For an untold number of years now, one Mr. Santa Claus of the North Pole, Planet Earth, has organized and partaken in an annual 24 hour around-the-world philanthropic expedition. This ongoing expedition has consisted of making a list of all the boys and girls in the world, checking the list a couple of times, finding out who’s cool and who’s not-so-cool and then flying to the cool kids’ houses in his outrageously red reindeer-powered flying sleigh and giving those cool kids neat stuff, batteries not included. Time permitting, he’ll show up at the not-so-cool kids’ houses and leave them a piece of coal with a note attached elucidating the benefits of being cool.
Doing this year in and year out takes an exorbitant amount of organizational and logistical planning, which Mr. and Mrs. Claus (and a few of the smarter elves) have, until now, been taking care of manually with pencil, paper and a real old compass that one of the elves dug out of the bottom of a Cracker Jacks box thirty-eight years ago. But, with the planetary population now exceeding 5 billion souls, this type of record keeping and navigation has produced more and more missed deliveries of stuff and has gotten Santa in hot water with the International Aviation Agency more times than he cares to think about. So, faced with the reality that he may have to cancel his yearly worldwide romp, Santa called an emergency crisis meeting to explore what alternatives, if any, he might have to keep his operation going.
Present at the meeting were:
Santa Claus – Fat philanthropist with white beard.
Mrs. Claus – Responsible for the all-important LIST.
Rudolph – Santa’s first string reindeer and sleigh puller.
Ricardo – Santa’s Neat-Stuff assembly line foreman.
Abdul – Union representative elf from the International Brotherhood of Stuff Builders union (IBSB).
Susie – A cool little girl invited to the meeting to protect the interest of all cool kids around the world.
Duke – A not-so-cool little boy attending the meeting with hopes of persuading the do-gooder philanthropist to either abolish his not-so-cool list and equally distribute his neat stuff to all boys and girls regardless of their coolness, or do away with the program entirely.
Duke wasn’t initially invited to this get together, but having heard about the emergency meeting from one of Santas’ loose-lipped third string reindeer, he wrote a letter to Santa telling him that he would go to CNN and expose him and his whole mismanaged dictatorial operation as the most bumbling, law breaking, inept and unfair Giveaway operation ever to come down the pike, unless he was allowed to attend this so-called “meeting of the minds” and voice his displeasure about the cool – not-so-cool issue.
This, of course, infuriated Santa as he read Duke’s letter aloud to his wife. Had it not been for the more level headed Mrs. Claus, Duke might have found himself residing at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean with a 600 pound loose-lipped reindeer tied to his ankle.
“Why I’ll kill that little son of a …!”
“PA! Don’t you be cussin’ in my house if you know what’s good for you,” chided Mrs. Claus.
“But Ma, did you hear what this little snot-nosed kid is threatening?” Santa asked.
“Of course I heard, I’m not deaf,” replied Mrs. C in her sweet and calming voice.
“You know Ma, we don’t have to put up with this kind of…!”
“Oh, hush up, Pa, and calm yourself down! You’re getting all worked up over nothing. Remember, this Duke is just a little boy, upset because he wasn’t chosen as one of the “cool kids.” Good gracious, maybe he is cool and just can’t understand why we labeled him “not-so-cool.” Heaven knows, the way our record keeping is all messed up, we could have very easily mislabeled him or any number of other little boys and girls. I think it’s a good idea to have little Duke at this meeting. Maybe he can enlighten us on where we’re making our mistakes.”
“I don’t know, Ma, he sounds like a bad apple to me,” replied Santa, already knowing his wife would have her way with this one.
“Nonsense! We’ll invite Duke to the meeting and listen to what he has to say. End of discussion! Now go outside and feed those smelly reindeer of yours before they fly out of the corral and start snacking on my mistletoe tree.”
“Yes, dear,” Santa grumbled.
The meeting began with Santa’s opening comments downplaying the real fix they were in.
Mrs. Claus, however, quickly took over when she interrupted her husband by saying:
“Now dear, these nice people, elves and reindeer have a right to know exactly what’s going on here. So I’ll tell you all right up front that Santa’s annual Neat Stuff Giveaway is in deep trouble and we all need to put our heads together and try to get it back on track. No longer can we keep up with the ever increasing number of cool and not-so-cool children on Planet Earth. Our record keeping is in such disarray that it’s taking most of our time just to stay on top of all the new additions to the ledger, leaving us very little precious time to go back and reevaluate the children already in the ledger. Meaning, we’re probably screwing up by giving neat stuff to children who were once cool but have turned into not-so-cool brats and vice versa, giving lumps of coal to not-so-cool children who have changed their ways and are now cool kids. And whereas the criteria for getting neat stuff is wholly based on the concept of being cool, we cannot continue to operate in this manner. In addition to this ledger problem, we’re also faced with a navigational dilemma. Santa’s reindeer, through no fault of their own, are taking an increasing amount of time to circumnavigate the earth due to faulty readings they are getting on our outdated compass. As you all know, this Neat Stuff Giveaway has to be completed within the allotted 24 hours, after which time the affects of the magical flying reindeer dust wears off and would leave Santa and his reindeer stranded in the middle of nowhere, with nothing left to do but walk back to the North Pole. As it was, last year it took Santa 23 hours and 51 minutes to complete his rounds. I don’t have to say that this is cutting it far too close. We need a system far more advanced than a Cracker Jack compass to allow Rudolph and his crew to navigate from one cool-kids house to another in the fastest possible time. As a result, Santa and I are asking all of you for any suggestions you might have to alleviate these problems.”
