I usually get to the barn early on Sunday mornings, so I can muck Lucy's stall before it gets too hot and so I'll still have time to ride.
As soon as I stepped out of the car, Lucy let out a huge whinny. This never gets old, I thought. “Where's my horse?” I said in reply, and she whinnied again, this time even louder.
“She's right here waiting for you,” a voice said. “What's taking you so long? We've been waiting all afternoon.”
I recognized the voice. It was the elf again. E.J. Elf. What could possibly be going wrong at the North Pole this year, I wondered. It seemed like every year the elf showed up, and every year he had an issue. It had begun a few years ago when he and Santa had crash-landed the sleigh near the Everglades. Lucy and I happened to be riding by and had to pull them out, and then my mare had been drafted to pull the sleigh that Christmas.
He looked the same as always, red elf hat with a bell on it, a green jacket, brown pants and elf shoes with bells on the toes.
“So you've managed to keep your job this year,” I said. Last year he'd been fired for spending his whole day Tweeting instead of making toys.
“Yeah, I got rid of the phone,” he said. “I've been a lot more productive ever since.”
“That's good to hear. I'm glad things are back to normal. They are back to normal, aren't they?”
“Well, not exactly.” The elf shook his head. “Our government's shut down, just like yours did. We can't make toys, can't answer letters from children… can't even monitor the naughty and nice list. The website is down. The candy cane shop's closed, the mall Santas are furloughed and all the elves are just hanging around playing Hi-Lo-Jack and eating last year's fruitcake. Until this gets fixed, there's no Christmas for anyone.”
“The North Pole government's shut down, too? I didn't think the North Pole had a government.”
“We didn't until November. Then we elected a Congress to help Santa make decisions. He can't do everything, you know. He's too busy running the place to be involved in politics.”
“So you elected a Congress? How's that working out for you?”
“Not so well,” he admitted. “They can't seem to do anything.”
“How did they shut down your government?”
“Well first of all, they won't pass a budget. Half of them want to charge kids for the toys and the other half want to borrow the money from China. They've been sitting in the House and Senate room for weeks stomping their feet, picking their noses and making faces at one another. They won't release any money to do anything except pay their own salaries and give themselves a pay raise. But without a budget, the rest of us are out of work.”
“You have a budget? I thought the toys were made by magic. You need money to make them?”
The elf laughed. “Even magic has a price. What do you expect, the elves to work for free? Come on, professor, we have to make a living too. Besides, without raw materials, we couldn't work for free. I can't polish the runners of the sleigh ‘cause we're out of grease.”
“So if you borrow the money from China, how will you pay it back?”
The elf shrugged. “We just put it on Visa and MasterCard. Cash advances, you know and we will just get our credit limit increased. We do that every year. Only this year, half of Congress won't let us. So we're going to run out of money and either we'll have to stop making toys or else we'll go bankrupt.”
“It sounds like your government's a mess,” I said. “How many of these people are in Congress?”
“We have two senators and two members of the House of Representatives. Just like Rhode Island.”
“Can't you recall Congress and have some other elves take over their jobs?”
“Only an idiot would want to be in Congress. You see, every elf has a talent. Some can mold plastics. Some take care of the reindeer. Some, like me, keep the sleigh running smoothly. There were only four elves who didn't have any talents. They couldn't do anything. One of them is a lawyer, but we haven't had a crime in the North Pole in… well we've never had one so we didn't need him. Another one's an art critic. The third one is a stockbroker who claims to be a psychic who uses a dartboard to make predictions. And the last one's a reality TV star. I've got to say, she's the most useless of all.”
“Well, that's your problem right there. You put your stupidest, most dysfunctional people in charge of the government.”
“Oh, like your leaders are geniuses, right? “Sure, we have parties. We're a two party system. We have the Bleeding Heart Party, and the Me-Party. And one or the other of them is always throwing a party. They didn't cut off the funding for that, either.”
“The Bleeding Heart Party wants to give free everything to every elf. They want to ban toy guns, give away free cookies and milk, lower the retirement age from 500 to 150, put a warm puppy in every hovel and tax the rich.”
