Stewey, Dewey, Hewey and Mooey, the Christmas elf marketing & design team, sat around the conference table, staring with equal suspicion at their cups of coffee and each other.
“All right, ‘fess up. Who thought it would be funny to put a dead lemming in the Keurig machine?” said Dewey
The door slammed open. Santa entered the room. “Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas,” he said as he hooked up his laptop and fired up Powerpoint. The first slide flashed on the exposed ice-brick walls. A red line was marked “Requests.” It was in decline. A blue line was marked “Complaints.” It was in steep ascent.
“Kids,” Santa muttered. “In all my centuries of giving away toys for free, we’ve never had any complaints. But now, not only are we getting letters saying kids don’t like our toys, we’re even getting returns. Kids aren’t sending letters to Santa, they’re packing up their presents and shipping them back, UPS. The modern child. If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse. If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat! And he certainly doesn’t want our toys!”
The elves frowned. They had heard this spiel from Santa before, but there was a new edge to it. What was wrong with the old boy now?
“The problem is we’re always playing catchup!” Santa began to pace around the room. When he turned his back to the elves, they could see a tiny mushroom man, about a handslength long, hanging from Santa’s hat. “We sent out Pong games the year the Nintendo debuted! We made Barbie Senior Orthodontist dolls when the kids were playing with Bratz! Well, no more! We need to shove away the past, rip up the present, and jump to the FUTURE!”
Santa clicked to the next slide. It bore only three Comic Sans words: “THE NEW 52.”
“This year we will win. We will reverse the decline,” Santa declared. “No more needless complication. We will strip down to the classic, and make the classic INSTANTANEOUS. I’ve decided to cut down to 52 product lines. Only 52 classic toys will be produced. But not the same old classic toys. I want the four of you to come up with new versions of the classics, versions that will burn themselves into the brains of children like white phosphorous!”
Stewey raised his hand. “But, Santa, it’s September! We’ve had the molds and dies for Christmas locked down for a week now. There’s no way we can go back to the planning stage now.”\
Santa’s eyes burned as red as his coat. “WEAKNESS!” he screamed. “From this moment on, you are all on ninety hour weeks. We will have the New 52 for this Christmas, or so help me, I’ll see you all on an ice floe smeared with seal jelly. You have your orders. Go, go, go!”
The four elves, stunned, stumbled back to their offices.
“So…anybody else up for some more dead lemming coffee?” Mooey remarked.
For the next twenty-four hours straight, Stewey and Dewey holed up in Stewey’s office, trying to think of how to make old toys new.
Out the window they could see the worker elves, the ones who were supposed to making the toys. Lacking anything better to do, they lounged around the idle assembly line, chewing reindeer jerky. Every so often, one would scowl, point towards Santa’s office door, and say something to his coworkers.
Stewey and Dewey stumbled into the conference room the next morning. Hewey and Mooey were already there, self-satisfied smiles pasted on their faces. Stewey sat down and was about to plug his ethernet cable into a network jack when the jack disappeared, leaving only a hole. A little red mushroom man poked his head through the hole, a red cap over two large, pupilless white eyes. Then it vanished.
Santa stormed into the room. “All right, what have you got for me?” he said.
“We had a breakthrough,” said Hewey.
Mooey held up toy soldiers with suction cups on their bases. “These are classic toy soldiers. Yet they are equipped with suction cups which allow children to attach the soldiers to their heads like antlers. Children can attain their age-old dream of frolicking like deer in a leafy glade.”
To demonstrate, the elves stuck the soldiers on their heads and began to so frolic.
“If desired, the attachment can be made permanent,” said Mooey, holding up a pair of toy soldiers with wood screws in their bases.
“WINNING!” cried Santa. “Stewey, Dewey, do you have anything that good?”
“Well, er, we were thinking that, say, maybe in recent years, soldier toys have focused too much on guns and bombs. We were thinking, maybe, we could have a line of toys called G.I. Supply, that would focus on logistics units and allow little boys to play out their fantasies of making sure ten-ton shipments of MREs arrive on time between Cincinnati and Fort Drum.
