Talking to The Man

Dec 20, 2000 at 12:00 am

In late October I received a call. The Big Man was ready. I was told to be on my roof at midnight. A bullet sled arrived. Passwords were exchanged. I found myself seated alone with a packet of peanuts. Through tinted windows I watched stars sparkle. I reflected upon my past meetings with Santa. I’d sat on his knee at Hudson’s. I’d asked him for a child’s playthings.

Now I was being given the serious gift of his time.

Santa Claus looked appropriately jolly. Well-preserved. We sat by the fire in an igloo with a map of the world on the wall. Atop the mantel was a bronze bust of Martin Luther King. It inspired my first question.

Metro Times: Have you ever received death threats?

Santa Claus: Yes. The volume ebbs and flows. I’ve had many psychologists seek access to my hate mail. It’s the stuff from which careers are made. But I’m afraid of releasing the letters because they could fall into the wrong hands.

MT: What do you mean?

Claus: As long as the hatemongers are fragmented, the threat remains small. In the Internet age one has to guard against criminal networking. I’m wary of playing into conspiracies against me. It’s the price of fame.

MT: Knowledge can be used in two ways.

Claus: It’s a double-edged sword. Like science.

MT: For this you have to be careful about what you deliver.

Claus: I’ve banned certain chemistry sets and manuals. One homemade missile could be the end for Santa. The CIA has offered to provide a stealth sled. But I try to remain independent of them, as I’ve tried to remain independent of psychologists and scholars. The problem: The CIA won’t stay independent of me. They take satellite photos of my workshop. They brainwash my helpers. They want us eating yellow snow.

MT: Do I sense a grudge?

Claus: They’ve sent animal rights activists to raise holy hell over reindeer conditions, then offered to provide top-secret information on the protesters they bankroll. Talk about extortion. They’re after trade secrets. How to insert and extract. How to crystallize the hopes of children. How to embody fantasy across borders and generations. Again, I have to be wary of my arts being used for bad purpose. There’s been corporate espionage too. Overnight delivery companies want to learn in one criminal swoop what’s taken men centuries to refine.

MT: Santa is being watched as Santa watches you?

Claus: In the early ’80s I was laying off elves. Mechanizing. Cutting costs. At that point in time the elves got organized around the issue of child labor. There was talk that I’d been exploiting them for years. It opened my eyes. Their complaints had merit.

My interest was to implement new manufacturing technologies. I forced the elf leadership to see the writing on the wall of economics. They forced me to see the writing on the wall of human rights. Our initial impasse was followed by furious dealing behind the scenes. In the so-called smoky backroom.

The negotiations proceeded in good faith until a third party surfaced. That’s when the arson began. The plugged toilets. The guerrilla theater. The burning of a Christmas tree in front of my house and the forged love letters that detailed a homosexual tryst with Peter Pan.

Finally, an elf confessed to being a plant. He’d read a book about a black policeman sent by the U.S. government to infiltrate a civil rights group and create dissension. I had no idea that I was so important to the CIA. Or maybe they were just playing with my livelihood as a sadistic exercise.

MT: Still you deliver toys to their children?

Claus: My father was a toy maker. His father was a toy maker. It’s in the blood.

MT: In Blitzen’s autobiography there are accounts of indiscretions with elf interns. Have you misused your office?

Claus: Blitzen has had problems since the night Rudolf led the sled. He allowed himself to be courted by the wrong people. A publisher approached him at a vulnerable time with offers that appealed to the worst in him. Salt licks. Sugarcoated pine nuts. A lead role in a movie that never got rolling. Lies begat lies. In any case, that’s one book I won’t distribute. I prefer that the problems remain in-house.

MT: What about that ill-advised comment you made in the Nordic Sentinel?

Claus: That’s a three-second blurb I’ll regret eternally. I got fan mail from the worst characters. Such is life’s sad comedy: Abortion clinic bombers rallying to my defense. Aryan militia members sending me presents! It opened my eyes to what an ugly statement it was. I’ve made private amends. Concessions.

I offered to go to an Eskimo dominatrix for retraining. But Ms. Claus said it wouldn’t be necessary. There’s a lot of Hillary in her. She doesn’t accept my mistakes as much as use them for bargaining chips in our relationship. Now, she governs the toys that I make. She’s become the social conscience of the North Pole. I think she’d make an excellent president of the United States of Fantasy. It’s as inevitable as the European Union. Soon the North Pole and Oz and Atlantis will consolidate. The world is getting smaller. More connected. Ms. Claus has a woman’s genius for making things whole. History awaits her.

MT: How would you like to be remembered?

Claus: Fairly. I’ve made some mistakes. I’ve delivered toys without batteries. I’ve satiated the rich and given precious little to the poor. I’ve neglected women and minorities in the past. I’ve played to power like a politician. On the upside, I’ve been open to change. I’m only as good as the societies that I serve. Although I arrive on Christmas, there’s no messiah in me.

Jerome Przybylski writes from Philadelphia. E-mail comments to [email protected]