Hello all…Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year and any other holiday I might have missed. A couple years ago I wrote a short story, Claus and the Consultant, that many of you have asked me to post again. I’m happy to do so. I’ve updated it slightly, but the laughs so many of you tell me you’ve enjoyed are still there with a few more added in. If you get some giggles and smiles from reading it, share the mirth with your friends and associates by sending them here… to my site.
Claus and the Consultant ©
“I hear you folks are cutting edge. I’m anxious to hear the results of your study.” The fat bearded man stroked his long white whiskers. His rosy cheeks, potbelly and jovial disposition drew a cynical look from the Armani clad man who sat across the disorganized desk from Claus.
“I’m pleased to hear that. We’re certainly not old school.” A poorly disguised smirk flitted over the young fellow’s sharp features as he adjusted his $400 silk tie.
Santa struggled to avoid looking obsolete. “Well, your firm does have an excellent reputation. What did you think of my operation? Let me hear your plan.” Claus’ eagerness showed in his face.
“San, baby.” The man hesitated. “Mind if I call you that?”
“Ho, ho, ho. No, that’s fine.”
The consultant’s eyes were intense. “I can level with you…not hold back, right?”
“Ho, ho, ho. I’ll do anything I can do to make Christmas better for the kiddies.”
“Okay…In all my years as a consultant for Vishnu, Stein, Hussein, Buddha, and Popesworth, I’ve never seen an organization that needs our help more. I hate to tell you, but Claus and Company is really screwed up.”
“You’ve only been a consultant three years.” Santa waved his index finger in the air, but retained his good-natured countenance. “Remember young fellow, I keep lists.”
“Yeah, we’ll discuss that later.” The man’s fingers tapped impatiently as the other hand opened his notebook computer. “Any problem with getting right to the core issues?”
“No, no, no. Ho, ho, ho.” The old man’s smile was becoming apprehensive.
“Two words. Two…Words. Costs. Yours are too high. Efficiency. You don’t have any.” The man was grim-faced and threatening. “A Jack Welch you’re not. San baby, a couple more years the way you’re operating and,” he snapped his fingers, “you’re out of the brat joy-bringing business.”
“No!” Claus’ face was alarmed; the “ho” left his vocabulary. “What can I do?”
Ivy League fingertips stroked the computer keys. Riveted on the monitor, the consultant’s pupils transformed to shrewd, unfeeling instruments of condemnation. His eyes moved to transfixed Claus’. “First, you need a new work force.”
“New work force?”
“Those damn elves have to go. They’re a bunch of surly prima donnas. All I got from them were excuses. When I asked them to multi-task and make each other’s toys, they said they didn’t know how. How lame. When I tried to explain we’d have to cut their ale allotment in half, they screamed. They talked about all the years of faithful service.” The consultant sneered. “Today is today.”
Santa looked dismayed. “But, we’ve always depended on each other. Maybe I could retrain them. Maybe I could talk to—.”
“Ah, ah, ah.” The consultant held up a photograph showing a young boy and girl beneath a barren Christmas tree, bereft of presents, their sweet innocent faces contorted by unhappiness and drenched with tears. “Want this?”
Claus recoiled in horror. “My goodness, no!”
“Those elves are a lost cause, Claus.” He smiled evilly. “The answer: outsourcing off-shore. It’s awesome! Awesome! We’ll get your shit made for a third of the current cost. Reverse engineer all the stuff your crew’s been making. Screw them!”
“By shit, do you mean toys?” Santa looked incensed.
“Whatever. I’m telling you this is a cool solution. Of course, you have the alternative.” Disgust appeared on the consultant’s face. He held the picture up again.
“Okay. Okay.” Claus looked away, unable to bear the sight.
“You can do some out-placement for the little bastards. Maybe a little severance pay…a bone or two helps keep the firm’s public image out of trouble.”
“But, are we sure outsourcers can produce everything we need? There’s a huge—“
The consultant smiled as he interrupted. “San baby, you aren’t going to give away near as many presents. We’re cutting off all the bad-actors.”
“Bad-actors? I’ve haven’t dropped off anything for Alex Baldwin in years.”