“No, no, no!” roared Santa. “That’s the same old thing! I’m snoring just hearing about it! Get on the edge! Ask yourself: who are America’s new heroes? Like America’s unpasteurized milk distributors. America’s natural gas line repair crews. That’s what the kids want!
Santa got out his laptop. “Last night our publicist issued a press release about the New 52. Let’s see what the buzz is on the message boards.” The elves gathered round the screen. A little mushroom man jumped onto Santa’s lap. Santa began to scroll through messages.
“What the…Weedmaster69 wrote ‘NEW 52? MORE LIKE PEW 52!’ Why that little…” Santa began to register the name “Weedmaster69sux” on the forum, but Stewey put his hands over the keyboard.
“Maybe we should give it a few days before we try to gauge public opinion.”
“Right!” said Santa. “There’s a few rotten herring in every can. Back to concepts, men!”
Stewey and Dewey left the conference room, only to find themselves facing a delegation of elves from the assembly line.
“Say, what’s goin’ on in there?” their leader asked. “We should be in full production swing by now. What’s the holdup?”
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you, guys-” Stewey said.
“I know what to tell you. If you think we’re gonna bust our humps because you guys in design don’t have your act together, you got another thing comin’. Remember that.”
They pulled another all-nighter. Santa kept sending them emails, giving them new orders, then telling them to ignore the last orders and do something else entirely.
About one in the morning, there was a knock on the door. It was Santa.
“Guys, I know you’re having trouble, and I want to help you like a good manager should. It seems like you’re not really ‘seeing’ what the New 52 is all about. So I’m here to show you an example. We had Mrs Claus redesigned. The old one was the past. The past! She couldn’t connect with new children, modern children, children who are males between the ages of 14 and 24. So we went in a completely new, knock-your-doors-off direction. Honey, can you come in?”
The new Mrs Claus’s chest entered the room before she did. Her front was like a pair of boat pontoons and her back arched like a Turkish recurve bow. Her legs dwindled down to indistinct feet.
“Isn’t she great?” Santa said. “She’s a Rob Liefeld original.”
The new Mrs Claus fixed on the elves with smoldering, sullen eyes. A mushroom man peeked out from her cleavage. Then she swept from the room.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” said Santa. “Now how about that last email I sent you?”
“We’ve been working on that,” said Stewey, displaying a legal pad full of notes. “With the new Clark Ashton Smith Sorcery playset, children will feel transported back to darkest medieval France. Using magic spells, they can raise their favorite mephitic beasts, whether Thamogorgos or Basatan’s spawn-”
Santa grabbed the pad and thew it across the room. “What? I told you to get the Harry Potter license. What’s this crap?”
“We tried!” Dewey whimpered. “We contacted J.K. Rowling, but she said she’s gotten bored with money. She wanted our kidneys!”
“Then by this time tomorrow, both of you better be hand-filtering your urine!” Santa roared, and he stomped from the room.
A few moments later, the elves received an email reading “Forget everything I said. -S.”
The next day at the morning meeting, Santa appeared bouncy. “I was thinking about those ‘Pew 52’ guys online last night, and I think I know what the problem is. The New 52 is fantastic, but it’s big. We need to make it more accessible to people, break it down like a nasty groove.” He threw a Powerpoint slide on the wall. “So I divided the individual toys into groups, by type, so customers can immediately get a feel of the range of possibility.
Stewey read down the categories. “Construction toys for a housing bust age”…”Molecular cuisine baking toys”…
“Boss, why are RockEmSockEm Robots in the ‘World of Glittery Vampires’ group?”
“You’re so out of touch! This is what the kids want! Glittery, glowing eyed, angstful robots who are really good listeners and don’t want to have sex until marriage!. Also, they had to go someplace.”
