In my wildest dream, I land an exclusive interview with Santa, who mutates from mysterious to crusty, opinionated, flawed and conflicted. He is anything but jolly as he struggles with the dehumanizing challenges of the information age, perennial skepticism, growing hostilities, health issues and the allure of retirement.
“Hell is the impossibility of doing a good job,” he says. “My body is deteriorating, and the middle class is vanishing. Kids want more stuff their parents can’t afford, and they’re depending on me and the reindeer to deliver the moon and the stars.”
“Why not scale back?” I ask. “Gadgets allow them to do more with less.”
“That’s part of the problem,” he says. “Kids don’t want to sit in my lap — which is fine, because they’re heavier and fewer are potty trained. But they want to text. And I know better than to open that Pandora’s box because their wish lists would never end. Most of them bring me a long list, stand next to me, post a picture on Facebook with a caption like ‘Me doing Santa,’ and they’re done with me. They’re treating me like a grandparent who’s too feeble to feel exploited.”
“Why don’t you protest?” I ask.
“Are you kidding?” he says. “They’re already afraid of me. I’m the monster who might leave them a lump of coal if they don’t eat their broccoli. The truth is, when push comes to shove, they all want tons of free stuff — mercy, not justice.”
“You mean there’s no accountability?”
“Everything has changed. Adults used to be able to correct any child. Now it’s taken as an act of war even to correct their grammar. Naughty or nice, they get what they want or there’s hell to pay. It’s gotten dangerous enough without having to worry about the consequences of punishing brats.”
“How is that?”
“They’re pointing lasers in Rudolph’s eyes,” Santa says. “And if I don’t cross paths with a heroin-addled burglar, I get mistaken for one. My body is riddled with bullet wounds. If I weren’t so fat, Mrs. Claus would be a widow!”
“Speaking of Mrs. Claus, it is true you cheated on her?”
“Yes, I had a brief affair with the Tooth Fairy, which ended when I discovered she was imposing what she called a pillow tax on the kids. It happened during the promiscuous ’60s, when Mrs. Claus was going through the change. Hers was even more tumultuous than Edith Bunker’s. She was having hot flashes and wouldn’t let me touch her. She’s since forgiven me, as I forgave her for her affair with Gandhi. We’re in a better place — beyond our libidos.”
“I guess folks don’t like to think of Santa as a sexual being,” I say.
“Precisely. Sex and Christmas don’t mix. Just look at the backlash over the Kmart ad with the models wearing Joe Boxers and squatting to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells.’ It’s the best commercial since 1971, when Norelco cast me floating through the snow on a triple-head electric razor.”
“I guess I should ask you whether you wear boxers or briefs.”
“Don’t even go there. My balls are playing ping-pong with my knees.”
“Why have you waited so long to do an interview?”
“My handlers wouldn’t let me. They said I needed to preserve the mystique in order to remain all things to all people. But without a voice, I’m a tool of fear, control, materialism, consumerism and greed. That’s not who I want to be. I don’t want kids to be afraid or abused by bullies who say I don’t exist. I just want them to be happy, healthy and generous as they grow up to survive in the modern world.”
“So how would your retirement serve kids?”
“I need to get real. We don’t really appreciate superheroes who never age or die. We can’t empathize or relate to them. Children can have a more complete and innocent childhood without Santa. Man or myth, I’ve outlived the world I was created to serve. It’s a more dangerous place, and it’s dangerous for me to straddle the line between fantasy and reality. Kids need to know the difference, and they’re amazingly resilient. They can handle the truth when it’s fully explained. And they may as well know that the Grinch always had a heart. He was a drug addict, but it took a confrontation with a precious little victim for him to get clean. You should interview him.”