|By Lawrence Cosentino|
A Christmas story“Climate change — to
deny it exists, to just put your head in the sand and say, ‘Oh, no, it
doesn’t exist, what are you talking about,’ is about like standing on
the floor of Macy’s during the month of December and claiming Santa
Claus doesn’t exist. Come on, get real.” — U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W. Va., in an interview with the Des Moines Register, Oct. 24, 2010
Albert hated the smell of wet beard. And when Santa took his boots off — talk about climate change.
But Santa’s chief of staff was a team player. Albert stood quietly, breathing through his mouth, waiting for Big Red to break the silence.
Backsides to the fire, they looked at the ice outside the window.
“It’s coming back — no question,” Santa said. “The last two years, especially.”
Albert cleared his throat. “Not long term. Experts say, no more summer ice in the Arctic by 2020, maybe sooner.”
“And the new ice is a lot thinner, younger.”
“Yes, by definition!” Santa snapped. “In time, new things become old. I should know.”
Santa took a bottle of Jack Daniels from the cabinet, poured himself a stiff one, and moved closer to the fire.
Damp, limp, and unrefreshed, the two old associates had just returned from a tour of the North Pole works.
For years, Albert begged Santa to survey his melting domain, but Big Red was busy. Earth’s population has quadrupled in the last 100 years.
“More work,” Santa kept saying.
“More carbon emissions,” Albert would answer.
Albert was tall, thin, bald and wired tight, like Robert Duvall in “The Godfather.” He pronounced his name “Al-bear,” as in “polar bear.”
He and Santa went back a long way, through more image changes than Miles Davis, before the red and white suit and Coca-Cola, before the pipe and the 19th-century Thomas Nast makeover, before Father Christmas in his green robes, back, back to gaunt and lean times, to moonlit 18-hour nights, delivering wooden toys on foot in Finland.
As the operation scaled up, Albert became Santa’s indispensable man, a logistical genius who could track demand for iPads, negotiate with Islamic republics for airspace clearance, squeeze double overtime out of elderly elves.
Santa owed Albert. After years of putting off the climate change talk, he gave in, toured the ice cap and let Albert make his case.
Albert should have felt vindicated, but now he regretted pushing it so far. He’d never seen Big Red this pensive. And…was he losing weight?
“They’ll figure it out,” Santa said, downing another slug of Jack, still looking out the window. “They’ll fix it.”
“You said that 10 years ago,” Albert found himself saying. “They’re not fixing it.”
“Ach, my Krampus.”
Krampus was Santa’s nickname for Albert when their conversations got too heavy. In Alpine lands, where frightening little children is considered entertainment, the Krampus is Santa’s bad-cop sidekick, his enforcer, the demon who leaves coal in the stockings.
Coal. Gasoline. Oil. What’s the problem, Santa thought? I run on magic reindeer. I’m as green as they come.
He turned to Albert and asked the question he dreaded asking.
“What, exactly, do you expect me to do?”
“You have prestige you haven’t begun to tap,” Albert pleaded. “Convene the U.N. Security Council. Force a binding multilateral agreement. Cancel Christmas if they don’t agree to act this year.”
“Are you serious?” Santa said. “I didn’t even intervene in World War II.”
“Well, at least stop giving these out.”
Albert tossed a copy of Glenn Beck’s “An Inconvenient Book” onto the coffee table. Big Red smiled. Beck made him laugh. He liked the picture of the farting cow. It made him think of Blitzen.
“They’re harmful,” Albert said. “All the books by the climate change deniers.”
“You know my policy. I don’t judge. You want a gift, you get it.”
“Maybe it’s time to start exercising a little judgment.” Albert knew he was pushing it, but this was his chance.
“Where are you going to go in 20 years, when the ice melts? Do you want to move to Siberia, build everything on pikes and hope they don’t sink into the permafrost? Do you want to pay rent to Vladimir Putin?”
Santa frowned. He thought of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Now there was a gift he’d love to boycott.
Big Red wasn’t surprised at Albert’s outburst. Over the past few months, he got the feeling Albert was beginning to have doubts about the whole operation.
The first sign of Albert’s discontent came during the off season, when Big Red went on his spring junket to Atlanta to renew his key merchandising deal, with Coca- Cola. The trip is always a highlight of Santa’s year. He can go to Braves games, wear his favorite red suspenders, nobody notices. Nobody is thinking about Santa Claus in July.
Last summer, for the first time, Albert didn’t come along. Said he was tired.
Big Red felt abandoned. Who wants to drink with Ted Turner?
After Atlanta came Santa’s yearly Vatican trip. Still no Albert.
The Vatican was a high point for Santa this year. He found Pope Benedict easier to deal with than John Paul II. No lectures on Christmas materialism — at least to Santa’s face — and free use of the “St. Nicholas” trademark for another year. Win-win. The Vatican knows that Santa keeps lapsed Catholics and heathens within striking distance of Jesus. Remember when The Gap started using the word “Christmas” again instead of “Holiday?” Big success of theirs.
Santa squeezed the ice melt and whiskey from his beard, picked up Glenn Beck’s book and waved it at Albert.
“My job is to get people what they really want,” he said. “Family and friends only get you what they would want for themselves — or what they think you should want. Or closeouts.”
“It’s not the presents. It’s knowing that somebody cares enough about you to find out what you really want.”
Albert narrowed his eyes.
“You haven’t given Bill Clinton what he wants for 50 years.”
“Bill Clinton can take care of himself,” Santa fired back.
“Everybody knows you censor for sexual content,” Albert said. “Nobody ever gets porn from Santa. You’re
How long since he and Albert started out, dragging elk-hide
He dropped Beck’s book on his desk.
Albert picked it up and waved it back at Santa.
“He’s not the only one that’s in denial.”
Santa took another drink and stared out the window.
The liquor was beginning to flood the coastline of his native optimism.
Maybe the experts were right, he thought. But if people want to cook the planet, what can I do about it? That’s the least of my worries.
North Pole logistics were getting more nightmarish every year.
Thank goodness for particle physics. Magic can only get you so far.
“Ach, the networking I have to do,” Santa thought to himself.
Santa had manufacturing, distribution and transportation operations beyond anything Arthur C. Clarke could imagine.
He turned to Albert.
There was a very uncomfortable pause.
Santa was dumbstruck. He stood watching as his old friend turned and
Santa fondled the note like a rosary — so often it was worn down to tissue.
Right now, Akron sounded great to Big Red. His own room, meat loaf on Tuesdays, popcorn every night, sleigh parked in the garage next to the GMC, weekly book discussion groups at Barnes & Noble. An ordinary life.
He really was losing weight.
“BABY ALIVE BABY ALL GONE model inventory 12-23-10 A.D. Caucasian backordered African-American backordered Hispanic supply critical.”
There was more bad news. He clicked on a flashing blue link. There were no more AAA batteries in the south warehouse.
Albert usually took care of this kind of problem. By now, Santa thought, he was probably on his way to an ashram.
Big Red was alone.