Zeek was one of Santa’s most loyal and hard working elves. In fact, Zeek was an expert in hard to please children. You know… those kids who don’t want anything for Christmas except a five thousand dollar four wheeler or an American Girl doll and every accessory available in New York City. Zeek was Santa’s psyche expert. He had been to about every mall in the world, and slyly convinced millions of kids that four wheelers were scary and bicycles were better. Zeek saved Santa money, and he saved parents money. Some parents just lived with the expense of a machine that not only hit the credit card, but also hit the insurance deductible once the kid ran the darn thing into a tree. Some parents demanded a refund – usually AFTER the tree collision – and that hurt Santa’s bottom line. How anyone could describe Zeek as anything less that a loyal genius was beyond the entire elf workforce.
However, about two months before Christmas, in the prelude to Santa’s busiest season, Zeek found himself without a job. There was a new elf on the team who was the ultimate brown noser. Sure! That little guy was cute. He was shorter and stockier than the average elf. He had a rosy, red nose. He had a cute little name. Pookers! Who in the world thought of Pookers?! But it worked. Santa was enamored with the little guy. What the other elves knew was that Pookers was worthless. He couldn’t wrap a gift if his life depended on it. He couldn’t tell the difference between a AA or AAA battery. And if he did get it right, he inevitably inserted them wrong. He certainly was of little use in the mall. He was prone to wander off and window shop. So Zeek always hated to let Pookers relieve him. With Pookers on the job, four wheelers and American Girl requests went out of site. Most of those parents were barely making ends meet in the shaky economy, and to allow those kids to get such expensive, unnecessary gifts was a crime. No matter, cut little Pookers was the apple of Santa’s eye.
Then the sabotage began.
While wrapping up an evening at the Mall of the America’s, Santa pulled Zeek aside.
“Zeek? Are you happy with your job?” Santa asked.
“What? I love my job!”
“Well, there seems to be some evidence that you’ve been putting Santa down to the children.”
Zeek was stunned. Santa continued.
“I had multiple complaints from parents that their children were terrified of me. I understand you were overheard saying I was on old meany by a group of four year olds.”
“What!? Who said this?” Zeek felt his stomach lurch.
Santa shook his head and glanced at Zeek with mistrust in his eyes. “Zeek. It doesn’t matter. I’ve lost confidence in you, and you have to go.”
Before Zeek could respond, one of Santa’s reindeer security guards nudged Zeek in the bottom and sadly said, “Come on little guy. Let’s go.”
How would Zeek explain this to his own children? It was going to be a tough Christmas at his house, too, but with overtime and extra dedication, Zeek knew he could still make this the best Christmas ever. As soon as he opened the front door, his little wife sensed his sorrow.
“What is wrong?” she asked with alarm.
“Santa fired me.”
There was a stunned silence. Zeek slowly headed for his bedroom and said, “I can’t talk about it,” and closed the door.
For a month, Zeek wouldn’t get out of bed. The bills piled up. His own little sleigh was repossessed. Not one gift was purchased for his children. His wife cut meat down to two meals a week. The kids complained about all the rice and beans they were forced to eat. But no one bothered Zeek. Meanwhile, at 1 Northpole Place, the four wheeler orders were piling up. Santa had to rent an extra warehouse to store all of the American Girl accessories. He put Pookers in charge of the new facility.
With Pookers in charge, the African American child in San Diego was scheduled to get a Swedish child’s doll. The ranch owner in Texas wanted his granddaughter to get the a doll with plenty of western wear, but she was scheduled to get a spiffy little rock star ensemble. Bitty Baby clothes were completely lost when a pack of mice decided to steal them and sell them on the black market to make money for their own children’s Christmas. Santa was on track for a major holiday disaster, but he couldn’t see it. After all, Pookers loved to pet the reindeer fawns.
Christmas came and went. Zeeks children quietly accepted that there would be no gifts under the tree. They piled on the bed with their father and snuggled and fed him rice pudding made from the previous night’s meal of… rice. They laughed. The bounced around him. Zeek found himself smiling. On December 27, Zeek got out of bed and embraced the day. He made coffee for himself and his wife. He made pancakes for the children. Then he went out into the snow and helped the kids build a snowman. The day was glorious. Like old times, he finished it off by plopping into his easy chair and turning on the news. There it was. An economic disaster at 1 North Pole Place. Santa was nervously answering questions from Anderson Cooper about the eminent bankruptcy his organization would have to file. The angry parents and crying children had ruined him. A five year old got a large gas powered ATV instead of a little electric number. That kid took out the garage door within minutes of climbing on the thing. Santa’s liability was through the roof.
In the meantime, Pookers had taken off for the Bahamas. His big bonus check was paying for top shelf margaritas and snorkeling excursions for everyone at the resort. Pookers was thinking about relocating to Costa Rica.
To Zeek’s surprise, he did not feel a sense of satisfaction for Santa’s demise. Instead, he felt a warm tear roll down his cheek. He looked out the window at his own children and noticed how genuinely happy they were. He glanced toward his wife who was making supper, and noticed the absolute serenity on her face. Love. Nothing had made Zeek richer than love. He turned off the television, got up went to help his wife. Tomorrow he would head for Santa’s house and offer to clean up the mess.