Something dense and wet hit the outside of the conference room door. Santa frowned at the interruption. Mooey opened the door and his head was immediately enveloped in a large, rotten rutabaga. The worker elves were outside, and unhappy.
“We want work! We want work!” chanted the worker elves. The rain of veggies continued.
Santa waded into the fray. “All right, men, settle down! Settle!”
“You settle, fat boy!” someone shouted. “It’s three months to Christmas and we haven’t built a thing!”
“We have a brave new direction. I just need you to be patient a little while longer. I promise you, we will have a full production season this year, like every year. In the meantime, I have something for you to do.”
“Let me ask you this: when you’re in line at the supermarket checkout counter, what are you surrounded by?”
There was a puzzled silence.
“Armenians!” said Santa. “They’re on every tabloid cover! America has this unquenchable thirst for Armenians! And we can quench that unquenchable thirst. Remember the silo full of Cabbage Patch Kids we bricked up back in ’88?”
“Go empty it. Get ’em all. Then I want you guys to sit down with Sharpies and add ‘-ian’ to the end of every last name. Eli Dixon becomes Eli Dixonian. Hastings Cooper becomes Hastings Cooperian. Instant Armenians! We’ll call them ‘Kardashian Patch Kids,’ and they’ll be the reality stars of Christmas this year!”
“Hooray!” shouted the worker elves, and the mob moved off toward the Cabbage Patch silo.
“Good work, boss!” said Mooey.
“Darn tootin’!” said Santa. “Now back to the-the-what’s that?”
Dewey had been looking at his smartphone. Now he was trying to hide it underneath his hat. Santa plucked the hat off and seized the phone. Someone had texted Dewey an image: Santa in a Speedo, on the beach at St Bart’s, with two captions, both in large white capital letters
I HAS A NEW 52
(BURGERS TO EATOMNOMNOM)
Santa looked stunned.
“‘Om nom nom’? What is that supposed to mean?”
“It’s nothing, Boss,” said Stewey.
“What do these people want? I don’t understand it.” Santa walked dejectedly back to his office. “If I could just tell what they wanted…”
The next day, Stewey came in to find all the assembly line elves reworking the Cabbage Patch names. The smell of Sharpies was so thick he felt lightheaded. He sat down at his desk and gratefully accepted a cup of coffee from a mushroom man. It was only after the third swallow he realized there was a Post-it on his phone reading “Meet me in the design workshop -S”
He hustled down. Hewey, Dewey and Mooey were already there, watching Santa demonstrate a new toy.
“I figured out what we’re doing wrong,” said Santa. “Apps! People need to have apps! I downloaded an app to this Easy-Bake Oven that lets you use it as a garage door opener.” He pressed a button. “See, in Calgary a garage door just closed!”
The elves applauded.
“From now on, every product in the New 52 will use apps. That goes double for the Katy Perry line.”
“What Katy Perry line?” asked Stewey.
“I want you all to design toys we can co-brand with pop princess Katy Perry here,” said Santa. Katy Perry smiled and waved to them all.
An angry polar bear burst through the wall and fell on Perry. With three quick bites, it devoured her.
“Boss!” screamed the elves. “That polar bear just ate Katy Perry!”
“Forget Katy Perry!” said Santa. “She’s over! She’s yesterday! We need to be AHEAD of the curve! We need to get off the train and onto the space shuttle!”
“Boss, the space shuttles were mothballed this year.”
“Exactly! They’re history! We have to get off the space shuttle and onto the Chinese high-speed maglev train!”
“Boss, the Chinese maglev train crashed and killed people.”
“Then we need to…we need to…what do we need to do?” Santa’s voice trailed off. He turned his back to the elves and moved over to his laptop.
“Uh, boss? Don’t look at Gawker,” said Hewey.
“Why not?” said Santa, immediately going to gawker.com.
The big headline read NAUGHTY GOINGS-ON UP NORTH.
