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Troubles in Toyland

By Burton F. Jablin

The Santas we see on corners and in department stores are apocryphal. Many are quite up front about their imposter status, claiming that they are "Santa's Helpers" or "visitors from the North Pole." But others--especially those that sit in department stores and terrorize small children--insist that they are the real St. Nick, and everyone knows that there's only one of him.

In order to prove this point, I recently journeyed to the North Pole to conduct an exclusive interview with the one and only real Santa Claus. Upon arriving in the arctic wasteland, I quickly spotted a candy-striped house with a wisp of smoke rising from the chimney. Trudging toward it through the ice and snow, I heard a chorus of high-pitched angry voices. As I approached the source of this racket, I discerned a circle of tiny persons, marching determinedly while chanting, "Elfin power, elfin power!" I crossed the picket line and was assailed with snowballs.

I finally reached the door of Santa's house, knocked and heard a faint, "I'll get it. Ho, ho, ho." Soon a portly gentleman dressed in a typical red Santa suit opened the door.

"Hello, sir," I said. "I'd like to interview you."

"Well, come in, come in," he beckoned. The room we entered was filled with partially assembled toys and unwrapped packages.

"So you're here to interview me. Well, sit down," chuckled Santa as he patted his leg. I took out my notebook and pencil and sat on his knee. "Go ahead with your questions, son. Ho, ho, ho."

I felt compelled to whisper in his ear. "What's going on outside?" I asked.

"Why it's snowing. Ho, ho, ho!" roared Santa. Then he added, "Just a little North Pole humor, son."

"Why are those people picketing?"

Santa's demeanor changed. "Well, my boy," he pouted, "the elves are on strike because I won't give in to their demands."

"What do they want?"

"They say they're tired of wearing little elf suits and funny hats. I say the outfits add atmosphere to this awful, boring place. They also want to be called 'recreational engineers.' Where's the charm in that? And they don't want to work on holidays. Do they think I enjoy flying around on Christmas Eve?"

"Is there any hope of a settlement before Christmas?" I asked.

"No. They won't even listen to me anymore," Santa moaned. "They say I talk down to them."

"How are you going to get the toys ready on time?"

"We're trying to bring in some non-unionized elves. They're hard to find, though," he answered.

I was surprised. "Elves have a union?"

Santa nodded grimly. "They're all unionized now. First the dwarfs, then the pixies, now the elves. It's not like the good old days. You just can't find good help anymore," he grumped.

"I'm sorry about the elves, sir. How are the reindeer?"

He sighed. "It looks like I'll have to get rid of them They don't meet the new mileage standards. Even the best only get 12 miles a prance. I'm thinking of buying a Datsun."

I decided to change the subject. "Have you been receiving many gift requests through the mail this year?"

"Oh, yes. I get many letters, but I'm getting tired of the late mail delivery."

"When does it usually arrive?"

"Not until May."

Trying to avoid discussing Christmas, I asked, "How is Mrs. Claus?"

Santa frowned. "Don't let her hear you say 'Mrs.,' young man. It's 'Ms.' now."

"Well, how is Ms. Claus doing?"

Santa shook his head. "She's gone on a health kick. She jogs every day, and she's already lost 120 pounds. She's also become a vegetarian. I can't stand it!"

Suddenly Ms. Claus ran into the room wearing a candy-striped sweatsuit, sweatband and Walkman. "Nickie, it's time for your kelp juice," she called.

"Thank you, dear," Santa replied with a grimace. Then he whispered to me, "My doctor says egg nog is too high in cholesterol."

My presence, I thought, was depressing Santa, so I stood and said, "Well, sir, I'd better be going."

"When you get home, send me a big, juicy steak, will you?" Santa pleaded.

"Will do," I promised as I left the house, Outside, the elves were still protesting.

"Merry Christmas," I called as I closed the door.

As I walked away, I thought I heard a faint "Ho, ho, humbug!"

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