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Jim Mullen column: Gift jobs aren’t on Santa’s list

You ever wonder what I do the 364 days between Christmas Eves when I’m not delivering toys? Mostly, I try to figure out what your kids will want this Christmas. You’ll notice that Mrs. Claus and I don’t have any kids. Tell the truth, we don’t even like them that much. Why do you think I come by in the middle of the night? Because they’re asleep, that’s why.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the job. I pick my own hours, and I’m my own boss. Besides, what else would I do at my age? Become a barista at Starbucks. A greeter at Wal-Mart? But just like any other job, it has its problems. Maybe you heard about the flooding this past summer? No ice at the North Pole for the first time in history. I’ve started to move the whole operation to the South Pole just to be safe. The North Pole is just going to be a mail drop for the next few years until I can send out the change-of-address forms. To make up the cost of the move, every present I deliver for the next 50 years will read, “Some assembly required.”
The elves threatened to go on strike until I ponied up health insurance and a shorter workweek. Who do they think I am, Google? Money doesn’t grow on Christmas trees, you know. Milk and cookies don’t pay the bills. If it weren’t for the “donations” I get from parents, I couldn’t afford to buy all the presents. Of course, some people say I’m just running a high-class protection racket aimed at keeping retailers in cash. I know the people who are saying that. A word to the wise: Your kids will be getting “Shiv Me Elmo” dolls if you don’t drop that kind of talk.
I prefer to call it fee-for-service operation. Parents give me the money; I buy the gifts. I take 5 percent, maybe 6 percent off the top for expenses. OK, maybe it’s 10 percent or 12 percent. Twenty-two percent, tops, but it’s a good value. When the kid doesn’t get exactly what they want, who takes the blame? That’s right, your old friend Santa.
I’m telling you all this because I want you to know that when Santa’s got a problem, you’ve got a problem. And here it is: I base what presents I buy this year, mostly on what was hot last year. Sure, it’s not an exact science, but I pretty much know that if every kid wanted a Wii or Guitar Hero last year, I’m going to need a lot of similar stuff this year. Yeah, every now and then, some Tickle Me or Cabbage Patch fad comes along that I didn’t see coming, but by and large, I get it right.
Last year, I couldn’t believe what children wanted for Christmas. One 7-year-old asked me for an American Express gold card, a 50-inch plasma HDTV for her room, a weeklong spa vacation, a Jonas Brothers performance in her bedroom for her and her three best friends, a saddle horse and a fake ID that said she was 11. And that was just the over-the-top stuff. If I didn’t get it for her, her parents would. So this year, I loaded up on expensive stuff for this Christmas: video games, iPhones, cameras, Blu-ray players. You name it ó I got warehouses full of it at both poles. So what happens this year?
I got my first letter of the year today. The kid doesn’t want anything for herself; she wants me to give her dad a job. That, I ain’t got. The next one says, “Dear Santa, my mom says the way things are going, we won’t have a roof over our heads. Could you get us a roof? Thanks, Tracy.”
Can’t you talk her into a Hannah Montana backpack or something I do have?
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Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life.”AP-NY-12-09-08 0702EST

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