He’s preparing to take flight

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 24, 1999

Tribune sports editor<!—->.

Friday, December 24, 1999

Tribune sports editor

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North Pole- There it is straight ahead, Santa’s Castle. I ring the door bell and an elf answers.

"Yes, I’m with The Ironton Tribune. I’m here for a two o’clock interview with Santa."

"Yes. We’ve been expecting you. Come right in and be seated," the elf said.

As I walked toward the chairs arranged around the Christmas tree in the living room, the man himself entered the room. I stood in awe.

"Hello," Santa said. "Please, sit down. Now what’s on your mind?"

"Well Santa, how do you make such a long and difficult trip in just one night?" I asked.

"Christmas magic," Santa said. "Some might call it a Christmas miracle.

"Of course, there are the different time zones. I start in Asia and work my way toward North America.

"As far as it being a difficult trip, well, I’ve got plenty of help from the elves. And we have different crews stationed at various stops. We like to keep a fresh crew working. With the way labor laws are now, we could get shut down."

The obvious follow-up question had to be about this good/bad thing.

"How do you keep your lists current and correct?"

"Ho, ho, ho. I’m sorry for laughing young man, but there are some things that even I can’t tell you. But let me just say that I’ve served as a consultant for the FBI and CIA. You know, they didn’t write the book on surveillance operations. They merely copied the guidelines."

Since it was Christmas and every second was precious, I thought it would be best to ask a more lighthearted question and keep in tune with the spirit of the season.

"What’s the most requested toys this year, and how do you keep up with all the letters?"

Santa pointed toward a computer on his desk in the corner.

"See, even ol’ Santa has updated his equipment. We still get a lot of letters. I really treasure the children taking time to write, put the letter in an envelope, and apply a stamp. But the e-mail has really begun to stockpile. I have to put elves on letter detail around the clock.

"As for the most requested toy, it all depends on the country. Children in America are easily influenced by what’s perceived as popular. The Pokemon toys are big this year, but I’m still getting a lot of Stone Cold Steve Austin requests. In fact, some fellow who signed his name as ‘The Rock,’ – well, it doesn’t matter what he signed as his name – and he asked for every Stone Cold item we make."

I quickly move from the toy topic to the actual home visit.

"Getting into each house is different, but how different is it once you’re inside?"

Santa took a sip from his glass of milk, then looked at me.

"Can I get you a drink? Cookie? Now, what was it you wanted to know? Oh, yes. What it’s like in each house.

"Well, most children like to leave cookies and milk for me and the elves and some carrots for the reindeer. The notes they leave are full of love and concern for my well-being. Most children are in bed early, even if they don’t go to sleep. They get so excited. But that’s OK, because it is an exciting time. I know I get excited and I’m the one handing out the toys.

"But not all children leave food just to make my trip more pleasant. They like to set me up. I’ve caught a few children peeping from behind a door or over a chair. Fortunately, the Sand Man is a friend of mine and I always carry some emergency sleep sand to put the children back to sleep so they don’t spoil the surprise."

There was one final question to ask.

"When you’re done with delivering toys, what do you do when you get back to your castle?

Santa smiled, then stood up.

"What else? I sit down in my chair, turn on the TV, and watch Sportscenter."

With that, Santa shook my hand as I thanked him for his time. He said he had to check the seat belt in his sleigh and put on his long johns.

And just before he left the room, he turned back and said, "By the way, you might want to light a candle before Midnight Mass at St. Joseph Church. I just finished reading your report when you arrived. Merry Christmas!"

I can only hope.