Bowlful of jelly? Not this Santa Claus

| 28 Sep 2011 | 03:06

    As midnight nears, the world’s greatest athlete is prepping to do what the laws of nature and physics deem impossible. He will squeeze a brace over a creaky knee, roll back his shoulders and suck in the cold Arctic air. The feat: Circle the globe in an open-air sleigh powered by eight tiny reindeer and deliver presents to billions of children. And do it in just one night. It won’t be easy. It never is. He will get blisters. He always gets blisters from gripping the reins. Dancer, for some reason, pulls to the left. Even before he clears Poland, every part of his body will hurt: his back, his quadriceps, his size-17 feet. He will wonder why in the world he approved 8-foot, slate-top pool tables as presents — regardless of how good anyone was. But then he will flex his biceps and feel them balloon. Forget about the rotund image of St. Nick that’s so popular in movies and books. The real Santa Claus is buff. He has to be. All year long he’s in training for this one night, doing Pilates, StairMaster, Taebo. Right now, as he gets ready to leave the North Pole, elves are probably walking on his back to loosen his muscles. He usually does some visualization, too, picturing sweet landings on the steepest of rooftops. Even so, when his sleigh takes off from the frozen tundra, Santa’s palms will be sweaty. This is bigger than the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Olympics. The hopes of so many children and the young at heart rest on his shoulders. It’s Christmas Eve. And it’s on. Football players absorb brutal collisions, but Santa, without any protective gear, tackles chimneys. He can’t just drop to the bottom. He’d make too much noise. So he creeps down, bracing himself against the sooty sides, the brick scraping the palms of his hands. Getting out of chimneys isn’t easy, either. Now and then, he slips and slides back down a few feet. He can’t yell out. To hold back groans, he bites the sleeve of his red coat. After he has done this a few hundred thousand times, the rooftops will seem steeper, the chimneys narrower, the sack heavier. The very thought of Miami makes him wince. The humidity is tough in Miami, and he’s always tempted to trade his woolly stocking cap for a headband. The cookies and milk the children leave give him a nice burst of strength. He needs it. So do his reindeer, who tire quickly of carrots. Santa also appreciates PowerBars or apples. That’s what he eats as he trains. He can’t afford to stray from his demanding regimen because the world’s population keeps growing, which means adding more stops and more toys to his list. Sometimes the responsibility of his job makes Santa think of picking up a 9-iron like Michael Jordan does these days. Even from the sky, the golf course looks mighty inviting, especially when the Bengay runs low and Santa starts watching the clock. One false move on Christmas Eve and look out. He could fall. And if Santa were out of commission — if he pulled a hamstring or tore a ligament — who would take toys to the world’s children? Why does he do it? Not for world records, not to have a Nike swoosh planted on his sleigh, not for a big contract. Sometimes he even asks himself why he does it, especially as Christmas Eve draws to an end and he’s limping home to the North Pole, feeling even older than his 400-plus years. But then he eases into a steamy hot tub — the elves make sure it’s good and hot before he lands — and feels his big muscles relax, feels the waves of relief, closes his tired eyes. And then, right there, it hits him. He thinks of the world’s children tearing into packages, eyes sparkling as on no other morning. That’s it. That’s his reward.