I was able to interview Mr. Santa Claus, noted philanthropist, philosopher and all-around good guy during a brief coffee break he took recently. Here are excerpts from that interview:
When I was a child I wanted to be either a sailor or a fisherman, which was normal for the place I grew up and for the times I was born. But soon I felt a different calling and I chose, as they say today, an entirely different career path.
It all began the day I was reading our local newspapyrus, looking over the section with the results of the javelin-throwing and wrestling contests, when I came upon an unusual job listing for a position that required heavy travel, an inordinate amount of direct employee supervision, a pleasant disposition, an affinity for wild animals, and the ability to lift many packages weighing more than 50 pounds. It also said that I would have to relocate, although it didn't say where and I never bothered to ask.
Being young, ambitious and curious, I applied for the job and got it. At the time I figured I would stay there for three or four years before moving on to something that fit more into my career goals. I never imagined I'd stay in this position for several hundred years.
At first the biggest problem for me was the weather. My hometown had a mild climate. I had never seen snow until I moved up here, let alone experienced this bitter cold. But I was told that although some things were negotiable, such as my uniform and my vehicle, the home office had to be at the North Pole. The explanation at the time was something about geography and proximity to our customers. Only later did I learn it had to do with isolation, complete focus on the job and avoiding distractions. This is a 365/24/7 job, no vacations, no personal days, no golf, no fishing, no ESPN.
Can you see now why I am overweight, my hair is long, my beard is unkempt and I wear the same outfit year after year? OK, it's an unusually demanding job but on the other hand the benefits are extraordinary.
I would like to address some Santa Claus myths. The one about coal in the stocking? OK, that happened a long time ago in my rash, reckless youth. I haven't pulled that stunt in years. It's like my father told me, your job is not to punish; that's what parents are for. And all those images of me drinking Coca-Cola? Nope, I don't do it and never have done endorsements. Lots of people have used my image without my permission, but as they say on Madison Avenue there's no such thing as bad publicity. And the legend that has me delivering millions of presents in just eight hours or so? Even in my youth I was never that fast, but many people neglect to calculate the long nights (more than 14 hours of darkness in East Central Illinois, for example) plus the different time zones. I actually have about 36 hours to make all those deliveries around the world. There was a time when I could barely make it in time, but many toys and presents have gotten smaller and lighter over the years and now making on-time delivery usually is not an issue. The worst years probably were about 100 years ago when everything was made of wood — rocking horses, dolls, baby carriages, baseball bats. Some people complain about plastics but believe me, they've been good for Santa, his back and the reindeer.
That brings me to another point: our carbon footprint. I am proud to say that our operation was green long before it became fashionable. The reindeer produce some methane, yes, but compare that to a jet or an oceanliner. It's no contest. And don't forget about Rudolph's red nose. It guides our sleigh without the use of batteries or nonrenewable resources, nor does it produce dangerous byproducts. Our manufacturing plant — oops, I mean, Santa's workshop — is a model of efficiency and has never been cited by any government agency for pollution or for poor employee relations.
The benefits of this job are incalculable, particularly for me. In what other job would I be able to see the world like this, be the star of parades, movies and songs, meet so many wonderful girls and boys, and make so many people happy? You won't hear me complain about this job, even at my advanced age.
I have seen many things in my many years, most of them good but some that have made me sad. I know that many people are upset about what happened last week at the schoolhouse in Connecticut, and they wonder how anyone can be happy and celebrate Christmas this year. Indeed, it upsets me too. It saddens me when anyone hurts anyone else, especially a child.
I have been through many sad Christmases of disease and war and catastrophes and deprivation. I will never forget all that pain and sadness, but I cannot dwell on it. There is evil in the world, and bad things happen that no one can explain. But there also is so much good, so many good people doing so many wonderful things. I can only offer the same advice that others have: hug your children and your grandchildren extra tight. But don't stop with the little ones; many adults need it too.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.