You'd think that Santa Claus, what with all the last-minute requests he gets when he's on the road, would surely have a car phone . . . er, well, a sleigh phone.
But the North Pole is just too far away, even for modern technology. So a local cellular phone company arranged for the next best thing: six senior citizen volunteers to take Santa's calls for him and a guarantee that every child who calls will get a pres-ent."Hi . . . Santa Claus?"
Destiny Miller, 10, speaks expectantly into the mobile phone, donated for the evening to the Family Homeless Shelter in downtown Salt Lake City.
On the other end of the line is Farrell Clark, 67. Clark doesn't look much like Santa. He's too skinny, for starters, he favors sport shirts and he doesn't have a beard.
He is sitting not at the North Pole but in Room 605 of Friendship Manor senior citizens housing. That's the beauty of being a Santa by phone - a child's imagination can make up for a host of inconsistencies.
Sitting on a couch at the Homeless Shelter, Destiny begins her list: a keyboard, a stereo with headphones and a New Kids on the Block tape.
Sitting at a table over at Friendship Manor, Clark writes down Destiny's name and requests.
Next Tuesday, volunteers from Cellular One mobile phone company will take all the lists, check them twice and go shopping for items that make everyone happy and fit in the budget - about $35 per child.
On Thursday, Cellular One employees will have a wrapping party for all the gifts - which will be delivered to the shelter Sunday. This is the second mobile phone Christmas. Last year the company bought gifts for 52 children at the shelter.
"We've gotten lots of requests for Ninjie Turtles or something," says Beryle Newton, 83, who fielded calls as Mrs. Claus. She was joined by three other Mrs. Clauses - Dorothy Denny, 83, Ellen Ferguson, 86, and Esther Tunell, 79 - and one more Santa, Harold Spencer, 75.
Most of the children asked for toys, but one asked for a home, and one mother at the shelter got on the phone to ask for baby formula.
"My sisters are in bed, so can I tell you what they want?" asks Destiny after she has finished her list. "Tina said she wants paper and pencils and crayons and a coloring book and glue," Destiny faithfully reports.
Seconds later though, Tina appears and wants to talk to Santa herself. That's when Destiny decides Tina needs a little advice. "Say you want Nintendo," she whispers.
As Destiny and Tina talk to Santa on one phone, other children from the shelter are talking to Santa or Mrs. Santa on other mobile phones. It apparently doesn't worry them that Santa couldn't possibly be talking to everyone at once.
Unless, of course, Santa not only has a car phone - he has conference calling, too.