The trouble began with a bag that had a smudged label that said O TH POLE . Ever since the U.S. Postal system had installed the groovy new machines to sort the mail things had gone more smoothly, but there were still people eyeballing stuff. And it was an unspoken thing that if any postal worker saw a letter that said “North Pole” or anything on it hinting that it was a letter to Santa Claus, they’d pluck it out and put it in a bag that said “North Pole.” When that bag got full someone would put it in a special van that would take it to a secret place to meet up with a waiting elf and some reindeer, who would then take the mail the rest of the way, and then Santa would know who wanted what and who had been naughty and good. It was sort of a thing that everyone in the postal service just knew to do.
But if there is one universal truth about Christmas, it’s that every single year someone tries to mess it up and then it has to be saved. This is the story of the year that Daniel Wasserman, postman truck sorter of the first order and all-around good guy, got the job done (with a little help) of saving the big day, even though it wasn’t the kind of day he celebrated at all.
This year, the post office had created a new job: Director of Modernification of Postal Activities. The director’s name was Ivan F. Mann; one quick look at him and you knew that he had probably always been on the naughty list. In June, Ivan F. Mann decided to install a mega computer at the Post Office sorting hub.
“We live in the future!” he said. “From now on everything will be electronic! A computer can see and sort mail at ten times the rate of a human! We will have the most modern and efficient mail system in the world!”
Everyone applauded. Except for the sorters, who now had to either find jobs elsewhere or do different jobs at the post office. They did not applaud. They grumbled.
Daniel was lucky. He didn’t lose his job. They put him in charge of loading the trucks.
On the last day of June all of the computers and robot arms were installed. They looked weird. Daniel and his co-workers spent the day doing what they did best, eyeballing the mail as it went on the conveyer belts, sorting it by zip code and country destination. When Daniel and his co-workers saw a few of the special letters to Santa, they put them, as they always did, in a big red bag and brought it to the van in the corner that only ever drove to the secret spot up north. At the end of the day, when the night shift began, everything would be computerized. Daniel and his co-workers looked sadly around, and then they went out to karaoke because singing always made everyone feel better.
At midnight, Ivan F. Mann’s super-computer took over. It had to make a decision about the mailbag that said O TH POLE with a zip code that said H0H 0H0, which did not exist anywhere in the world. It quickly decided to put the special van on a new run, to Albuquerque. And then, the computer whirred and blinked and then decided with certainty and no imagination that there had been a mistake and that a bag of mail that said O TH POLE could only be going to one place: Antarctica, to the Science Station.
The computer dutifully made an adjustment that all bags labeled as such in the computer should be sent directly to the South Pole without delay, as should any and all mail to Santa Claus, St. Nick, Pere Noel, Father Christmas and a million other variations. That problem solved, the computer went about its business with no further trouble.
It wasn’t until early December that Daniel knew anything was wrong. He was loading a bag on a truck that would bring the mail to the South Pole by ship or airplane, when the seam on one of the bags ripped. The letters spilled out onto the garage floor. Daniel noticed they were all addressed to Santa.
He checked the truck’s destination. It clearly said SOUTH POLE.
“Hey, Iris,” Daniel asked. “Quick question. Santa. He lives in