I almost didn’t write this because I swore I’d never tell anyone what I’m about to tell you. But I have to.
A few weeks ago I received a letter postmarked from Nunavut, Canada. An invitation said that I had been selected along with a few other writers for an exclusive, one-on-one interview with a very important person who wears a red suit and owns a lot of reindeer and is not Oprah Winfrey.
The next day, I was on a plane from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, flying to Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Our plane landed in a bunch of Midwestern gray snow. And I mean a bunch of snow.
Milwaukee was as cold as a witch’s underwire. I don’t know why anyone would choose to live in Milwaukee in the winter. Which brings up a joke my mother’s friend Judy, from Milwaukee always tells:
“What do you call a good looking man on the streets of Milwaukee?” “Frozen to death.”
So the layover wasn’t too bad. Neither were my other connecting flights to Tacoma, British Columbia, and Fairbanks International Airport.
When I reached Alaska, things were touch-and-go. I caught a commuter flight to Deadhorse Airport, near Prudhoe Bay—which is basically the edge of the world where the temperature drops to forty below zero sometimes.
The next commuter plane was piloted by a Norwegian guy named Arvid who, while we were flying through a heavy blizzard, remarked, “I have never flown in an actual blizzard before.”
So things were going great. When we finally touched down, Arvid made the Sign of the Cross, and I changed my trousers.
We were on the remote Fosheim Peninsula at a research facility on Ellesmere Island. This facility has been continuously manned since 1947 and was covered in about ten feet of snowdrift. But the men who run the place are very friendly. Which is remarkable considering they are isolated from modern civilization and most of them smell like they have never been in a committed relationship with a woman.
Jôrse showed me to my room. Jôrse is from Nuuk. He speaks five languages, but his native tongue is Greenlandic like most guys here. Greenlandic is only used by only about 60,000 people worldwide.
Jôrse taught me how to say a few important Greenlandic words like“inuugujaq,” which means “good afternoon.” And “baaj” which either means “hello” or “I’m gonna cut you, sucker.” Jôrse’s explanation wasn’t clear on this.
Before supper, I took a three-minute hot shower. Energy conservation is a big deal on the island, showers are limited. This is probably why the whole facility smells like the laundry bag for the boys varsity basketball team.
That night, we ate supper in the cafeteria where they served what looked like freeze-dried beef brains, only less appetizing. I asked the cook what the dish was. He shouted, “Wslfwie weoinwoei jwoeinrwksepo sefsdifoi!”
And everyone laughed. So since the crowd was nice and warmed up, I told another Milwaukee joke.
The next morning, Jôrse flew us north toward the Arctic Ocean. The sun never came out, and the white tundra was lit by the glow of the moon.
At the last outpost—which was just a little shack—a snowmobile arrived. The driver kicked open the door and told me and Jôrse to get in. On our ride, I noticed the driver had pointy ears and I got all excited.
“Are you an elf?” I asked.
He said, “We prefer to be called Allegorical Northwestern Europeans.”
After driving two hours, we arrived at what looked like a ski lodge on steroids. It was the biggest structure I’ve ever seen, and trust me, I’ve been to Talladega Superspeedway.
Our driver unloaded our luggage then held out his hand and cleared his throat loudly, refusing to leave until Jôrse tipped him no less than a fifty.
“Elves,” said Jôrse.
Inside the lodge was a roaring fireplace, an all-you-can-eat buffet, and a floor show with Kenny Rogers, who I hardly recognized because—let’s be honest—Kenny has had a little work done.
I met writers from all over the world who received the same postmarked invitations I received. And we were all very pumped about meeting the big guy.
“So,” one of the writers asked me, “you’re from Florida, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said. “What about you?”
“Really?” I said. “Wanna hear a joke?”
“Sure,” he said. “But first, did you hear about the tragic fire at Florida State University library?”
“The fire destroyed all the books on campus, and most of them hadn’t even been colored in yet.”
After supper, a pointy-eared Allegorical Northwestern European led us all to an enormous factory. And I would tell you more about it, but I have to pause right here. Because we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement stating that we would refrain from cellphone photography and written descriptions, or else we would be in a lot of legal trouble.
So without breaching my agreement, I’ll skip to the good part. Eventually we all arrived at a big wooden door labeled “Office.” And we all waited for our turn.
When it was my turn, I almost fainted. I stepped inside. I took a deep breath. And I saw the person I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet. The one and only. The legend of all legends. Oprah Winfrey.
No. I mean it was Santa Claus. And it was utterly magic. Santa Claus is the one of the best things humanity ever made because he is an image of what we could be.
Sadly, I can’t share anything more than this. But before I leave you, I want to tell you what I was thinking about when I was in Santa’s office.
I was thinking of Laney, an 8-year-old girl from Texas who sent me a heartfelt letter recently. She wrote, “Is Santa real? I need him to be real this year.”
I wish more than anything that I could show you a cellphone picture of it all, Laney. Because if you saw it, you’d believe me. And you’d know. But legally speaking, I can’t take that chance. Because if I did, a judge might sentence me to live in Milwaukee.
Santa Claus is alive and well. And don’t you forget it.