A friend who wears a white beard and red outfit for his part-time job in a local department store was as down as I've ever seen him. No throaty guffaws, no belly shaking like gelatin, no droll little mouth drawn up like a bow. He was too broken up to tell me why. He just handed me a memo on company stationery.
From: Kris Kringle, CEO, Santa Claus Group
To: Worldwide Subordinate Clauses
Topic: Reorganization and communication from children
In this era of tightening financial resources, the Claus Group has been forced to re-examine its structure, methods of communication and deployment of human resources.
Our gigantic study by an elfin task force indicates that continued operation in our past manner will cause us to fall substantially short of our break-even point in toy production and delivery costs.
To date, we have taken all practical steps to avert this reorganization: We have subcontracted toy assembly to Third World nations; begun delivering more ''assembly-required'' items to children; and embarked on a plan to cut the number of reindeer in half over five years. Planned capital improvements in the production process have been delayed, and we have moved to a lease arrangement for our sleighs.
Alas, that is no longer enough. This row is getting harder and harder to ho-ho-ho.
With that in mind, I must announce a reorganization that will include moving to electronic communications. Beginning next season, the North Pole will no longer accept letters to Santa.
Effective next year, communication with the North Pole must be accomplished by modem, fax or the use of our 800 telephone line with a Touch-Tone phone.
Instructions will follow on how the Christmas lists should be coded, and each subordinate Claus, in coordination with district elf supervisors, will be responsible for communicating this message to children in their respective areas.
Billem & Dunnem, our consultant in this reorganization, envisions a more efficient process in which children's electronic communication with the North Pole will allow for computerized logging, sorting and order-filling.
Next September, the Claus Group will provide subordinates with inventory numbers for all toys available for Christmas 1992. This process will enable us to be more responsive to inventory control challenges and fill orders faster by employing containerized shipping to key distribution points worldwide.
For example, the popular Barbie Doll will be BD79849, with the Ken Doll having the same numbers and a KD prefix. Barbie clothes will carry the BC prefix.
While the numerical coding may present a problem for smaller children who are not adept at their numbers, we believe it will not be that difficult a transition.
As we perfect this process, Billem & Dunnem's initial projections indicate the number of subordinate Clauses can be cut by up to 80 percent over five years.
I am certain this news comes as a shock to many of you who have been such loyal helpers and endured the bites, tears and squirming of generations in order to fulfill the wishes of darling children.
Although it has not been completed at this point, the Claus organization is working on an early retirement program that will allow many of our longtime workers to enjoy the fruits of their hard work at an earlier age than they may have anticipated.
Merry Christmas to all! And to all a good bottom line!
Tom Opdyke is a staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.