Santa Claus Dead at 26
Copyright © 1985, 2001, David Houston
MIAMI—The body found last night in a wrecked sailboat has been identified as that of the world-famous Santa Claus. Santa's sloop, spotted beneath shallow water by sports fishermen, was The Blitzen of Alaskan registry. It was reported lost in a tropical gale last week.
The children's benefactor has been the object of a global search and a subject of controversy following his abduction, safe return, and subsequent self-exile two years ago. One important issue has therefore been tragically resolved: the question of his mortality.
Santa's long-time friend Roland Whisp, interviewed in Miami by this Newspaper, commented, "I'm as devastated as you are. I thought he'd live forever." Whisp was called to Miami to identify the body. He added absently, "His preoccupation with children kept him young." Whisp, a small man who might be mistaken for a jockey and claims to have been chief of Santa's elves, now repairs video games at a Miami mall. His clothes are colorful, and when he walks there is a tinkle of bells though nothing dangles from his sneaker laces.
Whisp said it was not unusual in recent months for "the boss" to sail alone. "He often seemed lost in thought, in a daze almost." Whisp was clearly shaken by the loss of his friend but was nevertheless willing to discuss him, "now that nothing matters anymore," he said.
"People know what happened, but they never really understood. People were told by the media that Santa had been abducted to create chaos and ill will. This wasn't the only stunt like that the aliens pulled – none of them worked really – but people weren't told . . . well, I'll tell you. Remember the brat who went on national TV and said she was sorry Santa was back? She said she actually preferred it when her parents took over when he was gone. And there was that single parent on TV who said he never felt really close to his little girl until he took over the gift-giving himself?
"After enough of that, all of a sudden after all this time, Santa felt worthless. Worse, he felt like he was in the way. What could he do? What could be as satisfying as brightening kids' faces? He tried working at Macy's last Christmas, thinking maybe he could pull a Miracle on 34th Street kind of thing. But he quit after the first day. God, he was low!"
Yes, Whisp clarified, Claus wore the costume Macy's supplied. "That red and white great-uncle image was somebody else's idea, you know. Santa's been 26 for years." Whisp looked away, seemed unable to speak for a moment, then went on:
"The saddest thing I ever saw was when he turned his reindeer loose. He led them onto a glacier. They sensed something was wrong. They wouldn't walk away. He slapped their rumps. He fired a gun. They shuffled around him, nuzzled him. He had ice on his face from crying. He finally ran back to the helicopter and just left them out there. We didn't say a word all the way back to the Pole."
Whisp was asked to clarify a point. The only press photo purporting to be of Santa from last year was a grainy telephoto candid from a beach somewhere. It showed a handsome young face with a smile that seemed to be missing two teeth. Whisp nodded. "They were missing," he said. "You see, he met this girl. Ophelia. She was soft-spoken, petite, a little taller than me. She said she was a dental technician. They met in some ordinary way, at a singles bar, I think. She and Santa got an apartment in San Francisco. I used to have Sunday brunch with them on the Warf.
"Ophelia was sweet, but potty as a penguin. For one thing, she had this thing for string; she collected balls and balls of it. And she loved little dots of blood. Santa told me once that she'd go wild if he cut himself shaving. I began to suspect she was a vampire.
"She had this really huge collection of stuffed animals, thanks to Santa. He gave her two of every kind he had. Like Noah. I told you she was crazy, right? She used to feed him bowls of home-made candy, and she tried to convince him it was immoral to brush and floss. She picketed in public that fluoride was a poison.
"They'd been together a long time before she finally told him the truth. She got me there for moral support. She said, 'The aliens picked me up, too. I used to be the Tooth Fairy.' She broke down and I thought she'd never stop crying." Whisp smiled sadly at the recollection.
"I suppose if they'd stayed together, he'd have given her every tooth in his mouth. He was absurdly generous, everybody knows that. My theory is that they were both just too obsessed with the past. She disappeared one day without even leaving him a note. Nothing. Well, nothing but a few quarters under his pillow.
"That wasn't long ago. After Ophelia left, I tried to get him to take a job working with kids, some kind of social work, but he was afraid he couldn't take their indifference. He stopped wanting people to know who he used to be. He drank too much and spent lots of time alone on the Blitzen.
"That's about all I can tell you. He never blamed anybody, not even the aliens. He said they only forced him to see something he should have guessed. Just before he left for the Caribbean a few weeks ago, he told me he realized he had always distrusted the human race. He somehow got the idea he had to enforce their kindness, do their giving for them. It put him in an awful position. The more generous and loving he found humanity to be, the more useless he felt."
Santa Claus leaves no heirs. Reports concerning the existence of a Mrs. Claus were, according to Roland Whisp, unfounded. "He played the field," said Whisp.
SEVEN MONTHS AFTER THE PRECEDING INTERVIEW, A SYNDICATED ITEM APPEARED, WHICH SUGGESTS THAT REPORTS OF SANTA'S DEATH MIGHT ALSO HAVE BEEN UNFOUNDED. IT SAID:
Mystery Speculator Buys Volcanic Island
HONOLULU—A daring buyer identified variously as John Smith, Sam Clausen and Rudolph Bing, pulled off an unusual coup in the Islands this week. No one knows how he managed it, but he seemed to appear at eleven locations simultaneously to buy up contiguous parcels of land the moment they went on sale.
One broker, Pete Lalani, watched him arrive. "He was in a chopper, and damned if he didn't land right on my roof," said Lalani.
The mystery man told the broker that he was "getting a big kick out of planning more blitz packaging," that he intended to buy vast stretches of land considered worthless, to see what could be done to improve them.
"Why worthless?" Lalani asked him.
"Makes me feel valuable," he answered as if stating the self-evident.
The man said he had worked out his marvelous method of travel for an earlier endeavor that looked promising but in the long run hadn't panned out. He told Mr. Lalani he wanted property in the tropics because he had "seen enough of winter for a lifetime."Copyright © 1985, 2001, David Houston, all rights reserved.
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