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Does Santa Run a Ponzi Scheme?

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(It is Christmas Eve, 2011. While bells ring and carolers sing in the distance, Reese, 16, whispers on her cellphone inside her room. Her room is covered with makeup containers and magazines, and Reese herself is wearing lipstick and heavy eye makeup. Her sister Leslie, a precocious 6-year-old in a fancy red holiday dress, is waiting outside. The door is open.)
Reese (whispering): Yeah, I want to come to the party tonight, but my mom’s making me eat Christmas dinner with her and my stupid little sister. (raises her voice) Seriously, Christmas dinner. (Whispers again) Yeah, I could, uh, get out if you guys come pick me up . . . (notices that Leslie is outside the door) Oh, shoot, I’ll talk to you later. (She hangs up and half-shouts.) What is it?
Leslie: I need to talk to you.
Reese: Why?
Leslie: Something important. (She bounds inside and plops herself onto Reese’s bed.) Reese, is Santa real?
Reese: What?
Leslie looks away and begins explaining, as if to defend her question.
Leslie: Today I saw him at Sammy’s party and then at Billy’s. And I didn’t see him flying with any of his reindeer, and . . .
Reese: Yeah, I get the point.
Leslie straightens, imitating her science teacher.
Leslie: Well, the data can only lead to one collusion . . .
Reese: Conclusion.
Leslie: Conclusion. Santa’s just a lie, isn’t he?
Reese: Leslie . . .
Leslie: It’s like Mom and Dad all over again.
Reese: Leslie! (Leslie looks up at Reese.) You’re right. But not, not about the lie thing. Santa’s got a lot of trainees called Subordinate Clauses . . .
Leslie: I think I’ve heard of them. (Reese looks away, annoyed.) Sorry for interrupting.
Reese: Yeah. Well, the real Santa’s off working in Paris or Rome or . . . (She chuckles sadly) Not here. So you saw some Subordinates. (She looks back down at Leslie and smiles.) Who knows, maybe the ones you saw today will be taking over when Santa gets old. Older.
Leslie: All right.
Reese begins to speak and then turns away, about to reach for a magazine on her pillow. Leslie leans towards her.
Leslie: Why doesn’t Santa visit Mrs. Alder’s kids? Suzie Alder says Santa doesn’t exist.
Reese turns back towards Leslie.
Reese: No, it’s because her kids are too mean. Especially Jeff . . . (She trails off, her eyes flickering towards a picture frame on her desk that has been knocked over.)
Leslie: Oh. (Leslie bounces on the bed.) I thought it's because their house is too dusty, and Rudolph is allergic to it, and that’s why Santa can’t come.
Reese: Why do you ask stupid questions?
Leslie: I’m not stupid!
Reese: You shouldn’t ask questions if you already know the answers . . . (Reese sighs). Do you have any more?
Leslie pauses.
Leslie: I do, actually. Why does Mom’s handwriting look like Santa’s?
Reese says sarcastically . . .
Reese: My dear Leslie, Santa has a top secretary to write out all his letters, and Mom is at the top of everything, so . . . I guess they went to the same top handwriting classes.
Leslie’s eyes bug out.
Leslie: Harvard Secretary?
Reese sighs.
Reese: Yeah, Harvard. Harvard’s the top everything, isn’t it?
Reese looks out into the distance. Leslie bends forward to get back into her sister's line of sight.
Leslie: Reese, I have another question. (Reese starts and looks back at Leslie.) Why did all of Santa's gifts last year have the same wrapping as the one Mom used on Lisa's birthday present?
Reese: Why don't you ask Mom? She's got the answers for everything.
Leslie: I tried. But she ordered me out of the room.
Reese stares at her little sister, reconsidering.
Reese: Okay. Well, then. Santa's broke, just like everyone else. So now he's started cutting shipping costs and sleigh-maintenance fees by carrying around all his presents unwrapped . . .
Leslie: But he can't just give them without gift wrap, can he?
Reese: No, he can't. So he uses wrapping from all the houses he visits. That's why Lisa's birthday present had the same gift wrap . . .
Leslie: But what if a family runs out of wrapping paper?
Reese: I guess Santa takes little bits of extra ribbon and paper from every house he visits, just in case that happens.
Leslie: And then he gives out other people's stuff? Isn't that like a Ponzi scheme?
Reese is taken aback.
Reese: Just a little bit . . . How do you know about Ponzi schemes?
Leslie: CNBC's my favorite channel.
Reese: Okay . . .
Leslie: I watch it all the time, you know, mostly because of the pretty peacock (She smiles shyly.) . . . And there's a special on tonight. Could you come watch it with me?
Reese: I'll see if I can make time.
Leslie: Oh, thank you! (Leslie gives a Reese a hug and then runs to the door. She turns around at the threshold.) And, Reese?
Reese: Yeah?
Leslie: I know you told Mom you wouldn't, but could you please take off some of the masking-air? (Leslie gestures towards her own eyes.) It's kind of scary.
Reese (fake-scolding): Would you get out?
Leslie smiles and dashes away. Reese dials a number on her phone and, dipping a tissue into makeup remover, begins to wipe the make-up off her eyes.
Reese: Hey, guys? You're not going to be believe this, but I can't make it tonight . . .



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