Mr. Wally’s job was difficult, if not completely pointless. His first presentation destination was a grade school classroom he hadn’t chosen, decorated zestfully for the Christmas season. The oddly shaped paper cut-outs cluttering the walls were depressing. The various holiday decorations plastered in the leftover spaces jutted at Mr. Wally’s innocence. A predominant sense of peace was choked under the weight of childish anticipation for presents, gifts and Santa Claus. It was a warm and welcoming atmosphere with appealing colours that fit right into Mr. Wally’s vision of hell.
Mr. Wally walked into the room with a hesitant stride, students chit-chatting over the sound of his entrance. His bland face and shaved head sparkled under fluorescent lights, his black business suit fitting snugly over his slightly overweight frame. The teacher, Mrs. Laurie, welcomed him with a handshake and heartily insincere smile.
Mr. Wally took his place before the blackboard. He squirmed as the children’s beady eyes stared up at him.
“Shut up, children,” Mrs. Laurie blurted. “Go ahead.”
“Hello, everyone. I’m Mr. Wally,” he said with a shy wave. “I’m from the Bureau on Reducing Environmental Damage, or BORED, and I’m here today to talk about what you can do to help the environment this Christmas. I know you would all love to be Santa’s little helpers, but how about Mother Nature’s littler helpers?”
His energetic gesture and strong voice were lost in an abyss of expressionless stares and a couple of coughs. He fiddled with his Halloween-coloured necktie.
“Excuse me,” said a voice from the front of the class.
“Um, you with your hand up,” Mr. Wally pointed. “What’s your name?”
“Amanda,” said the girl. “What happened to Dewy the Environmentally Conscious and Clean Water-Dwelling Dolphin?”
“Well, you see, Amanda,” he coughed, “Dewy the Dolphin is what we in the business like to call a ‘commercially trademarked mascot of a rival environmental organization,’ and because of a few minor illegal inconsistencies, we can’t show him here today. But you wouldn’t want him here anyway. Dolphins are the cowards of the sea.”
Mr. Wally bounced with a jolly laugh, but was met with only lifeless gawking. Mrs. Laurie’s counterfeit smile wasn’t hardened to her face anymore.
“Ahem,” he continued. “I’m actually here to talk to you about far more important matters regarding the Christmas season and what you can do to help the environment. Has everyone here sent their wish list to Santa?”
The students erupted in jubilant banter. Screaming voices and outstretched hands jutted into the air. The sheer greediness of the holiday season filled the room of sparkling eyes as they hollered. The teacher rolled her eyes. Mr. Wally kept a bright face, happy over the children’s reaction. It was the rescue he so sorely needed. One by one they settled back into their seats and began to listen attentively.
“It looks like everyone,” Mr. Wally said. “I’m here to tell you a few things about those letters. You see, every year thousands upon thousands of letters are sent to Santa in the North Place . . . uh, Pole. These letters you send are made from paper. Who can tell me where paper comes from?”
“Trees?” Amanda suggested.
“That’s right,” Mr. Wally replied. “And so every holiday season, tons of trees are killed so that you can send Santa in the North Pole your Christmas wish list.”
The class kept eerily silent. The oddly shaped paper cut-outs looked down on Mr. Wally.
“A lot of paper equals many destroyed trees every Christmas season, when you and many others send your letters to Santa,” Mr. Wally continued. “Let us be environmentally conscious when celebrating the holidays. So instead of wasting paper by writing a wish list, why not email Santa instead? Or what about text messaging him?”
“Is there Internet at the North Pole?” asked a curious student with his chin on his desk.
Mr. Wally thought for a second. “Santa has cool magic, so maybe. But ask your parents. Now look, I know the letters are a fun tradition for you during Christmas, but did you know that Santa wants you to not waste paper? That’s right, because Santa cares deeply about the environment as well. He’s probably the most environmentally conscious of all. That is, of course, aside from his use of hazardous plastic in some of his toys.” Mr. Wally chuckled, alone in his attempt at humour.
“Why is he environment cautious?” asked a boy sitting in what looked to be a relatively dry pair of sweatpants that he’d salvaged earlier from the emergency bin.
“Well, you see, kids,” Mr. Wally explained, “in our world today many big companies excessively pollute the environment through cars and factories and such. All this pollution adds excessive amounts of scary gases to the atmosphere. This not only ruins our planet’s ozone layer but warms the planet as well. This increase in warming could make the Christmas season have a lot less snow. It could also warm the ice caps that you see on the top of our Earth. So Santa has to be environmentally conscious because at the rate global warming is going, the Arctic might soon disappear. And you know what that means?”
“My dad says Never Never Land might flood,” replied the boy with dry sweatpants.
“What? No, it means bye-bye to the North Pole and Santa’s home. I don’t think any of us want to see Santa and his reindeer drown.”
The children suddenly exploded into a flurry of screeching. Mr. Wally tried to stay on his feet as children yelled, screamed and wet themselves in a fit of unbearable distress.
“Everyone, everyone, please settle down,” Mr. Wally shouted. “Please, I didn’t mean it. It was just a joke. It’s not something to worry about, please. Santa cannot drown.”
The class piped down, stared at the front of the room.
“Because he doesn’t exist,” Mr. Wally said.
The sound of childhood terror once again erupted from the class. Tears poured onto desks as screams of lost innocence reverberated off the chalkboard. Mr. Wally was led out of the class by Mrs. Laurie. The heavy, windowless door crashed shut with a violent whoosh of air.
“What the hell was that?” yelled Mrs. Laurie.
“What? How was I supposed to know they’d go ballistic?”
“Are you moronic? Have you never dealt with children before?”
“That’s irrelevant,” Mr. Wally said. “All the stuff I’m talking about is something they’re bound to see in their lifetime. They are the target audience. Well, sort of.”
“Yes, I know that,” she said. “But you can’t tell children the hard truth.”
“Why not?” Mr. Wally asked. “Shouldn’t we try to get them to be more environmentally conscious? Are you really going to allow them to continue their imaginary ways, all at the expense of the planet?”
“Oh for God’s sake, go lecture the financial district on paper wasting.”
“Do you protect the environment or do you allow them to have their magical world?”
“Did you hear me?”
“I’m the one with the tough job,” Mr. Wally continued, “the one who has to bridge the divide between the innocence of a child and the realities of life. I’m the educator.”
“You’re a buzz kill.”
Mrs. Laurie disappeared into the classroom. Mr. Wally was left to show himself out of the building. His dress shoes clicked rhythmically on the linoleum as he walked out into the cold but snowless December air.