As Mrs. Claus looked around the table, she was greeted with mostly blank stares in return.
“Well?” asked Mrs. C, glaring at the reindeer gnawing on the corner of the table top next to Santa. “Rudolph! Pay attention here. Do you have any suggestions on how to speed things up on your flight?”
“Uh… Well… Gee, Mrs. C, to tell you the truth, I don’t really mind having to walk back to the North Pole every now and then. That flying stuff still freaks me out a little. Just don’t feel natural, ya know.”
“You antlered idiot,” Mrs. Claus quipped. “What do you think a 3000 mile walk would do to Santa?”
Rudolph lowered his head and mumbled just loud enough for Duke, who was sitting on his left to hear him, but not anyone else. “Oh yeah, we wouldn’t want the fat guy to exert himself, and maybe lose a few pounds, would we?”
Duke smiled at this but otherwise kept still and silent.
“What was that, Rudolph? I couldn’t hear you,” inquired Mrs. Claus.
“Umm, sorry ma’am. I said maybe we should get a new compass,” answered the reindeer.
“Yes, maybe we should. But I think we can do better than that.”
Mrs. C’s eyes roamed around the table and landed on the face of the little girl Susie. The little girl had a look of total contentment about her, as if all was well with her world. This irritated Mrs. Claus a little, so she addressed the child.
“Susie dear, you of all people should be the most distraught about what might happen to Santas’ Neat Stuff Giveaway if we cannot come up with viable solutions to these pressing problems. After all, it’s children like you who benefit the most by receiving Santa’s neat stuff every year, yet you sit there looking as though your whole world is a bowl of cherries and will continue to be so. Would you care to add your thoughts to this meeting?”
“Oh, yes, Mrs. Claus, I would like very much to tell you what I think,” replied the little girl. “I think you and Santa are getting all excited about nothing. I think there is a very simple solution to these perceived problems you claim to have.”
“And what is that my child?” asked Santa, hoping this little girl could solve his problems with one simple suggestion.
“Simply erase half of the names in your ledger starting from the bottom and leave it at that. In essence, cut back on your operation. This will allow you to make it to all the boys and girls on your list with plenty of time to spare.”
“But what about all the other children? The ones that get erased or never even make it onto the list,” asked Mrs. Claus.
“Oh well, they’ll just have to go without,” said little Susie.
“That doesn’t sound very fair to me,” Santa intoned.
“It may not be fair, Santa, but isn’t it still better than cancelling the whole Neat Stuff Giveaway altogether? Susie asked.
Mrs. Claus jumped in. “Now, Susie dear, it’s nice that you want to cut down on Santa’s workload, but how would you feel if your name happened to be on the bottom half of the List and it was one of the names that got erased?”
“Well, I suppose it would make me feel awful, but that won’t happen because I snuck a peak at the List and saw my name near the top.”
“Why, you selfish little…!”
“Ma!” Santa interjected. “Calm down.” Looking back at the little girl, Santa said, “Thank you Susie, for your input, but I’m afraid your plan just won’t work. We will give all the boys and girls of Earth an equal chance to make the cool list. Understood?”
“Yes sir,” Susie replied meekly.
At the far end of the conference table, Abdul, the union representative elf was whispering to Ricardo, the assembly line foreman, telling him that he rather liked the little girl’s idea.
“Just think,” Abdul was saying, “with only half a list to concern ourselves with, our workers wouldn’t be so hard-pressed to meet their neat stuff quotas. We might even be able to negotiate an extra coffee break or maybe a two hour lunch break instead of only 30 minutes.”
“Dream on, Abdul,” whispered Ricardo. “The big guy ain’t gonna let that happen. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that by the time this meeting is over, we’ll either all be out of a job or we’ll all be working double shifts to meet the increasing demand for neat stuff.”
“What are you two whispering about down there?” Santa asked Ricardo and Abdul. “Do you have something you would like to share with the rest of us?”
“No, Santa,” answered Abdul. “We were just discussing whether or not we should all take a break.”