“San, San, San. All the rug-rats that dodge your radar now, will be toast with the new computer controlled, remote observation system Panafony is designing. We’ll know when one of those little suckers even gives a parent a dirty look. That’s going to cut costs in half again.” A smug superior look emanated from the consultant’s face. “How cool is that? You know you can’t be everywhere at once. We’ll blacklist everyone of the little—”
“But, I like to use my judgment…some common sense.” Claus looked appalled.
“Come…on! You really think you can see more than all those cameras?”
“San, baby, do you want to reward bad performance? Do you want to contribute to the delinquency of minors?”
“Certainly not, but—”
“No buts, no buts. Don’t worry. Just do what the computer says. Do you believe today’s managers and public officials would have time to get everything done if they took time to think? No way! Forget lists. Forget thinking. Think nano-seconds. Believe in real-time. Swap CDs for lists. Trust RAM.”
“What about the cost of coal?” Santa was on defense. “The bad lit—”
“Got a great answer for that.” The monitor on the consultant’s computer changed. “Forget coal…Think sheep manure.”
Santa’s face looked as though he’d just grabbed a bare electrical cord. “Oh! No! I couldn’t—”
“Keep an open mind. Visualize the message you’re delivering. If you do shitty things…well, you get the drift. And, before you bring it up, it will be dried and sanitized, guaranteed by the company providing the product. It’s an old-line firm owned by three families. The Clinton, Bush, and Obama Co. have produced fine manure for years.”
“Isn’t there something else we could substitute?”
“I can assure you we’ve had our best analysts look at this.” The consultant held his hands out, palms up. “Cow, bird, rabbit, horse…they all have their drawbacks. Sheep is the way to go. Think positive. You’re getting green. You’re conserving fossil fuel. Awesome message! Awesome!”
“I still have to deliver it.” Santa looked resigned.
“Glad you brought that up.” The consultant’s posture and face braced for Claus’ negative response. “Your delivery system is a problem. The Reindeer have to go.”
“Not the reindeer! Never!” You could have lit a cigar on Santa’s cheeks.
“San baby, chill! It’s got to be. Let’s get rational about this.”
“Not the deer!” Santa’s eyes flashed and teeth clenched. He half rose from his chair.
The consultant held the picture of the two heart-broken children up and thrust it toward Santa. The old man slumped backward into his chair, totally defeated.
The young man laid the photo face down on the desk. “I hated to do that, but you have to listen.”
“Yes,” Claus responded limply.
“Okay. Answer my questions. Isn’t it taking you longer to deliver your presents every year?”
“And, is it true you almost didn’t get everything delivered last year?”
Claus was furious. “Who squealed?”
“Not important. Claus, its numbers. We humans keep making babies faster and faster. You can’t keep up using old technology. The deer are maxed out. Not cool! Your efficiency is compromised. You have to cut your chimney-to-chimney times. If you don’t—” the consultant reached for the picture.
“No! Not again!” Santa responded in a tortured voice. “What do I have to do?
“I’ve already got it started. Visualize! Hueys!!” The young man looked pleased with his efforts. “They’re awesome!”
“One of Donald Duck’s nephews? I don’t understand.”
The consultant rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Not ducks, choppers. You know… helicopters. They’ll buzz you through the night in half the time those broken down animals do.”
“What do I do with Dancer, Prancer and the rest?” Trepidation filled the old man’s face.
“I hate to say this, but the best thing would be to donate them to the, It’s a hungry world, foundation.”
“Absolutely not!” Santa had reached his limit.
“Okay. I understand you think of them as pets. Retire them and put them out to pasture.” He slid the contract toward Claus while shaking his finger at Santa. “Sign this and we’ll get started. Just remember, I don’t want you cursing me every time you pay the hay bill.”
Claus silently dropped his head as he signed the paper.
