the whole operation had gone corporate. Most of Santa's time was now spent in meetings or filling out paperwork, far away from the factory floor and nowhere near the reigns of one the outfit's 12,000 stealth sleighs.
He couldn't even remember the last time he'd worn red, slid down a chimney or washed down a plate of cookies that didn't come from the facility's cafeteria. It was time to change all that, time to get back in the saddle ... or at least the seat. Stopping by the control center, Santa grabbed a delivery schedule off the printer under the terrified gaze of several junior staff members and strode off down the hall.
"Good for him," one of the dispatchers finally said, "It's good to see the old guy staying in touch with us working stiffs."
There were general nods of agreement from around the room, except for one elf whose horrorstruck gaze remained locked on the door.
"What's wrong, Chuck? It'll lift his spirits to get out there and drop off some presents."
"Not with that list it won't," Chuck replied, "He just took the North American Sports route."
A coffee mug shattering on the floor was the only noise to break the subsequent silence.
With his sleigh of choice safely airborne, Santa pulled out his list for a quick double check. The first stop was a rather large family residing at the Rose Garden in Portland, with all sorts of things on their wish list. Little Damon wanted some new tin foil for the next road trip, young Qyntel wanted a jump shot and Rasheed, well, Rasheed just wanted a pony. Smiling at the thought of how much he was already enjoying this, Santa skipped ahead to the naughty-or-nice report.
His jaw dropped. Could this be? Did they really do that in a car on the way home from a game? And how many stitches did Ruben need after his scuffle with Zach? Making a mental note not to forget Bonzi in Memphis, Santa stopped only long enough to deposit a shiny new convertible for Maurice and a fresh load of coal for the remaining stockings.
Next, Missouri and a boy named Quin. Santa sighed with relief when the report came up clean and snuck down the chimney with presents in tow. The tree was trimmed well with tinsel and bells, and a small grin returned to the old man's face as he carefully placed a new brush and an Armani suit at the base. Spotting a nearby table loaded with cookies and milk, Santa stopped and made time for a snack for the road. But there much to his dismay, wedged between a glass and some fudge, was a white envelope stuffed with $100 bills.
But as Santa reached for a pen to check off the request, the rest of George's letter unfurled. Two ace starters? A pair of high-priced set-up relievers? More hits for Aaron Boone? And on top of it all, a change of heart and sudden retirement from some guy named Joe? This was too much, was there no end to the greed?
Shoulder slowly sagging, Santa deposited the pitchers and the right fielder in the stocking but stopped short of leaving any extra hits for Boone. After all, it's not like George had been a saint.
Moving up the East Coast, Santa sorted through countless frenzied pleas from Boston residents for a World Series title, some with promises of payments that would make Lucifer blush. Leaving a grip on reality and a printout comparing winning percentages for the Red Sox, Brewers and Tigers in the last 20 years in as many stockings as his supply would allow, he hightailed it toward the Big Apple.
Things improved little in the confines of Manhattan. Frustration mounting, Santa ignored Jeremy Shockey's requests for Christmas dinner with the Olsen twins and their mother, leaving instead some sure-grip gloves and a healthy dose of tolerance.
Stopping finally in Lubbock, TX, a completely dejected Santa found the Bobby on his list already engaged in a shouting match with the Ghost of Christmas Past and moved on without a word.
Is this what Christmas had become? It didn't seem as if there was a single person on this list truly deserving of gifts.
But then, just as Santa was contemplating shutting down the entire operation and buying that time-share on the Carolina coast, a beacon of light shimmered out from the abyss.
Actually, it was just the lamp on his cell phone, but this was no time to hang around waiting for a burning bush.
The conversation was brief, but Santa's eyes soon danced with merriment and his hearty chuckle again filled the air, spurring the reindeer to soar even higher in the night sky. His spirit restored, Santa made for the North Pole, knowing answers to this Christmas conundrum now awaited his return.
* * * * *
The camera lights illuminated the night, which came as quite a shock to the night, which thought it had sole possession of this part of the world for at least another couple of months. Reporters shivered in the harsh cold air, deeply envious of the figures seated on the hastily erected podium next to the mammoth space heaters.
"Good evening," he began, offering a smile almost as white as the surrounding snow. "My name is Drew Rosenhaus, and I'm here to introduce my latest client, Nicholas Claus."
A volley of questions instantly erupted from every gathered throat, but Rosenhaus raised a gloved hand to silence the masses.
"There will be time for questions later, but I just want to say how happy I am to be in a working relationship with a public figure of this stature, especially one whose image and likeness has been so egregiously abused for literally hundreds of years. I look forward to speaking with representatives of virtually every major company in the world about continuing Santa's endorsement opportunities on more equitable terms. And without further ado, here's the man of the hour."
Santa stood and strode to the podium, nattily dressed in a new red Nike jumpsuit, with "St. Nick" emblazoned across the chest. Looking out over the sea of journalists, his thoughts turned to all he had seen the previous night and of Clement Clarke Moore's classic Christmas poem. He could think of only one line to sum up the magnitude of this moment.
"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."