Time to mind your P's and Q's if you live in Tempe, Arizona. I spotted the Jolly Old Elf himself on Broadway Rd. between Rural and College. He was traveling incognito, riding a vintage Schwinn bicycle painted primer red, with a green plastic milk crate strapped to the rear fender. Despite the camouflage cargo pants and huarache sandals, his red flannel shirt and fluffy, white beard gave the game away.
I saluted His Jolliness, saying in surprise, "I thought you used a sleigh."
"It's not very practical here in Arizona. Six of my reindeer were taken into custody at the border, and I was fined an entire sleigh-full of gifts for transporting undocumented workers."
Pointing to the flash of pink sticking out of the waistband of the camouflage cargo pants, I asked "What's with the pink underwear?"
Santa's rosy cheeks turned even redder. His eyes dropped and he mumbled something.
"Pardon?" I asked.
"I was arrested. They strip-searched me. Instead of cookies and cocoa and a few minutes with my feet up beside a cheery Yule log fire, I had moldy bologna on stale white bread."
"That had to be embarrassing, Santa. Sorry to hear that. For what it's worth, most of us don't approve of those tactics."
"Someone gets used charcoal briquettes in his stocking this year," said the Jolly Elf.
"Used charcoal briquettes? I thought you gave the Naughty Ones lumps of coal?"
"Coal's too good for him. Used charcoal briquettes is all he deserves."
"Wow, that's really harsh, Santa, especially from you."
"With coal at $75 a ton, I had to do something to cut costs. Used charcoal is free, and anyone who thinks feeding people moldy meat on stale bread is acceptable certainly doesn't deserve something as useful as coal in his stocking."
"You have a point there, Santa." I pulled out my wallet. "Have they set bail for the reindeer yet?"
"No bail for Dasher. He broke a leg falling to the ground when he got Tased, while trying to fly back over the border with Dancer and Donder. Prancer, Vixen and Comet are still in Tent City, but they get released tomorrow. I'll have to find a replacement for Dasher, and fast."
"How about a 150-pound Neapolitan mastiff, Santa? He's never pulled a sleigh, but he's strong. Oh, and I'd keep him well back from the kids. He doesn't like them much."
"I don't have much choice, this close to Christmas. Send his resume to Candy Kane, my Elven Resources Manager. Is he afraid of heights?"
"Not that I know of, Santa."
"He'll get minimum wage, plus full benefits, including holiday overtime. That's a big hole in my budget this year as well, but Wage and Hour fined me half this year's toy production for running a sweat shop. Said I owed over 200 years-worth of back pay, vacation time and sick leave to my employees, including the reindeer."
"That's pretty harsh" I agreed. "Nem prefers ice cubes and pizza bones, but I guess you have to toe the line."
"Nice talking to you. Look for something extra-special in your stocking, young man."
"Thanks, Santa. I'll keep the cocoa and cookies warm for ya."
I watched him ride off toward South mountain on his vintage Schwinn and shook my head.