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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 12/22/2003
Volume 2, #105
A Christmas Carol 2003
Listen, everybody. Go back to the archives for this column and find December 27, 1999. That's when I had my first visit from the man who calls himself Nicholas de Sanctis when he isn't passing himself off as Santa Claus. At that time, you'll find that we had some interesting discussions about science, intelligent mice and how high IQs were going to ruin Christmas, kill off the human imagination and--well--read the column for yourself. If De Sanctis thought he had trouble way back then--wait'll you hear what's going on with him now! But I'd better start from the beginning.
Last night--Sunday December 21st, just as I was trying to get this column ready for tomorrow, I get one of those late night unexpected knocks at my front door. Around here, the way my house is hidden behind the trees off a dirt road at the edge of Chesterville, a town that practically no one ever heard of, people don't come knocking unannounced out of the dark. Not unless something unusual is happening. I felt that even in the sound of the knock--that something really startling was about to come off. And, boy, was I right. I opened the door and there he was--looking exactly as he had when he visited me just a few years ago. He was wearing the same gray balmacan coat and the same standard navy-type woollen watch cap that he always wore in this rugged winter climate. He looked kind of eager, like a man bursting with news.
"Remember me, Schwartz?" he said in that low quiet voice like an echo of dry rustling leaves.
How could I forget him. Santa Claus, in person. And just before Christmas. What was he doing here when he should have been packing goodies for his world-wide sleigh ride? I asked him that as I hung up his coat.
"I've got a couple of employees," he said, with a slight switch of his shoulders, as though this were the beginning of a long story. "Two very distinguished drivers and gift distributors. But let's go inside. And sit down. You're not going to believe this one standing up."
So, we settled in armchairs in the living room. He took a deep breathe and said: "Just last night, I got this summons. From the White House."
"You mean, from the US president? From George Bush? How? Why?"
Nick shook his head. "They've got ways. All I can tell you is, it came by submarine and then courier across the ice, right to the North Pole."
"No one's ever been able to do that before," I said.
"I'm telling you, this government has ways, and methods and secret stuff. Believe me, they found me. And gave me a summons to the White House. Just like that."
"But, the US has no jurisdiction over Santa,"
"Oh, we talked about that when I got there, as you'll see." He took a deep breath, told me how he dressed in his ordinary clothes, what he was wearing tonight, and got down there to the White House, showing up in the Oval office at precisely the appointed time. And there they were, George Bush and his VP, Cheney.
"I caught them in the middle of a conversation, so I just stood there and listened while they paid no attention to me, probably this gray coat, so I looked like any other regular White House flunkey, and Bush was saying to Cheney: 'If we could find Saddam, they'll think we surely ought to have found those weapons of mass destruction by now. Unless, of course, they're very small.'
And Cheney says: 'You mean like, smaller than Saddam?'
'Well, who really knows? These days,'
'Yeah, I know, they can miniaturize everything.'
'You know, Rick, I seen telephones the size of a shirt button that,'
'Saw, George. You got to keep working on your language, anyway,' And then Cheney realizes I'm standing there listening and knows I'm not one of them and he asks who I am.
"Santa Claus. Or Kris Kringle, if you like. You sent for me. I didn't think you had any real jurisdiction to do that, but,"
"Yeah, well," Cheney says. "We're an active administration. We act and worry about jurisdiction later."
"Yes, I've been aware of that."
"You don't look like Santa Claus," Bush said. "How did you get in here? There are guards all around?"
"Through the chimney."
"We don't have a chimney connection in the Oval office," Cheney chimed in.
"Makes no difference to me," I said. "That's the way I do it."
They looked at each other, looked toward me, then gave each other the nod as if agreeing I was probably the real thing.
"As you probably know," Cheney said, coming right to the point although he sort of pawed the ground with one foot as he said it, "we haven't found any weapons of mass destruction yet."
"I've heard," I said.
"But we know they're out there. Hidden somewhere. Maybe not even in the country. The problem is, we've relied too much on conventional means of searching. We always do it looking like inspectors so they can spot us a long way off. And then, George here, who sometimes comes up with brilliant ideas, was thinking Christmas thoughts and sleigh bells and stuff like that when suddenly it hit him,"
"Who," George broke in suddenly, "would be least likely of anyone to look like an inspector, especially at this time of the year? Yet who manages to get around just about anywhere?"
"Ah, I get it. Me, Santa Claus."
"Well, yes and no. What do you know about weapons of mass destruction?"
"Zilch," I said. "Absolute zero."
"Right. So who do you think ought to be driving that Christmas sled all over with its presents while looking for WMDs?"
I'll admit I was puzzled. I never dreamed they were thinking of taking over from me on Christmas eve. It was untraditional, probably unconstitutional, and certainly impossible. I told them as much.
And then Cheney laid it out to me. With this US government, nothing is impossible. They thought we'd never get away with setting up a war against Iraq. But we did. They never even thought we could win the election. But we found ways around that. So do you think the business of running a Christmas sled would phase us? You'll just give us a complete blue print of your delivery route, complete technical details of how you levitate around the world, and, while you're at it, maybe make room in your sled for a few hundred thousand gallons of extra gas that Halliburton could pick up a small surcharge on, after all, why waste a good opportunity, and George and I will take over and nobody'll lose a single present, and we'll be able to scour the world for weapons of mass destruction. Do I have to make that an order or will you just decide to be on the right side of the United States of America."
I didn't think it could be done at first, but as we went over the details, it began to seem as if maybe it could. After all, the reindeers knew the route blindfolded, even if we were going to be short one reindeer. That's because George would be wearing the Santa suit and Cheney would have to trot along as one of the reindeer. That was after I assured him that this kind of reindeer act wouldn't put any extra strain on his heart. A cloud of natural levitation which I couldn't quite explain in scientific language, would carry them along. Only one problem turned up. Rick Cheney refused to set foot in the nation of South Africa.
"Why's that?" I asked, puzzled.
"Well," the President explained. "It's kind of embarrassing really. But you see, way back during apartheid, when the US Congress passed a resolution urging the South African government to release Nelson Mandela from prison, Rick here was the only one who voted against it. He said Mandela was just a terrorist. Anyway, if anything did go wrong, well, he just wouldn't want to show his face in South Africa. He thought that if we could do without that extra reindeer for a bit, we could pick up Cheney in his reindeer outfit when we passed through South Africa and got to Zimbabwe. Rick and Mugabe have a very high opinion of each other."
I'm not a political type, so I made no comment except to say: "I think that can be arranged."
And arranged it was, as Nick assured me, sitting there in my living room and laying it all out. "For umpteen years, I've been the delivery man and now these two interlopers have unilaterally taken over and converted Christmas into a ghastly mistake. Not that I think anything'll go wrong. I gave them foolproof instructions, and Cheney, at least he's no fool. So they'll get through all right. But sitting alone at the North Pole on the night when I should be out,"
I nodded sympathetically. "Must be difficult. But, do you think they'll find those WMDs?"
"Maybe, if they looked in the right place."
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