“TAKE A BREAK!” Santa bellowed. “Is that all you union elves ever think about? Taking coffee breaks, taking lunch breaks, taking bathroom breaks. No wonder we’re always behind in our production. You can just forget about taking a break until we have this whole mess ironed out. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Santa,” echoed Ricardo and Abdul.
“Good. Now who haven’t we heard from? …Oh yes, little master if-you-don’t-invite-me-I’m-going-to-the-press, Duke. Well kid, do you have anything to say? Or did you just come here hoping to get some free neat stuff?”
“Now you be nice, Pa,” Mrs. Claus said, glaring at her husband.
Turning to Duke, Mrs. Claus smiled her warm, grandmotherly smile and said. “Please forgive grumpy ol’ Santa, he’s been under a lot of stress lately but both of us would really like to hear what you have to say, Duke.”
Duke slowly looked around the conference table at all who were present, before his eyes settled on Mrs. Claus and then on Santa. “You sure you want to hear this?”, Duke asked, looking directly into Santa’s eyes.
“Give it your best shot, kid. But let me warn you, just because you’re at this meeting does not mean you qualify as a cool kid.”
“I may not be cool as you define the word but I’m sure a heck of a lot smarter than all of you sitting here.”
“MA!” Santa screamed,”Do you hear this little jerk? He says he’s smarter…”
“PA!” Mrs. C screamed back. “Hush up and let the boy speak!”
Turning to Duke once again, Mrs. Claus said, “Go ahead Duke, say what’s on your mind.”
“Look,” exclaimed Duke, standing up and walking over to the wall behind Mr. and Mrs. Claus and pointing to the shelves lined from floor to ceiling and stuffed with time-worn ledgers. “These ledgers are full of names of all the boys and girls on earth who may or may not qualify to get neat stuff every Christmas, right?”
Santa nodded yes.
“Every year you scurry through these ledgers and try to decide who’s cool and who’s not. And every year you make more and more mistakes because you’re chasing a deadline and you have thousands of more names than you had the year before. It’s totally archaic the way you go about things. You need to get with the times. Have you never heard of computers? This job could be made so simple if you just had all these names in a database on a computer. Let the computer sort through all the names and see if the kids meet your ‘cool/not-so-cool’ criteria for receiving Neat-Stuff. If they don’t meet the criteria, the computer can sniff them out and remove their names from the list, thus eliminating the thousands of man hours you waste by doing it manually. Not that I agree with your cool/not-so-cool criteria, but that’s how it works.”
“A computer can do that kind of stuff?” Santa asked.
“That and a lot more,” replied Duke.
Santa yelled down the table to Ricardo, his Neat Stuff assembly line foreman. “Hey Ricardo, ain’t computers one of the items that we build and ship out to some of the “cool kids” who ask for them?”
“Yes, Santa,” answered Ricardo. “We call them the Nerdy Neat Stuff. They go out to the nerdy kids who somehow make it onto your cool-kids list”
“Do you or any of your elves know how to use the computers?”
“No, Santa, we just build `em and ship `em.”
“Does anyone in this room know how to use a computer?” Santa bellowed.
Duke and the little girl Susie were the only two who raised their hands.
Ignoring Duke, Santa turned to the little girl. “Susie, is what Duke saying possible?”
“Oh, yes, Santa, computers can do lots of stuff; why I even redesigned and redecorated that sorry excuse of a doll house you gave me last year using a CAD program on my computer.”
“Yes, well…, if we gave you one of these computers off our assembly line do you think you could organize our ledgers and make the computer do what Duke here says they can do for us?”
“Sure Santa, but I would have to be compensated for all that work.” Susie replied.
“What do you mean, compensated?” asked Santa.
“Well, like letting me put my name at the very top of your list and always allowing me to pick out five presents every year instead of just one.”
Santa thought about this and although he didn’t like this little girl very much he liked Duke even less so he gave in to her greedy little demands.
“Okay Susie, you do the computer work and I’ll bring you five presents every year. Deal?”
“And my name always sits at the very top of your list, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, that too. But this whole computer thing must be finished and operable by Christmas Eve. Can you do that, Susie?”
“Hey Ricardo, you see to it that Susie gets whatever computer she wants off the assembly line, and anything else she needs to complete this job.”
“Consider it done, boss,” answered Ricardo.
“Ladies and gentlemen, elves and reindeer, this meeting is adjourned while Susie compiles us a new cool-kids list. Now, let’s all go in the kitchen and pour ourselves a nice warm eggnog,” Santa said, ending the meeting abruptly.
“Wait a minute,” cried Duke. “What about your navigational problems? You haven’t decided what to do about that yet!”
“Maybe you haven’t decided,” said Santa, glaring at the young boy, “but I have. We’ll go with Rudolph’s’ suggestion of getting a new compass. Now if you’ll excuse us and go on home; we no longer need your not-so-cool insights!”
End of Part 1
Pete Miner (firstname.lastname@example.org)