Maxed out 

Showdown at the North Pole

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Things were, as usual this time of year, chaotic at Santa's workshop. Elves were surly and overworked, pulling extra shifts and working around the clock. Every now and then one of them would explode in anger and frustration, "Freakin' Zhu Zhu," he'd scream out while others sang ribald, if somewhat bawdy, drinking songs about exactly what they'd like to do with New Moon Barbie.

Aside from the usual stresses of the season, irrational expectations puffed up by marketers pushing the season's hot new toys, reindeer lollygagging about, playing reindeer games while everybody else laboured ceaselessly, this year was different. This year Santa seemed particularly weary. "It's this Land of the Midnight Sun," he'd thunder occasionally. "I fear I'm developing seasonal affective disorder. If I don't feel the sun on my frozen skin soon, I think I shall go stark raving bonkers!"

"Now, now dear," Mrs. Claus would coo. "It'll all be over sooner than you think."

"That's easy for you to say," Santa would snap back, feeling twinges of guilt even as he spoke. But the words, driven by frustration and the overwhelming feeling he'd once again let down children all over the world, kept coming. "Easy for you to say. You don't have to lug this enormous sack of toys all over the world in a single night. You don't have to slide down sooty chimneys, crawl through barely open windows, sneak into homes protected by Dobermans and trigger-happy rednecks who've drunk so much eggnog they've forgotten what night it is and start firing randomly, screaming 'A man's home is his castle,' even though they're living in a mean, little rundown trailer."

"Now, now dear," Mrs. Claus repeated. "Have a cookie and some milk."

"Good grief, woman. I'm 200 pounds overweight, up to my eyeballs in stress, about to embark on an impossible journey where the only food I'll have is room temperature milk and cookies of questionable pedigree... are you trying to kill me off early?"

Mrs. Claus gave Santa "the look." Part understanding, part exasperation, part pull-up-your-socks-and-do-your-job, it was her most effective weapon.

"I don't know why I don't just move this whole operation to Florida... or Paraguay... Belize maybe. Somewhere warm with sandy beaches and beautiful scenery. What in the world made me think the North Pole made any sense as headquarters for Santa Inc.?"

"Don't be silly, Dear. You tried Florida once before. Remember? Those awful men from Barnum & Bailey came down from Sarasota and enticed most of the elves away to the circus. 'Don't be schmucks,' they said. 'Santa's a slavedriver. Come work in the circus. The hours are better, the pay's good and the bearded lady has a soft spot for elves... if you know what I mean.'"

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