An update on how things are at the North Pole this month. “CowBoyToy” writes ‘The New 52 looking like the ol’ 86 around here. The elves are lying down on the job, global warming is driving polar bears into the buildings, and somebody’s been getting too close to the ‘shrooms. Can’t tell you who, but let’s say it’s a ‘wide-spread’ problem. Send more gin!”
The post was followed by a long line of gloating, sarcastic comments.
“What? How did they know? Who told them?” Before Stewey could stop him, Santa pulled up an email window and sent a message to the Gawker reporter. “THIS IS ALL A BUNCH OF LIES. EVERYONE AT THE NORTH POLE MAD EXCITED FOR THE NEW LINE. YOU HAVE NO CLUE.” He hit ‘Send.’ Within minutes his reply had been posted on the site, garnering even more savage comments than before. Stewey and Dewey slunk from the conference room, passed Mooey chuckling in the corridor, and went back to their office.
Stewey didn’t even try to work that night. He put his resume up on Monster, drank a glass of Nyquil, and sank into sleep in his Aeron chair.
A riot woke him. Screaming and crashing. He rushed to the production floor to find a tidal surge of worker elves, trashing the place.
“Guys, guys!” Stewey yelled. Not knowing what else to do, but wanting to calm the herd, he added, “I know things have been weird, but we have to trust Santa. We’ve always made it before, haven’t we? He just needs a little more time.”
“One o’ those little fungus dudes gave us this,” a worker elf said, handing him a sheaf of printouts.
The papers were Powerpoint slides, labeled THE NEW 52: CONTINGENCY PLAN Z. According to the presentation, if all else failed, the elves would be chloroformed, stuffed into boxes, and delivered around the world as gifts.
“Aux barricades, comrades!” Stewey shouted.
Angrily singing “La, la, lalalala,” the elves marched to Occupy Santa’s office. Using a workbench as a battering ram, they broke open the polished oak door of the executive suite.
Santa lay on his huge desk, moaning. All around frolicked the mushroom men, hanging off the light fixtures, thumping in the wastebaskets, slurping unidentifiable substances out of ancient coffee cups, dancing “ring around the rosy” with Mrs Claus.
“YES!” said Santa. He reached over for a mushroom man, bit its head off, and chewed. “That’s what they want us to do! Everyone will LOVE us! NO! WAIT! Everyone will hate that! Nobody likes that! What do they want from me? Why won’t they tell me?”
“Boss?” said Stewey.
Santa launched himself off the desk, scattering mushroom men in every direction. “Oh, so it’s you! You who failed me! I did my best! You’re the reason no one likes us!”
“Boss, something has to be done.”
“Hah! You coward! The Pew 52-I mean, New 52-is the way of the future! You need me! I’m the only one with vision! You’re just a bunch of sheep! You need me!”
He ranted that way as they seized him, kept ranting as they dragged him down to the bay, and continued ranting as they chipped off an ice floe and put him on it.
“You sons of orcas! You’ll regret this! Chaos and madness will reward your treason!”
They put the new, pneumatic Mrs Claus on the floe with him.
Well, maybe it’s not so bad,” Santa said. “But I pity the poor schmuck who has to follow in my footsteps. Who’d be crazy enough to take the job?”
A matte black plastic pole, about five feet high. Short matte plastic plastic branches jut out from it at regular intervals, supporting a spiral string of small, very bright, white lights.
Next to the pole is a plain black chair. Sitting in the chair is a man wearing glasses, a black turtleneck, blue jeans and a Santa hat.
“Hi. I’m Steve Jobs, and I want to welcome you to the next Christmas. After I transcended my physical form this year, I started looking around for new opportunities. I wanted something big, something really big. When Stewey the Elf contacted me via ouija board about replacing Santa Claus, I knew I’d found it.
“I love Christmas. We all love Christmas. But there’s massive room for improvement, for new leaps forward in design and usability. This cutting-edge Christmas tree is just one of dozens of new products you’ll be seeing from our development team at the North Pole in the coming year. All of them one-touch, high-touch devices.
“The Next Christmas. It’s going to be insanely festive.”