* * *
Thirty days after the Christmas holiday the consulting firm of Vishnu, Stein, Hussein, Buddha, and Popesworth received an invoice returned to their accounts receivable department. It had a letter attached. The clerk read it carefully, checked the procedures for dealing with such a problem. She found none, so she forwarded it to her supervisor, who in turn, send it to the Coordinator for Customer Problem Resolution. He didn’t feel his policies covered the problem, so he sent it to the Governmental Assistance Department. The manager there believed the Department of State might reimburse the company, but determined that the cost of completing the government’s documentation for Payments to Dictators and Hostile Nations would cost more than the $1.2 million dollar invoice. He sent the package to the assistant to the assistant to the Assistant Controller. The accounting department wanted nothing to do with offending a high profile customer, so they sent the invoice and letter to the Customer Service Manager, who delegated the decision to one of his managers entitled, Director of Satisfying Customer Requests Economically without Warranty, or the SCREW department. After reading the documents and considering the problem carefully, he stamped “Bad Debt” on the invoice and returned them both to the controller. The Controller sighed, but approved the write-off after reading the following letter.
I’m surprised you had the gall to bill me for your firm’s services. Lest you’ve forgotten or haven’t heard of your company’s performance in regard to this invoice, let me refresh your memory or inform you of your representative’s recommendations and the results.
First, the offshore companies you contracted to build my toys delivered my products to the South Pole, not the North Pole. This created substantial costs and inconvenience to rectify the problem. In addition, having to reprint all instructions and manuals because those furnished were written in Latin, a language most of the world’s children can’t understand, was a real costly hassle.
Those mistakes were secondary when one considers the manufacturing errors. I’ll mention just a few. Making the Barbie and Ken dolls so anatomically correct was a mistake, particularly in light of the see-through packaging and their positioning. Probably, the worst screw-up were the chemistry sets with bomb making instructions, though producing a game similar to “Monopoly,” altering the game pieces and changing the board’s name to “Polygamy” was unspeakable. The “Do not go to Bed, do not get any” cards were particularly distasteful. It’s fortunate there was practically no demand for the item. Would you like your son or daughter to land on “Porno Place?” Perverse, not reverse, engineering is an appropriate description of the work done.
There were the computer and camera problems created by the observation program you christened RRSS, or Rug-Rat Snitch System. The computers were a nightmare. Nothing worked. The hardware people blamed the software people. The software people blamed the hardware people. Neither helped me separate good children from bad. I ended up using last year’s lists and hoping the kid’s behavior was consistent. The misplacement of the observation cameras is a continuing disaster. Incensed parents are suing us because a technician from one of your firms sold films made in a number of the adult’s bedrooms.
The manure makes me steam every time I think of it. Your representative assured me it was a “cool” solution. It was down-right cold! First, the stuff wasn’t dried properly. In fact, it wasn’t dried at all! I felt sorry for the kids even though they were on the bad list. What made me maddest was that Mrs. Claus wouldn’t let me in the house when I returned. I smelled so bad Rudolph’s red nose turned green. It took six days of scrubbing to get the smell dissipated. Have you ever had to take a bath on an iceberg?
Finally, there’s the damn helicopters. The first thing was the price of aviation gas. I took out a 2nd, then 3rd mortgage on my place up North to buy fuel. Then the pilot’s union, luggage handlers, and stewardesses all went on strike. I don’t understand why. The pilots called in sick. The baggage folks just stood around. Hell, I didn’t even have a stewardess on board. I sold the film rights of my life to pay those settlements. After all that, we got grounded because of snow. Snow mind you! Snow at Christmas? Who’d a thunk it! As your man would say, “Awesome!” Thank goodness for my trusty reindeer that came out of retirement without so much as a headshake. I’m glad I didn’t listen to your man when he suggested making venison stew from my friends.
I don’t intend to pay you one cent. I’ve burned the computers and gone back to thinking, sold the cameras to the CIA, donated the leftover toys to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, contributed the helicopters to the Minute Men, cashed the gas back in at a profit, rehired my elves at double their previous pay, and purchased stock in a coal mine. However, I have arranged for the left over sheep manure to be delivered to your office…concurrent with the next rain. By the way, I couldn’t believe your representative had the nerve to ask for a yacht. Inform him to be sure to wear the bulletproof vest I left. After telling a few organizations and couple million parents of his recommendations, everyone from the Toy Manufacturer’s Association to the Santa Barbara PTA are after him.
Never the less,
Santa Claus, Esquire