“Spare some change, Ma’am?” a falsetto voice cut through the noise of the bustling mall.
The startled woman nearly dropped her gift bags on two diminutive men seated at a tiny table. “‘UNASEF,’” she read their sign aloud. “What’s that?”
“The Unemployed and Starving Elves Fund.”
“That’s right, Ma’am. Millions of us, out of work.”
“You poor things!” she exclaimed, opening her purse. “What happened?”
“It all started when Santa bought a discounted technology patent from Google.”
“Shoulda seen it coming,” the second elf griped. “Last year, we gave all the good kids Internet-equipped glasses. This year, we’re unemployed.”
“We’re not allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas’?”
“That’s right,” the store manager admonished his staff. “Inclusive greetings only.”
“But Christmas isn’t just a religious thing,” one employee challenged. “It’s cultural.”
“I’m Jewish,” said another. “Someone says ‘Merry Christmas,’ I say ‘Happy Hanukkah.’ What’s the big deal?”
“The company wants to avoid any appearance of discrimination,” replied the manager.
“By discriminating? Wouldn’t it be better to not acknowledge any holiday at all?”
“People, please,” the manager implored. “This is about tolerance. Respect. How can we maintain a free and peaceful society if we don’t regulate what people can and can’t say?”
“I’m glad you agreed to this meeting,” Santa Claus puffed, wedging himself between a chair and a small table. “It’s time we started working together at this Christmas thing.”
The man seated opposite him said nothing.
“Look, Jesus,” Santa sighed, “can’t you see everything we have in common? Giving. Loving children. Wanting people to be good and kind to one another. If you’d lighten up a bit, we’d basically be the same person!”
“You really think so?” Jesus replied softly.
“Okay. Tell me about the last time you shed blood, sweat and tears for a child who’d been naughty.”
“You want another loan increase?” the bewildered banker exclaimed. “Mr. Claus, even if we ignore the fact that you built your bloated factory on the Arctic Ocean—”
“No taxes there,” Santa explained.
“You give your merchandise away for free! I don’t know how you keep getting approved for credit, but no more. And unless you start making some payments, your assets will be seized and sold to the public.”
“You mean assets like—my naughty list?” Santa jiggled with a soft chuckle.
“Just remembering what I read about you on there.”
The rubber stamp came down. “Loan approved!”
I knew a man who spent his whole life climbing. I wondered why.
“Because they told me to,” he sighed, his time-worn hands embracing a Scotch. “They promised happiness lay at the top. True happiness. Security. Contentment. So I climbed, leaving behind everything I couldn’t carry. When my hand grasped the highest ridge, I was exhilarated—until I looked over the edge and saw a taller mountain.”
“If there ever was a reason to drink,” I remarked.
“That’s not why I drink,” he groaned. “I drink because when I got back down, everything I’d left below had been stolen away.”