“You have rich elves?”
“We had one multi-billionaire elf. He invented the Photo with Santa booth. But he moved to the Cayman Islands when they tried to tax him.”
“And the Me-Party?”
“They're all about themselves. They want to bring back arranged marriages, establish a state religion and get rid of all the elf-worker safety laws. They're hoping global warming will make the North Pole a re-sort someday, so they've bought lots of waterfront property on the north shore of Greenland. Their slogan is ‘hurrah for me and the hell with you.' ”
“Sounds familiar. Which party are you?”
The elf laughed. “I'm neither. Just about all of the elves are somewhere in the middle. Only Congress is so extreme. Except no-elf can agree on healthcare. The old, sick ones want it to be mandatory for everyone, and the young, healthy ones don't want to pay for it.”
“But tell me, why are you here? Surely you don't think I can solve this mess. I mean, really, this one's way above my pay grade.”
The elf grinned. “If you did work for us, you'd be furloughed. But it just so happens that I can pay you, but since your horse does all the work, I'm going to pay her. I've been authorized to give her one million Santa Bucks.
“Lucy? She solved your problem?”
“As a matter of fact, she did. I was here Wednesday while you were teaching your classes, and she and I had a long talk. We're pretty sure it'll work, and the North Pole Congress has agreed. They're going to vote tomorrow. But it's pretty much a done deal.”
“So what are they going to do?”
“Buy a photocopy machine.”
“A photocopy machine? How is that going to help?”
The elf shrugged. “Easy. It'll print money. Lots and lots of it and we'll use it to pay all our bills. We'll pay off the Visa, the MasterCard and even China. And there will be enough left for healthcare as well. Here's the million Santa Bucks for Lucy.”
He handed me a single green and red bill, crisp and so hot o! the printing press that the ink wasn't quite dry. It had a picture of a jolly Santa on one side, and a Christmas tree and a reindeer on the back. The denomination was printed in the four corners: $1,000,000.
“It won't be good until tomorrow, when the legislation passes, but you won't be able to spend it ‘til then anyway.”
“A million Santa Bucks? What's this worth in U.S. dollars?” The elf pulled a calculator from his pocket, entered a few keystrokes and frowned.
“About 52 cents,” he said. I sighed. “You think China is going to accept Santa Bucks?”
“Sure. What are they gonna do? Make us manufacture sneakers for them? Hey, China, here's your trillion dollars. Don't spend it all in one place.” he said.
“There's just one problem with printing the money, though,” I said. “If you pay off China with worthless Santa Bucks, they won't loan you any more money. Neither will Visa and MasterCard.”
The elf shrugged. “Lucy figured that out, too. All we've gotta do is say that Christmas will be shut down and that it will destroy the banks and shopping malls, Wall Street will crash, the greeting card industry will collapse and the United States will be in a terrible jam. So then we'll go to your president and your Congress and we'll ask them for a bailout. The U.S. gives money to every country in the world, even the ones who hate America, like Pakistan and Iraq. So why not the North Pole?”
“I don't know what to say to that.”
“I know. I know. It's genius. Now I've gotta go.”
The elf petted Lucy on the nose, shook my hand and headed for the barn door.
“Lucy's now officially on the payroll as a consultant,” E.J. said. “A million Santa Bucks a year. Make sure you spend it on her and not on yourself.”
“It'll get her about three peppermints,” I said.
The elf grinned. Then he clicked his heels and was gone.
I finally began to muck out Lucy's stall. I thought to myself, you have to love an animal to give up every Sunday to shovel manure.
“Maybe we should have a government bailout for horse owners,” I said. “Wouldn't that be a great idea?”
A long-time contributor to the East Side Monthly, James Arthur Anderson is Professor of English at Johnson & Wales University's North Miami Campus. His latest book, The Monastery /Those Who Favor Fire, is two books in one, in the tradition of the old Ace Double, and is published by Wildside Press. He and Lucy ride every chance they get at Myrland Stables in Davie, Florida.